Wednesday, December 17, 2014

SAB on 'Live from Lincoln Center'

We taped the School of American Ballet Workshop Performance shown on 'Live from Lincoln Center' on PBS on Sunday afternoon.  It seemed like a strange time to air it -- but maybe it was smart counter-programming for PBS to spotlight these graceful young athletes as an antidote to all of that football mayhem on other channels.  The broadcast was extremely well done.

We had seen two of the three Workshop performances back in June, so we had a pretty good idea of the shape of the performances.  What was truly exceptional, though, was how well they were filmed and pulled together as a coherent TV show.  Too often, dance on television is difficult to watch because the cameras insist on close-ups or tracking an individual dancer when there is a larger -- and usually better -- stage picture that is being ignored.  Here the cameras pulled back to include the entire stage (or at least the entire dancer), closing in for close-ups only when there were infrequent static moments.  Feet were not chopped off and there was also sufficient screen space around the dancers to allow them to move -- and boy can they move!

By the way, here's a link to Alistair Macaulay's review of the broadcast in last Friday's New York Times:

Beyond praising this broadcast, Macaulay bemoans the lack of American companies in the high-definition broadcast of dance performances.  I would add that this in part due to the intransigence of the various unions required to stage and broadcast dance -- they have allowed the market to shift to overseas dance companies.
Balanchine's 'Serenade' at the 2014 SAB Workshop Performances.  Addie Tapp's grand jete among the corps.
Still from 'Live from Lincoln Center' broadcast.

Balanchine's 'Serenade' is really about all of the dancers -- the seventeen member corps as well as the five principals -- interacting and creating beautiful shifting patterns and perhaps telling a story or several stories or no story at all.  Suki Schorer's meticulous and vivid staging was beautifully captured on camera.  We got close enough to the student dancers to feel the adrenalin rush of their performance as well as their caring, careful execution of Mr. B's steps and never losing the beauty of his sweeping patterns.  And we got a brief snippet of Ms. Schorer preparing the students for the performance and another snippet of the leads, 16-year-old Dammiel Cruz, talking about his training and preparation.

In the excerpts from the Balanchine/Danilova 'Coppelia' we got close enough to see the solemnity and mischievous joy of 24 little girls dancing in one of Mr. B's great ballets for children.  And we could watch them interact with four lovely student ballerinas -- providing each with an animated frame of changing patterns for their solos.  Then we saw the concentration of 18 advanced students making the best case for the 'War and Discord' divertissement -- one of Mr. B's least persuasive pieces of choreography.

Finale tableau from Balanchine's 'Swan Lake' with Alston Macgill and Joshua Shutkind.
Still from PBS 'Live from Lincoln Center' broadcast.
Then in Balanchine's one-act 'Swan Lake' we saw the ballet cycle of life happening before our eyes -- Darci Kistler, who was coached in 'Swan Lake' by Alexandra Danilova for her Workshop performance in 1980, coaching Alston Macgill in 'Swan Lake' for the 2014 Workshop performances -- promising student taught by former star ballerina becomes a radiant star ballerina who becomes an inspiring teacher for the next generation of promising students.

One thing to note here is that the 'Live from Lincoln Center camerawork brought us close to the gallant partners, especially in 'Serenade' and 'Swan Lake', who allowed their ballerinas to shine.  Having watched them in Adagio Classes with Jock Soto and Darci Kistler, I've come to appreciate the special accomplishments of these self-effacing young men.  This broadcast allowed the entire viewing audience to see their strength, their poise, their determination to get beyond the mechanics of a partnership into the artistry and chemistry that make each pairing special.

The Fourth Movement of Balanchine's 'Western Symphony'.  Clara Miller wows the corps with her pointe work.
Still from PBS 'Live from Lincoln Center' broadcast.
Finally, we witnessed the exuberance of the final movement of Balanchine's 'Western Symphony'.  Susan Pilare, the wonderful SAB teacher and stager, drove her student cast hard in the months leading up to the June workshop, but then encouraged them to go on stage and have fun.  They obviously did -- and the PBS audience did, too.  It was a wonderful conclusion for a wonderful broadcast.  

Bravo, PBS 'Live from Lincoln Center'!  Bravo, SAB faculty and students!

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