Ballet Stars of New York, a benefit performance last week, showed what it takes to be one of the country’s best dance companies. University of South Carolina professor and former New York City Ballet ballerina Stacey Calvert was the brains behind it all. In 2006, she established the benefit to boost USC’s new ballet major, as well as give students the opportunity to perform with world-renowned dancers.
Calvert recently joined forces with Crew Carolina, the Gibbes Museum, and the Charleston Symphony Orchestra to take the show on the road. What we got was an evening we’d have to fly to New York to see. Principals Charles Askegard, Albert Evans, Abi Stafford, Benjamin Millepied, and Megan Fairchild as well as soloist Teresa Reichlen, made the trek for the whirlwind tour. Selected were pieces highlighting NYCB’s flawless skill, while giving 24 students stage time. At first mention of this project, I feared the USC students’ lack of experience would deplete the enjoyment of NYCB’s performance. Not so. The pupils did an exceptional job in their supporting roles and made the evening a fantastic collaboration.
The first piece was Donizetti Variations, George Balanchine’s playful program from 1960. The cheery work showcased ballerinas in milkmaid-esque costumes; the joyful opener had the audience quite pleased, with a nearby patron sighing mid-applause, “Just magical.” Magic quickly turned to chemistry as more dancers took the stage for a last-minute addition that was briefly announced before the curtain rose. What transpired was delicate fluidity like I’ve rarely seen. It was modern movement, but it was at times like ice skating and at times photographic, as dancers struck poses like Olympic divers caught in the halcyon moment before a splash. The only way to describe it is exquisite.
Then came Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto performed by Charleston Symphony concertmaster Yuriy Bekker. Notated by Danish choreographer Peter Martins, the dance contrasted two couples, one in traditional suiting and toe shoes, the other barefoot and contemporary. Askegard, Fairchild, Evans, and Reichlen demonstrated how ballet embodies different styles, but also fuses that diversity into one.
The closer was Balanchine’s hoedown, Western Symphony, complete with showgirl-style costumes, cowboy hats, and even a little two step. This OK Corral of a piece screamed musical theater, but it could hardly avoid that. Hershy Kay, who orchestrated the music back in 1954, was preeminent in creating some of the biggest Broadway shows of the time, including Peter Pan and A Chorus Line. While it definitely had its hokey moments, the main point was to get as many bodies on stage as possible. A giant chorus dance-off closed the show.