March 10, 2010

Ballet rises to challenge of Balanchine's 'Serenade'

BOB KEYES

— By

Staff Writer

As Linda MacArthur Miele sees it, there is no better way to teach young dancers than with the George Balanchine ballet ''Serenade.''

When Balanchine came to America from Russia in 1933, ''Serenade'' was the first ballet he created.

''It was his vehicle to teach dancers how to perform,'' said Miele, artistic director of Maine State Ballet, which presents ''Serenade'' Friday and Saturday and again Aug. 14-15 at its theater on Route 1 in Falmouth.

''He wanted a specific feeling of movement from the dancers. His best way of teaching that was to make a ballet that would force these dancers into a particular kind of movement that he wanted for the outcome,'' Miele said.

Miele understands the Balanchine way from first-hand experience. In the 1960s, she learned from him as a student at the School of American Ballet and later as a member of the New York City Ballet. Balanchine created the school to produce dancers for the ballet company.

Miele and Maine State Ballet were granted the rights to produce ''Serenade'' for the third time this decade.

This is a ballet without a story. There are simply dancers in motion set to music. ''It trains you in musicality, movement and style,'' Miele said. ''It's physically hard. It takes stamina. This is a tool to strengthen dancers.''

Miele said she can teach specific steps and techniques in the classroom, but training dancers to sustain that movement is always a challenge. ''Serenade'' makes it easier.

''It's just beautiful movement. It's about effort and energy, and it's enjoyable to dance. It's a wonderful ballet,'' she said. ''As a side benefit as a director, I am seeing the dancers get stronger. I am seeing them get faster, more fluid. It's a great teaching tool, independent of the fact that it's also one of the most beautiful ballets ever.''

Maine State Ballet will present ''Serenade'' with 21 female and five male dancers. The youngest is 14; the average age of the company at 20.

They have been working on it since early July, Miele said.

Katie Farwell will dance the role known as the Dark Angel. She last danced this role in 2005, and is familiar to audiences from her performances as the Dew Drop Fairy in ''The Nutcracker'' and as Elena in ''The Firebird.''

In addition to ''Serenade,'' the program will include a segment from the ballet ''Napoli,'' the piece ''Britten'' and '''Til We Meet Again,'' a modern dance piece set to a Civil War poem.

Staff Writer Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

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