The Ballet Chicago Studio Company, teenage students of The School of Ballet Chicago, presented their third annual "Spring Repertory" performances last weekend in the Athenaeum Theatre, 2936 N. Southport, in Chicago. Both programs opened with Balanchine's "Concerto Barocco" and closed with his "Tchaikovsky pas de deux" followed by Artistic Director Daniel Duell's "Ellington Suite". In between, program A offered "Juxtaposition" (to Mozart and Glass), by the School's Director, Patricia Blair, "Garden Fairies" (to an excerpt from Mendelssohn's "A Midsummer Night's Dream") by Duell, and "Emperor Waltz" (J. Strauss II) also by Duell, and Program B offered Balanchine's "Valse Fantaisie" (Glinka), "Garden Fairies", and the pas de deux from Balanchine's "Stars and Stripes".
I chose the Friday evening performance of Program B and enjoyed it - These dancers perform a little below professional level, for the most part, but I have seen lots worse Balanchine from professionals. The main difference here is that their preparation has the right aim - clarity and flow - and they perform to music played (on recordings) in uncompromising tempos.
So Julie Niekrasz and Alana Czernobil gave satisfying performances in "Barocco", with entirely adequate support from Samuel Feipel; in "Valse Fantaisie", Czernobil had to substitute for Kathryn Katsaros and lacked the bouyancy the part requires, ably partnered by Ted Seymour and the four corps girls; fourteen younger girls displayed the fluently changing patterns of "Fairies" with more cheerful expressions than most of ghe principals managed; Czernobil had a better time of it in "Stars" with Feipel, who certainly brought plenty of the right strut and swagger to his part, and who made the running lift into the wings at the end effortlessly exciting but who had gotten a little overwhelmed with all he had to do in his coda solos.
After the second intermission, diminutive faculty member Lydia Freeman demonstrated what looking happy on stage while tossing off "Tchaikovsky pas" is like; and tossing herself toward the wings in the coda, she could afford to be happy, partnered as she was by the thoroughly professional Willy Shives, a guest from the Joffrey Ballet, where he last distinguished himself in my experience ably dancing both the title role and Young Billy in Loring's "Billy the Kid" on the JB's Copland program last fall. Duell's closing suite, to Ellington's "The River", like his "Fairies" ballet, showed fluency compared to his ballet years ago to Ellington's take on Tchaikovsky's "Nutcracker Suite", which kept the dancers busy pushing props around, and the movement for varied groups was well fitted to the music's movement and sometimes smoothly incorporated steps and gestures appropriate to Ellington's music but not from the classroom vocabulary. And in neither of his ballets did anyone have anything to do that made them look awkward, in contrast to what some busier, more established choreographers have done.
I should add that all the performances were in suitable costume, if not always the ones we associate with the established ballets on the program, and with designed lighting lacking however adequate levels of illumination at the front of the stage, where principals suddenly turn into silhouette.
Returning Saturday evening after a heavy day, I found myself thinking how glad I was that I had, as Laura Dunlop with Niekrasz this time, concluded the slow movement of "Barocco". And "Valse" went better with - well, I thought the program was correct in naming Niekrasz, but Duell told us later it had been Czernobil - whoever it was had managed to move more lightly. And while Czernobil still looked a little scared in "Stars", Feipel had got his role more nearly under control, although turns are not his strength.
We just don't get enough Balanchine even of this caliber around here. At least, I don't!
Ballet Chicago Studio Company, May 17-19,2001
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