On Saturday night we went to the Koger Center with an auditorium full of mostly USC students, notebooks and pens at the ready. Others, the ballet loving community, came dressed to the nines, tuxedos and gowns. Everyone seemed to know that this one-night-only performance was going to be great. It lived up and far exceeded all expectations. It was fabulous....simply fabulous.
I've reserved opinions about Balanchine's choreography in the past. Now, without even seeing the entire NYCB company, I can easily state that I could fall head over heels in love with this style of movement. The program stated with Allegro Brillante and included live piano accompaniment by Cameron Grant. Ashley Bouder and Amar Ramasar were in the leads. Four USC girls, two guys, and two local, professional men (Norbert Nirewicz and Evgueni Tourdiev) completed the cast. I could not take my eyes off Ashley Bouder. Her energy was boundless. She springs off the floor like a "super ball", all ease and more height than one could have hoped. She is a total delight.
Maria Kowroski partnered Albert Evans in Middle Duet, a new ballet by Alexei Ratmansky, Artistic Director of the Bolshoi. The piece was set, however, for the Kirov and premiered at the Mariinsky Theater in 1998. NYCB gave it its American debut just this season. The USC Orchestra played the Yury Khanon music. Everything was strong and solid. The performers commanded attention.
Then we were treated to the pas de deux from After the Rain with choreography by Christopher Wheeldon. It featured Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall. This, too, was a new work; it premiered in 2005. Again, the music was live, violin and piano: Arvo Part's Spiegel Im Spiegel. Although the program didn't translate the music's title, I could see it in the work....."Mirror in the Mirror." The partnering was brilliant, together as one and together apart from one another. I found it very captivating. It was hard, however, to get past Wendy Whelan's extreme muscularity. She couldn't have more than five percent body fat, like a machine, working, every muscle, long tendons, thin though not anorexic....I still would have preferred tights.
After the intermission, Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall were joined y Maria Kowroski and Albert Evans for a piece called Red Angels. The choreography was by Columbia's own Ulysses Dove, who is know deceased but whose brother was in the audience. Mary Rowell played Richard Einhorn's Maxwell's Demon on her electric violin. It was truly incredible. The lighting was as intense as the red costumes. It was physical and demanding and ended in silhouette. I really liked it.
The final number, however, had to be my favorite selection, however. It was Serenade to Tschaikovsky, with the USC orchestra. Amar Ramasar and Ashley Bouder were joined by Sarah Coats, Susan Dabney, and Norbert Nirewicz in the leading rolls. Though Ashley, of course, stood out, the quality was extremely high. I forgot I was seeing students. In the secondary rolls were Bonnie Boiter-Jolley, Caroline Privette, Lindsay Shatzer and Jessica Stroupe. They, too, danced without reluctance but with a confidence of a professional, quite worthy to share the stage with the likes of Ashley Bouder. There were seventeen others on stage too, mostly students. They were great; yes, really great. I felt like I was seeing Balanchine the way Balanchine was meant to be seen. It was a moment to savor....dance in Columbia, including dancers from Columbia, dancing well, really well. All this from a university department that just got accredited to grant a degree for a major in dance!
To end, thank you to Susan Anderson for her fight to bring this degree program to USC and create such a quality program. Thank you to Stacie Calvert for joining the faculty and bringing her connections, talents, and expertise to the program. Thank you to all who played a part in bringing the year's best ballet to Columbia