The Pennsylvania Ballet closed out its performing season with a dance banquet centered around N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz, a tennis-shoe ballet choreographed by Jerome Robbins back in 1958.
The Robbins piece, never before seen here, was the main course, but the hors d’oeuvres were just as outstanding: Beside Them, They Dwell, by Matthew Neenan, and The Barber Violin Concerto, choreographed by Peter Martins of NY City Ballet, which opened the show. Martins’ choreography was elegantly simple, a fine fit for the concerto that provided the musical accompaniment for Lauren Fadeley partnered with Jong Suk Park, and Barette Vance Widell dancing with Alex Ratcliffe-Lee. Violinist Luigi Mazzocchi earned a huge ovation.
Perhaps the most delicious of the appetizers was the contribution of the ballet’s resident choreographer, Matthew Neenan, set to music by Pierre Boulez. This dance abstraction was polished and fascinating thanks to Neenan’s superb skill at entangling odd gestures, weird reactions and unusual partnerships. Somehow he makes it all come together in a way that’s fascinating and even a bit grand. Amy Aldridge, tall and lean, was paired with Ian Hussey, who seemed to grow 10 inches partnering her. Lauren Fadeley and Jermel Johnson were excellent, as were Evelyn Kocak, Alexander Peters and Daniel Cooper.
All of which led us to the 1950s and N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz. Here came the ladies with ponytails, sneakers and circle skirts, plus a little bit of pushing and shoving a la West Side Story. The music was bebop, and it was hard not to tap out the tempo. Looking around the audience, there was an unusual amount of clapping and head-bobbing — most of the audience probably remembered well their own days of tennies and circle skirts. Thu., May 31, Merriam Theater.