Reviewed by Carlos Stafford, The Model Critic
Recently, Gelsey Kirkland’s Academy of Classical Ballet (GKA) energetically presented a truly pleasing showcase of both her young, dynamic students, as well as a debut for her newly minted, fledgling Academy.
What was pleasing?: Youth, strength, quickness, on the one hand, coupled with a ready enthusiasm and joy exuding from Kirkland’s well trained dancers–they came to deliver their best performances with surefire commitment, nothing held back. When this fortunate event occurred, the audience didn’t necessarily look for perfection of technique from the budding dancers, which by the way was very accomplished, but to the exchange of the infectious, energetic dynamics given so generously by the performers. And indeed, grounding this energy was a very evident clarity of acting ability that connected character and story, giving the varied program depth and delight.
The theme of the night was the Art of the Ballerina–The Triumph of Femininity. Kirkland and Michael Chernov tell us, to achieve this goal “we look to the archetype of the ballerina, who represents the ideas of purity, gentleness, sensitivity, empathy, and tolerance while demonstrating strength of body, heart and mind parallel to that of the bravest heroine.”
The program was well chosen — mostly Bournonville and Petipa: Pas de Huit from a Folk Tale, Excerpts from Le Conservatoire, Napoli Pas de Six, from Bournonville; Neapolitan and Hungarian from Swan Lake, Drum Dance, and the longer closing piece from La Bayadere, Jewels, Blue Bird Pas de Duex, and Red Riding Hood and the Wolf from Sleeping Beauty — all these from Petipa. And special mention to the wonderful Pas de Quatre by Perrot/Dolin, beautifully performed and costumed, as well as the final La Bayadere lead couple, pas de trois, and corps. La Vivadiere by Arthur St. Leon was also exciting and well received.
The mission statement at GKA is also well worth mentioning…“we believe the development of a ballerina is dependent on more than simply providing excellent instruction in technique; the dancer must also be nurtured in the light of inspiration and the waters of culture…to encourage a renaissance of dramatic storytelling in ballet.”
That GKA stresses storytelling is refreshingly evident, and so correct to my mind. So often at the bigger, important productions from abroad, as well as a trend in national companies, ballet, at times, has become showier, more gymnastical, with dancers performing bravura movements with more regularity. Too much of this display and the message becomes the dancer’s individual prowess instead of the work at hand; everything becomes subverted, and we loose nuance and subtlety. Yes, this approach is commercial, sells tickets, and has its place in divertissements, but can in the end, become cloying and unsatisfying, beyond the spectacle, projecting nothing. So, having the dancer’s live their roles with honesty, grounded in the context of verisimilitude with the story, will always, in the end, appeal to the audience’s desire for inspiration, transcendence, and the enjoyment of recognition of truth and beauty.
Perhaps from this group of dancers we will one day see an individual emerge that can lead the way to a new and honest view of dance that bridges the gap to the past (i.e. Dame Margot Fonteyn), and reflects the actual gift of performance that Gelsey Kirkland herself offered the world of ballet. Look at her Nutcracker for instance!
Here’s wishing the Directors, Faculty, and dancers all the luck in achieving their goals, and congratulations on your auspicious beginnings.
Photos courtesy of Gelsey Kirkland company website. Company photo (above) by Camille Gomez.