Calvin Royal III takes the stage in 'Apollo' | Photo by Rosalie O'Connor, courtesy The George Balanchine Trust

Grade: A

Emotions ran high at Ballet Under the Stars Sunday night, due in part to a strong sense of longing present throughout the dances. Several audience members were brought to tears during the breathtaking performance of This Bitter Earth, one of five pieces in the hour-long show. 

Five dancers from New York City Ballet and American Ballet Theatre came together to dance under the cloudy sky, fusing two dance companies renowned internationally for talented performers and staff. 

New York City Ballet is one of the foremost dance companies in the world. The company was founded in 1948 by George Balanchine and Lincoln Kirstein. A year later, Jerome Robbins — who was also responsible for bringing American dancers to Italy for the original Spoleto Festival — joined New York City Ballet and ultimately helped firmly establish the company with Balanchine. 

American Ballet Theatre, another prestigious dance company from New York City, was founded in 1939. The company’s mission is to create a repertoire with the best ballets from the past, as well as include new pieces from talented choreographers. This mission has been successfully fulfilled over the years by the several Artists Directors who have been a part of the company. In addition to its mission, American Ballet Theatre has also managed to bring the company to stages across the world under the direction of current artistic director, Kevin McKenzie.

Ballet Under the Stars consisted of five different duets that ranged from classical ballet to modern works. The dancing throughout the entire night was elegant, especially in how the performers carried themselves. Each dancer radiated confidence as they executed each dance move flawlessly. The opening piece, Apollo, performed by Calvin Royal III and Unity Phelan, warmed up the audience with a rollercoaster of upbeat emotions. With each leap into the air, Royal’s multiple flutter kicks were delicate but swift. 

Concerto Six Twenty-Two, performed by Adrian Danchig-Waring and Joseph Gordon, is more of a contemporary piece with a strong history. It was created in the 1980s at the height of the AIDS epidemic and has seen many evolutions since. The Spoleto version is an excerpt of the longer piece. This duet was specifically designed for two men and was developed by Lars Lubovich. During this particular performance, Danchig-Waring and Gordon appeared effortless, lifting each other up and dancing in unison. At the beginning as well as the end of the performance, Danchig-Waring and Gordon created a heart shape with their bodies, a metaphor of the love story this piece tells. 

This Bitter Earth was perhaps the most moving piece of the night because it was intimate and poetic in a way that was different from the other dances. Though each piece was lovely, this dance in particular felt like a combination of deep longing and romantic fulfillment; primarily, a sense of profound yearning. The song This Bitter Earth made the performance that much more powerful because of its sad and achingly slow tempo. This Bitter Earth spoke of a lost love and was utterly heart wrenching in such a wonderful way. Throughout the majority of the piece, the union of the song and dance was raw; however, it ended on a hopeful note. Isabella Boylston and Royal complemented each other as if the duet was created just for them. Their chemistry as dancers was evident in the way they moved as one entity. By dancing as if they were inseparable, as if in a lover’s embrace, it emphasized the romantic story being told. 

After being canceled due to the stormy weather on Friday, Ballet Under the Stars was performed live for the first time on Saturday, June 5. Fortunately for the ballet goers, the rain did not hinder the show this time. 

Overall, Ballet Under the Stars was extraordinary. Like many other performances at Spoleto, Ballet Under the Stars touches upon joy and emptiness, and is best experienced firsthand. The show was arguably therapeutic in the sense that it provoked such intense emotions and was able to finish on a peaceful note.

Emily Johnson is a graduate student in the Goldring Arts Journalism and Communications Program at Syracuse University.

Stay cool. Support City Paper.

City Paper has been bringing the best news, food, arts, music and event coverage to the Holy City since 1997. Support our continued efforts to highlight the best of Charleston with a one-time donation or become a member of the City Paper Club.