This site has limited support for your browser. We recommend switching to Edge, Chrome, Safari, or Firefox.


Pennsylvania Ballet’s recent virtual production, “Resilience,” presented a skillfully curated collection of ballets, beautifully reimagined for film. Contemporary works by Dwight Rhoden and Christopher Wheeldon balanced the classical nature of George Balanchine’s “Allegro Brillante” (1956) and Angel Corella’s rendition of Marius Petipa’s “Raymonda Suite,” both of which were brilliantly executed. Yet it was Rhoden’s “And So It Is…” and Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia” that made “Resilience” exactly that—resilient.


Pennsylvania Ballet: “Resilience,” broadcast April 29 - May 5, 2021


Merli V. Guerra


Merli V. Guerra

Sterling Baca and Oksana Maslova in “Polyphonia” by Christopher Wheeldon. Photograph by Alexander Iziliaev

subscribe to the latest in dance

“Uncommonly intelligent, substantial coverage.”

  • Weekly articles from the world of dance
  • Wide diversity of reviews, interviews, articles & more
  • Support for quality art journalism

Already a paid subscriber? Login

Dwight Rhoden’s “And So It Is…” begins out of darkness. In the glow of a downward light, a soloist (Jermel Johnson) moves with sinuous grace; his deep purple leotard echoes the darkness surrounding him. Musically, we are enveloped in quintessential Steve Reich, full of undulating repetitions that ripple through the dancer’s limbs and spine with full-bodied articulation.

About a minute in, the dancer punctuates a few choice chords with a sudden push through outreached flexed palms and a quickened pivot to an opening of the chest. The integration of an intentional flexed heel and rolling of the head gives this solo contemporary flair in juxtaposition to its traditional moments of lingering arabesques and sharp balletic footwork.

As the work progresses, we see the soloist expand within his domain, sliding perilously into the fading edges of darkness around him, as if testing his limits. A muscular thrust of clasped hands from the chest dissolves quickly into a supple lean reminiscent of a willow tree. As rapid and ever-changing as Reich’s music, Rhoden’s choreography shifts between strength and demureness with delightfully abrupt rapidity. As if collecting himself, Johnson progresses through a series of motions that alternate between expanding and regathering his limbs before returning to the familiar opening phrase work that sends him melting to the floor.

In the work’s final moment, we are suddenly caught off-guard by the poignant interruption of a languid unfurling of the spine into the dancer’s final stance. With one finger held out strongly, the soloist looks us directly in the eye with such stoic poise that the entire six minutes prior strike the viewer as a blurred memory.

Jermel Johnson in Dwight Rhoden’s “And So It Is…” Photograph by Alexander Iziliaev

Christopher Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia” beautifully complements Rhoden’s solo. Similarly clothed in rich purple unitards and leotards, Wheeldon’s dancers personify the dissonant chords of ten challenging piano scores by composer György Ligeti, with the choreographic air of Balanchine.

The work begins with four couples performing in unison across a straight line with mechanical efficiency and emotional detachment, a calculated opening in direct contrast to the duet that follows. Moving with tender familiarity and emotive nuance, the work’s first duet (performed by Sterling Baca and Oksana Maslova) keeps the two ever-connected while exhibiting the ebb and flow of its melodic piano counterpart. Here we see a range of creative partnering, from assisted laborious ‘walks’ to counterbalances through flexed palms, ending with the striking visual of Maslova’s legs rising above Baca’s head as they depart the space as one entity.

We return to a more traditional approach with the second duet (Aleksey Babayev and Alexandra Heier), a waltz with moments of separation and reunion, annunciated by dramatic dips. As they depart, the other three couples waltz in briefly, then transition seamlessly into a delightfully complex and contemporary trio of women, masterfully tapping into the composer’s challenging polyphonic layering of competing melodic lines. Where this trio features intricacy, the male duet that follows emphasizes use of space, with moments of close proximity interrupted by sweeping leaps across the stage.

Wheeldon’s third duet (Russell Ducker and So Jung Shin) is an adagio of ever-pivoting grace, as if balanced on a coin. The score is now rich with longing and resonance paired perfectly with the lusciously melting duet onstage. Effortlessly entwined, Shin is reliant on Ducker to traverse the floor until ultimately left behind. She sweeps the stage with buttery bourrées and peaceful composure—an elegant moment of pause in an often-turbulent work.

Duet number four is dynamically performed by Nayara Lopez and Jack Thomas, whose energies and emotive spirits bring a level of joyous whit to the work. With exacting speed and crisscrossing paths, this duet feels as though it ends far too soon. Throughout “Polyphonia,” there is a duality of depth and playfulness; moments of assisted loft visualize the underlying resonance in an otherwise tumultuous melody, as if watching Ligeti’s notes themselves. Use of front lighting makes for a brilliant end to this ballet—as if quadrupling the cast through shadow-play.

Pennsylvania Ballet’s final spring 2021 production, “Beauty,” runs May 27-June 2, and if “Resilience” is any indication, “Beauty” promises to close the company’s season triumphantly.

Merli V. Guerra

Merli V. Guerra is a professional dancer and award-winning interdisciplinary artist with talents in choreography, filmmaking, writing, and graphic design based in Boston, MA, and Princeton, NJ. She is Co-Founder and Artistic Director of Luminarium Dance Company (Boston, MA), and has performed lead roles with modern and Odissi companies on international tours to India (2007, 2012) and Japan (2009), while her choreographic works, screendance films, and installations have been presented by more than 80 events across the U.S. and abroad in Canada, Germany, and Italy. As a writer, Guerra is Senior Contributor to The Arts Fuse (curating its weekly “top pick” dance events across New England), and a ballet and contemporary dance critic for the international Fjord Review, and Dance International magazine. She is an MFA in Dance candidate at Rutgers University (New Brunswick, NJ), and frequently acts as a guest choreographer, panelist, speaker, and advocate for the arts throughout New England and the Mid-Atlantic.



Dancing with You
REVIEWS | Karen Hildebrand

Dancing with You

The stage is strewn with potatoes. Single straight back chair, overturned. A canteen. At center is a life scale charcoal sketch, unframed on canvas. It looks like a human figure topped by a dark smudge of a head—the shape calls to mind a famous work of Gustav Klimt. 

Continue Reading
Fifth Avenue Blooms
REVIEWS | Faye Arthurs

Fifth Avenue Blooms

How long is their nap?” my three-year-old asked about halfway through the Trisha Brown Dance Company’s performance of “Group Primary Accumulation,” a 20-minute supine dance for four.

Continue Reading
They Were There
BOOKSHELF | Candice Thompson

They Were There

In her new biography, The Swans of Harlem, journalist Karen Valby is witness to the testimony of five pioneering Black ballerinas intimate with the founding history of Dance Theatre of Harlem. 

Level Up
REVIEWS | Rachel Howard

Level Up

Sacramento Ballet executive and artistic director Anthony Krutzkamp dresses sharp and gives a memorable pre-curtain speech. The way he tells it, the Central California company was in rehearsals for “Swan Lake” last year when he realized he faced an enviable problem: the dancers were too good for the ballets he’d programmed under a five-year plan. 

Continue Reading
Good Subscription Agency