REVIEW: Boston Ballet School in Next Generation

By Mary Hierholzer

 Boston Ballet School by Rosalie O'Connor

Boston Ballet School by Rosalie O'Connor

The students of Boston Ballet School’s pre-professional, trainee and second company levels had a taste of the mainstage and gave us a glimpse of the next generation of ballet at the Boston Opera House in their annual one-night performance on May 24. The Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra superbly played the music for Next Generation, a style of performing that is no small task for musicians. As the evening’s honoree, Artistic Director Emeritus Bruce Marks put it, “The true spirit of humanity is here on this stage.”

Boston Ballet School Director Margaret Tracey welcomed Mr. Marks to the stage to commend his many impactful contributions to the Boston Ballet School and art as a whole. As part of the honors, pre-professional student Wyatt McConville-McCoy was presented with an award named for Mr. Marks.

Seeing so many dancers from Boston Ballet’s main company in the audience, especially those who once performed in Next Generation, put this show’s significance into perspective. These are serious young dancers who have already dedicated their lives to pursuing a future in ballet, and many of them are already demonstrating their promise.

Les Passages opened the performance, showcasing the students’ skills in increments of difficulty according to their levels, with choreography by Boston Ballet faculty members Igor Burlak and Kathleen Mitchell. As to be expected in a show of this nature, some moments were endearingly sloppy. But Les Passages was an insightful way to demonstrate the students’ progression as they train, and a few of them, like pre-professional students Delia Wada-Gill and Koa Chun (two of The Nutcracker’s Claras and Fritzes, respectively), stood out, Miss Wada-Gill with her with noticeably mature physicality and understanding of the art form, and Mr. Chun with his vigorous turn sequence. I also enjoyed trainees Olivia Behrmann and Thomas Davidoff’s partnering in Les Passages. By the time we reached the trainees at this advanced level, we were very clearly watching future pros in the making.

To this end, Miss Behrmann and trainee Tyson Clark (who recently received the 2016–17 Princess Grace Foundation Award) nicely performed the “Peasant Pas de Deux” from Giselle. It’s an age-appropriate piece that showed off Miss Behrmann’s good control en pointe and Mr. Clark’s sharp, clean dancing. Despite a slight mishap in their partnering on the very final turn and some stiff arms from Mr. Tyson, they both executed their turns quite well.

A contemporary world premiere by Jill Johnson, choreographed specifically for Boston Ballet II, was next. Strut’s dark ambience seeks to be edgy, but for me, it fell short of impressing. I wanted to see BBII dance ballet rather than walking while repeatedly moving isolated parts of the body, making their way barefoot from corner to corner and doing the same rhythmic steps over and over to abrasive, churning music with no progression. A protégé of choreographer William Forsythe, Ms. Johnson did, indeed, channel her mentor, but that connection was not made in a positive light. (See my review of Mr. Forsythe’s Artifact for The New Boston Post.)

That being said, the young professional dancers of BBII did perform well—they presented this piece back in January as a work in progress for the BB@home series, and they have clearly refined the work since then. Some dancers were able to capture the funky contemporary style well, like Abigail Merlis, Clay Murray and Derek Drilon (who had some serious catwalk attitude going on).

Some of the men of BBII, at least, had more opportunities to perform ballet that night, in Jamie Sierra’s all-male Legión. It’s a sure crowd-pleaser, displaying masculinity and grit with acrobatic stunts and animalistic aggression, vividly reminding me of the intense all-male first act of John Neumeier’s Third Symphony of Gustav Mahler. BBII dancer Christian Pforr danced the lead role in Legión, opposite fellow BBII dancer Thomas Harrison. Mr. Pforr’s lightness and vigor were compelling, but Mr. Harrison’s imposing stature, strength and excellent dancing stole the show (as did Mr. Drilon’s excellently controlled penché and Mr. Clark’s killer backflip). It’s hard not to enjoy Legión, and these young men have been rehearsing the piece since last August. Their work paid off, with easily the most enthusiastic cheers of the night.

That is not to under-appreciate the closing performance of George Balanchine’s Walpurgisnacht Ballet. It’s an elegant neo-classical piece danced by a large corps of young ladies and one man. It was a commendable ensemble effort, and the soloist, trainee Caroline Buckheit, was a pleasure to watch, with gracefulness, fluidity and charisma, Miss Buckheit was one of the night’s highlights.

Mr. Davidoff and trainee Farin Taft partnered in the lead roles, performing a good pas de deux. Miss Taft’s variations, though slightly reserved, were technically capable and altogether nicely done. Mr. Davidoff’s long limbs were elegant in his confident solos, and secure in his partnering. I thoroughly enjoyed their performance.

Next season, when some of these students are inevitably promoted to BBII, and when BBII dancers are inevitably promoted to the main company, we’ll have some strong new professional dancers on the stage in Boston. Given their youth, the students who performed in Next Generation are very impressive. Faculty of Boston Ballet School and the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra are doing a commendable job refining this young talent.

The Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra will next perform in a sendoff concert prior to their 2017 South American Tour, June 12. The concert will feature music by Hindemith, Arutiunian and Franck. For tickets, visit the BPYO webpage.