Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre delights at Chautauqua Institution

From a prior performance in March 2013: Luca Sbrizzi & Alexandra Kochis in Antony Tudor's "Jardin Aux Lilas (Lilac Garden)". Photo by Rich Sofranko.

From a prior performance in March 2013: Luca Sbrizzi & Alexandra Kochis in Antony Tudor’s “Jardin Aux Lilas (Lilac Garden)”. Photo by Rich Sofranko.

By Steve Sucato
News Contributing Reviewer 

Following in the footsteps of the many Pittsburghers who annually make the Chautauqua Institution their summer retreat, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre lit up the institution’s amphitheater and the spirits of those in attendance Wednesday night with a marvelously danced program featuring four works that showcased the company’s versatility and skill.

Choreographer Mark Morris’ “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes” (1988), set to Virgil Thomson’s Etudes for piano and played live by PBT pianist Yoland Colin, led things off.

Dancers in all-white costumes trickled on and off the stage, giving life to Morris’ hybrid ballet/modern dance choreography that hopped and twirled to match inflections in Thomson’s music.

A work not short on buoyant jumps and turns, Morris also showed his keen eye for stage spacing, arranging dancers in unexpected formations that proved as visually pleasing as the quirky poses he interjected throughout the piece, such as having the dancers cross their arms at the wrist overhead and the scene of rigid-bodied female dancers, head bowed, as if asleep upright in the arms of their male partners being spun off the stage.

Switching gears to that of classical ballet, Antony Tudor’s 1936 masterwork, “Jardin Aux Lilas” (“Lilac Garden”), blended superlative storytelling with heartfelt dancing. Set to a moving score by Ernest Chausson, the ballet told the story of bride-to-be Caroline (Alexandra Kochis), a woman betrothed to a man (Robert Moore) she does not love.

A moonlit party in the couple’s honor in a lilac garden provides a last encounter with the man Caroline does love (Alejandro Diaz), as well as an unplanned rendezvous with a woman (Julia Erickson) from her husband-to-be’s past.

The ballet’s Edwardian-era setting dictated the characters prim and proper outward appearance, while fleeting glimpses of the main character’s true passions frequently bubbled to the surface only to be squelched by their sense duty and decorum. Like a magician’s use of sleight of hand, Tudor injected the ballet with misdirection in the main character’s movements to disguise the many stolen glances and longing looks each of them made to their secret loves.

Kochis was captivating as the emotionally distraught Caroline as was Moore as her steely husband-to-be and Erickson as his desperate former lover.

More classical ballet followed with the “peasant pas de deux” from the ballet “Giselle.” A lighthearted flirtation dense with technical dancing, the pas de deux was performed with competition-winning skill by dancer Yoshiaki Nakano and spritely delicacy by PBT soloist Amanda Cochrane. Nakano’s near technically flawless jumps and turns served to rouse the audience.

The stylistically diverse program closed with choreographer Dwight Rhoden’s energetic contemporary ballet tribute to the doo-wop era, “Step Touch” (2009).

Danced to radio classics like “Sweets for my Sweet”, “There Goes My Baby” and “This Magic Moment”, Step Touch was a finger-snapping, street corner swaying romp dressed up in contemporary costume and movement.

Rhoden’s choreography for the work had a slick grace to it that blended the precision of synchronized swimming with dancer movements that seemed to melt in place.

The large group work, save for its glam swimwear-like costumes, fit nicely on the company that included Buffalo-native Gabrielle Thurlow, who provided the ballet’s most thrilling moment as she was tossed spinning high into the air and into the waiting arms of PBT’s male dancers.

A shorter version of this review appeared in The Buffalo News August 24, 2013. Copyright Steve Sucato

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