In a second program at the Kennedy Center Opera House last night, greeted by a more appreciative crowd than the reserved one at Tuesday's opening, the Pennsylvania Ballet reconfirmed its manifold appeal. This is an ensemble of splendidly trained dancers, among them some notable individual talents, and the troupe as a whole is not only unusually cohesive and spirited, but admirable also for its stylistic range.
Last night's program began, as did the first, with Balanchine -- in this case, the vintage "Allegro Brillante" of 1956. Balanchine once said of it that it contained "everything I knew about they classicl ballet -- in 13 minutes." Indeed, it's a compendium of classical maneuvers, streamlined and accelerated through the filter of Balanchine's modernity.
The ballet begins with a pinwheel formation of four couples, who disperse to fill the stage with spins, beats and jumps in dazzling combination. The work lives up to its name -- it's fast and scintillating, with few moments of repose, and the mood is unremittingly euphoric. Like the truncated Tchaikovsky Concerto which is its score, though, the opus remains somewhat superficial despite all the brilliance of its workmanship.
The performance was excellent. These Pennsylvanias have got that sleek, pulled-up, wide-shouldered Balanchine look down to a science. Magali Messac, suavely partner by William De Gregory, had all the breadth and snap the movement calls for. If anything was missing it was a certain schmaltzy, Russian warmth -- the ballet needs it to humanize its cool technical perfection.
If the Balanchine was all brio and speed, Hans Van Manen's "Adagic Hammerklavier" made a fine counterweight with its gravity and expansiveness. Van Manen's Dutch modern idiom freely blends clasical steps with crawls, contractions and snapping heads.
In this work he uses the slow movement of Beethoven's Op. 106 Sonata to create a study in sustained, expressionistic severity. If the effect, in the end, seems more cerebral than poetic, it is nonetheless an impressive achievement of ballet architecture. It would be hard to imagine a more opposite interpretation than the one by last night's three couples -- in particular, Dana Arey projected a sublime austerity, and Michelle Lucci was remarkable for the exactitude of her placement and rhythmic intensity.
"Graduation Ball" still seemed wrongheaded in its burlesque approach, but the performance was much improved by a more gracious tempo, greater technical security and the inclusion of the Sylph adagio, Charmingly set forth by Arey and James Mercer.