by Gina Palumbo for The Dance Journal
On March 23rd, Variations/Collaborations took place once more at the Kurtz Center of William Penn Charter School in Philadelphia, under the artistic direction of Lisa Collins Vidnovic. Students from Metropolitan Ballet Company (MBC) had a chance to work with live musicians from Settlement Music School, and with each production of Variations/Collaborations, the company works in partnership with renowned artists hailing from all over the country. This year, MBC welcomed students from the San Francisco Ballet Trainee Program, under the artistic direction of Patrick Armand.
Variations/Collaborations began with Gloria, the work of world-renowned choreographer Jessica Lang, restaged by Patrick Coker of her company. A cast of 17 dancers processed powerfully onto the stage in red, orange and yellow costumes, a triad of autumn colors. As the dancers weaved in and out of the way of one another, they created intricate patterns as though fall leaves have been swept up in a gust of wind. At a point, the group was separated into two and met in the middle, as if one was calling and the other responding.
When asked about her experience in learning this work, Isabella Wu of MBC recalled the skills she has gained in partnering. “It was frustrating to try repeatedly at something and not be able to achieve it,” Wu said, “but in the end, after long hours of rehearsal, I was finally able to do it!” Students must face tests; however, the mantra rings true: practice always makes perfect.
Paquita Pas de Trois by Marius Petipa followed with three trainees from The San Francisco Ballet School. Alexis Aiudi, Suzanna Lathrum and Lleyton Ho graced the stage in classical elegance, akin to jewels sparkling in the stage lights. With arms linked with one another, the dancers glided across the stage, maintaining the shape of a triangle and executing each jump with a great sense of ballon.
Now came the chance for music and dance to meet for Mozart, a classical ballet choreographed by MBC faculty Denise Somrack D’Angelo. Beginning with Settlement’s Chamber Ensemble taking the stage, dancers dressed in dazzling white approached the technical choreography with beauty, epaulement, breath and nothing short of brilliance.
Jacey Gailliard, student of MBC and soloist of Mozart, offered insight on working through the ebbs and flows of movement to live music. “It is really different dancing to live music because you are at the mercy of the musicians,” Gailliard said, “The music may be slower or faster than what you practiced, so you must be resilient, flexible and ready for whatever comes.”
Quicksilver, was a contemporary ballet piece choreographed by Marc Brew of AXIS Dance Company for the trainees of San Francisco Ballet. An invisible string was holding each dancer’s wrist from a great height, and each shape created with their arms was geometric and stylized. A stunning piece of partnering that Brew revisited throughout the work was performed by two male dancers, where one lifted the other into the air, turned him and released him onto the floor, which all occurred smoothly and almost simultaneously. Athletic and acrobatic, Quicksilver’s mysterious and adventurous spirit garnered gasps amongst audience members.
The San Francisco Ballet male trainees returned with Concerto Grosso, choreographed by Helgi Tomasson. An all-male work full of partnering was refreshing and light-hearted, complete with petit allegro at high speed. With every jump, the dancers caught air, which is the after effect of strong feet. Ballet d’Isoline was a classical duet also choreographed by Tomasson, with stunning and difficult partnering. To see classic and contemporary works upholds that the mastery of the classics will inform a dancer’s success in both styles.
Sarah Mettin’s Depart began in silence, but the dancers seemed to be moving to an internal rhythm anyway. Mettin provided this time to allow the dancers to settle in, and locate their inner “groove.” No movement was flat; each had its own rhythm and intent. In the choreographic process, Mettin does not work alone and encourages the dancers to explore alternatives.
“There have been ‘mistakes’ by dancers in rehearsal that have been ultimately utilized in the piece,” Mettin said, “If the ‘mistake’ feels more comfortable for the dancer, they are more likely to execute it with confidence.” With this method, Mettin hoped to push the dancers further and further out of their comfort zones. The ability to leave what is comfortable is the core idea of this work. “When working with Sarah Mettin, it is so special to know that she is creating movement specifically for me,” says student Micaelina Carter, who was elated to be a part of Mettin’s process.
The night ended on an uplifting note, with unusual dance partners at the ready. Lively costumes and an infinite number of balloons dipped and bounced across the stage as Ashley Walton’s work Aloft took flight. Complex partnering was made to look easy with the dancers joyful on their feet, even when having to navigate the otherwise covered floor. It was impossible not to create room in one’s heart for this work, as the emotions it elicited can equate to the feeling of gaining new friendships or falling in love for the first time.
Micah Sell of MCB reflected on all he has learned while being a part of Variations/Collaborations. “V/C has taught me how to perform and to give my all to something really important. It also gives me the opportunity to represent these beautiful works that the choreographers have trusted us with.”
With the standard of discipline and passion to which these students hold themselves, their artistry is not only thriving at present but made sustainable for a future in dance. Working with unique artists will allow for flexibility in the ever-changing dance world, and the lessons learned will follow them from audition to studio, to the stage and beyond.
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