Pittsburgh Ballet performance at the August Wilson Center impresses

Luca Sbrizzi in “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes,' part of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s 'Unspoken.'
Luca Sbrizzi in “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes,' part of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s 'Unspoken.'
Photo by Rich Sofranko
| Sunday, March 10, 2013, 9:42 a.m.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's “Unspoken” is a feast for dance lovers, a triple bill of exhilarating genius by three masters of modern dance — George Balanchine, Anthony Tudor and Mark Morris. The production, seen March 2, benefits from the intimacy of the small theater at the August Wilson Center. Downtown.

The balcony is the place from which to experience Balanchine's “Serenade” because it affords the best view of the choreographer's inventive patterns of large-scale movements. It is set to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky's gorgeous Serenade for Strings. He originally choreographed the first three movements, ending quietly with the Elegie, and later added Tchaikovsky's finale but placed it before the Elegie.

“Serenade” has no narrative line, but Balanchine did create shrewd transitions. The first movement is almost entirely for female dancers, who move from a long and elegant line into a series of subgroups, some of which come together for very creatively artful poses, but mainly delight through the unending inventiveness of abstract movement.

The first male dancer enters at the end of the first movement to partner with the leading woman. The waltz featuring Christine Schwaner and Nurlan Abougaliev that follows could not be a more natural continuation. Similarly, Schwaner's collapse at the end of the ballet's third movement (Tchaikovsky's finale) leads directly to the ballet's Elegie finale.

Although there were a few imprecisions in what should have been straight lines of dancers on Saturday, the unanimity of the corps' arm movements and the overall timing were impressive. The leading dancers, also including Amanda Cochrane, Eva Trapp and Robert Moore, were all excellent.

Tudor's “Jardin aux Lilas” (Lilac Garden) is a narrative ballet in costumes set to Ernest Chausson's Poeme for solo violin and orchestra — darkly moody music that serves the story well. Cochrane performed a beautifully nuanced portrayal of Caroline, a woman about to enter into a marriage of convenience who encounters her true love at a farewell party before the ceremony. Abougaliev, as Her Lover, also skillfully danced around the line between ardent attraction and fear of being discovered.

Alejandro Diaz was The Man She Must Marry, a stiffly aristocratic role in this Victorian story. Elysa Hotchkiss was the fourth member of the awkward romantic quarter, playing An Episode in His Past.

Tudor's dramatically honest choreography is based on classical ballet, but stripped of ornament and display. He also makes uncommonly fine use of the leading dancers' eyes as propriety and desire conflict.

“Dance to Me Only With Thine Eyes” is, like the Balanchine, a non-narrative ballet. Morris takes fresh inspiration from each of the 12 Etudes for Piano by Virgil Thompson. Company pianist Yoland Collin played Thompson's music with keenly drawn personality and unostentatious wit. The evening's other ballets were danced to recordings.

Morris created this work for American Ballet Theatre, which gave the premiere in 1988. It is joyously playful — playful in the interaction of the dancers and playful in the way their movements deconstruct and reassemble elements of dance vocabulary — not that he doesn't add twists of his own invention.

The exuberance of the ballet's dozen dancers who performed this work was irresistible, both in moments of individuality and in patterned ensemble action.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's “Unspoken” will be repeated at 2 p.m. March 10 and 17, 7:30 p.m. March 14, and 8 p.m. March 15 and 16 at the August Wilson Center, Downtown. Admission is $23.75 to $68.75.

Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny@tribweb.

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