Taos students learn 'Serenade'

The Balachine work is included in today's performance by Jillana School of Ballet

By Kathleen Steward
Posted 7/17/19

The ballet is a feat of grace, physical rigor, and soul. Akin to the professional ice skater and gymnast, it is exhilarating to watch what the human body can artfully accomplish. A …

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Taos students learn 'Serenade'

The Balachine work is included in today's performance by Jillana School of Ballet


The ballet is a feat of grace, physical rigor and soul. Akin to the professional ice skater and gymnast, it is exhilarating to watch what the human body can artfully accomplish. A dancer propelled by years of arduous training begins to spin in a seemingly effortless pirouette - defying gravity, leaping wondrously into space on the stage.

The Jillana School under the direction of former New York City Ballet principal Jillana will perform today (June 19), 6:30-9 p.m. at the Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte.

The top 16 Taos dancers will perform George Balanchine's first American ballet, "Serenade," composed by the Russian composer he most admired, Peter Tchaikovsky. The original performance was in 1934 and is one of the signature works of the New York City Ballet's repertory. In all, 52 young ballerinas will be the soul of the performance.

These young women are under the tutelage of Jillana, who spent 20 years as a principal dancer in the New York City Ballet. During that time she collaborated with Balanchine (1904-1983), one of the best choreographers of the 20th century.

"He was always wonderful to me," Jillana said. "It was the golden era of the company." She was invited by "Mr. B." and danced for the first time under Balanchine on her 13th birthday. At 18 years of age, Balanchine invited her into the New York City Ballet as one of its principal ballerinas. Modestly, she says she was at the right place at the right time.

Competition is steep getting into the Taos summer program. Out of 200 girls, ages 11-17 years old, 52 were selected to come to the Taos Ski Valley for the month of June. This is the 22nd year of Jillana's Balanchine-based school.

While originally from Russia, Balanchine is considered by many to be the quintessential American choreographer giving birth to dynamic lines, swift movement and a minimalist approach to the expression of ballet. He took out the tulle, so to speak.

In a statement, Balanchine explained his work as such, "The choreographer and the dancer must remember that they reach the audience through the eye -- and the audience, in its turn, must train itself to see what is performed upon the stage. The important thing in ballet is that movement itself, as it is sound which is important in a symphony. A ballet may contain a story, but the visual spectacle, not the story is the essential element."

Like many of the great arts, ballet originated in the Italian Renaissance courts of the 1400s. The dancing provided elaborate entertainment for the nobility. The costumes were cumbersome and the dancing would be nearly unrecognizable today.

Ballet took a leap into France in the 16th century under the patronage of Italy's Catherine de Medici and her husband, King Henry II of France. One hundred years later during the reign of King Louis XIV, ballet went from the courts to the stage.

In the late 1800s Russia's St. Petersburg and Moscow became the premier centers for ballet. Born in St. Petersburg in 1904, Balanchine grew up in this grand Russian tradition.

Balanchine moved to New York City in 1933. His vision was to collaborate with the Metropolitan Opera, to choreograph with new ideas in a nascent, fertile city without the constraints of the old world. He eventually broke with the Metropolitan Opera and continued with the singular New York City Ballet. And, until his death in 1983, this vision came to prolific and long-standing fruition. His ballets live beyond him through the tightly controlled George Balanchine Trust, which administers his trademarked technique.

"Every company in the world does Balanchine ballets," says instructor Jock Soto, "His ballets never get old - they remain fresh."

Soto, a former principal with the New York City Ballet for 24 years, is one of the faculty members working with the young ballerinas this summer. Originally from New Mexico, Soto is part Diné Native American and part Puerto Rican. He worked under the direction of Balanchine for two years.

"George Balanchine never called us stars, we were just his dancers," remembers Soto.

Quick, slow, fast and strong is how Soto characterizes Balanchine's technique. "His steps he was creating for the ballets, I just loved them and I never looked back," said Soto. ""You feel lucky to have been there."

Jillana's school and eight faculty members put the girls through the paces to the tune of 35 to 40 hours a week. The ballerinas awake at 7 a.m. and except for breakfast and lunch they dance the day away until 5:30 p.m. After dinner they finish the day with rehearsals and choreography.

As Jillana sees it, dancers have put technique over individuality and soul. "Nowadays, they look like soldiers. For me I need to see their soul come out to see they really enjoy dancing." While stressing that they need the technique, she muses that Balanchine allowed his dancers their own personal style.

Tickets are $10. For more information, call (858) 270-8248.


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