Friday, June 3, 2011

for some brotherly love

DISCLAIMER:  This post will have absolutely nothing to do with food.

Still with me?  Great.  Hopefully, you live in Philadelphia or you live in a major metropolitan area that hosts a similarly outstanding ballet company.  If not, you may find this post to be completely boring and probably useless.  If so, let's keep going!

Like I mentioned a few posts back, I had the incredible surprise and good fortune to win two tickets to see La Fille Mal Gardee, choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton, performed by the inimitable Pennsylvania Ballet.  Tonight was the magical night.

I left work early so I would have time to go home, re-beautify and change my clothes before heading over to the show.  I was sad that my Sister couldn't join me, but she had some kind of wretched allergic reaction to something so I was more sad for her than for me.  She was with me in spirit, though, as I laughed and held my breath throughout the performance, knowing how she would have loved it.

I took the 40 bus to Broad Street and then walked up to the Academy of Music, passing the Kimmel Center just in time to catch the Eiffel Tower light show (which started with PIFA and will run through June). The Academy is probably my absolute favorite venue in the entire city (and I've been to a few...).  I love the Academy so much that I held a bitter grudge against the Kimmel Center merely for existing, for the first several years after it opened.  Even after attending a few concerts and other performances there, the flame still burns for the Academy.  It's old, it's opulent, and it was modeled after a real opera house in Italy (my dream).  It has a HUGE crystal chandelier hanging from a muraled ceiling, framed with gilded balconies and figurines.  The seats are made of a red fabric that either is velvet or looks darn close, and there are brass railings throughout.  The lobby is old-fashioned grandeur and there are impressive staircases throughout, including the steps leading up to the entrance which is guarded by oil lamps.

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Anyway, I pranced in, showed my ticket to a few people, one of whom actually walked me to my seat with a smile and a playbill, and took my very nice, center-oriented seat in the Parquet Circle with plenty of time to read through the program notes before the performance began.  I acquainted myself with the storyline, then checked out the dancers who had been cast.  I have loved the ballet for years - I went regularly when I was younger and had disposable income and a "rich" boyfriend who subscribed, and when I was older and poorer, I worked for the PABallet, selling subscriptions for a pittance and the dangled opportunity to attend the ballets for free.  I am familiar with a number of the dancers, past and present, and I have my loyalties.  I was thrilled to find that Arantxa Ochoa would be dancing the lead female role, Lise.  I nearly fell out of my chair with joy and surprise when I saw that Jeffrey Gribler would be performing the part of Widow Simone, another "female" lead, though it is historically performed by a male dancer. 

photo credit

Are you familiar with Jeffrey Gribler?  If not, please do yourself a favor - search his name on Google and read the first few articles that come up.  He is an astonishingly brilliant artist-athlete.  I used to love seeing him perform - he was absolutely my favorite principal, male or female.  He retired from dancing in 2001, dancing the part of Puck in A Midsummer Night's Dream, and I will probably punish myself forever for missing it.  He has remained part of the staff of the PA Ballet, though, as the Ballet Master.  I was surprised to see him performing, since that is not part of that role.  Obviously, the part of a widowed mother is not a terribly straining part, but it was still great to see him on stage again and he had all of the character and charm I remembered.

The lead male part, Colas, was supposed to be danced by Zachary Hench, who looks like the subject of a painting from the renaissance - I dare you to find someone more Roman looking.  His nose looks perfectly sculpted after a painting by Michaelangelo.  Go on, click the link - you know you want to.  However, for reasons we may never know, for tonight's performance, a "mere" soloist, Francis Veyette, danced the part of Colas.  If I were in charge of promotions in the ballet company, you can bet that Mr. Veyette and James Ihde would be the next soloists I would move up to Principals. 

The ballet was phenomenal and as usually happens, about halfway through, I decided that I want to be a ballerina when I grow up.  Considering Jeffrey Gribler was only 10 years older than I am now when he retired after dancing for the PABallet for 25 years, I think I might be a little late to the game... A girl can dream, though, right?  Don't tell Mister, but I think we're going dancing on Saturday night.  Back to La Fille mal Gardee (which translates to "the poorly guarded girl"): Ochoa was amazing in the lead role.  One of the reasons I admire her is because I don't think I have ever seen a woman so strong yet so delicate at the same time.  She may very well be the strongest dancer in the company and she is outstanding in character roles because she has an extremely expressive face.  Veyette was utterly charming and the chemistry between him and Ochoa was tangible.  They danced so beautifully together, it was difficult to tell if they were in character or just happy with the other.  Gribler was, of course, terrific - I also enjoy him in character roles because he also has a very expressive face and a larger-than-life demeanor.  It was hilarious watching him bumble around in make-up and a dress, complete with fake boobs!

If you live within respectable driving/train-riding distance of Philadelphia, do yourself a favor and see this ballet.  It is the last performance of the 2010-11 season, so if you miss it, you will have to wait until the usual opening night gala in October.  Since it is only now beginning to warm up in Philadelphia, October certainly feels far away to me!  Some logistics, if you follow the PABallet closely enough to care about casting:

Sunday, June 5 and Saturday, June 11, both performances at 2PM, you will see:
  • Arantxa Ochoa as Lise,
  • Zachary Hench as Colas, and
  • Ian Hussey as Alain, Lise's other suitor
Saturday, June 4 @ 12 noon; Friday, June 10 @ 7:30PM; and Saturday, June 11 @ 8PM:
  • Amy Aldridge will dance Lise,
  • Francis Veyette as Colas, and 
  • Andrew Daly as Alain 
Jeffrey Gribler dances the part of the Widow Simone in all the performances.

If you don't live near Philadelphia, I am very sorry - you might want to consider relocating.  Even if you don't want to pack all your worldly belongings and uproot your life just so you can see our world-class Ballet Company and our "big Five" Orchestra, the ballet itself was really a fun and accessible ballet - quite a bit comedic yet with several grand displays of the level of talent and physical perfection required to dance - you should see if any companies near you will be performing this work, as choreographed by Sir Frederick Ashton, anytime soon.  If so - go!

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