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The American Ballet Theater Returns to the Stage In ‘Uniting in Movement’

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The Segerstrom Center for the Arts (SCFTA) in Costa Mesa drew back the stage curtains for the very first time Sunday, April 25 for their first live performance since the shutdown and world premiere of the collaborative project “Uniting in Movement.” SCFTA has partnered with the American Ballet Theatre (ABT) to bring audiences a unique collection of both contemporary and classical style pieces. After being separated for over a year and finally being able to come all together to dance for this premiere, the title “Uniting in Movement” is a fitting depiction of the collaborative project. The ABT dancers joined together through the art of dance and physical expression to bring audiences this joyful live experience for the first time since the shutdown. The production is dedicated to the memory of William J. Gillespie, a generous trustee and beloved friend of both ABT and SCFTA. The show is currently being streamed on-demand through the SCFTA website from May 12-26 for $25 a household. 

The show included two stunning contemporary works, “La Follia Variations” andIndestructible Light” choreographed and staged by Lauren Lovette and Darrell Grand Moultrie, respectively. The other pieces included two iconic historical works showcasing the pure, raw technique and beauty of the ballet: “Swan Lake (Act II Pas de Deux)” choreographed by Lev Ivanov and “Grand Pas Classique” choreographed by Victor Gsovsky. 

In order to safely prepare for this live performance, the 18 dancers and necessary artistic staff were in what they called a “bubble” from March 22 until the premiere on April 25. All those involved in putting on the show were quarantined together at the Avenue of the Arts in Costa Mesa, a Tribute Portfolio Hotel near the Center, leaving only to rehearse and perform at the Segerstrom’s rehearsal studios. To ensure the safety of the dancers and artistic staff, strict health protocols were followed during rehearsals and performances including an isolation period beforehand and testing before going forward with the residency. 

American Ballet Theater dancers in front of Avenue of the Arts hotel in Costa Mesa. Photo provided by Segerstrom Center for the Arts @segerstromarts/Instagram.

The show opened with Lovette’s “La Follia Variations” with eight stunning figures lined up, remaining still in silhouette until the music erupted as the lights flashed on and the dancers leaped to life. Dressed in fluorescent tutus and body-conforming costumes, the dancers moved with clarity and unity in their steps. The choreography complemented the musical score as the dancers would match and at times contrast the energy of the music. The dance featured multiple duets, trios and group partner work, promoting a theme of support and togetherness. The backlighting of the piece changed often to match the fluorescent colors of the showcased costumes. The dancers filled the stage with great energy and it was a wonderful way to kick off the show. 

Chloe Misseldine and Jose Sebastian in “La Follia Variations”. Photo provided by Segerstrom Center for the Arts @segerstromarts/Instagram.

Continuing the program was Ivanov’s classic, “Swan Lake (Act II Pas de Deux)” danced by Devon Teuscher and Cory Stearns. The duet is a very tender and intimate moment shared between the characters Prince Siegfried and Odette. In this excerpt from Act II, Prince Siegfried is at the enchanted lakeside and sees a flock of swans when one turns into a beautiful woman named Odette. She is frightened by him at first, but once he vows to not hurt her, she tells him of the curse she lives with — she and the rest of the swans were put under a curse by the evil sorcerer Rothbart. They are swans by the break of daylight and return to their human form at nightfall by the lake made from the tears of Odette’s mother. The spell can only be broken if one who has never loved before promises to love only Odette for eternity. The duet is a dramatic storytelling and vulnerable exchange between the two dancers with more cautious approaches to steps and swan-like motions under mood lighting that imitates the moonlight along the enchanted lakeside. 

Devon Teuscher and Cory Stearns in “Swan Lake (Act II Pas de Deux)”. Photo provided by Segerstrom Center for the Arts @segerstromarts/Instagram.

Along the theme of classical installments, Gsovsky’s “Grand Pas Classique” graced the stage after danced by Catherine Hurlin & Sung Woo Han. Unlike the previous piece, “Grand Pas Classique” is a plotless duet that is a pure celebration of dance and the classic art form of ballet. Hurlin and Han are the definition of grace and beauty in this duet, effortlessly moving through steps as a unified body. Hurlin danced with great control and precision in her dancing and balances that couldn’t be shaken by an earthquake. Her stage presence sparkled, filling the stage with her smile while Han flew across the stage with fluent airborne jumps and strong turns. The duo glided across the stage with fluid movements ending strong with a lively turning sequence. 

Catherine Hurlin & Sung Woo Han in “Grand Pas Classique”. Photo provided by Segerstrom Center for the Arts @segerstromarts/Instagram.

To finish out the program, the company performed Moultrie’s “Indestructible Light”, a fun jazzy group number. The dancers replicated a social dance circle with each taking turns to showcase their moves as the others grooved on the sideline, supporting those in the spotlight. Carefree energy was present as pure joy of dance was exerted from the performers. Dressed in sexy, sheer and glittery black costumes the dancers moved with mystery as the lights went dark with sidelights shining. Gooey movement qualities were juxtaposed with strong clear gestures and body rolls with angular body shapes. When the lights rose again the dancers sprawled themselves out against a pink wall moving seductively, giving Pink Panther vibes. The piece ended with a bang with all of the dancers showcasing solo moments and then moving together before the lights blacked out. 

Melvin Lawovi in “Indestructible Light”. Photo provided by Segerstrom Center for the Arts @segerstromarts/Instagram.

The dancers of ABT dazzled audience members with their presence and joy that shined through the screens of our devices. Seeing these artists back on stage together sharing their talents with us makes me smile from ear to ear, and I can’t help but count down the days until I’m back in the theater experiencing it all in real-time. Overall, it is a fabulous first step in safely moving towards putting art back on the stage for live audiences. 

Claire Desenberg is an Entertainment Staff Writer for the spring 2021 quarter. She can be reached at cdesenbe@uci.edu.