ABT II September 19, 2008
By Glen Creason
ABT II is the fantastic idea dreamed up by the late and great Michael Bjerknes that takes up-and-coming young dancers from all over the world, grooms them and gives them the opportunity to gain professional experience and perform in the big time. Mr. Bjerknes and his wife were the founders of the American Dance Institute and this fine nine member group of young dancers are out on the road learning and entertaining as they go. This isn’t a minor league for dancers, it is more a select group, a crème de la crème of the art form.
Ballet and dance lovers who crowded into the Center for the Performing Arts on the weekend must be filled with hope for the future of dance after seeing this wonderfully enthusiastic and talented group give Cerritos a taste of this bright tomorrow. These young dancers, mostly in their late teens or early twenties are gaining the needed maturity but in no way did they seem to be apprentices to the trade. Some of them look very ready to jump up to the American Ballet Theater very soon.
This was a show about dance and not props or bells and whistles. In the beginning the stage was simple and spare, just faint blue lights bathed the group who needed little else when they began to move. It was a decidedly quirky performance set with two intermissions, supposedly for costume changes but the three portions were all interesting in their own right. The first a classical piece “Allegro Brilliante” by George Ballanchine with music by Tchaikovsky introduced the entire ensemble while allowing soloists Sae-Eun Park and partner to shine in this technically demanding piece. Park was elegant and flawless throughout the evening. The second set was more modern dance than ballet, a delightful piece by choreographer Aszure Barton with music by the French pop singer Monique Serf, known in France as Barbara. The Nine dancers moved in a percolating yet synchronized rhythm, perfectly suited to the soundscape. Part of the great appeal of ABT II is the egalitarian approach and in this work all of the dancers got a chance to strut their stuff so to speak.
The last third of the evening featured two classical pieces including the “Pas de deux” from “Don Quixote” and “Raymonda” that was spiced by additional choreography by artistic director Wes Chapman. The “Raymonda” with Kaia Annika and Joseph Gorak was pretty straightforward and rather grand in execution with the young dancers meeting the demands with pluck and more than enough talent. Yet, the pas de deux from “Don Quixote” was most certainly marked by the enchanting and charismatic Meaghan Hinkis who literally filled up the stage with confidence and joy in the movement of the demanding piece. Joseph Gorak danced both male roles here and was excellent, certainly a young man heading for the next step very soon. Yet, ABT II is terrific throughout and several dancers shone in their moments in the spotlight including Calvin Royal III, Mara Thompson, Courtney Lavine and Jose Sebastian.