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Review: Narrative, spectacle balanced in Jorden Morris' 'Peter Pan'

Overactive interpretation is the bane of many contemporary theatrical settings of familiar stories, which can be lost in the process. Choreographer Jorden Morris took a more direct approach in his version of "Peter Pan," which Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre presented this weekend to open its season at the Benedum Center, Downtown.

Narrative and spectacle are well-balanced in the production Morris, a former dancer at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Canada, created in 2006. He delights in using classical ballet dancing for action and expression of feeling, supplementing it with a lot of mime. The story is faithfully told, its progress always crystal-clear.

The aerial sequences were fabulous illusions using the technology of the Flying by Foy company. The most spectacular were spinning moves, including aerial somersaults.

Morris takes his time introducing the Darling family, a sensible decision since it is the basis of the fantasy. The ballet opens with Wendy and her brothers Michael and John playing with the family dog Nana, delightfully performed by Corey Bourbonniere. The swordfight Wendy wins over Michael will be mirrored later when she bests Peter.

The Darling parents were elegantly performed Saturday evening by Nurlan Abougaliev and Ashley Wegmann, a member of the corps who made the most of her solo role. These dancers also impressive as Captain Hook and Tiger Lily in Neverland.

Another member of the corps, Caitlin Peabody, had an even bigger solo role Saturday - Tinker Bell. Peabody created a wonderfully mercurial character, and had stunning flutter steps on pointe. It won't be surprising if she moves up in the company.

Christopher Budzynski threw himself into the role of Peter, a mainly exuberant portrayal but no less persuasive in earnest moments. His dancing was, as always, very impressive athletically. His legs were breathtakingly quick.

Wendy received a winning portrayal by Alexandra Kochis, a nicely poised mix of girlishness with dawning maturity, and directness with elegance.

The performance benefited greatly from live performance of a smartly chosen score of English music. The vivacious beginning of the fugue from Benjamin Britten's "A Young Person's Guide to the Orchestra" fit the energy of the Fairies as they revive Tinker Bell after she drank poisoned medicine to save Peter. Tinker Bell rose as the majestic theme by Purcell entered in the music.

Charles Barker and the Pittsburgh Ballet Orchestra gave a magnificent performance, including at some very tough, fast tempi. Solos were strong, every section of the ensemble was impressive and full ensemble sonorities were quite rich.

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