April 18, 2016
There is something uniquely pleasurable about watching young, talented dancers test their mettle on a New York stage. American Ballet Theatre’s Studio Company dancers are handpicked for their potential and are on track to join Ballet Theatre or other major ballet companies. This group stood out for the refinement of their upper bodies, and their elegant, if at times tentative, stage presence.
Say what you will about the nineteenth-century Petipa repertory, it is still some of the hardest choreography to master – a rite of passage equivalent to knowing your Shakespeare. In the pas d’action from La Bayadere (staged by Susan Jones and Nancy Raffa) initially one is struck by the sheer body length and height of the corps women and men (whose outsized turbans added another six inches). They all seemed to get across the Joyce stage in one grand-jete, and with time their transitions and footwork will become more crystalline. The principal couple was danced with authority and clean technique by Breanne Granlund and Carlos Gonzalez – both have buoyant jumps and lovely line.
In a high point of the evening, Ms. Granlund was expertly partnered by Satchel Tanner (replacing Naazir Muhammad) in Marco Pelle’s Libera! to Anton Bruckner’s Ave Maria. In minimal nude colored costumes, the dancers run toward each other and he catches her midflight in a square pool of light. As she reaches away from him with longing, he partners her with ease, in daring overhead lifts that seemed to come from nowhere, and morph into numerous images referencing the cross – even one moment upside down that reminded me of Caravaggio’s St. Peter. If this was a last-minute substitution, the dancers showed no qualms or hesitation, only abandon, but also the softness befitting the spiritual music.
Three other works on the program were by artists with strong Ballet Theatre ties. Current corps member Gemma Bond choreographed Third Wheels, a trio to music by Jennifer Higdon and costumes by her ABT colleague James Whiteside. Bond uses classical ballet vocabulary in inventive ways, adding a circular arm motifs, tricky jumps, and pedestrian runs that the elegant Xuelan Lu executed with ease, flanked by her impossibly tall and coltish partners Elias Baseman and Ilya Kolotov. An excerpt from former ABT principal Ethan Stiefel’s Bier Halle provided a sweet interlude, reminiscent of Flower Festival at Genzano, complete with lots of flirtation and lederhosen. Zimmi Coker and Aran Bell showed promise as they tackled the technically challenging passages. Coker was especially charming, as she teeter-tottered in chainees at the (real) end of her variation.
The evening ended with Alex Ratmansky’s interpretation of Ravel’s Bolero, another brave attempt to choreograph this music. A group of six dancers (with numbers on their chests) alternate in solos, duos and other small groupings, with many lunges to the floor and rapid circular arm swings that recall certain Olympic events. Bolero is always ends up being a sort of marathon, for both dancers and audience. In this case, what starts out as a promising “race,” devolves into a series of split legs and canons that ultimately end up treading water rather than crossing the finish line.
Eye On The Arts, NY – - Nicole Duffy Robertson