Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre opened its 45th season under the stars at Hartwood Acres with a new look and some old favorites.
With five veterans leaving the company, PBT will no doubt skew younger this season, leaving the door open for a range of possibilities among the company dancers. Sunday’s annual program signaled that changing of the guard, especially with principals Christopher Budzynski and Julia Erickson, soloist Alexandre Silva and corps dancer Joseph Parr out with injuries. Virtually all of the new company members played a part in the evening’s presentation.
The main focus was a collection of divertissements or highlights from “Don Quixote,” part of last season’s repertoire. Leading the flamenco charge were Amanda Cochrane and Yoshiaki Nakano, a confident pair with significant star power who made their debuts last April. She had put more thought into her part, shaping her solo with tension and release and aiming for longer balances. He enhanced his considerable technique with a longer series of pirouettes and tight double tours in the air. When they were together, he was frequently unable to find her center, although Ms. Cochrane took it all in stride.
There was another Kitri and Basilio in another of the divertissements. It was good to see the good-natured Luca Sbrizzi, out for a lengthy period with his own injury, back defining his crisp technique. And Gabrielle Thurlow was the surprise of the night in the speedy, prancing solo from Act I, signaling that she will be one to watch in the upcoming season.
Her exciting series of traveling pirouettes down the line of Toreadors pointed out another strength: This was probably the most homogeneous group of male corps dancers yet assembled at PBT, tall with good proportions yet demonstrating an individuality packed with potential.
Continuing in the classic vein, “Don Quixote” was preceded by “The Sleeping Beauty” pas de deux, performed by Alexandra Kochis and Alejandro Diaz. This also is a pairing that has benefited both dancers. Ms. Kochis had a real lilt to her step, with a burgeoning charm and pliancy to her phrasing, and Mr. Diaz, princely to the core, continued to impress with his attention to detail.
The program began with Viktor Plotnikov’s “In Your Eyes,” a puzzling title for this premiere last year, to be sure, and one that didn’t fit Dvorak’s “American” string quartet. It was no better on second viewing, breaking up some lovely phrases by placing the dancers in awkward positions, although the PBT dancers made the most of what they were given.
The third movement, a play on rag dolls and/or “Coppelia,” lacked a true comedic touch, and the tutu motif, which had them pushed down to the ankles, forcing the ballerinas to swoosh on and off stage in pigeon-toed fashion, missed its mark.
It’s difficult to execute a comedic ballet within the realm of this innately aristocratic art form, so they are few and far between. But PBT audiences will be able to enjoy one of the best later this season when “The Concert,” created by choreographic master Jerome Robbins, will make its Pittsburgh debut.
Former Post-Gazette critic Jane Vranish: firstname.lastname@example.org. She blogs at www.pittsburghcrosscurrents.com.