Music Glitch Can’t Stop Young Sergei – Sergei Polunin
Music Glitch Can’t Stop Young Sergei

Music Glitch Can’t Stop Young Sergei


(Scroll down until you see the bold black text to read about Sergei at the 2006 YAGP Gala performance… 16 year old Sergei had to overcome more than just nerves).

Stars of Today and Tomorrow

Youth America Grand Prix Closing Night Gala
City Center
New York, NY
April 22, 2006

by Susan Reiter

“The Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow” was the title for the celebratory three-hour program (the first of two) that marked the culmination of this year’s Youth America Grand Prix. While there is no way to guarantee that the highly talented student dancers who performed on the first half of the evening will become the “stars of tomorrow,” the evening certainly did allow for some intriguing comparisons between the dance generations. One could see 14-year-old Jeffrey Cirio, from the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, navigate Albrecht’s Act Two solo from “Giselle” with more graceful phrasing and poetry than Artem Shpilevsky, who performed alongside Julie Kent in the evening’s second half, billed as “the stars of today.” Cirio, despite looking even younger than his age, already displays innate elegance and mature poise. Shpilevsky, despite his tall, handsome dark looks and attentive partnering of Kent (who danced with gossamer delicacy and utter conviction), lurched uneasily through the solo.

“Grand Pas Classique,” that Victor Gsovsky gala staple, showed up in both halves. The tall striking pair of Denis and Anastasia Matvyenko (of the Ukrainian National Opera Ballet) downplayed its excessive showiness and just let the choreography happen. She is a stunner, with beautiful feet, and she had a real triumph on this occasion. He was less at ease, having to make several small adjustments as he worked his way through his solo. Meanwhile, earlier in the evening, 18-year-old Ayano Tsuchiya (of the Setsuko Ichikawa Ballet) held her own in the variation from the same pas de deux, displaying considerable strength and inspiring rapturous screams from the very vocal young contingent in the balcony with her extended sequence balancing on one pointe.

Clearly, a large contingent of the student dancers who participated in the YAGP finals were seated up there and showing their enthusiasm vociferously — cheering on their favorites/friends from the week’s competition, and admiring their idols among the established stars. A high extension on the part of any ballerina was a guarantee of some loud cheering, but they did display approval for more sophisticated and refined feats as well. Even though the Grand Defilé that closed the student half of the program — ably staged and aptly choreographed for the various levels by Carlos dos Santos, Jr. – featured 250 of the dancers, that still left a good portion of the 700 (from 18 countries) who participated in this week’s YAGP finals to fill those seats and make themselves heard.

No specific prizes or medals were announced, but presumably those selected to perform were considered the most highly qualified in their specific ages groups. Two amazingly advanced eleven-year-olds were showcased early in the evening; Ryosuke Morimoto displayed great aplomb and a real sense of style in a jaunty variation from Petipa’s “Saturnela,” while a tiny pixie named Mariana Layn Prado was phenomenally precise, charming and in character as Columbine in the “Harlequinade” pas de deux with her lanky, sweetly attentive 15-year-old partner, Alberto Rodriguez Velazquez. It was somewhat disconcerting to see Prado taking on such refined toe work at such a young age, but she clearly has the chops, and if she’s not doing any harm to her still-growing body, her perfect-for-the-stage face and complete ease in performance should take her far.

There was a consistently high level of dancing among the male students, and the final two to perform were taken by two sixteen-year-olds who both are this year’s Grand Prix winners. (This is the YGAP’s top prize, and brings with it a one-year contract with the ABT Studio Company). Sergei Polunin (of the Royal Ballet School) did not let two false starts (due to technical music glitches) affect his performance of the “Nutcracker” variation, which he performed with gorgeous ballon and innate elegance.

Joseph Gorak, a student at Florida’s Orlando Ballet School, changed his mind about which solo he was performing, so his choice was announced quickly just before he came out. I did not catch the title or the choreographer, but it was a blithely casual, understated contemporary solo that allowed him to display his clear, unforced technical flair.

Among the female students, fourteen-year-old Shiori Kase of Japan gave a remarkably complete, musical performance of the bravura Black Swan variation, displaying exquisite line and a lovely aura of calm containment.

To introduce the “grown ups” — aka “The Stars of Today” — Dos Santos assembled a pleasant enough “Piece D’Occasion” that showcased six current members of ABT who are all alumni of YAGP. Wearing the elegant, jewel-colored costumes from “Bruch Violin Concerto,” Isabella Boylston, Melanie Hamrick, Hee Seo, Gray Davis, Matthew Golding and Bo Busby navigated their technical challenges graciously for the most part, with the men having a few slightly bumpy moments.

Two powerful duets broke away from the Petipa/Gsovsky tone of most of the evening and received deeply expressive performances. The clear hit of the evening was the “Shameless” duet from Twyla Tharp’s “Movin’ Out.” The climactic duet that resolves the tempestuous years-long relationship between the characters Brenda and Tony, it was performed by Karine Plantadit and Ian Carney, both of whom performed the roles in the Broadway cast. Plantadit opened with the brief, reflective solo to one of Billy Joel’s plaintive piano melodies, and her vivid, seemingly spontaneous performing immediately set a tone, even with the duet lacking the benefit of the dramatic arc that leads up to it in the show. Once Carney appeared, ruggedly handsome and full of trepidation as to what their encounter would bring, they swung into action, giving their all to Tharp’s lusciously sensual partnering, building to the newfound ecstasy to their new, mature connection. (Only at a gala would this duet be performed with some of Giselle’s lilies scattered in a downstage corner, a remnant from the Kent-Shpilevsky performance. In a lovely bit of in-character improvisation, Plantadit scooped up a stray flower as she performed her reflective solo, swirling it briefly on the ground and tossing it away, as though the gesture was an extension of her thoughts. That’s the mark of a committed, original performer, and one hopes the students took note.)

Edwaard Liang’s “Flight of Angels,” full of swooping lifts that express a yearning to break free from earthly limitations, nicely skirts around the potential clichés of this type of duet. As performed with poignant dignity by NYCB’s Wendy Whelan and Sebastien Marcovici, it was quietly sublime.

Along with Whelan and Kent, there was a third major ballerina of that generation performing at this gala, one we have seen all too rarely in New York of late. Darcey Bussell appeared, partnered by her Royal Ballet colleague David Makhateli, in the overwrought Act Three duet from Kenneth Macmillan’s “Manon.” The rapturous first-act duet, in which Manon and Des Grieux celebrate their newfound passion, is the usual choice for galas. The third-act one, coming when all is lost, has the ballerina being hauled around limply much of the time. But Bussell is always a marvel of clarity and luminously committed performing, and she gave it considerable dignity and gravitas.

Volume 4, No. 16
April 24, 2006

Susan Reiter

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