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American Ballet Theatre II

by Kathy Lee Scott

September 19, 2008 -- Cerritos Performing ArtsCenter, Cerritos, California

The performance on September 19, 2008, was an off night, for the youngsters of ABT II. At the Cerritos Performing Arts Center, the 11 member company presented a varied program of classical and contemporary ballet. However, several members slipped in spots, making them cautious. José Sebastian was the first dancer to encounter the slippery spot. On a simple temps lié, his leading foot slid a few inches. Minutes into the first piece, the ladies' pointe shoes scooted a fraction in piqué steps. No one fell down, and all continued as expected, but the fear of slipping weakened many of their attacks throughout the evening.

Sae-Eun Park led the troupe in the first two pieces: George Balanchine's Allegro Brillante and a new piece by Aszure Barton, Barbara. To a recording of Tchaikovsky's piano concerto, the young men and ladies whipped through the fast-paced Balanchine piece with assurance. The five men (Sebastian, Joseph Gorak, Ty Gurfein, Calvin Royal III and Brian Waldrep) sprang and whirled during the male sections, but their timing was not always in synch. In addition, Sebastian, who partnered Park, seemed uninvolved with her, merely holding her during the supported moves. Even though Park tried to engage his interest, he stubbornly resisted. Throughout the evening, no smile or any emotion crossed his face. His attitude soured the performance.  Royal, in contrast to Sebastian, smiled and grinned with pleasure. He enjoyed being on stage and moving his body to the music.  Finally, as the lead lady, Park powered through her mistakes to nail the missed ones on the second attempt: a supported penché en pointe and two double pirouettes separated by a preparation in fourth position. 

For the second contemporary ballet piece, choreographer Barton used a minimalist approach to movement and incorporated modern and jazz moves and even a bit of Irish step dancing with the ballet lexicon. Dancers would roll their shoulders and hips. They stood in sixth position (feet parallel, facing forward). On turns, they held their arms down with hands flexed. The effect proved very interesting.

The choreography ran separate scenarios at the same time. The dancers, in two staggered lines, would lift a shoulder, relevé, then look to the side, all together on specific beats of music. Then one dancer at a time, beginning with Park, would perform a small sequence before rejoining the group with the isolated moves. Meaghan Hinkis' short solo showcased her control and exuberance. 

Barton's movement proved fascinating but her choice of music was tedious. The French chanteuse's songs did not tell us why the dancers were doing what they did, but a few stories emerged. Ty Gurfein seemed attracted to Park and danced with her off and on. After a grand jeté tournament manège, he fell onto his back like he was exhausted. Brian Waldrep and Park looked at him, then partnered up. 

Hinkis and Gorak returned for the grand pas de deux from Minkus' Don Q, a favorite competition piece. The couple matched each other well in height and attitude. Hinkis attacked the steps and nailed her balances. From Hinkis' first snap of the fan to the final pose, she captivated with her strong pointe work. Especially notable were her eschappés and hops en pointe. She held her whipping leg in the fouettés at the same level throughout. Gorak saved her during a supported attitude, although he fumbled his lift to the shoulder a bit. During his solo, he smoothly transitioned the grande pirouette from seconde to passé. Gorak's assemblés battu came off nicely but cautious. Despite a few wobbles, the couple engaged the audience with their performances.

The final excerpt from Glazunov's Raymonda featured Isadora Loyola in the title role. She began confidently but after a stumble from pointe – in a supported move no less, she became careful in her approach.  Hinkis again inspired with her whirling solo of fast passés and piqué moves. The four men turned, leaped and jumped with energy during their part. Park's precise moves mirrored the pizzicato music.

The dancers performed admirably, although a bit shaky. However, the Raymonda choreography, based on Marius Petipa's work, seemed more suited to character dancers than classically trained ones.

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