News and Views
3:52 pm
Wed April 25, 2007

LAMBARENA (MODERN MASTERS): Pennsylvania Ballet

The men in Lambarena, a dance inspired by music of the same name, leap like gazelles across the Serengeti Plain. But the venue is the Merriam Theater, and we're watching the Pennsylvania Ballet. The women dancing hold their heads so high on their long necks, swing their arms and hips so well you can tell these skinny beauties have worked with African advisers.

LAMBARENA (MODERN MASTERS): Pennsylvania Ballet

Merriam Theater

April 25-29, 2007

The men in Lambarena, a dance inspired by music of the same name, leap like gazelles across the Serengeti Plain. But the venue is the Merriam Theater, and we're watching the Pennsylvania Ballet. The women dancing hold their heads so high on their long necks, swing their arms and hips so well you can tell these skinny beauties have worked with African advisers. Their ankle-length dresses are the colors of the sunset. They dance behind a sky lit like something out of Turner. Val Caniparoli made this dance of eight sections after hearing the score, an imaginative collage of African song layered into and over J.S. Bach. It includes the howl of dogs and the beat of sticks and drums. The women dance en pointe which can make them look like rare birds. The piece is bewitching. James Ady was one of the splendid soloists. Sandra Woodall's roseate set and costumes and Lisa Pinkhams' lighting are a delight. Lambarena is one of two company premieres.

The other is Twyla Tharpe's In The Upper Room, set to Philip Glass. The choreography has so much going on: diagonals, circles, lifts, odd partnerings; a fascinating use of space. It's so athletic it's like animating Fernand Leger. Glass's motor-driven surges seem more dangerous, more beautiful as the choreographers nine scenes whiz into one another. Jennifer Tipton, who created the original lighting in 1986, was given the mandate of a Chinese Temple. Today the mysterious haze into which dancers disappear has the effect of virtual reality, as if dancers are being sucked into cyberspace. The whimsical costumes are by Norma Kamali: Black and white with a dash of red. Red toe shoe boots for the women. The dancing is smashing. But now and then the precision is off. The trio of men, for instance: someone's shoulders undulate too much. Tharp's rigor is sometimes missing but not zest. This dance at 40 minutes is more difficult than Lambarena: So much to sustain; so much to remember. But much was achieved.

I'm Lesley Valdes for WRTI.

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