I followed up on my interview with Gelsey Kirkland and Michael Chernov by attending a performance of the GKA Studio Company and students. It was called Behind the Veil and was performed at the Michael Schimmel Center for the Arts at PACE University on December 15th. The press release described it as follows:
““Behind the Veil” an evening of classical ballet excerpts performed by the Academy students and its newly launched Studio Company. Excerpts from Le Corsaire, Napoli, Swan Lake and Raymonda will be featured.”
Ever since the studio company was mentioned to me, I was very curious to see what GKA has been able to produce in this short period of time. I was very pleasantly surprised. This will be a very short overview. I know that many have expressed a tremendous interest in the school so hopefully this will let those that haven’t had a chance to see them get a taste of what to expect if they do attend a performance.
I’ll start with the visual aspects and move onto some of the more memorable performances and some dancers that stood out for me.
First, the staging of these pieces was really impeccable. It was level with some major companies that I’ve seen. The colors were sumptuous and the whole look harmonious and very aesthetically pleasing. In terms of the costuming, Ms. Kirkland and Mr. Chernov were not kidding when they talked about their extensive department. The costumes were just gorgeous. I suppose I should expect this kind of detail from world class performers who open their own schools, but I have to admit that I was surprised. This is especially true since students of the academy were involved in the performance. My expectations were set at what I’d normally see in school recitals, but those were delightful exceeded.
As to the performance, it was strange that the technique was uniquely up-to-date, and yet, the entirety seemed timeless. It’s a sign that you’ve done classical ballet right. There should be no date/time stamp in the corner that can tell you whether it was danced in the 1800s or 21st century. Yes, there are the clues about the amount of extension, body flexibility, arches, etc., but the positions are as they ever were. That’s how I felt watching. That they were staying true to what was started hundreds of years ago. And while advanced, it didn’t alter or modify the heart of the art form.
All the dancers were also very well-schooled and the gestures and finishing touches were there. One example, not taking unnecessary steps. You land where you land, and that’s where the next movement starts. No foot shuffling allowed in professional productions, but the main thing is what I mentioned above. What really impressed me was the uniformity of movement. This really takes years and years to get right, and yet, I saw the clear direction of where this company is headed. I have to say it was impressive.
In terms of the classical excerpts, the program opened with Le Corsaire. Both Dawn Gierling as Gulnara and Nicole Fedorov as Sephora really stood out. Dawn Gierling is just so genuine, sincere, and so real. She has that likability factor that I talk about all the time. I bonded with her in about, oh, a nanosecond. A very pretty girl, her dancing is very, very clean. It was most glorious watching her since her jumps come out of nowhere. They’re fired out of some cannon that she keeps tucked away with no visible preparation. Of course, there was that awful moment (for me), when she was alone on stage and was about to launch into fouettes. I always hold my breath and latch onto the arm of the person sitting next to me—whether I know them or not—when a ballerina prepares to do them. In normal choreography, you can ‘dumb’ the step down and the audience will never know. Even in a pirouette, you can turn a triple into a double, or a double into a single, but fouettes? Everyone knows you fell out of them, but there was no need to worry. She knocked them off in a precise fashion and looked entirely comfortable doing so. No wobbling, no moving from the dime that must have glued on the stage. She’s just a joy to watch. She’s one of those dancers that you find yourself loopily smiling at when you watch them.
Nicole Fedorov is also very impressive. She’s exceedingly secure on stage and really does commandeer the space around her. There’s a softness to her steely, erect carriage, and a sweetness to her exquisite face. It’s almost like she carries an inner incandescence with her at all times—just in case the lights go out or something. She handled the very tricky choreography splendidly. As the Russian princess, I really admired the way that she understood the quiet moments. She didn’t freak out at those times when the music called for her to be still. That, too, is a part of dance and part of being an artist, and she made the most of them. She held the audience in the palm of her hand, charming us as she went along.
The next standout for me is Ayano Gotoh. She danced in Odalisques of the Harem and was soloist in Enchanted Garden. Wow, she has such true positions. When she hits a line, it extends and breathes beautifully. The choreography she was given was almost designed to show up flaws, but she outsmarted it by not having any. Take that! I feel she needs to relax her facial expression just a tad, but this girl is the real deal. Even her eyes were dancing. Her body and proportions lend themselves perfectly to executing this art form. Thought she was used judiciously and wisely, I would have liked to have seen more.
The other two performers that did it for me were India Rose and Adrian Mitchell, both of whom appeared in Raymonda. India Rose is very adept. She has that kind of face that draws attention to it. There’s a smoldering sultriness to her. I always love when a dancer can bring an elegant kind of sexuality to dance, and she does. It highlights her femininity and really puts a nice aspect on the character she portrays. In the case of Raymonda, it was a successful marriage.
Adrian Mitchell partnered her, and the two were beautifully matched. I loved the way they worked together, and the adagio they executed was very successful. There was a blending and matching of personalities, but the solos were also a place where Adrian Mitchell, in particular, really shined.
The first passage he performed was clean and precise. His body and look just shout, “Prince!” Very tall and very regal in bearing, he caught my eye, but saved the best for last. In his second passage, he just exploded in a jeté. One minute he was on the ground, and the next he was up about 10 feet in the air! I’ve never seen anyone leap that high, and I’ve seen a lot of dancers. To be accurate, the entire audience gasped, and when people that are used to seeing dance react that way en masse, you know something special happened.
I see a bright future ahead for him. And the really ironic thing is that I think the size of the stage was really containing the largesse of his movements. I would love to see him cover more territory and see what he could do.
This is my little review. Yes, there were wobbles, bobbles, and issues going on that happen in emerging companies. These things work themselves out with practice and over time. I liken it to growing pains and very young dancers getting experience. Given the excellence of the performers, these faux pas were easily overlooked as they didn’t take away from the general level of competency and artistry of the dancers.
I think the litmus tests for any company is whether you want to see them again, and I most enthusiastically do … and will! An ardent fan of classic ballet, I can’t wait to see where this company goes!