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This article by Nicole Plett was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on June 9, 1999.
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At ARB, a Turn Toward British Style
American Repertory Ballet made a gutsy leap into the
unknown with the 1993 appointment of Septime Webre as artistic director,
and it paid off with national visibility. Now that the tireless and
hip Webre has been recruited away to head the Washington Ballet, his
successor has just been named. British choreographer Graham Lustig
promises to introduce new depth and the beauties of the British ballet
tradition to the now-ascendant regional company.
Lustig’s ballet pedigree is as lifelong and burnished as Webre’s was
short and sweet. At age 20 Lustig had been dancing for 14 years, whereas
at that age Webre was just beginning to study dance. But now, Webre,
at 36, is moving to his second significant job as an artistic director,
and Lustig is getting his first.
Born in London in 1954, Graham Lustig studied ballet for 12 years
— beginning at age six — at the Pamela Howard School of Dancing
before entering the Royal Ballet Upper School in 1972. After graduation
he joined the Dutch National Ballet where he became a principal dancer.
He also began his choreographic career, creating his first work, "Enigma
Variations," in 1974, to music of Edward Elgar.
Webre, in contrast, was a brainy history and pre-law major at the
University of Texas in Austin, before beginning his formal ballet
training at Austin Ballet Theater as a young adult. Here he also took
his first choreographic steps.
In 1980, Lustig returned to London to join the Sadler’s Wells Royal
Ballet as a principal dancer. Over the course of seven years, he contributed
four new works to the esteemed company’s repertoire and co-founded
a small company, Dance Advance. Lustig’s important danced roles include
Balanchine’s "Prodigal Son," Fokine’s "Petrushka,"
and the Profiteer in "The Green Table" by Kurt Jooss, as well
as leads in eight ballets by Frederick Ashton, and major works by
John Cranko, Kenneth Macmillan, Ninette de Valois, and Leonide Massine.
In 1991 Lustig stopped performing to focus on choreography and teaching.
In 1988, under the auspices of the Carlisle Project in Pennsylvania,
he choreographed his first U.S. pedigreed work, "Arcanum,"
set to music by Arvo Part and Vivaldi.
After Sadler’s Wells, Lustig became choreographer in residence at
the Washington Ballet, where he premiered "Transit" to music
of Conlon Nancarrow in 1994. He made works for the Hartford Ballet,
and in 1998 for the American Ballet Theater Studio Company, he created
"Medrano," inspired by Picasso’s poignant circus painting,
"The Family of Saltimbanques."
Alan M. Kriegsman of the Washington Post has suggested
Lustig as the heir to the legacy of his predecessor, Choo San Goh.
"Lustig invents a prolific array of novel corporeal shapes; and
like Goh, has a particular flair for visual design," writes Kriegsman.
He "pulls the dancers together into an electric unit, and shows
them off to spanking advantage."
Webre joined ARB (then called the Princeton Ballet) as a dancer and
resident choreographer in 1987. In 1991 the company renamed itself
American Repertory Ballet, and in 1993, the year it pulled itself
back from the brink of financial disaster, Webre succeeded Dermot
Burke as artistic director.
Under Webre’s exuberantly ambitious direction, the technical caliber
of the dancers increased immeasurably and audiences have come to expect
a dynamic and intellectually-informed repertoire.
Webre also tackled such classics as "Swan Lake" and "Romeo
and Juliet" for ARB. His largest endeavor to date, "Carmina
Burana," premiered this spring at the State Theater with Princeton
Pro Musica. Set on a stage surrounded by three monumental 30-foot
industrial scaffoldings, where the monastically-clad chorus manages
to look altogether at home, the ballet consists of 25 sections —
of passion, humor, and quirky logic — that tell the story of seeking
and celebrating love across European history from medieval times to
the Edwardian era. "The point," Webre told U.S. 1, "is
that the journey to find love is protracted."
ARB will unveil the company premiere of Lustig’s "Borderlines"
to open its fall season, Saturday, October 9, at the State Theater,
Dancegoers here and in Washington wish both men well.
— Nicole Plett
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