Wednesday, November 12, 2008

Baker's Dozen -- ABT at City Center, Sunday matinée, October 26, 2008

Baker's Dozen

Same cast as Sunday evening. Barbara Bilach at the piano. I had a good seat for watching Bilach as she played the overture. We were facing each other, she in the orchestra pit, me in the front row. Her face was calm throughout as she tackled yet again the contrapunctal jazzy rhythms of Willie "The Lion" Smith.

She is used to playing this. The ritardandos and diminuendos, accelerandos and and crescendos linking the different pieces are usually also in counterpoint, making it a bit of a difficult piece to get under your belt. Perhaps that is why I felt she was a little insecure at Bard. I take it back. She is skilled enough to be able to play this wildly speedy, galloping music with nonchalance. For viewing purposes (knowing that the pianist is to be heard, not seen, when she accompanies ballet), Bilach was boring. Were she in concert I'd love to see some animation as she tickled the ivories.

Curtain opens. Female dancers in white tops with criss-crossed straps in the back. An embroidered-looking beige sash-width belt cinches the waist of beige skirts, split to the top both front and back to allow for acrobatic movement. Legs are covered in lacy, legging-like tights which end inside white jazz shoes. The males are in beige trousers and shirts.One thing about ABT's rendition, as has been mentioned in previous reports, is the lightness of the company's dancers. I agree that this must be, if not the finest, then one of the finest ballet casts to dance this modern work.

Misty Copeland in Baker's Dozen
Gene Schiavone photo
So much of this piece is performed in the air as dancers grand jeté on and off the stage, throw themselves into each other's arms or onto their backs, jump off each other's bodies, and propel themselves straight up like rockets, with legs tucked in beneath them. There's groundwork, too, with lots of sliding movements, being pulled into the wings while in splits, rolling around from one side to the other via a fellow dancer's back, plenty of rond de jambes in plié, falling to the floor, turning upside down with butts sticking up, and signature Tharp traveling modes.

Sassy shoulder rotating, arms loosely hanging, leading with pumping arms to traverse the floor, funny bits like not being let onto the stage by an unseen dancer in the wings, first pulled back by an arm, then a leg, and being left alone on stage to display antic moves as if in front of one's bedroom mirror, make for a lively, infectious gambol that leaves the onlookers in such good spirits.

Isaac Stappas and Kristi Boone in Baker's Dozen
I could see "Baker's Dozen" again and again. There's too much going on for me to follow everyone in only two showings. I'd like to follow each dancer throughout the piece -- that's how I enjoy ballet. The whole cast had great facial expressions as they acted their way through the dance. Sitting where I was I got to really see everything.

Standouts in Sunday's matinée were Arron Scott, who got the plum role of the dancer alone on stage sitting on his knees who starts to sway his hips as he realizes the others have taken a powder, and continues into an endearing solo dance charming himself as well as the audience, the very blond Blaine Hoven who was high-spirited throughout, Eric Tamm, looking so Tommy Tune and Broadway, and Isabella Boylston, to whom I will devote the next few paragraphs.

Isabella Boylston, left
Järvi Raudsepp, right 
I have to preface my remarks by stating that I knew Isabella when she was Hildur Boylston and a 12 year old summer ballet student at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C., 1999. My daughter and she became soulmates that July.

They're the two dancers at the barre in the forefront of this picture. 

The following summer, Isabella went to SAB and the year after, also, after winning the Gold medal at the Youth America Grand Prix finals at Pace University, which I attended because my daughter was in the competition too. A few months later, after the SAB SI, my daughter and I saw her taking class at STEPS where a crowd of students had gathered around the doorway to watch her in Willie Burman's class, informing those who didn't know, that she was this "amazing" dancer from the SAB SI. She was 14 years old. And, yes, she was indeed amazing.

Isabella went on to complete 2 1/2 years at the prestigious Harid Conservatory, graduating from high school there to move right into ABT's Studio Company (having already been approached at ABT's SI the previous summer). She participated in several ballet competitions, including the NYIBC, and won some top prizes and gained notice, becoming one to watch.

(Sidebar: A veteran competitor, she was a Grand Award winner at the Colorado State Science Fair in 2000, winning first place, Junior Division All Fair, for her project on Beetle Juice.)

My daughter has not seen her since the last two classes they took together that day at STEPS 7 years ago, but I made a point of going to ABT's Met season this past summer in order to see Hildur dance. She was featured as a D'Jampe soloist in La Bayadère and otherwise performed corps roles, and as I was sitting on the hard right side the day she was lined up with the corps on the same side (thereby not visible), I felt really gypped out of getting my full dose of Isabella Boylston.

Well, it seems I was to be deprived of her again, since the cast I got for City Center was the second cast for Citizen, in which Isabella is first-cast, and just as I was resigning myself to my fate, I noticed her name in the program for Baker's Dozen! Happy days (as Jamie Oliver would say)!

With nearly in-studio proximity, I sat upright in my seat ready for bliss. And I got it! Isabella Boylston is a blissful dancer, no question. And anyone who saw her nine-page photo spread and sublimely tutu'ed cover shot in Dance Spirit in September 2006 knows she has the ballet body of perfection: long, shapely legs, high insteps and arches, long arms, fingers, and toes, a beautiful countenance, narrow hips, taut yet free torso, linear sculpted muscles, gorgeous flexibility.

Her solo in "Baker's Dozen" (thank goodness she had a solo!) showed off her ease of technique, speed, musicality, lyricism, and charm. Isabella even threw in a "glinch" reminiscent of the great Suzanne. I enjoyed her performance so thoroughly and wondered why other reviewers hardly refer to her (lumping her in with others, or not even mentioning her dancing at all when she was indeed one fifth of a small ensemble).

Her duet with Patrick Ogle in Baker's Dozen was full of split positions, both on the ground and en l'air, high-swinging grand battements, energy, energy, energy, and fun. She'd be a major standout even if I didn't know her. But I'm so glad I do.

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