Every Spring, an annual recital takes place in most of the thousands of schools and hundreds of college departments throughout the nation. It is a time for student performance evaluation with participants, who may range in age from 5-years old to teenagers, ready for more serious challenges in competitions for scholarships in the nation's schools or abroad. The winter season's preparation for the recital involved many hours of rehearsal in addition to regular classes. For the parent it involved an investment in costume, shoes, tickets and sometimes, a fee for preparing a solo or ensemble piece. For the school, it involves rental of a theater, stage manager and lighting or audio equipment and hours of rehearsal.
It is a time that remains in memory for the student because of its pleasure and joy, whatever the outcome.
Foremost in the level of presentation is the Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis School affiliated with American Ballet Theatre. Now in its 5th year, the structure of classes, solid pedagogy initiated by the school's principal, Franco de Vita and its teaching staff of former principal dancers of ABT, have created a remarkable theatrical experience for students and audience. Raymond Lukens, Artistic Associate for the ABT/NYU Masters program and school faculty member, lends his choreographic skill and taste to the school programs. Grown now to 61 students ranging in age from 12 to 18 years-of-age, the school and ABT II, the pre-professional wing under the Artistic Direction of Wes Chapman for dancers 16-20, the nation has a source comparable to any institution in any country in the world for maintaining the legacy of ballet and providing professional dancers for national and international companies. It is a heady accomplishment for both school and pre-professional company.
The ABT II company performed at the newly named Gerald W. Lynch Theater at John Jay College on April 3 and 4. There are good wine years and weaker ones, and this year's vintage of dancers, despite its energy did not match other years. Opening with the famous pas de deux from Lev Ivanov's "Swan Lake," one could only come to the conclusion that the old bird should be retired and thrown back into the water. It takes too much skill and understanding to make it work artistically for young dancers.
Highlight of the program was the excellent choice of "Interplay" by Jerome Robbins. It was danced with humor and youthful charm. The ballet fared better with this group than with professional dancers trying to be youthful. "Barbara," by Azure Barton in collaboration with the dancers was perky and forgettable; "Don Quixote" Act III pas de deux, got things back on track with Meaghan Hinkis showing an innate sense of balance, and her partner, Alberto Velázquez, a native of Havana with an auspicious background in winning scholarships and study in major schools, displayed his clean technique and partnering skill. If only he could grow 2 more inches tall, he would already be in demand as a soloist anywhere.
Jodie Gates offered her pretentious choreography to Beethoven's 9th Symphony as "A Taste of Sweet Velvet" for the company finale.
More successful was the JKO's two school performances, at the same theater, April 5. Beginning with a polonaise, these 12-year-olds overcame the sensation of knowing there was an audience watching and went through their Polish character walking dance with spirit and happy faces. "Flames of Paris" another tour de force pas de deux was ably performed by Skylar Paley Brandt, formerly a student at the Scarsdale Ballet Studio and Shu Kinouchi from John Neumeier's Hamburg Ballet School (JKO courteously acknowledges the previous schools and teachers of the participants in the program). "Boyce" by de Vita for 18 students was a wonderful romp; Jessica Lang's "La Belle Danse" was described in the program as "adapted for educational purposes." Lukens' showpiece "Concerto No. 9 in A Major" for 10 boys showed them to best advantage.
The piece de resistance for the cast was in the performance of Act II, Kingdom of the Shades, a dream sequence from "La Bayadère" staged by Lukens and Kate Lydon. Kathryn Boren was a mature Nikiya in the principal role but not up to the task unlike James Applewhite, her partner as Solar, who looked secure. The real test of this masterwork is in the famous and extraordinary choreography of the variations and full company "Shades" section that set a standard in 1877. It was all performed by the school with solid technique and awareness of the commitment required by the work.
Although no one dancer caught the eye, there are always late bloomers. The entire management of school and II should be proud of their accomplishments.