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Looking Back

Corps Dancers on SAB Workshop Performances

Each year the School of American Ballet presents Workshop Performances, a chance for the School’s dancers to perform original premieres and works from the NYCB repertory. Originally scheduled for June 1, this year’s presentation has been canceled due to the current social distancing requirements—but there will still be an opportunity to see these talented students shine, as Lincoln Center at Home will be featuring a Virtual Workshop Performance Celebration as part of their digital offerings. 

Included in the Virtual Celebration will be recordings of several past performances: Justin Peck’s In Creases and Jerome Robbins’ Circus Polka, both performed in 2018; the pas de deux from George Balanchine’s Agon, recorded in 2019; and a 2017 performance of Balanchine’s Scotch Symphony. Many of the students seen in these recordings have since joined the Company, though the memories of these special performances are still fresh in their minds. This past May, we reached out to several of these young Company members to share their recollections.

“All of my Workshop experiences were really amazing,” writes LaJeromeny Brown, who joined the Company as a member of the corps de ballet in May 2019. “In the School we spend a lot of time preparing and getting to know the works in which we’ll perform. The teachers make sure to really perfect the ballet and explain all of its intricacies. It teaches you a lot about refinement and always diving deeper, creating more success, whether it be in the steps, the approach, the effort, etc. It’s a three-month rehearsal period for three to four ballets, so you really learn to be coachable. 

“It prepares you, in a sense, to bring that level of attention to your daily work when you step into the professional ballet world,” Brown continues. “Overall, in my career with the Company, I appreciate the periods of growth. That’s my favorite part, the process. Every day is different and you begin to appreciate the victories and different milestones that you’ve met along the way. I show gratitude for all of the experiences.” Savannah Durham, currently an apprentice with the Company, performed the pas de deux from Agon with Brown in the 2019 Workshop, included in Lincoln Center’s stream. 

Durham recalls, “During my third summer at SAB, my class gathered in Studio 2 to watch the 50th Annual Workshop video. I was 14, and I still remember the excitement I felt watching it. Seeing students just a few years older than me rehearsing in the studios and transforming onstage was beyond inspiring. It amazed me that they were not complete with their training, yet they performed like professionals. From then on, I dreamed of getting into SAB’s Winter Term and being part of Workshop. Four years later, that wish came true. 

“My experience with Workshop was filled with wonderful and unforgettable memories. During one of our final Agon rehearsals with Maria Kowroski and Tyler Angle, Maria gave me and my partner, LJ [Brown], an exercise to calm us before going on stage. She told us, ‘Before you go on, hold your breath, close your eyes, tense every muscle, then exhale and let it all out.’” Durham writes. “When the performance came, I was very nervous. The start of the pas de deux is like being shot out of a cannon. Backstage in the darkness, Maria’s comforting words put us at ease before stepping on stage.”

“Workshop was always the most exciting part of the year for me,” writes Corps de Ballet Member Gilbert Bolden III, who joined the Company in August 2018, and who can be seen performing in the Scotch Symphony Workshop recording. “My favorite part of dancing is getting to perform onstage, so I always looked forward to it. I especially love when ballets from my Workshop years come back into the Company’s repertory. I performed Scotch Symphony in the 2017 Workshop and when I performed it with the Company this past season, I felt so at home. As students, we always look forward to dancing principal roles one day and Workshop gives us a taste of that.”

For Davide Riccardo, who joined the corps de ballet in January 2019, his performance in Scotch Symphony as a student at SAB was formative. “Workshop is such an important part of most NYCB Company members’ careers,” he writes. “I was lucky enough to be a part of three different Workshop performances and dance six different ballets, some of which I’ve performed in the Company as well. My first year was incredibly special because it was the first time I had the opportunity to learn and dance a Balanchine ballet. Finally, everything I was taught that past year at SAB made sense. My second year was even more special, being the first time I got to perform a principal role in a Balanchine ballet. It gave me so much of the confidence I was lacking, especially in my partnering skills. It was something I was struggling with a lot, having no experience prior to SAB. 

“I remember rehearsing Scotch Symphony nearly every day for almost three months,” Riccardo writes. “Suki [Schorer, SAB instructor and former NYCB principal dancer] was an amazing coach, always looking for minor details to perfect and giving us combinations in class that would help us get stronger for specific steps in the ballet. We studied different tapes trying to find the version that worked best for Mira [Nadon] and I, especially with my being a “lefty.” We also had Kay Mazzo and Peter Martins come and give us more to think about from their memories of performing the ballet under Balanchine. 

