The Best Come Out West

Summer Intensive Final Performance, presented by State Street Ballet

At the Lobero Theater, Sunday, July 23.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Schwyzer

Proud parents, friends, and dance fans braved sweltering heat Sunday afternoon for a performance culminating State Street Ballet’s month-long Summer Intensive Workshop, fanning themselves with folded programs as the dancers sweated it out beneath stage lights. Now in its ninth year, the program offers an annual opportunity for students aged 12-21 to sample the life of a professional dancer — a full-time training program of technique classes, coaching, and rehearsals leading up to a full-length public performance.

The 54 talented dancers of this year’s Summer Intensive were selected in a series of auditions held across the country, some traveling from as far as New York and New Jersey to take part. SSB’s Summer Intensive stands out from among other comparable summer dance programs because its final production takes participants onto a professional stage with full lights and costumes. They may have had only four weeks of SSB training, but the students from this year’s program bore the company’s signature style, delivering a show that was technically impressive and classically grounded, risk-taking and highly entertaining.

In keeping with the company’s dedication to tradition, the production opened with excerpts from Swan Lake, staged by SSB’s Ballet Mistress Maria Fliagrina. As Prince Siegfried, Benjamin Koehl delivered a lively stage presence, his beautifully controlled pirouettes garnering appreciative hollers. In their free-flowing, romantic white tutus, the 26 swans were a breathtaking bunch — impressively synchronized yet individually expressive.

The emphasis was on precision, but these dancers had a chance to show some spunk, too. Associate director of the program Richard Dickinson choreographed an airy ballet set to Fauré, allowing some of the older, more accomplished dancers to shine. Younger dancers in board shorts bopped and grooved in SSB company member Alyson Mattoon’s playfully jazzy Beach Party, while others made an adept transition from the weightlessness and control of classical ballet to the weight sharing and release of modern dance in UCSB faculty member Nancy Colahan’s study on the circle, Mini-Circular #3.

The program ended on a high note with the works of current SSB company member Autumn Eckman. Koehl was back and in top slapstick form in the comedic duet Perfect Match, suitably well-paired with live-wire Jackie Zhao, while ballet went Broadway with the big band swing tunes of I’ve Got You Under My Skin.

For SSB, investing in education has been a generous move and a smart one: the professional company has recruited two female dancers from the program to join upcoming performances. Like the rest of the program’s participants, they’ve proved they can handle State Street’s heat.

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