Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Unspoken | Dance | Pittsburgh | Pittsburgh City Paper

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Unspoken

Works by Balanchine, Tudor and Morris make for a gem of a program.

Luca Sbrizzi and Alexandra Kochis in "Jardin Aux Lilas (Lilac Garden)."
Luca Sbrizzi and Alexandra Kochis in "Jardin Aux Lilas (Lilac Garden)."

A triple bill worthy of the world's foremost ballet companies, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Unspoken unites three masterworks by three master choreographers into one gem of a program.

This past Sunday's performance at the August Wilson Center began with George Balanchine's iconic "Serenade" (1935). The opening was stunning, the curtain rising on 17 female dancers in long tulle skirts and pointe shoes arranged in two adjoining diamonds, each with one arm outstretched, palm outward. The work offered many elegant movement phrases, some culled from the great story ballets (Giselle, Swan Lake) and some derived from mistakes made during its creation. Through to its striking ending — with dancer Julia Erickson lifted by three male dancers to stand atop one's shoulders, and be carried slowly toward a mysterious light — "Serenade" exemplified the very definition of balletic beauty and grace.

Set to Tchaikovsky's brilliant Serenade for Strings in C, Op. 48, the ballet is fast-paced and technically unforgiving. For the most part, PBT's dancers proved more than capable, especially the three female leads: Erickson, Alexandra Kochis and Elysa Hotchkiss. But the female corps de ballet (which included upper-level students from the PBT's school) at times looked out of sync.

Antony Tudor's 1936 classic "Jardin Aux Lilas (Lilac Garden)" followed. It told the story of Caroline (Kochis), a woman betrothed to a man (Robert Moore) she does not love. A moonlit farewell party for the couple in a lilac garden set the scene for a last encounter with the man (Luca Sbrizzi) whom Caroline does love, as well as "an episode" involving a woman (Erickson) from her husband-to-be's past.  

Set to a score by Ernest Chausson and performed masterfully by PBT's dancers, Tudor's expressive choreography played out like a silent film. The cast of Edwardian-era characters streamed through expertly crafted dance phrases, creating textural layers that added to the ballet's recurrent images of love and longing.

Mark Morris' "Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes" (1988), set to Virgil Thomson's "Etudes for piano" and played record-perfect live by pianist Yoland Colin, was a Pittsburgh premiere. Morris took academic ballet steps and cleverly twisted them into a quirky, satisfying flirtation to conclude PBT's stellar program. 

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