"Allegro Brilliant," "Circus Polka," "Les Gentilhommes," "Who Cares"
The School of American Ballet
2011 Workshop Performance
Peter Jay Sharp Theater
New York, New York
June 4, 2011 matinee
Copyright 2011 by Michael Popkin
The first of the School of American Ballet's three annual workshop performances showed the school in the best of health and dancing with its hallmark speed and musicality. The program was Balanchine's "Allegro Brilliant" and "Who Cares," Robbins' "Circus Polka," and Peter Martins' "Les Gentilhommes." Several young dancers distinguished themselves but as important was the sense of a uniform company look and training. The women aged seventeen to eighteen have become progressively taller, more conventionally pretty and less idiosyncratic in recent years. The men are also taller and more classical then they used to be. A live orchestra (that appeared to be mostly Juilliard students recruited for the occasion) conducted by San Francisco Ballet's Martin West provided accompaniment.
"Allegro Brilliant," staged by Suki Schorer, opened the program and showed the impeccable schooling one associates with Schorer's coaching. Angelica Generosa and Harrison Ball, the principal couple, were SAB's award winners for outstanding promise this year. (Peter Walker, who took the lead in "Who Cares" later in the show, also won one). Ball is of middle height, handsome and relaxed, and presents himself classically. Generosa is very individual - a small-to-middle height young woman with an unconventional body but powerful technique and an unexpected gift for adagio dancing.
"Les Gentilhommes" was choreographed by Martins in 1987 as a tribute to Stanley Williams, SAB's legendary teacher. A showpiece for nine young men, its leading man is a first among equals who moves into and out of trios that interpret selections from Handel. Joseph Gordon, youthful and lyrical, led Saturday afternoon's cast and Harrison Ball danced this in addition to "Allegro Brilliant" at Tuesday night's gala. Neither is particularly short or demi-character, which is a change in casting type in a ballet that Daniel Ulbricht has led in company performances. The men's training is different from the women's right now in the richer epaulement they are permitted to use: the women are kept strictly neutral in the upper body. "Les Gentilhommes" was staged by Albert Evans and Arch Higgins; but behind them one sees the hand of Jock Soto in the training of these tall and classical boys. Since joining SAB's faculty, he seems to be filling the teaching void left by Williams' death in 1997 and the departure of Peter Boal to direct Pacific Northwest Ballet several years ago.
Soto received a round of applause in his own right when, top-hatted and wielding a circus master's whip, he put forty-nine of SAB's youngest girls (Nutcracker age - about nine through thirteen) through their paces in Robbins' brief "Circus Polka," which was danced as an intermezzo after "Allegro Brilliant."
"Who Cares," staged by Susan Pilarre, closed the program on a high note. With its medley of George Gershwin songs danced by a cast of twenty-four, and interesting popular rhythms, it proved to be a great workshop piece that set the students loose. Pilarre, who tends to encourage fluidity of movement and the spirit of a ballet rather than a careful account of its look when she coaches, got just the right blend of ballet and jazz. Danced by students, the classical armature under the Broadway accents was particularly clear. The students had to trust their technique to respond to these rhythms; there was no place to hide. They were innocent, physical and fresh; what was individual about each of them as performers was fascinating and infectious to watch. Peter Walker had the Jacques d'Amboise role, while Megan Dutton-O'Hara ("Fascinating Rhythm"), Bianca Bulle ("Stairway to Paradise") and Lindsay Turkel ("My One and Only") were the three principal women. But the charm of the performance reached down to every single dancer in the ensemble.