The premise: put together recent graduates of the Royal Ballet School with the ABT Studio Company (recent graduates of ABT’s JKO school) and let audiences see what the two schools are producing. Both reflect the values of their parent companies and are a good gauge of the state of classical ballet in the world. Comparisons at this level – the best of the best from each company’s school – are moot. These young dancers are all wonderful. We can only quibble about style and positions. Do you prefer the English lightness and grace in the upper body? Or do you favor the loose freedom of the Americans? Which tradition has the better port de bras? They differ in their approach, certainly, but both companies have done a superb job of training these dancers and most of them will go on to professional careers in the world’s top dance companies. I honestly couldn’t say that I liked one group better than the other.

ABT Studio Zimmi Coker, Luigi Crispino in Kabakevsky Concerto for Strings © Gillian Murphy
ABT Studio Zimmi Coker, Luigi Crispino in Kabakevsky Concerto for Strings
© Gillian Murphy

The show opened with the RBS graduates in Frederick Ashton’s Birthday Offering, a lovely cupcake of a ballet that displayed the dancers’ refinement and easy elegance. The lead couple (unfortunately the program didn’t list their names) were emblematic of the cool charm of the English academy. The distinctive arabesque and attitude of the English school was on full display with their more erect posture and it was a delight to see the tradition being preserved. This was followed by Marcelo Gomes’ piece, Kabalevsky Violin Concerto, for the ABT youngsters. Zimmi Coker and Luigi Crispino lit up the stage in the first movement with lots of crisp allegro. I must stop here and acknowledge that even though all the dancers were excellent, it’s clear that Coker is a future star. She owned the stage with complete assurance and authority. Her musicality was surpassing, her technique unassailable, her appeal undeniable. She’s a wonderful dancer with a great career ahead of her. Meaghan Lynch and Jarod Curley were the more lyrical pair, also very good. Gomes used their talents very well and made an appealing dance in the process.

Helgi Tomasson donated his Concerto Grosso to the cause of showing off the young men of the Royal Ballet School. Their dancing was so good that it was hard to imagine that they weren’t already seasoned professionals. They are well balanced between allegro and adagio skills, flexibility and strength, turning and jumping. It's nice choreography by Tomasson and great work by the young men. Chromatic Fantasy by Dana Genshaft did not send me. The ABT Studio Company danced it well enough but it was not interesting to watch and the costumes by Reid Bartelme and Harriet Jung were unflattering. Next was a Kenneth MacMillan pas de deux set to Shostakovich’s Piano Concerto No. 2. It was starkly beautiful with another Royal Ballet couple that weren’t listed in the program. They moved together incredibly well. Ethan Stiefel created See the Youth Advance! for the 2016 annual exchange and it was artfully delivered by ABT’s dancers. The last few pieces I’ve seen by Stiefel have been excellent. This one had a great duet featuring Sierra Armstrong and Jarod Curley. The closing piece by Liam Scarlett put together dancers from both groups and showed that they were indistinguishable in terms of quality. All in all a very good show by all the dancers.

Joint programs like this are a good idea as long as we celebrate the positive attributes that make each of them great. I’m sure there would be lots of interest to see this expanded into a week-long festival that included recent grads from other leading schools such as the Bolshoi and Vaganova Academies, Paris Opera Ballet schoool, the School of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba, and the School of American Ballet. It’s heartening to see that the state of classical ballet is strong and there are many talented young dancers being nurtured to take their places in the top companies of the world.