There’s something about Serenade for generations of SAB students

From left to right: Kyra Nichols, Suki Schorer, Maria Calegari, Sara Mearns and Stephanie Saland with current students cast in Serenade for the 2024 SAB Workshop

George Balanchine’s iconic Serenade holds special significance to the School of American Ballet, as it was choreographed on the first class of “advanced” students when SAB opened in 1934. There are elements of the ballet that directly relate to the history of the School, such as the 17 dancers in the opening formation – allegedly due to how many students were in class the day Mr. B began choreographing – or the moment when a single dancer joins the formation late – supposedly due to the real occurrence of a student arriving late to rehearsal.

Since it first appeared in SAB’s 1974 Workshop Performances, Serenade has been included in the program every few years as a nod to this special history. Now, for the 90th Anniversary of both the School and the ballet, it is only fitting for current students to have the opportunity to perform this stunning work once again at this year’s Workshop.

A recent Serenade rehearsal for SAB’s 2024 Workshop. Photo by Rosalie O’Connor

SAB faculty member Suki Schorer has been integral to bringing the ballet to the Workshop program. She first staged it on our students when it made its Workshop debut 50 years ago and has staged it every few years since. This year marks the eighth time she’s guided our students through the gorgeous choreography of this monumental ballet; cementing the powerful legacy of Mr. B’s first ballet created in America, for another generation of dancers.

According to Ms. Schorer, Serenade is the kind of ballet that is not only a joy to dance, but one that Mr. Balanchine viewed as a “teaching” ballet – it teaches the dancer how to perform. It’s no wonder then that the act of learning and performing it leaves an indelible impression on everyone who dances it. And, like a beacon of Balanchine beauty, many ballerinas are drawn back to it, time and again.

Photo by Rosalie O’Connor

Such was the case in a recent Serenade Workshop rehearsal, where Ms. Schorer was joined by her former students, SAB alumni and former New York City Ballet principal dancers Maria Calegari, Kyra Nichols, and Stephanie Saland. With all three having ample experience performing the work during their careers, it was a unique and special opportunity for our current students to hear first-hand from these acclaimed ballerinas on the nuances they each brought to the principal roles in the ballet. What’s more, they all had originally learned the ballet from Ms. Schorer, further amplifying the magnitude of this full-circle moment in the studio.

Halfway through the rehearsal, Ms. Schorer spotted another former student watching from the doorway – current NYCB principal dancer Sara Mearns – and quickly invited her in the studio. Ms. Mearns has performed multiple roles in Serenade and, for the majority of students in the room, their first experience seeing the ballet performed live at New York City Ballet was with Ms. Mearns cast as a lead. Having her there, representing another generation of ballet excellence, elevated the experience for everyone in the space. By the time the ninety minute rehearsal was over, our students may have left the room slightly star-struck, but the profound impact of this special ballet was never more clear.

Serenade holds in it the history of the School, the genius of George Balanchine’s choreography, and the themes of friendship, sisterhood, and the bonds dancers make with one another as they strive to create beauty and achieve excellence. And those bonds extend past the stage, beyond one’s career and remain ingrained in every dancer who learns the ballet. Passing on these values from generation to generation of SAB students is just one of the many reasons why training at SAB is so special.

Maria Calegari, Kyra Nichols, Stephanie Saland and Sara Mearns with their teacher Suki Schorer

We invite everyone to see our students perform Serenade at this year’s Workshop Performances and Workshop Benefit in June and we invite all our SAB alumni to join us for a very special 90th Anniversary Alumni Celebration on Friday, June 7.

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