Balanchine’s Choice


The 39th annual School of American Ballet Workshop Performances (Juilliard Theater, May) showcased choreographers admired by the illustrious academy’s co-founder, George Balanchine. The program featured a bevy of accomplished under-21s in Fokine’s rhapsodic Chopiniana (a/k/a Les Sylphides), a pair of ebullient excerpts from Bournonville, Ivanov’s sublime Swan Lake pas de deux, and the fairy-tale wedding festivities from Petipa’s Sleeping Beauty.

We’ve come to expect the dazzling technical level of SAB’s dancers, culled from an international talent pool. Two teenagers, Likolani Brown and Ana Sophia Scheller, provided the extraordinary news. Both couple sheer physical prowess with the authority of seasoned professionals. Brown is further distinguished by a deep feminine allure; she exudes perfume. Small and delicately built, the 16-year-old Scheller dances on a grand scale with knife-edge clarity and—the last thing you’d expect from an adolescent—unearthly serenity. Tyler Angle and Ted Seymour, a pair of noble princes in the making, partnered these nascent ballerinas with aplomb. Invigorating the scene were a good half-dozen male virtuosos—short, buoyant fellows with brilliant footwork. Among them, Arron Scott just about defines the genre.

In the staging department, top honors went to Nikolaj Hübbe, bred by the Royal Danish Ballet and a longtime principal with the New York City Ballet, SAB’s parent company. For dancers being schooled to dance Balanchine, Bournonville feels like a foreign dialect. Mounting the Ballabile from Napoli and the Flower Festival pas de deux, Hübbe managed to instill in his protégés a command of the choreography’s unique charms: the calm upper body riding the fleet action of the feet; the space-grabbing leaps with their invisible preparations and pillow-soft landings; the maverick timing; and, no less important, the pervading sense of unquenchable joy.