Young dancers thrill in the American Ballet Theatre Studio Company Winter Festival

ABT’s YouTube channel
February 9 & 10, 2021

David Mead

After spending seven months apart due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the dancers of American Ballet Theatre Studio Company came together in the autumn of 2020 in a ‘ballet bubble’ at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Connecticut, and Kaatsbaan Cultural Park in Tivoli in upstate New York. After fourteen days of quarantine, they rehearsed and then filmed nine ballets, two world premieres among them.

Hosted with warmth and ease by ABT principal dancers and Studio Company alumni Isabella Boylston and Calvin Royal III, the resulting the two-act (released as two separate streamings) American Ballet Theatre Studio Company Winter Festival is a hugely enjoyable virtual showcase that shows off the talents the ensemble of young dancers aged 17-21, to the full.

Scene from Lauren Lovette's La Follia VariationsPhoto Claire Florian
Scene from Lauren Lovette’s La Follia Variations
Photo Claire Florian

It may have been made at the time New York City was going into lockdown, but Lauren Lovette’s new La Follia Variations that concludes Act I is a feel-good piece that bursts with youthful energy. The choreography features a series of mostly short solos and dances for various groupings. Each matches Francesco Geminiani’s music perfectly, although I did find myself wishing many of them could have been longer. It may have been the camera angle but the dancers also sometimes look a bit crowded. I suspect a larger stage would help the work breathe fully and look even better.

An early male duet by Andrew Robare and Tristan Brosnan is interesting in the way roles switch as it remains gender-neutral. The highlight is the central pas de deux, however. Cy Doherty and Olivia Tweedy shine in a slow adagio that’s full of feeling. Tweedy’s long lingering lines that seem to stretch into space are enough to make you purr with delight. Doherty is a respectful and supportive partner, and manages the overhead lifts well.

Lovette says that, “These dancers give me hope for the future of dance, and this piece of choreography is a celebration of that hope.” Precisely.

Rounding off Act II, Hope Boykin’s For What Is It All Worth? explores the rights and freedoms of today’s youth. Set to music featuring Billy Porter, the Voices of East Harlem, and Bill Laurance, with original spoken word by Boykin, captures perfectly the energy of the street. It’s often jazzy and upbeat. Boykin’s combination of jeans, denim jackets and pointe shoes for the women is brilliantly effective. The men, meanwhile, fly around in open shirts over white tees. Although largely vibrant, a darker centre section nods to this time of uprising and protest. Seen in near silhouette against a red background, the dancers raise their arms, fingers pointing in quiet defiance. Even here, Boykin imbues the scene with a sense of hope, however.

Aleisha Walker in Amy Hall Garner’s EscapadesPhoto Jojo Mamangun
Aleisha Walker in Amy Hall Garner’s Escapades
Photo Jojo Mamangun

Back in Act I, the opening short but fiery Gopak variation, danced by Elwince Magbitang gives an explosive start. A short pas de deux from Anthony Tudor’s The Leaves are Fading, danced by Doherty and Kyra Coco suggests the happiness of youthful times past, although I’m not convinced it works particularly well out of context.

Amy Hall Garner’s Escapades, created in autumn 2019 to music by Guy Sigsworth and Ezio Bosso, is an homage to the spirit and sensitivity of youth. Again, it’s a series of short dances, although look closely and you will spot some clever linking as similar phrases, gestures or actions reappear or refer back. The blend of contemporary, jazz and classical steps works rather well, although it is the more outwardly classical moments that shine through, especially a quite delicious solo by Aleisha Walker in which she so often seems to find that little extra time in the music. The choreography is busy with the finale a thrilling ride, but what really sticks in the memory is the quieter, completely absorbing duet by Tristan Brosnan and Tillie Glatz, in which he demonstrates superb soft but strong partnering.

Jake Roxander and Yoon Jung Seo in Alexei Ratmansky’s Seven SonatasPhoto Avery Brunkus
Jake Roxander and Yoon Jung Seo
in Alexei Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas
Photo Avery Brunkus

In the two sonatas danced from Alexei Ratmansky’s Seven Sonatas (music by Domenico Scarlatti), Magbitang and Kotomi Yamada particularly caught the eye in their difficult solos. Magbitang’s arms somehow seem to sweep up the music as his quick footwork takes him around the stage. I also enjoyed a playful duet by Jake Roxander and Yoon Jung Seo in the second of the sonatas seen.

Apart from Boykin’s For What Is It All Worth?, the highlight of Act II is Grey Verses by National Ballet of Canada principal dancer Brendan Saye. Created at an NBC Choreographic Workshop in 2017, it comprises three dances that manifest grief, loss, love and relationships in different ways.

Olivia Tweedy and Tristan Brosnan in Brendan Saye’s Grey VersesPhoto Avery Brunkus
Olivia Tweedy and Tristan Brosnan in Brendan Saye’s Grey Verses
Photo Avery Brunkus

Danced to Claude Debussy’s Beau Soir, the opening duet speaks almost unbelievably eloquently. Every movement, every look by Walker speaks of the grief of loss, with her support, her rock, courtesy of the sensitive Doherty. The partnering is gorgeous, the pair dancing as one. The middle solo, more pointed yet still hauntingly beautiful in its own way, to music by John Corigliano, projects grief of a different sort. Andrew Robare’s hands claw of his body, sometimes climbing up his chest before seizing on his throat in a mood of frustration, perhaps even of anger. The final duet is as elegant as the Sergei Rachmaninoff prelude to which it is danced. Tweedy and Brosnan make light of innovative and sometimes tricky partnering with its many supports and lifts that flow seamlessly from one to the next.

Opening the second part of the festival, Class Concert is ABT Studio Company artistic director Sascha Radetsky’s 10-minute tribute to the daily ritual that is ballet class. It moves neatly from the barre to the freedom and joy of turns and leaps.

Kyra Coco in Sascha Radetsky’s Class ConcertPhoto Avery Brunkus
Kyra Coco in Sascha Radetsky’s Class Concert
Photo Avery Brunkus

There’s more classicism in a suite of dances from Le Corsaire. Magbitang shows yet again what a superb partner he is and later thrills with an explosive manège of turning jumps around the stage. Roxander gives a powerful account of the famous male solo. Elisabeth Beyer and the bright Yamada perform with lots of expression, both reeling of clean and precise multiple turns with ease.

ABT’s Studio Company was due to have performed in London in May 2020, Amy Hall Garner’s Escapades among the planned repertory. I suspect it may be a while yet, but let’s hope it’s not too long before they return once more. At least we can enjoy them online in the meantime.

Act I and Act II of ABT Studio Company’s Winter Festival are on ABT’s YouTube channel, where you will also find an interesting conversation between choreographer Hope Boykin and ABT Studio Company dancer Kyra Coco.