But before they depart SAB, most advanced students take part in what is, up until that point, the performance of their lives. The SAB Workshop Performances have been a highlight of spring at Lincoln Center for more than 45 years, with ballet goers eagerly attending in hopes of "discovering" yet another remarkable young talent who may go on to become a notable artist at NYCB or another major dance company.
Started in 1965 by the legendary performer and longtime SAB faculty member Alexandra Danilova as a modest showcase for the work that her students had been undertaking in their classical variations classes, the Workshop quickly caught on as an exciting opportunity for members of the public to glimpse SAB's top talents before they embarked on their professional careers. To supplement Danilova's presentation of excerpts from nineteenth century Russian classics and to broaden the challenge facing the students, Chairman of Faculty George Balanchine commissioned new works and enlisted Danish faculty member Stanley Williams to stage ballets by August Bournonville for the annual performances. Early on, Balanchine had no interest in seeing his own choreography performed on the Workshop program but warmed to the idea after NYCB Principal Suki Schorer joined SAB's faculty in 1972. Since 1973, Balanchine's ballets have increasingly become a mainstay of the Workshop repertoire, providing SAB's students with their most complete artistic challenge and often introducing them to roles they will go on to perform for the rest of their careers.
Over the years the Workshop Performances have provided boundless opportunities to witness the New York debuts of anonymous young talents who are well-known to NYCB audiences today. For example, the 1985 Workshop introduced 18-year-old Kentucky native Wendy Whelan in Concerto Barocco. In 1994 Western Symphony's fourth movement was performed by the then only 17 Maria Kowroski. In 2003, 18-year-old Sara Mearns and 17-year-old Tyler Angle waltzed through Chopiniana and performed leading roles in The Sleeping Beauty. And in 2004, a 15-year-old named Tiler Peck revealed her many gifts in Serenade.
The promise of the future will be on display once more as SAB's students perform at Lincoln Center in early June. For this year's program, Chairman of Faculty Peter Martins has selected two works by George Balanchine: Allegro Brillante, to be staged by Ms. Schorer, and Who Cares? staged by faculty member and former NYCB soloist Susan Pilarre: as well as Jerome Robbins' Circus Polka and Martins' own Les Gentilhommes, featuring 9 of SAB's advanced male students who are being coached by former NYCB dancers Albert Evans and Arch Higgins. As SAB co-founder, Lincoln Kirstein prophetically noted only ten years into the Workshop's history, the event is once again likely to find itself "an historic occasion, the first vision of a powerful new talent attached to a name, recognizing a thrusting potential."
The final School of American Ballet's 2011 Workshop Performance will be Tuesday, June 7 (7:00 p.m. benefit performance) at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater, 155 W. 65th Street. Tickets may be purchased by visiting www.sab.org.