Monday, June 2, 2014

School of American Ballet Workshop Performances on May 31st

So, how did the School of American Ballet workshop program (described in my 4/26/2014 post) work out in the actual performances, which we saw Saturday afternoon and evening May 31st?  (I had also attended the final dress rehearsal on Friday afternoon.)

The pinnacle of both performances was Suki Schorer's staging of Balanchine's 'Serenade'.  Eschewing the SAB tradition of double casting each workshop ballet, Suki concentrated on a single beautifully rehearsed cast for all workshop performances.  The corps of 17 women changes size and shape, swirling and eddying through the ballet. In their constantly shifting patterns and interactions with the five soloists, they alternate between background and foreground, individuals breaking out for brief solo turns, setting a motif and then receding back into the group.  'Serenade' is never more gorgeous than it is in a well-rehearsed SAB workshop production.

Addie Tapp*, a tall, slim 18-year-old from Colorado, danced the 'waltz girl' to perfection.  Her role is a long dramatic arc through the ballet -- from lost neophyte to first love, from romantic rivalry to resignation, from despair to transcendence. Without any recognizable plot, Balanchine choreographed an entire biography and Ms. Tapp inhabited it with both technical authority and radiance. 
Addie Tapp with Preston Chamblee in Balanchine's 'Serenade' staged by Suki Schorer,
Photo by Paul Kolnik
Baily Jones*, a petite, blond 17-year-old from Utah, performed the 'Russian girl' with enormous power. Her spins were beautifully centered and her leaps into Dammiel Cruz's arms were fearless.

Mikayla Lambert, a statuesque, dark-haired 18-year-old beauty from Pennsylvania, was a somber 'dark angel'.  Ms. Lambert brought the role dramatic intensity and a secure technique.

Preston Chamblee, a 19-year-old from North Carolina, was Ms. Tapp's strong, confident partner in the middle 'waltz' section of the ballet.  He comes on stage in a slow diagonal as all the other women leave the 'waltz girl' alone on stage.  He taps her on the shoulder and they begin in waltz.  Mr. Chamblee's performance conveyed a great musical sensitivity, a secure technique and a rare ability to relate to his ballerina with empathy and command.

Dammiel Cruz, a 16-year-old from Queens, was the second man -- guided on stage by the 'dark angle'.  Mr. Cruz has the difficult task of partnering all three lead ballerinas plus an assortment of women from the corps.  He has enormous technical promise and is a secure partner for this varied group of women.  His beaming smiles during the curtain calls summed up his performance -- triumphing over performance jitters to deliver wonderful performances.

The apotheosis, where the 'waltz girl' is carried through a diagonal corridor of six corps women on the shoulders of three men trailed by a maternal figure, is achingly beautiful.  As one lady in the audience said to me after the curtain fell: 'it makes me cry every time I see it'. 

The second half of the program began with excerpts from Act III of 'Coppelia'.  The curtain opens on 24 little girls in pink ruffles.  They looked adorable and danced with admirable precision.

In the evening they were led in the 'Waltz of the Golden Hours' by Lyrica Blankfein* (an 18-year-old from California)  -- with diamond-hard brilliance and extraordinary musicality.

Joscelyn Dolson (a gorgeous 18-year-old red-head from Michigan) was a lovely 'Prayer' in the afternoon performance, her final arabesque steadied on cue by two of the tiniest little girls.  A beautiful finish to an exquisite performance.

Both Jennifer Pauker (afternoon) and SarahAnne Perel (evening) were energetic and musically vital as the 'Spinner' with the little girls 'spinning' around them.

'Discord and War' is one of Balanchine's lesser efforts and the horned helmets, flowing chiffon capes and spears only add to the confused effect.  Despite these reservations, Jasmine Perry** was the striking lead valkyrie in both performances, partnered by Eric Beckham (afternoon) and Taylor Carrasco (evening) and backed by a corps of 8 valkyries and 8 vikings. Ms. Perry (18, from North Carolina) remained confidant and dynamic with both partners.  Mr. Beckham (18, from South Carolina) danced with clarity, and will project even more self-confidence as he gets additional performance experience.  Mr. Carrasco (18, from New Mexico) swept through the role with strong attack and clean beats.

