STORY WRITTEN BY RUTH ROVNER
For Digital First Media
The Pennsylvania Ballet is ending its season with a grand-finale program of three premieres presented this weekend at the Merriam Theater.
Two have never before presented by the company. The third is a world premiere.
Opening the program is William Forsythe’s “The Second Detail.” Forsythe is known for challenging the traditional style of ballet.
The second company premiere is “Canvas” by Larry Kreigwin, which was commissioned for the Vail International Dance Festival in 2013.
The world premiere is by Nicolo Fonte and is titled “Grace Action.”
Wallingford dancer Russell Ducker is one of 12 dancers — six male, six females — in this new work.
“From beginning to end, it’s very energetic and athletic,” said Ducker, a native of Britain who is in his first season with the company.
“The movements involve constant stretching,” Ducker said. “They range from deep lunges to very big jumps. The movements are larger than life, and this has allowed us to explore new aspects of our physicality.”
One special challenge is a moment involving Ducker, three other male dancers and one female dancer.
“We lift and throw her into the air,” he said. “She has to have 100 percent trust in us. And we have to be completely in synch for it to work.”
There’s the general challenge of performing a world premiere, which no dancer has done before and no audience has seen.
“It’s very exciting to be able to create your own role as a dancer,” said Ducker, a member of the Corps de Ballet. “But with that comes much more work in terms of discovering how the movements are going to be developed.”
Choreographer Fonte helped with this process. Rehearsals began a month ago, and Fonte attended every rehearsal, working closely with the dancers.
“It takes a lot for a chorographer to be satisfied with what he sees,” said Ducker. “Often, we would go back and re-work the details until he was satisfied.”
Ducker speaks from first-hand experience. He is not only a dancer with extensive experience, but also a choreographer who has received awards in choreographic competitions.
A native of Basingstoke in the United Kingdom, Ducker graduated from the Royal Ballet Upper School in 2007. While he was still a student, he was already performing with the Royal Ballet in the productions of such classics as “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker” as well as other ballets.
Soon after graduating, he joined the Barcelona Ballet, led by Angel Corella, who is now artistic director for the Pennsylvania Ballet.
As a dancer with the Barcelona Ballet, Ducker was chosen for various solo and principal roles in ballets by notable contemporary choreographers such as Jerome Robbins, Twyla Tharp and Christopher Wheeldon.
Then, too, he was included on a number of tours the company took to foreign venues such as Buenos Aires as well as to varied U.S. cities, including New York, New Orleans, Houston and Seattle.
Besides dancing with the Barcelona Ballet, Ducker also choreographed several ballets for the company. Four of them had premieres outside of Barcelona — in Beijing, Buenos Aires, New York and Florence, Italy.
Then, too, this dancer/choreographer also performed in musical theater when he had a role in London’s West End production of “Oklahoma” alongside Hugh Jackman and Maureen Lipman.
This versatile performer has also been featured as an actor and model for various TV commercials.
But ballet is the anchor of his career, and he eagerly left the U.K. to join the Pennsylvania Ballet this season and re-connect with Corella. Both are in their first season with the company.
“Angel has been a source of inspiration ever since I’ve been studying ballet,” Ducker said. “I haven’t worked with anyone who has so much positive energy. I just love working with him. Every day in the studio we learn something new.”
He has thoroughly enjoyed his first season with the Pennsylvania Ballet.
“I feel very fortunate to be working with a company with such excellent dancers and such an abundant repertoire,” he said.
Now he’s especially anticipating what will surely a highlight of his first season — his role in the world premiere of “Grace Action.”
Despite his extensive performing experience, the Walllingford dancer knows he will feel nervous anxiety before the ballet begins.
“I suffer from nerves before any performance,” Ducker said. “As soon as the lights go up, the anxiety goes away and it becomes almost a spiritual experience to be dancing on stage.”
IF YOU GO
The Pennsylvania Ballet presents its all-premiere final program of the season at the Merriam Theater this weekend.
Performances continue through Sunday.
Tickets available online at paballet.org or by phone at 215-893-1999