“Those rehearsals were also the first time I ever danced with and talked to Mira, who now happens to be one of my closest friends, my roommate, and often my partner in the Company. Looking back at our Workshop performance, I can say it was one of the best times I’ve ever had onstage. We only had one show so the pressure was really high. We had rehearsed so much my body moved on its own. I remember looking at Mira and truly feeling inside the story, really believing I was a lonely man in a forest seduced by a sylph.”

Nadon, also a member of the corps de ballet, having joined the Company in November 2018, similarly views their performance as a decisive moment in her career. “Working on and performing Scotch Symphony for the 2017 Workshop was the highlight of my time at SAB,” writes Nadon. “Throughout the process I not only got stronger physically, but also built confidence in my dancing and my artistry as a dancer. Davide and I had been rehearsing for so many months that it was a relief to finally get on stage and share what we had been working on. 

“I remember being overwhelmed with support after the show in a way I had never expected,” Nadon recalls. “It was a wonderful feeling to get to make all of our teachers proud. I think that Workshop is also what led to me getting into New York City Ballet the following fall, and for that I will be forever grateful.”

Just as the Lincoln Center at Home program offers an opportunity to recall their Workshop experiences, the social distancing requirements in place since March have also encouraged personal reflection and exploration from these young Company members. We asked them how they are coping with the pandemic and making use of the time away from NYCB’s studios and stage, and what it was like to see themselves and their colleagues in NYCB's Digital Spring Season streams.

“I am currently with my family in California,” Mira Nadon wrote to us, back on May 22. “I try to do a ballet barre and a tiny bit of center five days a week, and supplement those classes with bikes, pilates reformer work, and workouts. Staying busy actually has not been too hard for me, as I have a never-ending list of home-improvement projects and books to read, along with working on my classes at Fordham University. I have also loved getting to watch NYCB’s Digital Spring Season. The programs are always a highlight of my week and something that I look forward to. Along with reminding me how amazing our whole Company is, this digital season also brings a sense of familiarity to such strange times. I am looking forward to the Lincoln Center at Home series to get to watch footage of older performances that feature some of the best dancers ever.”

Davide Riccardo is also taking classes from home, though with a slightly different focus: “I’ve been taking class in my apartment everyday, either Company class on Zoom or other Zoom classes taught by current and past SAB faculty members. I am also taking this time to explore different dance aesthetics from around the world, taking classes with Paris Opera Ballet coaches and Bournonville ballet masters. I miss our studios, stage, and company life dearly. This virus has changed the world forever, and I’m excited to see what the ballet world is going to look like once we’ll be able to go back to our studios and stage.”

LeJeromeny Brown and Savannah Durham in Agon

“Dancing from home has been far from ordinary,” reflects Savannah Durham, who has similarly taken an international approach. “It’s allowed me to explore different techniques, dance with renowned teachers online, and connect with dancers from all over the world. 

“Watching NYCB online reminds me of the goals and dreams I continue to work towards,” she adds. “Attending the ballet during my first years as a student and watching from the Fourth Ring alongside all my peers brought joy and sparked inspiration. We’d practically dance from the Theater to the dorms highlighting our favorite moments and dancers. Now, watching the Company from home, I reminisce about those evenings spent at the ballet, feeling the same inspiration I did my first years in the school.”

For LaJeromeny Brown, this time has also offered new opportunities—for personal expression, and for reminiscing about performing. “I’ve focused a lot on building my other interests, such as fashion, styling, creative direction, photography, makeup, and philanthropy,” he writes. “These are all things that I try to balance while in season but I’m truly grateful for the time to explore them even further with what I have access to! I’m doing my best to meditate, practice yoga, journal, dance/condition, build my business, and create content! Also, the Digital Spring Season has been really fun to see. It made me relive some of those moments and emotions I experienced. It gives me chills every time!”

“During this time I’ve completely transformed my bedroom into my ballet/sewing studio and gym,” writes Gilbert Bolden III. “I like to start my days with a barre followed by a workout. I’ve started to up-cycle a lot of the clothes in my closet to give them new life and it gives me an outlet to be creative. I’ve also been choreographing in my head and preparing ideas for when we can get back into the studio! I think the NYCB Digital Spring Season and the Lincoln Center at Home series is such an amazing idea, because for people who can’t come to New York City, they get to experience something special that they otherwise would’ve never seen at all.”

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