S.D. American Ballet Ensemble Steps Lightly Into the Classics


“To a lot of San Diegans, classical ballet means tutus,” said ex-Balanchine ballerina Lynda Yourth. “And who wants to look at ‘Swan Lake’ all the time?”

Yourth, the founder and artistic director of San Diego-based American Ballet Ensemble, hopes to expand that definition--and her own audience base as well--with a program of “Light Classics.”

Aficionados are familiar with the term as it applies to music concerts, but how do you relate light classics to dance?


“Light classics means taking dance and putting it in contemporary terms,” said Yourth. “We want to appeal to a bigger audience--one that doesn’t want to see tutus on a program. We won’t have tutus, but we will have chiffon skirts for one very classic Balanchine-style piece.”

The five-piece program will be built around a new, one-act theater piece based on the beloved fable “Peter and the Wolf.” Yourth choreographed the ballet to the familiar Prokofiev score, in collaboration with costumer Clark Mires and scenic designer Biff Baker.

“Clark did all the animal costumes, which are really such an important part of this theater piece,” said Yourth. “And you just can’t do ‘Peter and the Wolf’ without a tree. It took a genius to figure out how to make that work.

“In fact, that’s the reason ‘Peter and the Wolf’ is not done enough (as a dance work),” Yourth noted. “You just can’t do it without the right props, if you follow the libretto.”

Being faithful to the libretto created other challenges for the designers of this “Peter and the Wolf,” as Yourth pointed out.

“We have two narrations for this piece--one in English, and one in Spanish, because we’re performing it in Tijuana and San Diego,” she said. “And that changes the work a lot, because there’s a different musicality to the narration in each language. The dancing is a little different too, which is hard on the dancers.”


Though this “Peter and the Wolf” will be staged with reverence for its fantasy elements, it’s not just kid stuff to its creator.

“It’s a very sophisticated little satire,” said Yourth. “The kids love to see the animals, and they may not understand the satire, but I don’t care if they miss it. They’ll get it later. The adults will appreciate it on a different level.”

Yourth listened to several English-language tapes of the story, looking for just the right sound to complement her choreography, and she found it in a narration by Dudley Moore.

“The problem is the ballet really depends on the narration,” she said, “because it affects the way you dance and everything else. I heard one version by William Buckley, and he was so dry. Moore does it so wonderfully deadpan, it’s perfect.

There’s also a fairy tale aura to the other new work on American Ballet Ensemble’s upcoming program. But this one, a duet by Romanian choreographer Clarissa Boeriu, has a decidedly dark side. Titled “The Fisherman and the Crab,” the twosome is juxtaposed against the unnerving theme from “Jaws.”

“The music is pretty heavy,” Yourth acknowledged, “but there’s still a storybook theme to the ballet. This is the first major piece Clarissa has done for us, and we’re very excited about it. It’s very contemporary.”


Former Dutch National Ballet danseur Peter Schetters, who made his local debut as the Cavalier in the company’s “Nutcracker” last year, will return to the fold to dance the fisherman. Schetters is scheduled to partner the troupe’s budding ballerina, Aura Dixon, a pencil-slim dynamo with a long-legged Balanchine-type look.

Also on tap for this program, are excerpts from “Straussiana,” choreographed by Mieczslaw Morawski. As Yourth describes the neoclassical ballet, “it’s very pink, but also very contemporary.”

The lightest work on this frothy program is Yourth’s “Rag Suite,” a good-natured but fiendishly quick choreographic bauble set to the jaunty music of Joplin and other “rag” artists.

The concert, which takes to the road Saturday for a three-stop mini-tour, will bow in at Tijuana’s Cultural Center for performances at 5 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. Next weekend, “Light Classics” will take up residency at the Lyceum Theatre for a three-concert run in downtown San Diego (2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. on Sunday). On June 3, the company will pop up again for two final performances (3 and 8 p.m.) at San Diego’s Educational Cultural Complex.

“We’ve been working for four or five years to make a strong base, starting with recitals and community outreach programs,” said Yourth. “Now, we’re ready to take another step. We’ve danced in large theaters in Mexico before, but moving to the Lyceum is a big step for us. I know we’re ready, but I’m still scared.”