Concerto Pas de Deux, by Kenneth MacMillan. Featuring Alejandro Valera Outlaw and Aleisha Walker. Photo: Rosalie O'Connor.
Spring 2024 ABT Studio Theatre Dancers. Photo: Emma Zordan.

American Ballet Theatre Studio Company

On tour at the Lensic Performing Arts Center, Santa Fe

Written by:
Michael Wade Simpson
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American Ballet Theatre’s farm team, the Studio Company, is made up of 13 dancers age 17-21. These aren’t just any pre-professional dancers. Max Barker was the only American male finalist of the prestigious 2020 Prix de Lausanne International Ballet Competition. Brady Farrar has been a competition kid since age 5, and appeared on Season 8 of “Dance Moms.” Chaeyeon Kang, from Suwon, South Korea, was a prize winner at the 2020 Prix de Lausanne, and won a scholarship to study at the Royal Ballet in London for two years before joining ABT. Lilia Greyeyes is the daughter of well-known ballet parents in Canada, studied at the National Ballet School of Canada and had the opportunity to perform in the “Nutcracker” with ABT’s professional company this winter.

The talented few selected to dance with the Studio Company spend a few years being coached and performing leading roles rather than jumping into the main company, only to languish, as is the lot of most junior professionals, in the back row of the Corps de Ballet. They also tour extensively, experiencing theaters big and small, and gain invaluable performing experience, like dancing at 7,000 feet altitude in Santa Fe. The Studio Company has trained 80% of the dancers in the parent company, including many principal dancers and soloists.

Programing in Santa Fe included classical pas de deux, including a virtuosic outing for Trinity Santoro and Brady Farrar in a Russian pas from “Diana and Action” by Vaganova. To the lush, orchestral music of Cesare Pugni, Santoro was clean in her pointe work, clear in her Russian-style attack, and amazing in turns. Farrar offered the bravado of someone much older, whipping off turns ala seconde, grand jetes, and multiple pirouettes. He was also strong enough to hoist his partner into upside down lifts and swan dives.

A duet from Alexei Ratmansky’s “The Seasons,” featured music by Alexander Glazunov, and a softer, more romantic edge. YeonSeo Choi, from South Korea, and Kayke Carvalho, from Brazil, were mature enough to bring a playful quality to their virtuosity. In the quieter moments, the partnership was quite moving.

“Young & Beautiful,” by James Whiteside, an ABT principal dancer, and “Brief Fling,” by Twyla Tharp, were group pieces where the defects in the choreography did young dancers no favors. Whiteside’s piece included moody music by Lana del Rey, and voiceovers from a documentary called “Silver Feet,” about little girls dreaming to become ballerinas, and how unlikely it is to achieve their goal. With awkward, repetitive choreography and lots of “look at me” solos, the piece could be chalked up as all teen angst. Ugh. Tharp’s excerpt was ill-chosen, with the musical variations to “Country Garden” repeated ad naseum, and the dancers, clad in variations on plaid, looking stifled. This was no “In The Upper Room.” Tharp may have been lost in her own childhood ballet fantasies, unwilling to break boundaries in a commission for the main ABT Co in 1990, or just missing the propulsive music of Phillip Glass. The excerpt was too well-mannered, and the young dancers strained to present such mannerly, non-kinesthetic dancing.

“Flight of the Bumblebee,” a solo choreographed by Studio Co dancer Brady Farrar, was danced by Elijah Geolina, from California. Geolina seemed to bloom in this short, charming ballet, offering a sense of personality that was missing from most of his more classical performances. Suddenly he seemed loose and fluid—offering a quick peek of a thrilling dancer we hadn’t yet seen.

Sooha Park, from Korea, had the chance to show-off her nerves in “The Sleeping Beauty” Rose Adagio, famous for it’s unrelenting series of balances while a line of suitors vies for her hand. Barker, Carvalho, Daniel Guzmán and Vince Pelegrin were sporty and handsome junior princes. As ABT is famous for its story ballets, any trainee needs to get ready to dive into that world. These dancers seemed all ready to go, even Choi, who is listed as Studio Company trainee.

“Within the Sunset,” by Amy Hall Garner, closed the evening in a predictably lightweight and crowd-pleasing way. Featuring Latin sounds by Rodrigo y Gabiela, Lawson Rollins and Estes Tonne, jungle-colored costumes, and percussive polytechnics for a cast of seven, this was day and night from the more careful classical dancing seen throughout the evening. That is not necessarily a good thing. As a curtain-closer, it checked boxes for energy rather than choreographic interest. It was a fine way to let the dancers let-off their last fifteen minutes of steam.

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