ABT II and The Royal Ballet School

The Ailey Citigroup Theater
New York City

Some years ago, American Ballet Theatre’s junior company, ABT II, shared a program with The Royal Ballet School. I remember thinking the kids from ABT II looked as good as any professional company while their British counterparts still looked like students. On this outing, however, the British kids were absolutely smashing—at least I believe that’s the proper London expression. Smashing!

Romanza by Gary Norman

Gary Norman’s Romanza.
Photo by Johan Persson.
Click to view larger in new window.

Opening with Gary Norman’s Romanza, seven RBS couples filled the stage, moving through perfectly-spaced formations—which was no easy feat given that the stage is a bit small for that many people, particularly with the women sporting stiff tutus. Their costumes, by Tessa Balls, were in white while the men were clad all in black with sleek jackets. Norman’s choreography (set to Paderewski’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, Op 17) was largely traditional—an excellent vehicle for showing off the students’ mastery of classical steps—and yet in some moments, like the swirling preparations into bird lifts, the choreography showed a more contemporary sensibility. As the male lead, Brandon Lawrence stood forth, anchoring the performance, though it was the group as a whole that won over the audience with warm smiles and a gracious presence.

ABT II danced Antony Tudor’s Continuo set to Johann Pachelbel’s famous Canon in D Major, music which sounds deceptively easy-going but, when coupled with Tudor’s challenging choreography, really puts dancers to the test. Sterling Baca had some partnering difficulties but was stellar in his solo work. Colby Parsons—who, on first sight, resembles the main company’s David Hallberg—is a tall, lanky performer whose dancing looks leisurely, when time allows, but who really moves out when the choreography demands it.

Fractals by Parrish Maynard

Brandon Lawrence in Parrish Maynard’s ballet Fractals.
Photo by Johan Persson.
Click to view larger in new window.

Parrish Maynard, formerly a soloist with ABT, set Fractals on the RBS dancers. Driving music by Ken Kirschner created a palpable environment for this vigorous ballet which bore hallmarks of William Forsythe’s In the Middle…Somewhat Elevated: dancers strode onto the stage to get in position before commencing their variations; the movements were a virtuosic blending of the classical with the contemporary; even the costuming reminded one of his athletic, style-bending aesthetic. Dancers of note included Brandon Lawrence, again, as well as Grete Borud Nybakken who had a number of memorable moments—one of them being her strut down center stage toward the audience. She has the slight wriggle of a runway model and a smirk lurking about the corners of her mouth—like she knows something that we don’t and she’s about to dance it for us. She launches into her variations with complete command of every nuance—clearly a dancer to watch for. One of my particular favourites was Tomas Mock, a strong performer who cuts a clear, charismatic figure in everything he dances.

Schrumpf by Alastair Marriott

Alastair Marriott’s Schrumpf.
Photo by Johan Persson.
Click to view larger in new window.

After intermission we were treated to Alastair Marriott’s Schrumpf (music by Kurt Schwertsik, Scrumpf-Symphonie, Op 80), an enigmatic piece for three men and a woman with the slight air of a Diaghilev production. Like the performing dolls in Petrushka, so, too, do the characters in this ballet appear to be carnival performers who execute Marriott’s ingenious tricks for the entertainment of an audience. Also like Petrushka, however, there’s an air of mystery enshrouding these stunts. Even though the performers smile genially to us, there is something other-worldly about them, as though something else, perhaps even sinister, is behind their appearance. Gina Scott was wonderful as the lead woman; Lawrence and Mock were joined by Calum Lowden to form the trio of men who, perfectly synchronised, held Scott aloft in their scissor-like legs, or formed a box into which she folded double and slipped down out of view.

Alysa Shee and Aaron Smyth represented ABT II in the pas de deux from George Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes. I liked seeing this work immediately following Schrumpf because of the stylistic contrast. Stereotypes of English reserve and American bravado sprung to mind, though the truth of this idea of national styles is fading with the stylistically-international capabilities of today’s ballet companies. I’d venture that any major company could do Ashton’s Monotones with the proper mood, or work by Forsythe with the athleticism we enjoyed from the originating company. My proof of this theory is the fact that while Aaron Smyth danced his part in Stars and Stripes with what could be considered a brash, American confidence, I was later to learn that he’s actually Australian. All this hypothesizing about national traits aside, let me not get away from the fact that Smyth’s performance was brilliant. He has great ballon, a strong, clear line in the air, and a confidence that puts the audience at ease. One of the greatest gifts a performer can give to those watching is assurance that things will be well-handled—Smyth has this gift in spades—there’s naught worse than under-prepared dancers who leave us wincing as they muddle through.

