The company recently announced promotions from within to principal dancer, including openly gay soloists Ian Hussey and Jermel Johnson, who will ascend to the Pennsylvania Ballet’s highest tier for the 2012-13 season.
For the end of the 2011-12 season, the company is presenting its premiere of Jerome Robbins’ “N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz,” Peter Martins’ “Barber Violin Concerto” and the world premiere of Matthew Neenan’s “Beside Them, They Dwell,“ through June 3 at the Merriam Theater.
Out choreographer Neenan is known for his work as co-founder of BalletX, which has performed his works all over the world and is currently the resident dance company at the Wilma Theater. His choreography has been featured by the Pennsylvania Ballet in 12 commissions, but “Beside Them” is Neenan’s first commission for the company in over two years.
He describes the piece as “abstract,” set to music by French composer Pierre Boulez, with references to the Old Testament and futuristic costumes designed by Christine Darch.
And we found out that Neenan isn’t using the term “abstract” lightly.
“I always like to put in a little mystery in my work where it’s not completely about the movement and technique and the visual,” he said. “That definitely has a bit to do with that. But in my process, when you start to create something in the first couple of weeks, you see little storylines start to develop between the dancers. I try to work off them and I try to develop it. So in this piece there is a definitely storyline that you may or may not follow, but it’s there. There’s mystery and intrigue. I always hope my dancers try to relate to one other and not just view each other as machines.”
OK. So, how does the Old Testament figure into this?
“There’s this one paragraph from a psalm,” Neenan said. “Something about ‘dwell the birds of heaven,’ hence where I got the ‘beside them, they dwell.’ That has a lot to do with nature and my thought is, birds in heaven probably don’t look like the birds here. I’m not saying they are birds but they are from another genre, and the title kind of helped me with that.”
Also impressive is that, while many dance companies are dialing down for the summer, Neenan is keeping himself busy.
“We have some summer touring coming up,” he said about his company BalletX. “And then at the end of the summer I start a new work for the Tulsa Ballet.”
When asked if there will be a collaboration in the future between Neenan and his partner, Dito van Reigersberg of Martha Graham Cracker Cabaret, he said it might be possible.
“We’re both so busy. There never seems to be time. But we’d like to do something in the future.”
Now there’s a show we’d line up to see.
Pennsylvania Ballet presents “Beside Them, They Dwell,” “N.Y. Export: Opus Jazz” and “Barber Violin Concerto” through June 3 at the Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad St. For more information or tickets, call 215-893-1999 or visit www.paballet.org
. For more information on Matthew Neenan, visit www.matthewneenan.com
Larry Nichols can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.