Sasonah Huttenbach and Alec Knight in the Wedding pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty.  Photo Paul Kolnik

Sasonah Huttenbach and Alec Knight
in the Wedding pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty
Photo Paul Kolnik

Peter Jay Sharp Theater, New York, NY; May 30 (e), 2015

Alison Durkee

This last weekend in May brought another year to an end at the esteemed School of American Ballet, as its advanced students showcased their talents at the school’s annual Workshop performances. Featuring an interesting range of pieces, this year’s Workshop was a delight, showcasing the variety, technique, and potential of ballet’s future stars.

After starting off the program with the Ballabile des Enfants from Balanchine’s Harlequinade, a lovely piece featuring SAB students aged 9 to 14, the showcase of the school’s more advanced students began with two contrasting pas de deux. The first, from William Tell, featured dancers Larissa Nugent and Kennard Henson donning their Swiss garb to perform August Bournonville’s quick-footed and playful choreography, as staged by Darci Kistler. Though the effort of performing the most intricate footwork sometimes showed, the pair never shied away from its precision. They attacked each step with a boldness that allowed the dance to shine, particularly in such as the repeated brisé-soutenu-pas de chat sequence in Nugent’s solo, which she performed gracefully and with precision.

Leah Christianson and Thomas Davidoff in George Balanchine's Valse Fantaisie Photo Paul Kolnik

Leah Christianson and Thomas Davidoff
in George Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie
Photo Paul Kolnik

The Wedding pas de deux from The Sleeping Beauty, as choreographed by Peter Martins after Petipa, was notable for its precision in suspended movements. Sasonah Huttenbach and Alec Knight performed, with aplomb. Huttenbach had a strong grace and control to her pointework in when partnered and while dancing solo, creating elegant pictures while stretching through each movement with a drive that matched Tchaikovsky’s sweeping orchestrations. Knight proved to be a sturdy partner, demonstrating strong jumps and technique in his own solo moments.

The showcase then fittingly turned its attention to Balanchine, the choreographer whose work will be forever inextricably linked to the School and its pupils. First came his Valse Fantasie, performed with Leah Christianson and Thomas Davidoff in the leads. Though Davidoff was a worthy partner, Christianson was the true standout, with a sparkling stage presence and a strong energy, as well as a control that made some of her slower movements, such as the sustained attitudes that begin her solo section, particularly pleasing. Supporting the couple was a corps of four dancers, who had a litheness and grace to their performance that was lovely to watch.

Finishing the first act was the Third Regiment: “Thunder and Gladiator” sequence from Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes, a high-power performance by a regiment of thirteen men, led by Xhosa Scott. As demanded by the piece’s rousing score, adapted and orchestrated by Hershy Kay after John Philip Sousa, the cast danced with strength and precision, which particularly stood out in the piece’s finale sequence of double tours. As the head of the troupe, Scott seemed slightly overwhelmed at times by the demanding nature of the role, but the 16-year-old nevertheless performed with charisma and strong technique; the clean,
distinct beats of his jeté battus were particularly of note.

The Workshop’s second act was comprised solely of Jerome Robbins’ ingeniously clever ballet Fanfare. The piece, choreographed in 1953 to celebrate the coronation of Queen Elizabeth II, takes its score, Benjamin Britten’s The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra, as its chief inspiration and structural blueprint. Each dancer in the 34-member ensemble portrays a specific instrument, and the group makes up the four orchestral sections of woodwinds, brass, strings, and percussion. As in Britten’s music, the ballet accentuates and introduces each individual section and instrument systematically, with introductions proclaimed by the piece’s Major Domo, portrayed here by actor David Lowenstein. Variations are first performed by each individual section, followed by variations for each instrument, and finally the instruments all come together in a fugue.

Xhosa Scott in Stars and Stripes (3rd Regiment: Thunder and Gladiator) Photo Paul Kolnik

Xhosa Scott in Stars and Stripes (3rd Regiment: Thunder and Gladiator)
Photo Paul Kolnik

Christopher D'Ariano and the cast  in Jerome Robbins' Fanfare Photo Paul Kolnik

Christopher D’Ariano and the cast in Jerome Robbins’ Fanfare
Photo Paul Kolnik

This inherently segmented nature makes the ballet perfect in a showcase, giving each individual dancer a chance to shine in a smaller group or solo variation. These individual variations are also distinctly Robbins in the variety of choreographic influences and emphasis on character, as each instrument takes on its own unique style and personality. The variety ranges from the slow, steady movements of the oboe solo and cello trio, to the bright, light-footed quickness of the piccolo and flutes trio, to the playful humor and casual bravado of the brass and percussion sections. The young dancers embodied these instruments with charm and technical strength, and the comedic percussion trio was a particularly crowd-pleasing highlight. Most impressive, however, were Christopher D’Ariano as the double bass, who had excellently clean jumps and technique while displaying a charismatic sense of regal pride, and the graceful Christina Clark as the harp, whose litheness and beautiful lines made her a joy to watch.

As many of these dancers now prepare to embark on their professional careers, these standout performances and the overall high standards on display Saturday evening make these emerging careers seem bright. Though the level of technique wasn’t always quite polished to the level of a professional company, the drive and precision with which the dancers attacked their steps displayed an eagerness and passion that entertained and inspired.