The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's summer performance at Hartwood Acres is usually a harbinger of things to come during the new season. But the company's appearance Thursday evening served a dual purpose this year in that it could be regarded as a welcome home party.
Assembling before the event under the striped tent with a tasty buffet by Big Black Grill, company members were still excited over the group's trip to Israel last week, with appearances at the Karmiel Dance Festival. The dancers lost count of the number of bows, putting it at "around 12."
The company brought back from the tour George Balanchine's "Sylvia Pas de Deux," rendered here by Julia Erickson and Alexandre Silva. Ms. Erickson was in fine form from the start, arching her back strongly in her arabesques. I love the way she looks at her partners, with a piercing gaze that is part challenging, part teasing, then turns to the audience and embraces us as well. Mr. Silva, however, was part sturdy aristocrat, part oddly casual, which translated to bent knees in his aerial tours. Ms. Erickson remained oblivious as she dazzled throughout the virtuosic number, culminating in a series of daring hops en pointe.
While the company didn't perform Dwight Rhoden's "Step Touch," the choreographer was still represented at Hartwood with an encore of "Chromatic," one of his best. It had its premiere in February at the August Wilson Center. Leave it to Mr. Rhoden to find a rash of contemporary elements in the Bach score, which was laden with futuristic modulations and a sense of anticipation. While "Chromatic" didn't have the benefit of Michael Korsch's gorgeous lighting design at Hartwood, that meant that the emphasis was thrown onto the choreography.
The ballet itself looked different in this altered state, allowing the audience to take in Mr. Rhoden's lean, dense movement in breathable gulps. The dancers seemed to relish the opportunity, with women entering as if impaling the stage on stillettos. Alexandra Kochis and Christopher Budzynski created two intertwining slipstreams in their duos, but they weren't the only ones throwing caution to the wind. Others latching onto the Baroque momentum included Elyssa Hotchkiss with Robert Moore, Eva Trapp with Nurlan Abougaliev, and, most surprisingly, a passionate Caitlin Peabody, who looked so expansive with Joseph Parr.
Another dancer to watch is Yoshiaki Nakano. He has always had the kind of bold technique (and subsequent audience connection) that can't be taught. But he still struggled with managing his lanky frame. That was all under control in August Bournonville's "Pas de Six From Napoli," which artistic director Terrence Orr staged for the seven dancers who remained in Pittsburgh during the tour (with some adjusting).
Mr. Nakano held his upper body erect here, something that should convert nicely to subsequent roles this year. The others in "Napoli" were all newer additions to the PBT ensemble, except for veteran Makoto Ono, who looked exceptionally happy to be back on stage following an injury. The others had the prerequisite skill to negotiate the footwork in "Napoli," although there wasn't the ultra-sunny disposition and buoyant lilt that gives the Bournonville style its real appeal.
Christine Schwaner and Luca Sbrizzi followed with Bournonville's "The Flower Festival in Genzano Pas de Deux." Ms. Schwaner, however, had the generosity that was required, as well as a lovely line in her high extensions.
Mr. Sbrizzi, of all the dancers in the Bournonville ballets at Hartwood, had a real grasp of the footwork, not only in developing airy jumps, but also those traveling steps to the side that are a hallmark of the Danish style.