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SAB Resets

Last year’s School of American Ballet Workshop performances marked two milestones: Suki Schorer’s 50th anniversary as a teacher, and Kay Mazzo’s retirement from the Chair of Faculty position after 40 years. The program was audacious (especially coming out of Covid), with a commissioned world premiere and the staging of the epic finale from Balanchine’s “Symphony in C.” Electricity was in the air. This year, prudently, was about rebuilding. The atmosphere was all gentle breezes. The bill included four excerpts that harked back to the early history of the school, two of which—“Coppélia” and “Napoli”—commemorated the 25th anniversary of the passing of two celebrated teachers appointed by Balanchine, Alexandra Danilova and Stanley Williams. There were reams of tulle, pretty passés, and turns ending in tight fifth positions on display. There was no sight of Balanchine’s abstract, angular side. Though the evening was less zingy than usual, it was smart of Darla Hoover and Aesha Ash, in their freshman year as Chair and Co-Chair of Faculty, respectively, to stress roots and continuity.


School of American Ballet Workshop Performance


Peter Jay Sharp Theater, Lincoln Center, New York, NY, June 5, 2023


Faye Arthurs

Natalie Glassie and Oscar Estep perform George Balanchine's “Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet” at the School of American Ballet Workshop. Photograph by Rosalie O'Connor

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Even the presentation of the Mae L. Wien awards emphasized these themes. Two of the winners, Oscar Estep and Natalie Glassie, attended the school since age 6. That never happens. Sheryl Ware won the faculty Wien award on the 20th anniversary of her first win. She also set the Waltz solo from “Coppélia,” which Balanchine choreographed on her in 1974. Excerpts from Petipa’s 1884 “Coppélia” were performed at the very first Workshop, in 1965, staged by Danilova. Legacy and regeneration were key. The third student winner, Mia Williams, was not performing due to injury. This was a shame, since last year’s Workshop put her on the map. But she and Estep are slated to join City Ballet as apprentices, so New Yorkers will get a chance to see her after she heals (again, the idea of rebirth).

Balanchine’s “La Source” opened, staged by Suki Schorer, and set the pink tutu tone. Then divertissements from Act III of “Coppélia” introduced the youngest performers at the Workshop, as the curtain lifted to expose twenty-four pint-sized ballerinas in an even pinker pink. There are few ballet passages cuter than their opening dance. The children were so eager to go that they swayed slightly in their opening poses. I suppose you’re never too young to learn that standing still onstage is the hardest thing of all—though the difficulty is probably compounded when you have 10-year-old energy. Dena Abergel and Arch Higgins staged the child performers, and the teenage soloists were taught and coached by Ware (Waltz), Kay Mazzo (Dawn), Aesha Ash (Prayer), and Katrina Killian (Spinner). Happily, Susan Pilarre was back as a stager this year, bringing the third movement andante of Balanchine’s “Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet” to bendy life. And Petrusjka Broholm, from the Royal Danish Ballet, staged the joyous Pas de Six and Tarantella from August Bournonville’s communal “Napoli.”

Kloe Walker and Jack Morris perform George Balanchine's “La Source.” Photograph by Rosalie O'Connor

Though everyone was in tunics or tutus all night, a few performers stood out. Kloe Walker grew in confidence as “La Source” progressed, and she demonstrated her lovely arabesque and floaty, natural port de bras throughout. Eunhye Marcel Darbouze was a sunny and strong Dawn soloist, handling the tricky changes in direction and pulling out big leaps with the little preparation Balanchine allows. The 6-foot-5 Estep showed promise as a danseur noble as the cavalier in “Brahms.” “Napoli” delivered a slew of strong performances, including the polished Xander Perrone and Shane Williams—who impressively ate up space and popped into deep grand pliés without any strain. Dakota Skye Blake was lush in the Prayer adagio as well as in the quick intricacies of the Bournonville. And Taela Graff soared in grand jeté in the Pas de Six and also turned in an elegant “Coppélia” Waltz. It was nice to see such a tall person in the latter role, so often the Waltz soloist is barely distinguishable from the kiddie corps.

Textbook ballet idioms permeated the program, but with Balanchine, just because something is simple does not mean it is square. Beginning with Walker’s solo in “La Source,” stamped out passé relevé syncopations (to sous-sous or fifth position flat) were a real trend. Taela Graff, as the Waltz soloist, continued it with cheeky turned-in variations. By the time Glassie got to her punchy passé sequence in “Brahms,” which was accompanied by horns and triangle pings, it was clear that Balanchine militantly wielded the basic passé long after he made “Stars and Stripes.” 

Natalie Glassie and Oscar Estep perform George Balanchine's “Brahms-Schoenberg Quartet.” Photograph by Rosalie O'Connor

“La Source,” especially, is full of classroom vernacular. There are many plain sauts de chat, pas de chat, and strings of piqué turns for the corps. But there is perfume and mystery too, as when the corps line up and bourrée backwards towards the audience, looking up and pulsing their hands towards the sky like Isadora Duncan. It’s such a dreamy, indulgent moment. Another fascinating part of this Workshop was seeing the “Brahms” third movement by itself. In the context of the full, four-movement ballet, the andante can get lost. I confess, I always think of it as “Brahms’s” boring movement. The other three are more romantic, dramatic, or technically flashy. The andante sort of slows things down and resets the entire ballet. I’m not usually in favor of excerption, but the Workshop made a strong case for it to fly solo. 

“Napoli” was a great closer, with its focus on teamwork and celebration. The students’ happiness seemed genuine, and they were less nervous across the board. At 181 years of age, this was the oldest ballet on the program by a long shot. Yet, ironically, it felt the most modern in some respects. Nearly two centuries before same-sex partnering was in vogue, Bournonville had women partnering women—on pointe. But the welcome diversity of the “Napoli” cast brought something fresh to this 1842 Danish standard too. It felt utterly natural that the women of color wore skin-toned tights and shoes in this piece—though I’ve never seen it done that way before. That stealth radicalization was perhaps the best part of this year’s Workshop. The program offered old-school, music-box ballet, and it fit the burgeoning diversity of the SAB student body like a glove.      

Natalie Glassie and Shane Williams perform the Tarantella from “Napoli” by George Balanchine. Photograph by Rosalie O'Connor

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.



Oh yes, you are correct Carole! It is a small but impressive list. Peter Boal too, right? But I’ve never seen two Wien Award winners that have been there that long, in the same year no less!

Another confusing topic: the program said that the Coppelia Waltz was a “solo that Mr. Balanchine made for [Ware] in 1974.” But others have told me that it was originally choreographed on Carol Sumner. I generally take program facts at face value, apologies if there are issues. And if anyone can enlighten, please do! Thank you, Faye

Carole Divet Harting

Some of us did go all the way through the school. Lauren Hauser, Julie Michael, me, just to name a few. We are not many but it does exist.


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