Programme notes indicate these two groups will do a reciprocal performance in the 2011-2012 school year when ABT II will go to London to perform at The Royal Ballet School’s facilities. One hopes this international exchange will continue in spite of the fact that, by that time, ABT II will have undergone some restructuring. The junior company will be folded back into ABT’s Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School, it will return to its earlier moniker of ‘ABT Studio Company’ and, sadly, they’ll bid farewell to current artistic director Wes Chapman under whose leadership the group has blossomed over recent seasons. Previously serving as an ambassador for the main company, by doing outreach performances at smaller venues around the world, the troupe will return to its core focus of preparing dancers for ABT and other renowned companies. One can only imagine such reining in is due to budgetary constraints, another sign of how dire economic conditions impact the arts in a country where there’s little support from the government.

Posted in Long Review, Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

New Chamber Ballet: Equal Treatment for Musicians

It hardly seems fair, tucking ballet orchestras down in a pit, given how crucial their contribution is. For a more sensitive, equal treatment of dancer and musician, look to New Chamber Ballet where musicians are given their due.
Continue reading

Posted in Review, Short Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Two works by Emery LeCrone

Emery LeCrone is a promising young choreographer worth keeping tabs on. Two of her works were presented by different companies, at different venues, on the same night—a busy schedule which indicates how much attention her work is getting.
Continue reading

Posted in Review, Short Review | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off

Brian Carey Chung’s Lonely House

Brian Carey Chung—artistic director and choreographer for Collective Body | Dancelab—sets the bar high for himself with Lonely House which is set to jazz sung by the late Abbey Lincoln. Willy Laury and Giorgia Bovo make the perfect pair for this work. Laury’s sometimes deadpan delivery, and coquettish Bovo with her impossibly long legs, fill the opening with a blend of seduction and humour. You’ll never have as much fun watching two people flirt and fall in love as you will with this gem.
Continue reading

Posted in Review, Short Review | Tagged , , , | Comments Off

Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet dances Strømgren,
Godani, Ekman

When I first saw Jo Strømgren’s Sunday Again a few years ago, I came away with more of the humorous moments he intersperses throughout the work. They’re still there, but on this second viewing it’s the discord that hangs with me. I was struck by the brutality of the male/female interaction—Strømgren’s programme note mentions some focus on couples facing their incompatibilities, but it’s small preparation for the intensity we see onstage. Hulking Jason Kittelberger dwarfs Acacia Schachte, whose character, for the most part, seems conciliatory to Kittelberger’s impatient bullying, though she does, on occasion, send him reeling, too.
Continue reading

Posted in Long Review, Review | Tagged , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Keely Garfield’s Twin Pines

Duo Multicultural Arts Center
New York City

Keely Garfield chose the right venue for her performance of Twin Pines. The Duo Multicultural Arts Center in New York’s East Village is an old five-story building with performance spaces on different floors and a beautiful tiny proscenium theatre at the ground level. The centre presents theatre, film, music, art and, of course, dance. If you have a chance, check it out—it has the kind of patina that lends that ‘downtown’ flavour to a production. Continue reading

Posted in Review, Short Review | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off

The New York Choreographic Institute’s 10th Anniversary

New York City Ballet’s Diamond Project, created by Peter Martins in 1992, was founded as a showcase for new work. The New York Choreographic Institute, on the other hand, is an affiliate of New York City Ballet, and was founded in 2000 by Martins and Irene Diamond as a lab for choreographers to experiment without the pressure of presenting a finished work. It’s easy to get the two confused since, in their own ways, they support the creation of new work and the name Diamond figures prominently in both.

The Institute did put some works on stage recently, in spite of their usual policy, to celebrate their 10 years of activity. Continue reading

Posted in Long Review, Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Interview: Wes Chapman

Interview with Wes Chapman

How does ABT2 function in relation to the main company?
New choreographers get tried out on us first so the main company doesn’t have to take big risks. During my time, we’ve had quite a bit of success. Continue reading

Posted in Interview | Tagged , , , , , , | Comments Off

Fall for Dance at New York City Center

New York City Center hosts a series called ‘Fall for Dance’, punning on autumnal performance dates and its intent to lure new audiences into a love affair with dance. Of course all the die-hard dance fans in the city also flock to this series which features a wide assortment of companies.
Continue reading

Posted in Long Review, Review | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off

Interview: Jessica Lang

Interview with Jessica Lang

Tell me how you got started in dance.
I was watching my sister in class when the teacher asked if I wanted to try. It was literally one of those Chorus Line moments where I thought “I can do that.” I was three years old but took ballet because that’s what my sister did. I was more interested in being a violinist or an astronaut. Continue reading

Posted in Interview | Tagged , | Comments Off