Perfect Ending: The 13th Annual Ballet Stars of New York
Last autumn I was introduced as the Jasper Project's dance writer and I went about the assignment from the viewpoint of an expert audience member. Various articles covered positive highlights, personal anecdotes, an occasional critical word, and more than a few comments regarding theater etiquette. I talked about applause and standing ovations. Now that the local season is drawing to a close, I can honestly say that the 13th Annual Ballet Stars of New York presented at the Koger Center in concert with the University of South Carolina Dance Program was a perfect ending. To stand and clap for New York City Ballet principals Sara Mearns, Robert Fairchild, and Anthony Huxley after a stirring performance of George Balanchine's Stars and Stripes was wonderful. Students sitting near me were a-buzz with excitement. Compliments drifted in the air.
Some of the reactions were undoubtedly due to the fact that the entire evening included live music under conductor Nyamka Odsuren's baton or on the fingertips of pianist Claudio Olivera. It would have been difficult to miss NYCB principal Ashley Bouder's precise footwork or how she was expertly partnered by principal Jared Angle in Allegro Brillante, another piece performed with permission of the Balanchine Trust. Yet, most impressive was Columbia native Sara Mearns.
In The Bright Motion, a duet set on Mearns by NYCB soloist and resident choreographer Justin Peck, the audience witnessed exactly what Anna Rogovoy wrote after 2013 Fall for Dance Festival premier:
“I believe that the core of the earth can be found somewhere around Mearns’ spine. Endless length emanates from her center, through fire-dagger limbs and the kind of lines you could write a haiku about; elegant, yet impossibly direct and efficient. She is perhaps the most exciting American ballerina of her generation.”
What impressed me was not only the dance steps and lines but the sense of space between and around both Sara Mearns and her partner, Robert Fairchild. As an installation artist, I am acutely aware of a created environment, the physical shapes suggested by movement, and even the weight of air. The physical space was as electrifying as the two dancers controlling it.
While Columbia’s audience might have come for the NYCB stars, there were other good reasons to enjoy this one-night-only performance. It was a chance to see USC dance students sharing the stage. Both Creative Director Stacey Calvert (a former NYCB soloist) and Artistic Director Susan Anderson should be rightly proud of their talented students. Dance performance seniors Elaine Miller and Lydia Sanders were stand-outs. John L. Green, II from Orangeburg blended perfectly into the cast of ten professional dancers guesting from Columbia City Ballet. In my opinion, William Starrett, Columbia City Ballet’s Artistic Director who was in the audience, should try to grab this young man (now only a junior) as soon as he becomes available.
I couldn’t help but to notice Bo Busby’s excellent partnering skills and the exuberance in Philip Ingrassia’s steps. Both are principals with Columbia City Ballet. Colin Jacob, Camilo Herrara, and Brandon Funk were also excellent partnering USC students in Allegro Brillante.
Dancing a work from the Balanchine Trust is an excellent line on any dancer’s resume, student or already a professional. These unique works are only presented by arrangement and in accordance with the standards of the Balanchine Style® and Balanchine Technique® established by the Trust. Columbia’s audience is lucky to have the opportunity to see both the NYCB stars and our local talent in these roles. Writing about the performance is for me the perfect ending to the 2017-18 season.