Stars of American Ballet Live Up to Their Name

by Debra Danese for The Dance Journal

Annenberg Center Presents dance series is off to a dazzling start this season. They followed up last month’s brilliant performance of Les Ballets de Jazz de Montreal with another strong programming choice, Stars of American Ballet. The Saturday, October 19th evening performance provided a variety of works from the repertory of George Balanchine, Christopher Wheeldon and others. Although not entirely comprised of ballet, the combination of classic and more contemporary selections provided something for everyone.

Daniel Ulbricht, a principal dancer with New York City Ballet, not only founded and directs Stars of American Ballet, but also showcases himself as a choreographer and performer with the company. He brought along some of his fellow NYCB dancers and joined them with a handful of other skilled artists to make up the evening’s program. Together, they presented eight works of mostly duets. Not surprising that three of these were Balanchine pieces (Balanchine co-founded NYCB.) I was reminded of how timeless and relevant his work still is while watching the Apollo Pas de Deux, which first premiered in 1928. Dancers Sterling Hyltin and Adrian Danchig-Waring were commanding and regal in their highly technical interpretation.

In contrasting style, Wheeldon’s Liturgy was equally impressive and maintained an almost constant physical connection between Teresa Reichlen and Ask la Cour. Wheeldon’s choreography utilized many commonly used lifts but were initiated from unexpected positions. la Cour proved himself a skilled partner with most of the focus being on Reichlen. Her control, balance and flexibility were on full display. There were no program credits for costume design but I must comment on Reichlen’s unitard, which was simple yet stunning with its unique cut-out design.

Slightly out of place but extremely entertaining was a ballroom piece to Michael Jackson’s Smooth Criminal. Denys Drozdyuk choreographed the number and performed it with partner Antonina Skobina. The two glided across the stage with high energy and superb musical phrasing. The stylistic change from the previous pieces was a crowd pleaser and a smart choice to close the first half of the program.

Ulbricht opened the second half with a solo to music by Art Tatum. One could easily be deceived into thinking the piece was not as physically challenging as the others due to Ulbricht’s easy, carefree manner of performing.  He was master executor of multiple turns and rapid-fire beating in his petit allegro work. He can also stop a movement on a dime, if necessary.

The two following works were George Balanchine’s Diamonds Pas De Deux and Pictures at an Exhibition Excerpt. The dancers showcased exemplary strength, technique, and thoughtful movement quality but lacked a sense of connection between partners that left the pieces feeling a bit flat in their presentation. Tres Hombres, which came after and closed the program, offered a sharp change of dynamics in a display of bravura. Drozdyuk and Ulbricht, along with Joseph Gatti, executed a non-stop spectacle of high kicks, brisk beats, soaring leaps and most impressive- turns performed at break-neck speed- proving they are in fact, stars.

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