By Kelly Knox
Anyone who has ever performed in front of people knows that getting up on stage and being yourself is one of the most frightening things you’ll ever do. That is exactly what the nearly 50 talented dancers at Albemarle Ballet Theatre seem to do best. Their 5th annual Spring Gala of Dance May 31 at Piedmont Virginia Community College’s Dickinson Theatre showcased a wide diversity of dancers.
Beginning with “The Doll Shop,” an original story ballet by Sally Hart, Lauren Ewell shone as the young girl who, while locked overnight in a toy shop, witnesses the dolls coming to life. The ballet incorporated dancers of all ages and gave each dancer the opportunity to develop a unique character. From traditional Irish step dancing to the adorable antics of the Wild West cowboys, “The Doll Shop” creatively incorporated an impressive array of talents and personalities. The dancers were backed by a larger-than-life image of the inside of an old-fashioned toyshop and twinkling lights helped reinforce the plotline. Standout performances were made by Claire Turner and Julia Updike as the sassy Spanish dolls and Alanna Mahon as the lively Russian doll.
In the second act, Haley Neisser performed a rendition of Kitri’s variation from Don Quixote, while Madeline Adams danced the iconic “Dying Swan” solo. Both young women held the audience captive throughout their variations and seemed to fill the stage despite the sparseness of the backdrop.
The second act also included “Forces Centrifugal,” a modern piece that explores the interaction of cause and effect. Dancers sprinted from one end of the stage to the other as the music escalated to a crescendo and, while the theme was not really apparent without the help of the program, each girl was enthusiastic in undertaking this new type of movement. “They Who Are,” choreographed by Autumn Proctor, was one of the performance’s highlights and brought the second act to a resounding close. The entire stage was filled with small clusters of dancers, yet the piece remained a cohesive whole through its use of repetition and engaging music. Illustrating the versatility of the dancers in styles other than ballet, this piece was extremely well rehearsed and performed.
The final act of the gala was perhaps the most intriguing and was a testament to the hard work and talent of the school’s most advanced dancers. Two pieces choreographed by Nicole Hart, who has returned to her dancing career outside of the school, were presented. A contemporary ballet piece entitled “Bound” emphasized the importance of music in motivating movement. Beginning informally, the dancers walked around the stage stretching before beginning to dance in unison. By the end, the entire group was moving slowly and steadily across the stage as individuals took turns to step out into their own spotlight before melting once again into the ensemble. Lastly, in “Twine,” the warm yellow background and rich, full music complemented the naturalistic movement that kept dancers Madeline Adams, Tamar Gutherz, and Haley Neisser weaving together in an unbroken chain that transformed as the trio bubbled across the stage.
The gala was marked by a collaboration with the Charlottesville Ballet. The school’s dancers performed side-by-side with local professionals and brought a wider variety of interpretations and life experiences to the stage.
Studded with aspiring professionals, the quality of the gala demonstrated the school’s emphasis on both stylistic and performance technique. ABT boasts a 100 percent acceptance rate of students who auditioned for summer intensives, and the list of their schools includes many of the nation’s best and well-known companies. Lauren Ewell, for instance, has raised $1,100 in order to attend the Joffrey School’s New York dance intensive this month. This year’s performance continues ABT’s tradition of enhancing the artistic environment in Charlottesville and highlighted the distinctive personality of each dancer.