writers on dancing

The DanceView Times, New York edition

SAB Workshop

School of American Ballet 40th Annual Workshop Performance
Juilliard Theater
New York, NY
June 5 at 8 p.m

By Susan Reiter
copyright © 2004 by Susan Reiter
published June 8, 2004

The spirit of Balanchine—and his essential faith in the capacity for steps set to music to evoke a specific, complete world of their own—reverberated resoundingly during the quietly satisfying Workshop Performance program. This year's annual rite of passage truly emphasized the ensemble—from the windswept, ever-shifting patterns of Serenade to the courtly simplicity of Tombeau de Couperin to the robust good fun of the overlapping gangs of sailors in the final section of Union Jack. For good measure, the charming eight-by-eight series of children's divertissements from Harlequinade showcased the charm, precision and good breeding instilled the younger students, seen to ideal advantage in this intimate theater.

In the year of Balanchine's centennial and the 70th anniversary of its premiere, Serenade was an inevitable selection for the program. Since its creation as a work for the earliest group of SAB students was part inspiration, part pragmatism, and it has always resonated in part as a portrait of how young women inhale the music and, through their response to it, turn into ballet dancers, it always serves as a touchingly ideal vehicle for the SAB student performers. On this occasion, in a staging by Suki Schorer, the enchantment of the subtly evolving patterns came across with special poignancy—one could only marvel anew at how effortlessly the linked groupings, peeling-off lines, and protective nests of women surrounding and enveloping each other seem to arise and dissolve. When the opening tableau of 17 demure, modest women reassemble, poised for action, it is as though the music had pulled them back into their original places, just as it had guided them through their various sisterly encounters and decorously symmetrical framings of the quietly romantic solo passages.

For some reason, the Waltz ballerina has come to be associated with a taller dancer, but at this performance the role was taken by the petite Rachel Piskin, who imbued it with unforced ardor and melancholy. In pointed contrast to her yielding quality, Isabel Vondermuhl ( the "Russian" soloist) blazed with an amazingly sharp, crisp attack through her windswept passages. As the so-called dark Angel who becomes a figure of fate during the closing Elegie section, Kaitlyn Gilliland, pale and supple, at times recalled Maria Calegari, one of the great interpreters of the role. She phrased her quiet moments with feathery delicacy, and always moved as the complete embodiment of the music.

The 32 miniature Polichinelles, Harelquins, Pierrots, Pierrettes, and Scaramouches had already strutted their stuff when the company performed Harlequinade during the winter season and reprised their portion of the ballet for last month's Live from Lincoln Center telecast. The Juilliard Theater put them in stronger close-up and allowed one to enjoy the infectious brio of their endearing performance. Occasionally, in their eagerness, they slammed a bit too sharply into positions, but they have plenty of time to learn how to soften their musical response.

Ravel's exquisitely subtle Tombeau de Couperin pays gentle homage to the Baroque composer as it travels through quietly meditative excursions and delicately oriental-flavored exoticism, concluding with a robust energy that suggests a European version of the hoe-down. As staged here by Richard Tanner, the clarity and simplicity of Balanchine's mirror-image split-stage ensemble of sixteen couples were engagingly presented by the students. This display of ensemble intricacy is a terrific opportunity to learn how to be decorous, deferential, refined and modest on stage, and one could sense these apt students appreciatively absorbing its lessons.

No audience can resist the nautical bravura and playful shenanigans of the Union Jack finale, and the students in this Susan Pilarre staging gave it a sweetly exuberant performance, clearly enjoying themselves tremendously. The saucy trios spilled across the stage with good-humored vigor, and show-offy solo parts were given just enough showbiz projection. Troy Schumacher displayed sensational double tours in the Jacques D'Amboise role, while William Lin-Yee, in the role made for Peter Martins, sailed through his virtuoso pseudo-macho posturings with playful wit. Gilliland led the leggy WRENS with plenty of teasing allure and crisp timing.

In a clever and appropriate adaptation of the ballet's closing ensemble portion, when the full complement of sailors stand and spell out "God Save the Queen" in semaphore with red-and-yellow flags, on this occasion they spelled out "George Balanchine." Instead of the British flag rising to fill the backdrop, a narrow vertical banner bearing a photo of Mr. B descended during the final notes. After an evening that amply demonstrated the vast, potent possibilities of dancing unadorned with narrative or decorative extras, he seemed to be offering a closing—and well-earned—benediction from on high.

Originally published:
Volume 2, Number 21
June 8, 2004

Copyright ©2004 by Susan Reiter



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The Autumn DanceView is out:

New York City Ballet's Spring 2003 season reviewed by Gia Kourlas

An interview with the Kirov Ballet's Daria Pavlenko by Marc Haegeman

Reviews of San Francisco Ballet (by Rita Felciano) and Paris Opera Ballet (by Carol Pardo)

The ballet tradition at the Metropolitan Opera (by Elaine Machleder)

Reports from London (Jane Simpson) and the Bay Area (Rita Felciano).

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