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Anaheim International Dance Festival

Summer Intensive students introduce the Little Humpbacked Horse

By Michael Buss, 2011-08-15
The recent Anaheim International Dance Festival (Aug 12-14) once again shone the spotlight on Anaheim Ballet’s pioneering spirit. They pulled together a breathtaking program for the delight of dance enthusiasts, commanding an excellent array of international dance stars.

Perhaps we can add into this review the dance concert at Pearson Park at which the students from the Summer Intensive program performed before a well-filled auditorium. Their main number was The Little Humpbacked Horse, by man who also wrote Swan Lake. The dancers explained the story beforehand to make the ballet more accessible.

Then followed a string of dance numbers choreographed by the students themselves, really showcasing their characters and favorite styles. They were quite charming. Towards the end the sound desk couldn’t find the right music for the four guys on stage, so after a moment’s hesitation they gallantly improvised the entire piece. The evening came to an uplifting climax as the whole company joined in a colorful, fun-filled hip-hop number.

Festival President Julie Tait

On Friday 12th the locale changed to the Dodge College of Film and Media Arts at Chapman University. Before the audience moved inside AB’s young dancers formed a terpsichorean honor guard for Mayor Tom Tait as he welcomed everybody to the event. (His wife, Julie, was the honorary President for the Festival.). I was not in the least prepared for what would then happen!

In the lovely Folino film theatre we watched the 2009 movie Mao’s Last Dancer. It tells the story of a Chinese boy, pulled by government officials from his snowy mountain village, to train to dance in the Chinese Revolutionary Ballet. Then English choreographer Ben Stevenson (working in the States) traveled to China to ask for two dancers to join him for a summer dance program in the USA. One proves to be the slightly underperforming village boy, and now ballet legend, Li Cunxin. We follow his wonderment as he arrives in Texas and eventually defects – and thus unfolds a tale of dance, drama and huge emotion.

Larry Rosenberg and Ben Stevenson at the talkback

Now, as if the movie were not powerful enough, AB Director Larry Rosenberg brought to us the real life choreographer of the movie, Ben Stevenson himself. And thus followed the most delightful talkback in which we got his personal notes on events portrayed in the movie, and his life as a world leader in choreography. After the talkback the film school (acting Dean, Dale Merrick) hosted a reception at which the AB students clustered round the hero of the story and plied him with questions. I went home that night literally bursting with joy. And the movie is so compelling that you really ought to see it. Rent it on Netflix. Time Warner even has it On Demand right now.

Company members cluster round living legend Ben Stevenson

The Saturday of the Festival took us to The Grove of Anaheim. It was a large audience! Those who could afford $250 it had dinner beforehand and met the big-wigs. And good for Anaheim Ballet, it was a large dinner party! The show proceeded with AB’s signature style of presentation: before each number interviews with the dancers were screened on the huge monitors. It really makes the dance experience so much richer to meet the dancers first.

Pas de deux

The program was mostly a series of Pas de Deux. I think it takes a little introduction to fully ‘get’ what a Pas de Deux is all about, and we novices may be forgiven (I hope) if some of the classical pairing looked pretty much the same. Nonetheless, it was stunning to see the power and grace of so many international dance stars. Lifetime Awards were presented to Jilliana, director of the Jilliana School, and Ben Stevenson – presented by West Side Story heartthrob, George Chakaris.

Photoshopped together!

The second half of the program had a more modern feel as the same dancers returned and ‘cut loose’ with comedy and drama. And top and bottom of the evening our own AB company performed chorus numbers.

I could not attend the final event, but Anaheim Ballet has better know – they have a new fan!! Dear art lovers of Anaheim, please consider putting the ballet on your arts entertainment calendar in future. If, like me, you’re somewhat of a novice, visit AB’s special area on YouTube, details below, and in the comfort of your own home catch a glimpse of what it’s all about.

Two Englishmen
Michael Buss and Ben Stevenson

International guest dancers included: Mari Kawanishi and Stephen Bourgond; Maria Kochekova and Issac Hernandez; Clifton Brown; Isabella Boylston and Gennadi Saveliev; Elisa Carrillo Cabrera and Mikhail Kanaskin; Michele Wiles and Charles Askegard; Rebecca King and Alexander Jones.

The Muzeo a presented a weeklong exhibit of photography and dance costumes capturing the magic of dance

Pictures and Photoshop work by Michael Buss



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