All seven faculty stagers --  Dena Abergel*, Yvonne Borree, Arch Higgins, Katrina Killian, Lisa deRibere, Jock Soto, and Sheryl Ware -- took bows with their respective students during the curtain calls at the end of the 'Coppelia' segment.

The excerpt from Balanchine's 1-act 'Swan Lake' was staged by Darci Kistler.  Alston Macgill (a petite 16-year-old from Georgia) and Joshua Shutkind (a tall 17-year-old from Manhattan) led both performances backed by the same corps of 20 swans.  Ms. Macgill as the Swan Queen, Odette, was at her best in the final moments, when her precise beats, stabbing bourees, and traveling pirouettes demonstrated both steely technique and stamina.
Alston Macgill rehearsing Odette in Balanchines's 'Swan Lake'  in SAB studios,
photo by Andrea Mohin for NYTimes 
Mr. Shutkind, as Prince Siegfried, was a caring partner, especially in their evening performance.  He handled Siegfried's solo variation with complete command, ending with a secure double tour to one knee.

The dance for the four 'Little Swans' was performed with great synchronicity by both the afternoon (Misses Corrigan, Delman, Ireland-Buczek, and Reisen) and evening (Misses Cosgrove, Dupont, Nugent, and Von Enck) casts who range in age from 14 to 16.  Their precision won warm ovations from both audiences.
Misses Nugent, Von Enck, Cosgrove and Dupont rehearsing the 'Dance of the Little Swans',
photo by Andrea Mohin for NYTimes
The final work was the 'Fourth Movement: Rondo' from Balanchine's 'Western Symphony' staged by Susan Pilarre. Led by Nancy Casciano, a 19-year-old beauty from Georgia, and Alec Knight**, an 18-year-old Australian, at the matinee and by Clara Miller, a glamorous 17-year-old brunette from Iowa, and Christopher Grant*, an 18-year-old from Manhattan, in the evening.  It's a hoe-down for dance hall girls and cowpokes set in Balanchine's idealized American west and it's a romp for the whole cast.

Ms. Casciano and Mr. Knight were first rate in the bravura leading roles at the matinee.  Ms. Casciano executed a series of arabesque balances while traveling a backward diagonal with elan.  Mr. Knight took the soaring leaps and fast spins with great glee and style.

In the evening, Ms. Miller and Mr. Grant brought show-biz flair to their roles.  Ms. Miller performed an impeccable series of single and double fouettes ending with a nonchalant flip of her ruffled skirt.  Mr. Grant countered with a series of flawless double tours with insouciant ease.
Clara Miller and Christopher Grant rehearsing Balanchine's  'Western Symphony' for the SAB workshop,
photo by Andrea Mohin for NYTimes
The leads were joined by three other couples (the leads from the other three missing movements) for a stylized square dance backed by a corps that had grown to 20 women and 8 men.  The entire cast of 36 ends the piece in six rows of 6 dancers whipping through flawless synchronized fouette turns as the curtain falls, leaving the audience gasping in awe and cheering with delight.

The evening program was taped for PBS Live from Lincoln Center.  I'll definitely keep readers advised on when it will air on public broadcasting stations.

An interesting New York Times article about the importance of passing down the oral traditions of ballet at SAB can be found here:

When I see all of these accomplished students perform for the workshop performances every year, I am proud to be associated with the School of American Ballet as a volunteer, a donor and a member of their Founders' Society.

* Winners of the Mae L. Wien Award for Outstanding Promise (students) and for Distinguished Service (Ms. Abergel). 

** Two of the students featured in's 'Strictly Ballet' (see my 5/24 post for a link to the site).

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