Review: ABT II

American Ballet Theatre is one of the top ballet companies in the world.

ABT has a special place in my heart for many reasons. Their dancers are stunning; their performances are brilliant. And I am also fortunate to have two indirect connections to the company: I grew up studying ballet at the Virginia Beach Ballet Academy with the late Theresa Martinez, whose brother (the late Enrique Martinez) was a dancer with ABT who advanced to Assistant Artistic Director for the company. I also currently teach at VBBA, which is now run by his niece; and when I was studying ballet at Indiana University, two principal dancers from ABT (Julie Kent and José Manuel Carreño) came to IU as guest artists, and danced with us in several performances of “The Nutcracker,” and also a performance of “Don Quixote.”

I had the opportunity to see ABT II (the studio company) perform at the American Theatre in Hampton last weekend. The ten young dancers (age 16-20) put on a show that had it all; I smiled, I wept, I gasped, and I cheered.

The program had both extremely classical as well as contemporary ballet. It was wonderful to watch a company of this size in a cozy, intimate theatre. The show opened and closed with corp dances, but four of the seven pieces in the show were pas de deux. And those four pas de deux were smashing.

It was immediately clear that Alys Shee and Aaron Smith were up to the challenge of “Grand Pas Classique,” one of the most technically demanding pas de deux. In the opening pas, and in the brutally difficult sequence of traveling fondu relevés into pirouettes in Alys’ variation, she held each relevé with a vengeance, and did not show a hint of unsteadiness (this is what made me gasp). Although her crispness almost crossed the line into stiffness, her power was captivating. Aaron’s double tours and entrechat sixes in his variation were high and consistent; the last jump was just as clean as the first. And then came the coda, with his buoyant brisés and sissones, and her spectacular fouettés. GPC’s fouetté combination also includes à la seconde turns. Alys started with a double turn, and then after the à la seconde turns, she pulled into triple fouettés. And that is when I cheered; actually, it was more of an involuntary yell. It was incredible.

The other very classical pas de deux was “Flames of Paris.” Skylar Brandt and Colby Parsons performed this very energetic and vibrant pas with ease. Her hops on pointe were spritely and effortless; his lofty jumps sailed so far across the stage that he almost went into the wings. I gasped again at his soaring double tour jetés, and her 16 fouettés that were a combination of single and double turns.

Brittany DeGrofft and Alberto Velazquez performed the remaining two pas de deux, “Ballo Per Sei” and “Pavlovsk.” Both pieces were a contemporary style, with slow tempos, and lyrical movements. Brittany and Alberto danced together very well, performing the intricate and unique lifts in “Ballo Per Sei” seamlessly. “Pavlovsk” was the emotional love story of a woman who visits the statue of her husband, a Russian general who had been assassinated a year before. He comes back to life for one last dance; the choreography was smooth and fluid, showcasing her absolutely gorgeous lines and his unwavering strength. Brittany and Alberto portrayed the joy, tenderness, and sadness of these characters perfectly, as they were reunited and then again parted. This is when I wept; “Pavlovsk” was simply beautiful, in every way.

The rest of the program was contemporary ballet pieces; the quirky and clever “Barbara,” the dramatic “Vivace Motifs”(which, surprisingly, was not performed in pointe shoes), and the dark and smoky “A Taste of Sweet Velvet.” All of the dancers in the company have tremendous talent; I’m sure it won’t be long before they are dancing in full companies.

And if you’re wondering when I smiled, that was essentially throughout the entire performance. I am thrilled that this show came to our area, and I look forward to seeing ABT II here again.

This article was originally published on AltDaily in January of 2011.

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