It's our continuing good fortune that the Pennsylvania Ballet has been making its way to these parts with increasing regularity in recent years. The handsome, adept, Philadelphia-based troupe helps to show that classical ballet on a sizable scale and of rigorous standards need not be confined to New York City, and among comparable metropolitan companies the Pennsylvania ranks with the best.
The troupe's current visit -- three nights at the Tawes Theatre -- comes to us thanks to the University of Maryland's annual summer arts festival. On the evidence of last night's opening performance, the company is in especially fine shape. The generally impressive dancing was much enhanced by an admirable particular of company policy -- live music, most capably provided by the Pennsylvania Orchestra under the knowing leadership of Maurice Kaplow.
The notable novelty of the evening was a ballet called "Yes, Virginia, Another Piano Ballet," by Peter Anastos, once one of the luminaries of the ballet travesty group, Les Ballets Trockadero. Anastos is now on his own as a choreographer, and last year he set "Yes, Virginia" -- originally created for the Trocks in 1976 -- on the Pennsylvania company, adding a couple of new sections.
It's a wonderful bit of spoofery, taking off from Jerome Robbins' celebrated "Dances at a Gathering" and the progeny that work spawned. An on-stage pianist (Richard Veleta, last night) plays Chopin, while the five dancers in color-coded costumes make light of the manners and mannerisms of neo-Romantic abstraction. Enroute one ballerina gets shoved under the piano, a frisky couple plays footsie, dancers lose their bearings or collide, the two men are knocked flat by some grands battements, among other mishaps, and a final, "poignant" touching of earth goes scatologically awry. The marvelous thing about the Pennsylvania performance, sparked by Robin Preiss' hangdog menace as the Girl in Lavender, is the way it shows off Anastos' genuine choreographic wit -- the craft and humor become even clearer in the absence of the Trocks' broad burlesques.
The evening began with a lucid, well-modulated performance of Balanchine's "Serenade" in which Tamara Hadley and Dana Arey distinguished themselves. Arey was a convincingly distraught Caroline in Tudor's "Lilac Garden," but the other principals came too close to melodramatic stereotypes to convey the ballet's emotional subtleties. The program's one disposable item, however, was the "Black Swan" Pas de Deux, in a solid but stylistically errant performance by Sylviane Bayard and Edward Myers. The company offers a second program tonight, and a mixture from the first two evenings tomorrow night.