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San Francisco Ballet School - Spring Student Showcase

by Rebecca Hirschman

May 20, 2004 – Palace of Fine Arts, San Francisco

To find fine dancing by today’s youngsters and tomorrow’s bright new stars, where should one look? Here on the west coast, that place is unquestionably the San Francisco Ballet School, which boasts a world-renowned faculty, successful students, and a relationship with a top international company. San Francisco Ballet School’s Spring Student Showcase was aptly held at the Palace of Fine Arts. Outside swans glided across the lake, and one might think it was a sign of the purity of dance to be found inside.

The performance began with short class-like demonstrations accompanied by Alla Gladysheva and Laura Tishchenko on piano. Each plié, tendú, and relevé was given the utmost care and attention. As the levels progressed, the movements became more complicated while the students’ abilities and growth became more evident. Level 4 Girls (Group IV of the program) exhibited gorgeous épualement not seen in the lower levels. Christopher Oullette, in the Boys III (Group V) section, demonstrated incredible flexibility and strong presentation. The level 6 Women (Group VIII) performed a Balanchine-inspired section, displaying strong technique, impressive lines, and passion. No small feat (feet!) for these young ladies.

George Balanchine’s “Donizetti Variations,” with music by Gaetano Donizetti, closed the first half with Andrea McGinnis and Ryan Camou dazzling as the principal couple. McGinnis danced with precision and grace; her double pirouettes into a sauté entournant were gorgeous. Camou performed with speed and energy. Rachel Maher, as one of the soloists, had a refreshingly radiant quality to her dancing.

Opening the second half was “Passing Fancies,” a world premiere choreographed by 20-year-old Avichai Scher. Scher, a former student of the School of American Ballet and SF Ballet’s summer program, has choreographed works for the New York Choreographic Institute, ABT Studio Company, and The Washington Ballet. Utilizing music by French composer Yann Tiersen, Scher, a promising young choreographer, created a large group piece for 24 dancers. While this was an avid attempt, I felt that the corps sections were uninteresting and predictable, depending on an incredible amount of unison and canon. While Scher seemed to explore more possibilities with the principal roles such as innovative lifts and various rhythms, I feel that he could have extended his movement vocabulary to the corps.

In lead roles, Courtney Hellebuyck danced with maturity and conviction, and Shannon Roberts was exciting to watch in her zest-filled variation. In their duet, Daniel Benavides was a gentle and gifted partner to supple Shannon Maynor. Logan Learned, who will compete at the upcoming Adeline Genée International Ballet Competition, had buoyant jumps and an effervescent smile.

Nest, Kelsey Hellebuyck and Daniel Cooper performed the “Bluebird Pas de Deux” from Helgi Tomasson’s The Sleeping Beauty with music by Tchaikovsky. Helleybuyck showed great control and smoothness in her double pique turns, and Cooper’s beats and carriage was impressive. Last on the program was excerpts from Tomasson’s Handel – A Celebration, set to music by George Frideric Handel. While Handel features a large number of dancers, it didn’t have that showstopping power that one would hope for in a closing work. But, the dancers were committed to the movements and appeared to be enjoying themselves on stage, even with a few bobbles here and there. Sandy Brown, dancing the female solo surrounded by 6 men, commanded the stage throughout every step, moving with purpose and fluidity. In the men’s duet, Jason Chinea and Anthony Spaulding were well matched. Both had strong technique and more importantly, they danced together as a pair, even in their pirouettes.

Each group of students, from the younger ones to the more advanced groups, impressed me. Thought went into each group, variation, and choreographic work. And, it is evident that many of these students have a promising career in ballet. Soon these swans will take flight.

Edited by Jeff.

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