Jessica Lang’s Children’s Songs Dance lights up an ABT Studio Company showcase

Streamed by Luckman Fine Arts Complex at Cal State University, Los Angeles
January 29, 2022

Nearly 80% of the current dancers in American Ballet Theatre are alumni of its Studio Company, including seven Soloists and twelve Principal Dancers. The latest crop of young performers, all aged between 18 and 22 and under the artistic directorship of Sascha Radetsky, provided a super hour of dance, classical and contemporary, old and new, in this streamed performance, filmed on stage at the Luckman at Cal State in Los Angeles.

Courtesy of Kotomi Yamada and Jake Roxander, it got off to an effervescent start with the Fourth Campaign pas de deux from George Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes. It’s a bright, optimistic, slightly cheeky duet, laced with humour that while not exactly subtle, is equally hard not to fall for.

Roxander had great fun as El Capitan, marching around the stage before showing off some super elevation in his leaps. Yamada caught the eye with some high extensions and fast turns, but best of all the way she found time to just, oh so briefly, hold on to moments to make sure you saw them. The chemistry between them was excellent too.

Jake Roxander and Kotomi Yamada
in the pas de deux from George Balanchine’s Stars and Stripes
Photo Tzu-Chia Huang

Very different was the following Children’s Songs Dance by Jessica Lang. A collaboration between the late jazz musician and composer Chick Corea, who unexpectedly passed away from cancer in 2021, the 17-minute piece manages to combine a childlike innocence and playfulness with striking elegance, the latter somehow magnified by the relatively simple costumes. The light but gorgeous choreography fits the selections from Corea’s Children’s Songs to which it’s danced, and the dancers, like a glove.

The piece captures nicely the spirit of young people as they transition from child and adult. It’s series of dances are light and easy-going, occasionally nodding towards children’s play directly as in moments that echo a children’s swing or a see-saw. Some of the sections are a little more ‘grown-up’ though, none more so that the delicious duet that comes just before the end. Quietly meaningful, it’s a sharing of the struggle of their time of life, and perhaps just a little bit romantic, all emphasised by the piano.

Seven Sonatas by Alexei Ratmansky, featuring Cy Doherty and SunMi Park
Photo Erin Baiano

Equally impressive was the first pas de deux from Alexei Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas that followed. The rich duet emphasises artistry. Partnered by Cy Doherty, SunMi Park was beautiful and nuanced in her movement throughout the ballet. Park in particular captured poetically every breath of Domenico Scarlatti’s gently considered Sonata in F Minor, K. 481, her whole body speaking to the audience.

That the couple are in a deep relationship is clear. Quite where it’s at seems more complicated. There’s a sense that perhaps they’ve had a disagreement, that both want to patch up, but aren’t quite sure how to. There are moments when then move easily together, her leaning into him for support or happily being held by him. Yet sometimes she reaches out as if to take flight only to the held back by him, or he turns and walks away only to return moments later.

Aleisha Walker in Lora by Yannick Lebrun
Photo Elyse Mertz

The World Premiere of Yannick Lebrun’s contemporary solo Lora is set to music of the same name by Mpho Sebina. Aleisha Walker embodied beautifully a sense of dreams and hopes (the title means ‘to dream’ in Setswana).

From there to out and out classicism and that gala favourite, Victor Gsovsky’s Grand Pas Classique. The technical and stylistic challenges it sets were risen to with aplomb by Park and Andrew Robare. I particularly liked the way they took every opportunity to ‘talk’ to each other with their eyes.

As part of the ABT Women’s Movement, the Studio Company commissions at least one new work by an emerging female choreographer each year. The 2020 creation by Hope Boykin, For What Is It All Worth?, opens with a deeply thoughtful solo. Finnian Carmeci danced soulfully and fluidly, making the most of the choreography’s pauses that make it seem that he is listening to the text spoken by Boykin herself that’s a sort of reflection on life and growing together. Throw in Billy Laurence’s gentle piano, and it is quite spellbinding.

A dark centre section nods to uprising and protest but the two jazzy, upbeat sections that sandwich it emphasise energy and hope. The combination of casual denim and pointe shoes works a treat.