Celebrating women, drama, and dance the Pennsylvania Ballet way
New York — The times, they are a-changin'. Of the nation's many regional companies, the Pennsylvania Ballet has been thought to be the most sophisticated in terms of repertory and style, thanks in large part to its founder and guiding light, Barbara Weisberger. Sure-footed on the stage, the troupe has also had the reputation for financial sure-footedness.
Imagine the shock, then, when early this year the board of directors temporarily disbanded the company so that it could afford to undertake its current spring tour, including a week's run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
Not only did the company have to shut down for a while, but it did so in a manner many observers feel dangerous. It was a coup, more or less, perpetrated by the board of directors. The artistic staff seems to have had no say in the move, and when the company eventually reconvened, it found the chief artistic person, Ms. Weisberger, kicked upstairs by the board.
It's also an instance, many feel, of artistic enterprise going big business. The big question is whether corporate tactics are compatible with artistic business.
That's a long-range issue, of course, and there's nothing further from the long range than actual performance, which is ephemeral. Judging from a program at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, you'd never know that the Pennsylvania Ballet is in upheaval. What you might notice is that its newest program is out of the ordinary. Built around a theme called ''In Celebration of Women Choreographers, '' it shows a ballet company in an essentially modern-dance repertory. No doubt meaning to prove that ballet dancers have inexhaustible range, the program ended up proving that the past is richer than the present.
Probably without intending it, the program pits two contemporary women, one of them quite young, against two absolute masters of the dance, Isadora Duncan and Doris Humphrey. The masters came first--three Duncan solos interpreted by her glorious alter ego, Annabelle Gamson, a guest artist; and Humphrey's ''The Shakers,'' made in 1931 and an immediate smash hit at a time when smash hits were unknown in modern dance.
Although the dancers didn't bring as much electricity as modern-dance groups have given Humphrey's portrayal of religious ecstasy, ''The Shakers'' is always sure-fire. So are Gamson's reconstructions of the Duncan solos. It's the very heart of Duncan that she brings to life - not via imitation but through absolute understanding of Duncan's deep musical impulse and dynamics. To see Gamson as Duncan is to behold the art of understatement, in which big slaps of heroic posture are sliced into delicate julienne strips, and for it, look all the more imposing.
Imposing is precisely the quality young Senta Driver is after in ''Resettings.'' It makes a big and often interesting deal about energy, force, and the sheer physical effort it takes to dance. It's about getting up after you fall down and falling down after you get up, about resisting the bodily force of others and resisting the natural impetus of one's own body. Whew! Yet for all its physicality, ''Resettings'' seems skittish in overall design and tepid in impact.
Yet again, how spanking clean and original ''Resettings'' appears in light of the closing work, Loyce Houlton's ''Galaxies.'' It rolls by like wallpaper, with a dozen patterns jammed into each square inch of the roll.
Besides celebrating women, the Pennsylvania Ballet celebrates classical ballet, humor, and drama in the regular repertory.
The full repertory is on tour in the Midwest for the last two weeks of April and at Washington's Kennedy Center from May 4 to 9.