Ballet Academy East had its Spring Performance last week at the Kaye Playhouse at Hunter College. Previous BAE performances had a New York City Ballet training school feel, with Balanchine and neo-classical works dominating. In a departure, this year had repertory more in line with American Ballet Theatre, including a Petipa classic from Sleeping Beauty and a piece for boys choreographed by Charles Askegard to music from Don Quixote featuring plenty of razzle-dazzle. The dancers Saturday afternoon demonstrated advanced technique and stage presence beyond their years, with some segments resembling dancing presented by major companies. BAE students exhibit great musicality in timing their movements. Photos from the Thursday dress rehearsal are on my photography website, notmydayjobphotography.com.
BAE performed Aurora’s Wedding from Sleeping Beauty staged by Maina Gielgud. Maina was a dancer for 21 years and was the Artistic Director of the Australian Ballet, director of the Royal Danish Ballet, and Artistic Associate at Houston Ballet. Since 1999, she staged ballets such as Sleeping Beauty, Giselle, MacMillan’s Manon, Nureyev’s Don Quixote and Swan Lake. BAE’s Sleeping Beauty is a beautiful production with gorgeous costumes from ABT’s previous version with a colorful grand palace background (the set designer was not listed in the program).
Jenny Ku was Princess Aurora and Kurtis Grimaldi was Prince Désiré, and both danced with great grace. Jenny is an Angel Shine Foundation Scholar and Kurtis is a David Howard Foundation Scholar. The highlight of their Pas de Deux was a diagonal of fish dives done with great gusto. This segment starts with Aurora in an arabesque supported by the Prince in a lunge position; Aurora does two en dedans turns and Désiré grabs her by the waist and takes her over his hip into the contorted position shown in the photo below. This segment is repeated three times and can be very disappointing, even when done by dancers at major companies. Many dancers take a cautious, slow-motion approach, with the Princess gently going to the fish position. Jenny and Kurtis threw caution to the wind, with an exciting diagonal done with great speed as they quickly achieved the fish position. Other segments in the Pas de Deux were done with great timing with phrasing.
The solos were standard Sleeping Beauty. Kurtis, who is graduating and will join Alberta Ballet next season, navigated the double tour section and ended the solo section with graceful turns in second position alternating single and double turns to a steady triple pirouette, although his jeté manége was a bit unsteady. Jenny presented her Aurora solo with great delicacy.
The Bluebird Pas de Deux was another highlight with BAE alum Alejandro Andrade as the Bluebird and Sophie Kim in the afternoon cast and Lindsey Casale in the evening as Princess Florine. Alejandro has excellent form and light jump; he executes his beats with authority and placement, so crucial in this beat-heavy role. In his solo, he completed assemblé six three times on each diagonal. Adding beats to the assemblé is very strenuous and unusual (most in this role resort to simple assemblés) as it requires substantial stamina. His brisé volé was notable with great clarity. With more work on his double tours, Alejandro’s Bluebird will be in line with performances seen at major companies. Both Sophie and Lindsey were technically sound in their Florine interpretations.
The Fairy dances (Lilac, Candide, Coulante, Miettes Qui Tombent, Canari, Violente) were presented with great maturity and stage presence. Charles Askegard, a former NYCB Principal Dancer and ABT Soloist now a faculty member at BAE, was King Florestan with his tall, dominating presence.
There were nine other works on the program, with BAE students at all levels. Young girls showed off basic ballet steps such as tendus, balancés, and port de bras in Marcia Dale Weary’s Un Petit Menuet. The boys provided plenty of energy in Charles Askegard’s The Lesson in which he portrayed an impatient taskmaster, shepherding the boys through a class. The guys displayed various steps such as entrechat six, double tours, and even a 540. Hungarian Serenade by former NYCB dancer Amanda Edge, also revealed the refined technique and musicality of the students.
The program remembered two members of the BAE family who passed away recently: Marcia Dale Weary and Peter Frame. Marcia was the founder of the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, a prominent school that has trained many professional dancers. The BAE syllabus is based on her teachings. Former CPYB alum and NYCB dancer Darla Hoover is now the Artistic Director of both BAE and CPYB. Peter Frame was a former Principal Dancer at NYCB and was on the faculty at BAE from 1999 to 2014.
Julia Dubno founded BAE in 1979 and BAE students are on the rosters of major ballet companies worldwide. Faculty include Charles Askegard, Maxim Beloserkovsky, Olga Dvorovenko, Gonzalo Garcia, Cheryl Yeager.