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BWW Reviews: Benefit for Youth American Grand Prix Comes to Life

Benefit for Youth America Grand Prix

On January 27, 2014, in a large studio at New York's City Center, I had the pleasure of attending a benefit for YAGP, hosted by Barbara Brandt. American Ballet Theatre principals, Marcelo Gomez and James Whiteside, and soloist Misty Copeland gave up their day off to participate in this exhibition.

When the audience entered, Misty Copeland and James Whiteside were warming-up at a portable barre, in the middle of the studio. When some people entered, Ms. Copeland greeted and hugged them, her effervescent personality on display. She is a delightful, happy individual. As her public and friends were seated, she went back to the warm-up.

Once the audience was in place the barre and the dancers were removed; and Barbara Brandt came center "stage" and welcomed us. Then she moved to the chairs set up at the back of the studio, ready to interview each of the three dancers. She asked similar questions of each of them, the theme being: What is an Artist? When did you first realize that you are an artist?

The first interviewee was Ms. Copeland. She was completely poised, seemingly easy and practiced at this art form. Her natural joy is evident, even when seriously pondering the questions. Artistry, she said, is there in every fiber of the ballet, in the 100% commitment of the dancer to the role, via technique, when it all gels and is totally believable. She said that she'd been with ABT for 13 years, but, that she had only begun to become an artist about two years ago. As she spoke, her 100% commitment to her subject matter showed her to be a bundle of joy, which was contagious to the public. When asked how she handled having to dance with a partner she did not like, she said that the important thing is to concentrate on the work and not to allow personalities to get in the way. It is hard to imagine that she would be anything but charming with everyone. After her interview she bounced off the chair and gracefully dashed off the stage.

Next out was James Whiteside. When Ms. Brandt asked similar questions of him, he thought a moment, then he spoke of the fact that he could not say when the moment arrived when he had become an artist. After another moment, Mr. Whiteside added that he had become an artist without noticing. He explained that he believed in "Fake it 'til you make it."; that he had done this and that it worked.

Third in the hot seat was Marcelo Gomez. When Ms. Brandt asked him about his own perception of artistry, Mr. Gomez answered that he probably felt that only five performances were ideal and that the perfectionist artist did not acknowledge his artistry unless he had felt the peak of his potential with his partner. When asked how he handled dancing with a partner he did not like, Gomez was all about the work, letting go of any differences.

The interviews gave us interesting insights into the humanity of the three dancers; however, the biggest treat was yet to come. Gomez would choreograph a new work on Copeland and Whiteside. He explained, before beginning, that this is rare and that choreographers never allow an audience to view the early stages of a work in progress. He had chosen a beautiful piece of music to recreate the awakening of Sleeping Beauty by Prince Desiree. It was surely a different take on this pas de deux. Aurora began standing, rather than lying down. He took the perspective of the awakening of a girl to a woman, rather than of a girl from a sleep, by the Prince, who seems to her to come out of nowhere. The movements were beautiful and sensuous. The dancers and choreographer were having a good time. Ms. Copeland's personality is easy and fun, dancing full-out with each repetition. Her back arched over Whiteside's support, her legs floated up or across the room, and she was malleable to her partner's guidance. Gomez, too, was relaxed and appeared easy to work for. He said that he would set all of his ballets on her, if it were possible, which is totally understandable.

The rehearsal ended as it had begun, with joy. I felt privileged to have had a bird's eye view.

Questions and answers followed, although most were too enthralled to ask questions. Then, we were all invited to partake of refreshments.

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From This Author Marjorie Liebert