BWW Reviews: School of American Ballet Annual Workshop Performance
Recently the School of American Ballet held its annual Student Workshop Performance. Every year, the School showcases some of America's most promising young dancers in a series of performances that demonstrate why SAB is one of the top ballet schools in the world. Many of today's most celebrated dancers received their professional start during these performances, and while the school holds firmly to their belief that dancers do not truly graduate from SAB until they receive a professional contract, the performances are a kind of unofficial commencement ceremony from one of the country's oldest and most venerable ballet institutions. I had the distinct pleasure of attending the matinee performance on June 1, held in the Peter J. Sharp Theater in Lincoln Center.
The program, all Balanchine, was certainly a challenging one. Divertimento No. 15 began the show with a bang. This is one of the most technically challenging pieces I've seen in a long time. The students performed the lightning fast footwork and tricky turn sequences admirably, and a few were able to really shine. Among those who stood out were Daniella Albrecht and Laine Habony, both of whom executed their very demanding variations with ease.
This piece was a nice choice for the workshop, as it contained a fair number of solos, giving the students ample opportunities to be seen by potential scouts. The stylized nature of Balanchine's work was exemplified in this piece, and it made me question whether or not these (beautifully trained) dancers could perform any truly classical work, or if they would be typecast as "Balanchine dancers" and find themselves unable to break out into other styles of ballet.
Next up was Le Tombeau de Couperin, a character infused piece set to a lively Ravel score. A lesser known work of Balanchine's, this ballet featured 16 dancers, all of whom dance in unison for the entirety of the piece. It was well done, certainly, but the choice seemed strange to me because, in a work like this, it is exceedingly difficult for any individual dancer to stand out, and if one does it is most likely not a good thing.
Lastly came the stunning, Walpurgisnacht Ballet. Here, the star of this program was to be found. Isabella LaFreniere was stunning. For such a young dancer to exude so much maturity in her dancing is remarkable. Her technique was very clean, and while decidedly "Balanchine", lacked the affected quality I found irksome in some of the other dancers. On top of all that, she has a beautiful facility. I'll be surprised if we don't see her making her way up the ranks of City Ballet in the coming years. She was partnered by the young Mayim Stiller, who also showed great promise; I would add his name to the list of those to watch in the future.
All in all, it was nice to see a glimpse of some of the stars of tomorrow. Honestly, I expected to be a little more wowed than I was, but the young dancers are all to be applauded for performing some very tricky choreography as well as they did. I wish that the selection of the ballets was a little better, perhaps more dancers should have had the chance to show their strengths. Undeniably, The School of American Ballet has been consistently turning out very strong dancers since it began. Their model may be a bit outdated; perhaps they should be looking out more for their student's futures by enabling them with the ability to perform many and varied kinds of works instead of the "Balanchine style" that is rarely asked for in most modern ballet companies?