BEHIND THE CURTAIN with The Pennsylvania Ballet
Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancers Zachary Hench and Riolama Lorenzo in Christopher Wheeldon's wan Lake. (photo: Paul Kolnik)

Pennsylvania Ballet principal dancers Zachary Hench and Riolama Lorenzo in Christopher Wheeldon's wan Lake. (photo: Paul Kolnik)

We sit in the audience, and the show onstage enthralls us:  the swirl of costumes, the pulsating music, the mystery of lighting in the darkness of the theater.  Astounding moves look effortless and dancers seem to float on air.  A world of fairy tales and feathers and thwarted romance unfolds and we are transported.

Ah, but what drama unfolds behind the curtain?

Perhaps I’ve seen too many movies, because what I expected was not at all what I found when I got to peek into the studios of one of the world’s premiere ballet companies, The Pennsylvania Ballet.

Principal dancer Arantxa Ochoa.   (Photo: Alexander Iziliaev) 

Principal dancer Arantxa Ochoa.   (Photo: Alexander Iziliaev) 

Arantxa with soloist Francis Veyette and (2nd row) soloist Barette Vance with corps de ballet dancer Andre Vytoptov. (Photo: Alexander Iziliaev) 

Arantxa with soloist Francis Veyette and (2nd row) soloist Barette Vance with corps de ballet dancer Andre Vytoptov. (Photo: Alexander Iziliaev) 

Artists of The Pennsylvania Ballet. (Photo: Alexander Iziliaev) 

Artists of The Pennsylvania Ballet. (Photo: Alexander Iziliaev) 

Soloist James Ihde in rehearsal with corps de ballet dancer Evelyn Kocak and onstage with principal dancer Riolama Lorenzo in Jerome Robbins' In The Night.  (left photo: Doreen Creede / right photo: Paul Kolnik).

Soloist James Ihde in rehearsal with corps de ballet dancer Evelyn Kocak and onstage with principal dancer Riolama Lorenzo in Jerome Robbins' In The Night.  (left photo: Doreen Creede / right photo: Paul Kolnik).

My first surprise was the athleticism behind the artistry.  Up close, in the bright lights of the rehearsal studio, you see the sweat streaming down Barette Vance’s smiling face as she flits through Balanchine; feel the reverberation of Francis Veyette’s muscled legs pounding into the floor, with the thinnest slipper as “protection;” wince as James Ihde’s rippling arms swoop a sitting Evelyn Kocak straight over his head, as if she weighs no more than a pillow.  You think back to that awkward ballet class you took at the age of six, and realize that for every million little girls who dream of being a ballerina, perhaps one actually makes it her career.  Or to put it in terms my husband would relate to: this is the NFL of the dance world.

My next surprise was what I didn’t see:  No drama.  No divas.

During rehearsal, when a “take” [my word] didn’t work, the ballet mistress and dancers had a calm, collaborative discussion.  At a reception after an In-Studio Show, dancers ranging from veteran principals to new young corps de ballet members got along as though a happy family and made us visitors feel like welcome friends.

Perhaps the camaraderie is because company dancers spend more time together than most families, training nine hours a day, five days a week, 10 months a year.  Or perhaps it’s that a quarter of the company literally is family:  three couples in the Pennsylvania Ballet are married, one engaged.

But I think it’s something else.  I think it’s the joy that comes from making a living by every day doing the thing you truly love. The positive energy in those unadorned rehearsal rooms--lined with storage boxes, lights glaring overhead--was simply infectious.

(Photo by Alexander Iziliaev)

(Photo by Alexander Iziliaev)

AT THE MOVIES: The Black Swan Connection
Given the hype, you probably think the movie Black Swan inspired this post.  In fact, it was a letter from my friend Janis Goodman, chair of the board of trustees, that piqued my interest.  Not until later did I discover that 14 of The Pennsylvania Ballet’s dancers appeared in the movie and that the Company will perform Swan Lake this March, followed in April by the premiere of a new work by Benjamin Millepied, Black Swan’s choreographer and Natalie Portman’s fiancé.

ONSTAGE: The Pennsylvania Ballet's Spring 2011 Season
(Unbelievably, tickets start at just $20.)

February 3-6Classic Innovations
(includes: The Vertiginous Thrill of Exactitude; Polyphonia; In The Upper Room)
March 3-13Swan Lake
April 14-17Building On Balanchine
(includes: Agon; a yet-to-be-named world premiere by Benjamin Millepied; and Who Cares?)
June 2-11La Fille Mal Gardee

Artistic Director: Roy Kaiser| paballet.org   | 215-893-1955

BEHIND THE LENS:
 
The contrast of Paul Kolnik’s flawless performance pictures and the natural beauty of Alexander Iziliaev’s studio shots completely captivated me.  Then came my third surprise of this post: photography is a hobby for Alexander.  His longtime "day job" is principal dancer with The Pennsylvania Ballet.  That's him, at left, in Balanchine's Agon.    Talk about talented!  (Alexander's photo by ... you guessed it ... Paul Kolnik)

"Use the good china for breakfast."
XOXO