Thanking the Academy

As we’ve come to expect, the Annual Workshop Performances of the New York City Ballet-affiliated School of American Ballet showed the celebrated institution in fine fettle. The senior students, most in their mid to late teens, shone particularly in a pair of juicily true-to-the-master stagings of Balanchine works: Donizetti Variations and Gounod Symphony, mounted by Suki Schorer and Susan Pilarre, respectively. A brief ensemble passage in the Gounod served as an emblem of the overall and ongoing strength of an academy whose advanced-level pupils – though they may have earned only secondary roles in these rites of spring – will soon be adding luster to ballet companies throughout the world: In a warm, glowing light, 30 dancers fill the stage in crossing diagonal lines and then disport themselves in geometric but continually inventive formations, weaving themselves into an organism whose components are inseparable yet ever-changing.

Among the ephemeral stars created by the Workshop’s circumstances, the 17-year-old Adam Hendrickson took top honors on the male side. He’s already been made an apprentice with the NYCB, where he will no doubt extend the company’s line of gentleman dancers (Peter Boal comes to mind, and Ib Andersen before him, and Helgi Tomasson before him) who remain modest in demeanor despite the brilliance of their technique. Hendrickson is equally capable in turns and jumps – more of a rarity than one might think. He just needs to loosen up a little, to jettison some of his carefulness. Two other men who caught my eye were Matthew Powell, a small, airy dancer who is off to join the Pacific Northwest Ballet, and Aaron Severini, still built like a stripling but possessed of formidable skill and aplomb.

The women entrusted with the program’s leading roles – in the Balanchine pieces and in a capable but derivative new ballet by Christopher Wheeldon – can be classed in one of two categories: the Mysterious Muse and the Girl Next Door. In the first lot, the standouts were Nicole Epstein, whose specialties are legato dancing and cool hauteur, and Rebecca Krohn, also apparently born for adagio work. Only 16, Krohn seems to be this year’s main prodigy, but she still hasn’t gained full control of her willowy limbs or, for that matter, her stage presence. Despite her shakiness, a nascent eloquence suffused everything she did.

Janie Taylor seems to have no pretensions whatsoever to the ballerina temperament, no visions of herself as a goddess of any kind. At first sight, she looks like a nice, normal high-school girl headed for a state university and happiness of an uncomplicated sort that is rarely the lot of artists. Yet to me and, judging from their avid response, many others in an audience packed with dance aficionados, Taylor quietly copped the Best-in-Show medal. She deploys her splendid technique with calm, unassuming confidence, intermittently revealing profound musical and dramatic resources she still seems as yet unaware of herself. I also liked enormously the coltish, fresh-faced Davena Gross, who looks like the Girl Next Door’s kid sister.

The young children of the school were represented by a passage for the touching corps de ballet of little girls that Balanchine so cleverly devised for his version of Coppélia. He had mounted the ballet with his longtime colleague Alexandra Danilova, a dancing star of enormous glamour and wit and a veteran SAB faculty member. This segment, dedicated to Danilova, who died last July at the age of 93, offered a dazzling display of the SAB’s hallmarks, unmistakable even in these fledglings: precision, vitality, musical acuity, appetite for space, and an ecstatic joy in being out there, in motion, for all the world to see.

Thanking the Academy