Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Night of Tomorrow's Stars

I spent last Saturday evening being charmed by the Boston Ballet School, which presented its Spring Showcase over the weekend at the Cyclorama. The School actually needs a space larger than that to really spread out - dozens of young dancers are enrolled at its various studios, north and south, and at least one of the works on display (Balanchine's "Walpurgisnacht") looked a little squeezed on the temporary stage. But the youngsters and teenagers all managed well within its confines, even taking in their stride the unexpected (like the sound system's sudden failure) with a sweetly premature professionalism.

The students on view were from the School's "intensive" program, and it was clear from their poised presentation of various "Etudes" (accompanied with brio by pianist Tanya Foaksman) that they had all mastered an age-appropriate level of technique (toe shoes didn't appear until later levels, as they shouldn't). Indeed, the fresh-faced students sometimes appeared more nervous than they should have been - but then the relieved looks of "Yes, I landed that!" only added to the evening's appeal. The various deployments went by briskly, and the teachers had cannily given almost everyone a chance to shine, and even devised a few winsome bits of proto-choreography. Needless to say, the parent-heavy audience was appropriately adoring. It was also gratifying to see the vast majority of the girls (who still, alas, far outnumber the boys at these academies) looked to be slim, but at a healthy weight; there were only one or two skinny young things I wanted to take out for a cheeseburger.

After the kids strutted their stuff, the program was given over to dance excerpts for the senior students and "trainees" (many of whom already had taken jobs at ballets across the country), culminating in a performance of Balanchine's "Walpurgisnacht," from 1980. The senior boys were first showcased in a series of Bournonville's "EnchaƮnements," or exercises that teetered on the edge of actual choreography, followed by a pas de deux from Rossini's William Tell featuring trainees Sylvia Deaton and Dylan Tebaldi. The blonde, beaming Deaton's attack was hearty yet precise, while Tedaldi made rather a bemused young swain (albeit a naturally musical one). Next came the requisite piece from Jorma Elo - this being the Boston Ballet School, after all - which was essayed with loose-limbed aplomb by Akiko Ishii, Yurika Kitano, Emily Mistretta, Brittany Summer, Isaac Akiba, and Jeffrey Cirio - some of whom occasionally seemed relieved to successfully dodge Elo's patented scissor-kicks (which I confess are getting a bit repetitive). Alas, Elo's finale was undone by a recalcitrant CD - I'm sure the kids were disappointed, but I wasn't, not really.

Finally came the big event, Balanchine's "Walpurgisnacht," to the "witches' sabbath" scene from Gounod's Faust. If the subject matter gives you pause, rest assured the dance proved pretty tame for a satanic orgy - indeed, as my partner whispered, it read more like "Prom Night on Bald Mountain": the girls let down their hair in the last variation, which gave the final steps a frisky air, but "Girls Gone Wild" this was not. Still, it sports Balanchine's usual inventive music-visualization (rather compressed here, but danced as cleanly as the Ballet itself managed with Mr. B's Concerto Barocco), and ironically enough, it's utterly free of his usual sense of incipient doom. Again as usual, it also feels a bit like Sadie Hawkins Day: two dozen ballerinas face off against a single danseur. Luckily, the Ballet had a male trainee up to the job: Dustin Layton, with his powerful legs and dark good looks, was just the boy a girl would want to save her from a witches' sabbath, and he both sailed through his solo and partnered ballerina Rachel Cossar with sexy sensitivity. It's too bad he's off to North Carolina Dance Theatre, because he'd be a welcome addition to Boston's own roster. Miss Cossar, for her part, like Miss Deaton, has already been accepted to Boston Ballet II, and it was easy from her clean, classic line to see why; but with her wholesome looks she was rather miscast as the high priestess of a black sabbath - "Our Town," you thought, might be more her cup of tea. More in her element was the spritely Olivia Hartzell, who led the gamboling sorceresses with delicate vivacity. But to tell the truth, her happy smiles were matched on every side.

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