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'Proteges II: International Ballet Academy Festival'

The Royal Ballet School - 'Galanteries'
The Paris Opera Ballet School - 'Soir de fete'
The School of American Ballet - 'Concerto Barocco'
The Bolshoi Ballet Academy - Grand Pas Classique from 'Paquita'

by Carmel Morgan

June 6, 2008 - The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Opera House, Washington, DC

The Kennedy Center first launched “Proteges,” a mixed repertory program featuring dancers from some of the world’s best ballet academies, in 2006.  On June 6, 2008, “Proteges II,” the second engagement of the biennial showcase, premiered.  The Proteges series offers a rare and fascinating glimpse of future ballet stars and of each academy’s unique style.

Four famous ballet schools participated in this year’s Proteges program: the Royal Ballet School, the Paris Opera Ballet School, the School of American Ballet, and the Bolshoi Ballet Academy.  Each academy presented a 20 to 30 minute piece highlighting its top talent.

The various ballet academies, of course, train their dancers differently, and the styles of the schools are thus distinctive.  The dancing of the Paris Opera Ballet School’s students, for example, had a crisp feeling.  Its dancers had taut upper bodies and springy feet.  The choreography by Leo Staats was simple and clean.  The dancers of the School of American Ballet, on the other hand, had extremely supple upper bodies apropos of the fluid, sweeping movement of George Balanchine.  The British Royal Ballet School’s dancers tended toward restraint, while the Russian Bolshoi Ballet Academy’s dancers embodied a big and brash style.

Partnering was a weakness many of the young dancers shared.  Another widely shared weakness was a mechanical look common in dancers who are concentrating more on their footwork than the dance as a whole.  Overall, though, the dancing of these young students was on par with many regional ballet companies.

While “Proteges II” is not an international ballet competition, there was doubtless some rivalry afoot.  The Bolshoi Ballet Academy seemed to capture first prize.  There was a chorus of “oohs” and “ahs” from the audience as one young ballerina after another confidently took the stage.  The Bolshoi’s talent appears endlessly deep.

Soloist Yanina Parienko is definitely one to watch.  She was technically brilliant, soaring and turning with grace and precision.  Unlike many of the other schools’ performers, she also showed amazing artistry.  Parienko has a coy, charismatic smile.  Her theatrical expressions coupled with her stunning strength made her seem much more mature than her young age.  Many of the other Proteges ballerinas looked girlish, tiny and somewhat timid.  Parienko, in contrast, looked solid and danced fearlessly.  She simply sizzled with showmanship, a sure hallmark of a future Russian ballet star.

Despite a few missteps, the evening left one optimistic about the future of classical ballet.  There is a serious concern, however, about the lack of young male dancers in the showcase.  Not too surprisingly, female performers by far outnumbered the males. The significant gender disparity was the night’s only real disappointment.  One hopes that there are many young men quietly in training who we will see triumphantly emerge in another two years at the Proteges III performance.


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