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So Far So Good

The School of American Ballet is celebrating its 90th anniversary this year. So is George Balanchine’s iconic “Serenade”the first piece he made in America in 1934, choreographed on students from his brand-new academy. Fittingly, SAB’s annual workshop performances led off with Suki Schorer’s clear and energetic staging of the ballet. An excerpt of Balanchine speaking about how “Serenade” came to be (from the 1977 edition of Balanchine’s Complete Stories of the Great Ballets) was included in the program notes: “As part of the school curriculum, I started an evening ballet class in stage technique, to give students some idea of how dancing on stage differs from classwork. ‘Serenade’ evolved from the lessons I gave.Balanchine makes an interesting distinction here. SAB no longer has a class in stage technique, but since 1965 the school has held yearly workshop performances to supply that crucial lesson. It is fascinating to witness these apt young pupils encountering rich adult repertory every year. This year’s crop of precocious children and teenagers tackled four difficult ballets: “Serenade” and the third movement of “Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto #2” by Balanchine, Christopher Wheeldon’s “Scènes de Ballet,” and, for one night only, Lauren Lovette’s “Tendu.” Some of the roles in these ballets are among the puffier in the NYCB rep (like the tall corps of PC#2 and the Russian girls in “Serenade”), so the kids were definitely in great shape. From the two performances I caught, it was clear that the youngsters were honing their artistic personae as well. 

Performance

The School of American Ballet's Workshop

Place

Lincoln Center, New York, NY, June 8 & 11, 204

Words

Faye Arthurs

School of American Ballet students Ariel Erez (front) Becket Jones (standing) and Jonathan McCray in “Serenade” by George Balanchine. Photograph by Rosalie O'Connor

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Kylie Vernia was commanding as the Dark Angel in “Serenade” on Tuesday June 11th, and also in the ballerina role in “PC#2” on Saturday evening, June 8th. She has another year left at the school, but she’s already confident and polished. Kate Bivens, who will become an apprentice to City Ballet, employed suave decisiveness to keep up with conductor Andrews Sill’s quick pace in the same “PC#2” role on Tuesday. These young ladies made executive choices like professionals in this challenging part, and they did it with flair.  

Elegant Becket Jones brought a dreamy quality to the Dark Angel on Saturday night as well as the secondary ballerina in “PC#2” on Tuesday. The Saturday night “Serenade” cast was softer overall, with Ariel Erez setting the tone with her lush and sophisticated Waltz Girl interpretation. She lingered over the arabesque pullouts in her first pas de deux, and her reaching transition on pointe into the finale hops was wonderfully expressive. Rounding out the cast, lovely Lucie Richard was a more willowy Russian Girl than one normally sees. Impressively, she had the springy sautés of a much smaller person.  

On Tuesday, Kylie Williams blazed through the Russian role with tremendous power. She spun furiously in à la seconde in the Aspirin Dance (at City Ballet these turns are done in arabesque, which makes them slower) and skillfully phrased her soutenus in her first solo. Maya Milić was a spunky Waltz Girl, and she was even more fiery when she reappeared in Lovette’s “Tendu” for some amazing technical sequences with tango accents. Kienan Kiefer and Alexander Perone were great opposite each other in their “Scènes de Ballet” duet, as well as alternating as the “Serenade” Waltz Boy on different nights. And, as in their May performances across the plaza, Peyton Gin and Corbin Holloway’s partnership in “Scènes” was still going strong. However, their pas—and the big group numbers of “Scènes”—fit better on the bigger Koch stage. 

Jonathan McCray in Lauren Lovette's “Tendu.” Photograph by Rosalie O’Connor

Ava Gray Bobbitt and Alexander Perone in the world premiere of Lauren Lovette's “Tendu.” Photograph by Rosalie O’Connor

Jonathan McCray brilliantly led off the series of eight soloists in Lovette’s freewheeling pièce d’occasion, “Tendu.” To begin, Lovette cleverly posed him like Balanchine demonstrating a tendu in Henri Cartier-Bresson’s famous photograph. As a teacher, Balanchine reportedly worked endlessly on tendus, seeing them as a gateway to—or the perfect encapsulation of—balletic greatness. Accordingly, McCray’s initial stance served as a jumping off point for Lovette, who crafted numerous tricky combinations to the unspooling Vivaldi score, particularly for those on pointe—something she doesn’t get to do much in her current post as the resident choreographer for the modern Paul Taylor Dance Company. Lovette let her imagination take her far from the idea of the tendu as the nexus of all ballet, but what the piece lacked in coherence it made up for in bravado. Just as at the PTDC, she got joyful, impassioned performances out of her talented cast.

Sasi Shrobe-Joseph (left) and Stella Tompkins (right) in “Scènes de Ballet” by Christopher Wheeldon. Photograph by Rosalie O'Connor

Tendu would actually be a good alternate title for “Scènes de Ballet.” Wheeldon demonstrates the thread of basic classicism in even the most complex passages in this work. Tendu lunges, tendu poses during processionals, tendu drags, and little plié pulses through tendu abound. Perhaps the most poignant moment of the entire workshop weekend was when the excellent, petite duo of Sasi Shrobe-Joseph and Stella Tompkins mirrored each other across the barre in perfectly placed and pointed tendus. You could feel the collective wisdom of ninety years of instruction (and I thought of the many iconic teachers in addition to Balanchine who are no longer with us or are no longer at the school: Alexandra Danilova, Felia Doubrovska, Muriel Stewart, Antonina Tumkovsky, Stanley Williams, Andrei Kramarevsky, Jock Soto, Garielle Whittle, Nikolai Hubbe, Peter Frame, Olga Kostritzky, Peter Boal, and Susan Pilarre) coursing through their tautly attuned little legs.

Faye Arthurs


Faye Arthurs is a former ballet dancer with New York City Ballet. She chronicled her time as a professional dancer in her blog Thoughts from the Paint. She graduated summa cum laude with a B.A. in English from Fordham University. She lives in Brooklyn with her partner and their sons.

comments

Ed

After reading Faye Arthur’s review, anyone who regularly attends performances of NYC B, must attend SAB’s annual workshop performance. Her review was a first look at the talent emerging from the school, and the names of the dancers who will be asked to join NYCB and other major dance companies.

It seems like yesterday that Lauren Lovette performed in the workshop, became a principal dancer at NYCB, and now has returned home.

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