The Segerstrom Center for the Arts (SCFTA) in Costa Mesa pulled back the curtains for the very first time on Sunday 25 April for its first live performance since the closure and the world premiere of the collaborative project “Uniting in Movement”. SCFTA has partnered with the American Ballet Theater (ABT) to bring audiences a unique collection of contemporary and classical style pieces. After being apart for over a year and finally being able to get together to dance for this premiere, the title “Uniting in Movement” is an apt description of the collaborative project. ABT dancers have come together through the art of dance and physical expression to bring audiences this joyful live experience for the first time since closing. The production is dedicated to the memory of William J. Gillespie, a generous administrator and beloved friend of ABT and SCFTA. The show is currently being broadcast on demand via the SFTA website May 12 to 26 for $ 25 per household.
The exhibition included two superb contemporary works, “La Follia Variations” and “Indestructible light “ choreographed and directed by Lauren Lovette and Darrell Grand Moultrie, respectively. The other pieces included two iconic historical works showcasing the pure and raw technique and the beauty of ballet: “Swan Lake (Act II Pas de Deux)” choreographed by Lev Ivanov and “Grand Pas Classique” choreographed by Victor Gsovsky.
In order to safely prepare for this live performance, the 18 dancers and the necessary artistic staff were in what they called a “bubble” from March 22 until the premiere on April 25. All those who participated in the staging of the show were quarantined together at the Avenue des Arts in Costa Mesa, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel near the Center, allowing only rehearsals and performances in the rehearsal studios of the Segerstrom. To ensure the safety of dancers and artistic staff, strict health protocols were followed during rehearsals and performances including a period of prior isolation and testing before continuing with residency.
The show opened with “La Follia Variations” by Lovette with eight stunning characters lined up, standing still in silhouette until the music explodes as the lights come on and the dancers come to life. Dressed in fluorescent tutus and tight-fitting costumes, the dancers moved with clarity and unity in their steps. The choreography completed the musical score as the dancers sometimes matched and contrasted the energy of the music. The dance featured several duets, trios and group work, promoting a theme of support and unity. The backlighting of the room often changed to match the fluorescent colors of the costumes shown. The dancers filled the stage with great energy and it was a wonderful way to start the show.
Continuing the program was Ivanov’s classic, “Swan Lake (Act II Pas de Deux)” danced by Devon Teuscher and Cory Stearns. The duo is a very tender and intimate moment shared between the characters Prince Siegfried and Odette. In this excerpt from Act II, Prince Siegfried is by the enchanted lake and sees a flock of swans when one of them transforms into a beautiful woman named Odette. She’s scared of him at first, but once he swears not to hurt her, she tells him about the curse she’s living with – she and the rest of the swans have been cursed by the evil wizard Rothbart. They are swans at dawn and regain their human form at nightfall at the edge of the lake, making Odette’s mother tears. The spell can only be broken if the one who has never loved promises to love only Odette for eternity. The duet is a dramatic storytelling and vulnerable exchange between the two dancers with more cautious approaches to steps and swan movements under mood lighting that mimics moonlight along the enchanted lake.
On the theme of classical pieces, Gsovsky’s “Grand Pas Classique” graced the stage after dancing by Catherine Hurlin and Sung Woo Han. Unlike the previous piece, “Grand Pas Classique” is an uninhibited duet that is a pure celebration of dance and the classical art form of ballet. Hurlin and Han are the definition of grace and beauty in this duo, moving effortlessly through the steps as one unified body. Hurlin danced with great control and precision in his dance and his balances that could not be shaken by an earthquake. His stage presence sparkled, filling the stage with his smile as Han flew over the stage with fluid air jumps and strong turns. The duo glided across the stage with fluid movements ending in force in an animated filming sequence.
To end the program, the company performed “Indestructible Light” by Moultrie, a fun jazzy group act. The dancers performed in a social dance circle, each taking turns presenting their moves as the others crisscrossed the sideline, supporting those in the spotlight. A carefree energy was present as the sheer joy of the dance was exercised by the performers. Dressed in sexy, sheer, and sparkling black costumes, the dancers moved in mystery as the lights went out and the side lights shone. Gooey movement qualities were juxtaposed with clear, strong gestures and body rolls with angular body shapes. When the lights came back on, the dancers stretched out against a seductively moving pink wall, giving Pink Panther vibes. The piece ended with a bang with all of the dancers presenting solo moments, then moving together before the lights went out.
ABT’s dancers dazzled the spectators with their presence and their joy that shone through the screens of our devices. Seeing these performers back on stage together and sharing their talents with us makes me smile from ear to ear, and I can’t help but count the days until I’m back in the theater to experience it all in real time. . All in all, this is a fabulous first step towards safely re-staging art for the public.
Claire Desenberg is a writer for the entertainment team for the spring quarter of 2021. She can be reached at [email protected]