S.F. Ballet Showcase rocks

How does the venerable San Francisco Ballet School, age 74, hold a commencement? With a danceconcert, of course.

Not just any concert. The annual Student Showcase was an affair that began with a gaggle of 6-year-olds in blue leotards, looking both scared and happy, and ended with George Balanchine’s inestimable “Serenade,” the oldest students creating one of ballet’s greatest opening tableaux, of beautiful women in their diaphanous costumes, standing erect, shielding their eyes against the light.

Wednesday and Thursday evenings, the Yerba Buena Center turned into a place of celebration for 350 young people who have spent the year in ballet class, pursuing a more difficult physical and mental discipline than just about anybody of their age does elsewhere. Dance is hard, these young artists are at the beginning of a possible career — only a few expected to progress to that point — but students, parents and the unaffiliated audience recognized and acknowledged with a mighty noise when obvious personal bests were presented.

The first such high point came as 14 young men strutted gloriously in Jorge Esquivel’s “Csárdás” (misspelled in the program by somebody non-Hungarian as “Czardas”) to Delibes’ music. They looked good, individually and in ensemble, dancing with athleticism and high spirit.

At every Showcase, there is a “discovery,” a glimpse into the future; this time, it came in Helgi Tomasson’s update of the classic Petipa choreography for the “Bluebird” pas de deux from “The Sleeping Beauty.” Hideko Karasawa and Max Levy danced with grace and radiance, foregoing misguided bravura for good, basic musical values.

The two also made a big impression later as soloists in separate pieces, Karasawa in “Serenade,” and Levy in the world premiere of Nicholas Blanc’s “In search of,” to music by Arvo Part. It’s a fine work, perfect for the occasion, simple, quiet, self-assured and danced well by Levy, Leta Biasucci, Mona Meng, Samatha Lynch, Sarah Walborn, Jeremy Rucker and Owen Thorne.

Another world premiere, Parrish Maynard’s “Secret Places,” to music by Shostakovich (and to “sounds of nature and distant chimes”) was a pas de quatre about relationships, danced by Lynch, Kaia Tack, Sean Orza and Thorne.

Some of the grads have already been snapped up by various dance companies as apprentices or even corps members. New corps members are Karasawa (Memphis Ballet), Lynch (Houston Ballet) and Lahna Vanderbush (Alberta Ballet).

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