Warning: If you are a dance professional, or someone who visits ballet chat rooms, you will probably not find what you're looking for here. I apologize. I'm just trying to get some more people interested in joining the club.
By Sarah Henning
Anchorage Daily News
Folks in the Lower 48 take for granted a lot of wonderful things that, for Alaskans, are rare and special. Say, biting into a juicy, fresh orange in January, getting magazines on time, or shopping at Target.
Now, here’s what you should add to the top of that list: The athleticism and artistry of the classical ballet dancers who are visiting us from New York City this weekend.
If you admire the strength and agility of the Aces or the Wild, trust me: The first time you see one of these male dancers balance a ballerina on one sinewy arm, you’ll be inspired to vigorously clang your cowbell (although clapping is usually the preferred response at these things).
I realize this isn’t my typical M.O. for a review – writing in the first person, not getting into the technical bits by now. I’m basically breaking all the rules from critics’ school. (I’m such a rebel.)
But because there isn’t a professional classical ballet company in Anchorage, few of you are already die-hard classical ballet fans. (At least, ballet that doesn’t star your precocious and adorable 10-year-old daughter.)
The proof? Atwood Hall was, sadly, more than half empty last night.
I know Alaskans are far more sophisticated and open-minded than people Outside give us credit for. So, I’m writing this to those of you who haven’t been exposed to much ballet. I earnestly want you to know what you’re missing if you don’t catch the last show tonight. I figure, the best way to do that is by not writing half this review in French.
The ABT II company is a group of gifted 16-to-19-year-old apprentices at American Ballet Theatre, one of the most influential ballet companies in the world. These are the future Scotty Gomez’s of dance. In one or two years, most of these dancers will be going “the show.”
I’m not saying they’re perfect; if they were cupcakes, most of them would need three, maybe five more minutes to bake. The local ballet teachers were probably cringing when in “Don Quixote,” a lift followed by a fish dive almost ended with a face-stage collision. (Although I think the pair made up for it several times over, including when Meaghan Hinkis whipped through some 30 fouette turns in a row. Show off.)
That said, this program is packed with show-stopping excerpts from the most beloved repertoire. If you’re curious about ballet, you’ll know by the end of the night whether you want to explore it further.
And how’s this for an honor: Anchorage was chosen for ABT II’s world premiere of “Cake,” a funny, unpretentious work based on the extravagant (and short) life of Marie Antoinette.
Choreographed by former ABT dancer Brian Reeder, the piece begins as a fanciful swirl of dancers and props mocking Marie’s indulgences, from gambling to shoes. The pantomiming requirement is intense, and fulfilled enthusiastically.
As Marie, Mara Thompson teasingly plays cat-and-mouse, through quick, light footwork, disdainful pirouettes away from the others, and nods to the social dancing of the period. The piece settles into a more serene tone as Marie becomes a mother and moves to the country, although this isn’t your typical pastoral piece. Cardboard chickens and sheep are used to hysterical effect.
But when Marie returns to court, the ensemble is menacing. Her arms plead, but it’s too late. The men in the black cloaks slink in, and a striking tableau is the audience’s only consolation.
The evening began with “Allegro Brillante” by one of the 20th century’s foremost choreographers, George Balanchine. The man was about technical virtuosity through and though, and these young dancers were as exacting as could be expected. Sae-Eun Park’s arabesques create an enviable 90-degree angle, although her subsequent pauses sometimes felt long.
The pros came out for “The Sleeping Beauty’s” grand pas de deux (that’s just France talk for “dance for two”). American Ballet Theatre principals David Hallberg and Michele Wiles danced radiantly. He charged through an intense puffer with fervor, scoring so much elevation, he should probably be dunking balls for the Spurs.
By the end of the evening, fatigue was starting to reveal itself, and the final excerpt from the elegant “Raymonda” saw its fair share of loose jumps and out-of-synch ensemble work.
I’m not going to say this performance has something for everyone, because a) I die a little inside every time I see that cliché in a press release and b) when people say that, they’re usually lying.
But if you’ve ever been curious about classical ballet, or have just made a commitment to yourself to try a few new things this year, you should know, this is a seldom-in-a-lifetime opportunity this far north. At least, until we get a pro classical company of our own.
If you go
ABT II will take the stage at 7:30 p.m. today in Atwood Concert Hall. Tickets cost $20-$42, $20 seniors, $16 for 18 and younger. (263-2787, www.centertix.net)