Ballet showcases dancers of all ages

May. 16, 2014 | 0 Comments In the Star-Advertiser Friday Print Edition
(Courtesy Joe Marquez / Ballet Hawaii)

(Courtesy Joe Marquez / Ballet Hawaii)

BY STEVEN MARK / smark@staradvertiser.com

Hawaii dancers have been making their mark in the modern and hip-hop scene in recent years, from 8 Flavahz kicking it up on “America’s Best Dance Crew” to Cole Horibe riding “So You Think You Can Dance” fame to a starring role as Bruce Lee in Broadway’s “Kung Fu.”

BALLET HAWAII

» Where: Leeward Community College Theatre, 96-045 Ala Ike
» When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday, 3 (junior classes) and 5:30 p.m. Sunday
» Cost: $19
» Info: (808) 550-8457, honoluluboxoffice.com

HAWAII STATE BALLET

» Where: Paliku Theatre, 45-720 Keaahala Rd.
» When: 1 and 5 p.m. Sunday
» Cost: $25
» Info: (808) 947-2755, info@hawaiistateballet.com

Local ballet dancers have been doing well, too. Constantine Allen, who got his start in ballet here before relocating to the Pacific Northwest, this week was named a principal dancer with the Stuttgart Ballet in Germany, one of the world’s most prestigious dance companies.

More examples: Amanda Schull starred in the ballet movies “Center Stage” (2000) and “Mao’s Last Dancer” (2009), propelling her to a fine acting career. Romi Beppu became the first Hawaii dancer to attain the prized status of principal, dancing in prominent roles with mainland dance companies for 16 years before returning to Hawaii to open her own dance school in 2011.

This weekend provides a good chance to check out Hawaii’s current young talent in toe shoes and possibly bear witness to future ballet greatness.

Both of Honolulu’s major ballet schools, Ballet Hawaii and Hawaii State Ballet, are giving spring showcase recitals, providing hundreds of young dancers the chance to plie-z you with their pirouettes.

BALLET HAWAII’S program features excerpts from the classic ballets, such as “Coppelia” and “Giselle,” dances to popular tunes like “Stars and Stripes” and new works.

“It’s a learning experience for (students) as well as having a very supportive audience for them,” said Pam Taylor-Tongg, Ballet Hawaii’s artistic director. “It’s a time where they’re the stars.”

(Courtesy Hawaii State Ballet)

(Courtesy Hawaii State Ballet)

Look for potential prodigies in the show — notably 16-year-old Jacob Ly, a junior at Kalani High School. Ly will appear in Ballet’s summer production of “Peter Pan,” but between now and then he’ll be going to California to study with the San Francisco Ballet, which offered him a full scholarship for a five-week intensive program. He also studied with the American Ballet Theater in New York last year.

“I think he’s got great, great potential,” Taylor-Tongg said. “Jacob’s got good lines, good legs, good feet. … It’s a real pleasure when there’s that drive and talent.”

Ballet appeals to Ly because it “has very set rules of what is technically OK and what is technically not, and I work well within those very set boundaries,” he said. “It leaves room for expression, but you know what’s right and what’s wrong and I work well in those kind of circumstances.”

Ly started dancing as a toddler and now trains five to six days a week, two to four hours a day. He appears in six dances in the Ballet Hawaii show, including a “Peasant Pas de Deux.”

“Partnering in and of itself is difficult,” he noted. “You have to have the strength to lift the girl, and then you have to work out how you’re going to do it … with the music and make sure that it’s synched in together.”

(Courtesy Joe Marquez / Ballet Hawaii)

(Courtesy Joe Marquez / Ballet Hawaii)

Another dancer to watch in the Ballet Hawaii show will be Allison Johnston, an eighth-grader at Punahou School. She also will be working with the San Francisco Ballet this summer, for the second year in a row.

Johnston said she loves “the grace and the beauty” of ballet.

“You feel like you can really connect with the audience when you’re dancing,” said Allison, who’s been dancing for nine of her 14 years.

Ballet Hawaii’s showcase also gives its teachers a chance to exercise their choreography skills. Minou Lallemand, a teacher and artistic director of the Onium Ballet Project, created a work using Philip Glass’ haunting string quartet “Company” as the music.

“I wanted to do something a little bit more contemporary for the kids,” she said. “Give them a little bit different movement than what they’re used to, just to get them outside of their box.”

HAWAII STATE BALLET, run by John Landovsky, gives two performances Sunday at Paliku Theatre at Windward Community College. The school will showcase the nine levels of dance taught at the school, starting with children as young as 3 and including adults, whom school assistant director Gina Surles called “very, very brave people.”

“We don’t like to leave anybody out,” she said.

(Courtesy Joe Marquez / Ballet Hawaii)

(Courtesy Joe Marquez / Ballet Hawaii)

Hawaii State Ballet has trained many successful dancers, including Schull and Beppu, and more recently Erica Wong, who took first place in the 2010 American Ballet Competition in Austin, Texas. The school’s Lily Foster competed in the prestigious Varna Competition in Bulgaria two years ago. Several other graduates have returned to establish ballet and dance schools after successful careers overseas.

“You can tell who comes here and has that drive,” Landovsky said. “Ballet is very hard. It’s so precise.”

Landovsky and other school teachers have put together a program of about 10 works, using mostly classical compositions, that will put a full array of ballet skills on display: “a progression, from the tiny ones all the way up to the advanced, doing contemporary work,” Landovsky said.

“It’s like a picture opening up in stages,” Landovsky said. “It’s an interesting way of seeing how they develop.”

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