News Column

Stars on the Riverfront: new works, a renowned classic

July 27, 2014

By Teri Greene, Montgomery Advertiser, Ala.

July 27--For 10 years, the Alabama Dance Theatre has presented the culmination of its rigorous two-week seminar outdoors at one of the most stunning local venues and at the most striking time of day, as sunset moves into night.

The 11th annual "Stars on the Riverfront," set for Aug. 3-4 at the Riverwalk Amphitheater, continues the tradition, with debuts of new works from ADT ballet master Foye DuBose and resident choreographers Janie Alford and Sara Sanford and guest faculty member Ashley McQueen, an ADT alumna. And the up-and-coming talent of the company will be showcased in "Etudes," under the direction of ADT artistic director Kitty Seale.

One notable addition to this year's free performances is a re-staging of the classic romantic ballet "Les Sylphides." When the ballet, with music by Chopin, had its 1909 Ballet Russe premiere in Paris, it featured soloists Vaslav Nijinsky as the young man, paired with ballerina Anna Pavlova -- two ballet stars of their day who would later become legends.

Staging ADT's "Les Sylphides" called for its own stars. Enter former American Ballet Theatre principal Marianna Tcherkassky, who is staging the ballet, and, to coach dancers, American Ballet Theatre alumna Shawn Black, a native of Tuscaloosa.

Reliving the movements

"Les Sylphides" is one of many well-known ballets Tcherkassky has danced in her career -- including performances with the famed Mikhail Baryshnikov. For the first five days of the seminar, Tscherkassky guided senior company members as they learned the steps and nuances of her staging of the ballet.

This is not the first time Tcherkassky has visited ADT. What brought her to Montgomery and keeps her coming back is the stellar reputation of Seale, the company's founder and artistic director.

"When I was dancing with American Ballet Theatre, there were quite a few dancers that had trained with Kitty," said Tcherkassky, who is currently Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's ballet mistress. "I knew that she produced some wonderful dancers, and I love to come and work with her students. She's so warm and open. I feel comfortable with her."

Though she'd only spent a couple of days with the dancers last week, she noted their focus, responsiveness and work ethic, all products of their training at ADT.

"I feel like I'm throwing the information out, but what's nice is that they're picking it up," she said of the cast. "You want to get the information out to them so they can start digesting it, and the more time you have, you keep refining and polishing."

She said upon leaving Montgomery -- her own company gets back in gear next week -- she would pass the work over to Shawn Black, another ABT alum who has also gone on to perform with world-renowned dancers and choreographers including Baryshnikov, Agnes De Mille, Twyla Tharp, Anthony Tudor, Kenneth McMillan and more.

Noah Hart, a dancer with the Alabama Ballet who regularly lends his time to teach, coach and dance with the company, said there is something that sets the ADT staff and the students apart.

"It's just the level of excellence that these students present and the level of excellence the staff demands," Hart said. "I always appreciate the level of commitment and discipline that ADT has, compared to other smaller companies."

A life in dance

During a break in rehearsal, as Tcherkassky speaks of her life, it's natural for her to gesture gracefully with her hands, as if ballet is her everyday way of moving. When she talks of "Misha" (Baryshnikov's nickname) and of dancing the lead role of "Giselle" in Los Angeles opposite the great Rudolf Nureyev on his 50th birthday, she is simply relaying fond memories from an extraordinary life.

She's the daughter of a ballerina and an opera singer -- her first dance lessons were with her mother in the den of the family's home in Washington, D.C. When the New York City Ballet would come to town, her parents would have noted dancers and choreographers over to visit; she thought about how strange it was to see, in person, the people whose photos were encased under the glass in the living room's coffee table.

Tcherkassky began formal training at the renowned Washington School of Ballet under Mary Day -- another legend -- and then, at only 14, studied in New York under George Balanchine, one of the most famous choreographers of the 20th century and co-founder of the New York City Ballet. She joined the American Ballet Theatre in New York just as Russian greats Natalia Marakova and Baryshnikov were defecting to the U.S. She danced with the company 26 years.

"For most women, to dance until you're 40 is pretty fortunate," she said. "I was fortunate that I could."

To watch her rehearse with the ADT dancers, you'd think she'd never left the stage.

ADT dancer Angelica Burgher, who is in "Les Sylphides," said that, along with Tcherkassky's amazing life in dance, is what makes working with her so memorable.

"I think the best part is that she's still so active, so we can learn so much from her just by watching her dance, and her upper body is still so perfect," Angelica said. "We're just trying to imitate her as best we can."

She added that from the moment the company knew Tcherkassky would stage the ballet, the dancers have been watching playlists of her dance performances, including "Les Sylphides" with Baryshnikov, on You Tube.

Ke'Yana Robinson, who dances one of the lead roles, said she has continued that ritual.

"I watch it twice a day," she said of the taped performances of Tcherkassky. "She also gives great corrections. She wants us to be at our best."

And for the brief time she was able to spend with the students, that was this prima ballerina's objective.

"The responsibility is to get them ready to perform, whether it's teaching part or they've learned parts," Tcherkassky said of working with students. "It's that other eye trying to bring out the best in each dancer and make them feel confident. My job is to make them feel confident enough to shine on stage."

WANT TO GO?

WHAT: "Stars on the Riverfront" presented by Alabama Dance Theatre

WHEN: 7:30 p.m.Aug. 3 and Aug. 4

WHERE: Riverwalk Amphitheater in downtown Montgomery, north of the Union Station Train Shed. Enter through the Commerce Street tunnel.

ADMISSION: Free; local food vendors will be on site for each of the performances.

INFORMATION: Call 241-2590 or visit www.alabamadancetheatre.com

___

(c)2014 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.)

Visit the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.) at www.montgomeryadvertiser.com

Distributed by MCT Information Services


For more stories covering arts and entertainment, please see HispanicBusiness' Arts & Entertainment Channel



Source: Montgomery Advertiser (AL)


Story Tools






HispanicBusiness.com Facebook Linkedin Twitter RSS Feed Email Alerts & Newsletters