Entertainment » Theatre

Mary Poppins

by David Toussaint
Contributor
Tuesday Nov 21, 2006
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Ashley Brown in Mary Poppins
Ashley Brown in Mary Poppins  

Pennsylvania Ballet opens up its season with different back to back bills, starting October 10 with a program featuring modern works, immediately followed up by a full length ballet. It’s a format artistic director Roy Kaiser prefers to kick start the company after the summer months off.

The modern program is comprised of Company B choreographer Paul Taylor’s lyrical dance salute and memoriam to the soldiers of WWII, scored to the Andrew Sisters and other music of the era. An instant classic on Taylor’s company, the piece looks great on PAB.

Also on the program is Matt Neenan’s darkly elegant ballet As it’s Going scored to music by Dmitri Shostakovich, which he premiered last year. The bill is filled out with the George Balanchine’s pristine neoclassical warhorse Concerto Barocco which, for better or for worse, really shakes off any esprit de corps summer hangover .

Heading the cast as that dreamy (Boogie Woogie)’Bugle Boy’ is corps de ballet veteran Neenan, who has danced dozens of feature roles during his 12 year tenure with the company and will be hanging up his horn and his tights after this run. Well at least for now. Neenan, who is now an in demand choreographer for several other companies as well running his own successful company (with co-artistic director and former PAB dancer Christine Cox) Ballet X.

Neenan has produced eight ballets for PAB and two of their most successful productions ever in his revamp of ’Carmina’ and the unlikely critical and popular success of ’11:11’ scored to a song cycle by star Rufus Wainwright.

Running between directing his own ballet and performing Bugle Boy a few weeks ago, Neenan talked about hanging up his dancebelt, "I was just going to slip away. It was time, but when I saw that Company B was in the fall rep, I thought that might be kind of nice to do it again, since it was my very first role here. And it was also an excuse to keep my body in shape. Physically, I am in better shape than I was even at 20. My body is stronger, but I hurt more." he said


Kaiser nurtured Matt’s choreography from the start. "The first quality I saw in him as a dancer is the same quality I saw in him as a young choreographer- his musicality," explained Kaiser. "As a corps de ballet dancer, he did all of the work and we’ve been able to pull him out often and feature him in many roles. We use a traditional casting system, but I don’t cast that way and Matt was the always ready for anything".

Two weeks later, the company will be onstage at the Academy of Music Halloween week for their production of the evening length Dracula. Conceived in 1997 by Houston Ballet artistic director-choreographer Ben Stevenson to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Bram Stoker’s psycho-sexual thriller.

Stevenson’s narrative keeps the gothic campy horror in and around Castle Dracula, instead of hothouse London bedrooms. But the Count’s couture cape is just as spellbinding on unsuspecting dancing villagers, and, his faithful bug-eating slave Renfield. The Count finds plenty of dance partners to feast on in the local village, despite all of the crucifixes and garlic hanging about to ward off bleeding (or bad dancing).

Dracula’s anemic wives look like escapees from the silent film era and are frequently are banished to the opera house rafters by their moody master. All hilarious fun on the Academy of Music stage, made all the darker by the ballet’s score by Hungarian composer Franz Liszt.

At the New Amsterdam Theatre. Tickets are available at the theater’s box office, all Ticketmaster outlets, or by calling Ticketmaster at 212-307-4747. Prices range from $20 to $110.

David is an established columnist with EDGE. Follow him on Twitter at @DRToussaint.

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