Pennsylvania Ballet opened its season, the first entirely programed by Angel Corella, Thursday night at the Academy of Music, looking like a very different troupe from a year ago. The company added a new principal dancer, three new soloists, and several new dancers to the corps de ballet. The behind-the-scenes staff is mostly new.
The evening included two company premieres, both quite modern - Wayne McGregor's Chroma and Christopher Wheeldon's DVG: Danse a Grande Vitesse.
Most different and less tangible is the feel of the company, a lushness, a group confidence. The program was called "Speed and Precision," and Pennsylvania Ballet delivered. The title could also refer to the company's presumed future, with fearless dancers who do not hold back, such as soloist Lillian Di Piazza (in Balanchine's Concerto Barocco) and longtime principal dancer Amy Aldridge (in DGV).
The evening opened with Chroma, a study of athleticism and modernity, with dancers in simple tunics against a mostly bare, white backdrop, to music by Jody Talbot and the White Stripes. Two percussionists played in the boxes on either side of the stage. The dancers as a whole impressed, but most striking were Alexander Peters, who at times seemed to be truly moved by the percussive beat, and Oksana Maslova, whose flexibility amazed, even for a ballet dancer. A former rhythmic gymnast, she stretched her leg far past 180 degrees, but also created beautiful shapes by simply pointing and flexing her feet in a lift.
Pennsylvania Ballet has often danced Concerto Barocco - but the ease, clarity, and precision were new, in both the beautiful patterns of the corps - reminiscent of English country dancing - and the soloists, Di Piazza, Marria Cosentino, and James Ihde. Cosentino, a corps dancer, was a delight, with an especially airy quality to her movements.
Wheeldon's DGV is a nod to European train travel, particularly France's TGV. Grande vitesse is French for "great speed," and the ballet, set to a modern score by Michael Nyman (who composed it to commemorate the 1993 opening of the TGV's northern European line), did not disappoint. Four principal couples and 16 other dancers never stopped moving, swaying like passengers standing on a train, twisting and turning, acting and reacting in rhythmic patterns as cogs in a great machine, reminiscent of Diego Rivera's industrial Detroit Industry frescos.
If this is what's to come for Pennsylvania Ballet, I'm eager to see how this season, and those to follow, develop.
2 and 8 p.m. Saturday; 2 p.m. Sunday. Academy of Music. Tickets: $29-$135. Information: 215-893-1999, paballet.org.