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AIDF Points To The Future
The darker side of dance?
The flame of the London Olympic Games finally died just as the Anaheim International Dance Festival (AIDF) unveiled the dancers, the stars of tomorrow. And just as we marveled at the bodies of the Olympic athletes, sculpted by hundreds of hours of training, so those who attended the various sessions of the dance festival could not help but be amazed at the physical beauty that hours of practice at the barre produces in ballet dancers.
The festival began on the Friday night with a screening of the magnificently re-mastered and digitized movie “The Red Shoes” – a seven year project of love supervised by Martin Scorsese. Whisked back to the post-war era a young ballet dancer is torn between the man she loves and her pursuit to become a prima ballerina.
Based on Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale of the same name, Anton Walbrook, Marius Goring and Moira Shearer provide the central drama. Both artistically and dramatically this is a very fine movie – well worth getting on Netflix.
On with the dance
Saturday and Sunday mornings were filled with master classes, quite free, for any dancer. A fine array of ballet masters shared their skills with the young aspirants, not least ballet legend Edward Villella of the Miami City Ballet – who was honored for his lifetime achievement at the Saturday evening show at The Grove of Anaheim.
The Gala performance
The main event, which filled The Grove almost to full capacity, was the showcase event of the weekend as far as the public was concerned. I felt the program hit just the right note with a mixture of classically choreographed numbers and more modern pieces.
Matthew Rushing - modern ballet exponent
At the top of the show Julie Tait introduced her husband, Mayor Tom Tait, to say a few words. The recent disturbances in Anaheim were so fresh that he couldn’t avoid making reference to them, adding that at such a time as this the arts were more important than ever. This drew a remarkable and well deserved response from the crowd. And this led immediately into a pas de deux (Maria Chapman and Karel Cruz) of such sublime beauty that you could hear the gasps in the audience. Mendelssohn’s majestic score coupled with the immaculate, slow control of both dancers lifted us way beyond all the current protests to a place of such rarified tranquility that when it concluded the audience erupted with its enthusiasm. And the magic was under way.
The program was a skillful mix of solos and pairs; a variety of pace and tempo; the journey from comedy to tragedy and back again. Owing to the videography skills of Evan Rosenberg, most dance items were introduced with a short clip of the dancers rehearsing in the studios of Anaheim Ballet, talking to camera and projected on to two large screens either side of the stage. This was a very successful strategy, making these ‘distant gods’ into real people, just like us.
During the evening both Edward Villella and Patsy Swayze were recognized and honored by the Festival for their lifetime work. In a delightful interlude Anaheim Ballet director, Larry Rosenberg, interviewed actor Lesley Ann Warren and asked her, “What is the soul of a dancer?” After a few moments of mastering her thoughts she replied that a dancer’s soul consists of a commitment that overcomes all pain, and any inclination to quit in order to become a successful dancer. As Larry observed, that was a lesson for all of life.
We saw the lovely Misty Copeland perform the Dying Swan from Swan Lake. We watched two male dancers explore the trust and commitment of relationships in a way that left it open to interpretation. We watched Clifton Brown, clad almost like an oriental monk in long flowing “dress” perform most of his abstract dance with his back to the audience while he gazed in the ethereal distance of a shimmering blue backdrop. You had to bring your own imagination to this to invest it with meaning.
Oh, the strength of those men, lifting ballerinas above their heads as though they were feathers! Oh the pirouetting marvels of the ballerinas covering the width of the stage on pointe.
One of the most popular dance numbers closed out the first act. Vladislav Marinov from the Staatsballet Berlin wandered casually on to the stage dressed in the practice garb of white shirt and black pants. A Voice boomed from the loudspeakers. “Every position in ballet has a number. The number of positions is 101. The dancer will now demonstrate these moves, or positions.” The voice continued to boom, “One, Two, Three – “ at times picking up speed until we were in awe that anyone could ever remember what move fitted which number. By number 100 our dancer was flat on the floor! But the Voice was not finished." We will now have our dancer follow the numbers at random," and with great comedy, athleticism and skill he careered around the stage following commands of The Voice. The audience loved it. And I was particularly pleased to see the same number repeated the next day.
The line-up of dancers was truly international, from all parts of the USA, and beyond. The organizers should be commended for the skill with which they assembled and presented the program.
I’m almost inclined to think that the biggest story of the night was the audience. The ballet-loving public of Orange County has got the message: Anaheim Ballet is here! And the AIDF was worth every penny just to be there. Their exuberance was unrepressed.
The Stars of Tomorrow and Today
If the Gala impressed, next day’s show sparkled with optimism as brilliant young dancers ranging from 11-21 yrs old graced the stage.
Anaheim Ballet's own Aria Alekzander
Once again, it’s impossible to convey in words that which you really have to see and experience. The afternoon performance at the Waltmar Theatre on the campus of Chapman University introduced over twenty stunning young dancers who are already of such rare quality that we should expect to see some of them in the final groups of So You Think You Can Dance? That television show selects out the very best of America’s young dance talent, many of who have their roots in ballet. In fact, Anaheim Ballet dancers have already starred on the show.
A young dancer cannot attain the physical strength and composure needed to be a star in their early teens without the most extraordinary dedication to dance. Three of tomorrow’s stars were so cute and tiny you could have eaten them on toast with jam. They were impossibly adorable turned out in pristine tutus, with their cultivated smiles and apparently effortless skills. They danced on that stage, made it their own and won our hearts.
Come to the mid-teens and we marveled at the boy/girl pairings, tackling sophisticated dance moves that you might think could not be accomplished until their mid-twenties.
Once again, the young stars came from all over the world. But as Larry Rosenberg, AIDF Director, pointed out to me afterwards, many of these dancers had set out on their dance careers right here in Anaheim Ballet’s free Step-Up program for local kids! Now you begin to appreciate the scope and influence of our local ballet company.
We should not omit to mention that the Sunday show opened with the lovely Aria Alexander (an AB graduate, now with the Houston Ballet) and local AB dancer Elan Alekzander.
And in both acts the up-and-coming AB dancer, Austen Eder (13), performed with a maturity that far belies her young age. Like the slightly older Aria Alekzander, she carries a smile that could melt polar ice-caps!
Austen - pictured 18 months ago.
Anaheim Ballet has a great working relationship with the Performing Arts department at Chapman University under its dean, Dale Merrill.
It would be too tedious for our readers to itemize all the sponsors that made the AIDF such a success. But they do not go without recognition. The Anaheim Ballet is constantly producing both dancers and work of such quality that even those who think they have no room for ballet in their lives should make an effort to spent an evening at an AB show. As our Mayor freely confesses, he knew nothing about the ballet three years ago. Now he is a complete fan.
We should never forget that two very unassuming and dedicated people have largely built Anaheim Ballet to what it is today: the husband and wife team of Larry and Sarma Rosenberg. With Evan Rosenburg also teaching choreography and filming almost everything for the hugely popular Anaheim Ballet site on You Tube, it’s a family business!
Ballet is not too hard to grasp. You don’t have to know the 101 ballet positions, or even a few of the names. You can start by simply letting its glorious beauty wash over you to understand that short of heaven itself, few things on earth can be more sublime. I confess, I am a fan!
The Stars of Tomorrow start here.