"I was shocked to get into the company," says Amy Bauer during a break in rehearsals.
"I'm a little scared," says Linda Adolphi.
The two youngest members of the Washington Ballet, Bauer and Adolphi recently rose from the ranks of the Washington School of Ballet's Young Dancers, a group formed two years ago by company artistic director Mary Day to give promising students a chance to perform. Under Day, the school has produced a list of fine dancers with characteristic precision and finish, and distinctive personal styles. Fluid Moscow gold medalist Amanda McKerrow, technical whiz Bonnie Moore -- both with American Ballet Theatre -- and master turner Robert Wallace were all promoted from the school.
When Bauer first performed as a Young Dancer in 1982, her chiseled, cameo face and patrician bearing captivated audiences. Smooth, delicate and precise, she dances with highly intuitive presence, sensing her way through the music like a young, diminutive Suzanne Farrell.
"Amy is very talented and beautiful," says choreographer Matthew Diamond. He cast her in his new work, "A Night at the Ballet," because "she is the perfect coquette on stage. It doesn't reflect her personality -- I don't think she's coy. But she's intelligent enough to play the one image on stage and be able to turn around and make fun of it.
"She has something very special for a young dancer. She isn't just involved with technique. When you are young, you tend to rely on technique -- it's frequently only later that projection and artistry come across. With Amy, there's a lot of person coming through the dancer. She projects a tremendous amount of humanity."
By contrast, Adolphi dances with athletic boldness and attack. In last spring's company production "Pas de Dix," she impressed audiences with multiple beats. In "Paquita" she danced with Latin sharpness, performing pique turns and high leaps -- her forte, according to Day -- with speed and bravado.
Although her romantic passage in Young Dancers ballet master Robert Steele's "Illusions" revealed developing lyricism, Adolphi is a natural allegro dancer. Her fearlessness excites viewers -- she takes risks, tests herself. Most often, she maintains unusual balance and control, even on the fast track.
"I'll try anything once," says the blond, fair 19-year-old, inhaling a chuckle. "I used to horseback ride. I did jumping and stuff. And I like things that I'm not supposed to do, like skiing. I try not to do them too often, but I couldn't go through life without trying new things. I get bored very easily."
She sits on the floor of a small, mirrored studio in the company's airy, Wisconsin Avenue building. Reflections of her white sweat shirt, inscribed "Goh for It" (Choo San Goh is the company's internationally renowned choreographer), mingle with piano notes from a class in progress. She sometimes shimmies her shoulders and tilts her head as she talks.
"I like energetic ballets like 'Paquita' and Goh's 'Fives.' And I live to jump. I have a lot of energy -- jumping releases it."
Bauer bangs her toe shoes together. "By Saturday, these should be nice and comfy," the 17-year-old jests. Her toes are red with new blisters.
"All my care goes into my feet," she says, describing daily applications of ointment and bandages. "Being in the company is a lot of exertion. You just have to hope your body will cope. But when I'm dancing, expressing myself, it's the greatest feeling. Nothing else I do makes me feel such complete happiness."
Bauer is especially pleased to work with Goh. "He has such an ear for music. Everyone else has taught me technique. Watching him, I'll learn to move."
"He's incredible," says Adolphi. "When we're rehearsing, it's almost like each ballet has a certain emotion that goes . . . through the air. You feel a part of it." Goh also has a sense of humor. "He wanted me to learn this ballet. He said, 'Hurry up and catch up, like squished tomatoes.' "
They look forward to the company's month-long tour of South America. In May they travel to China. How does it feel to be a Young Dancer one month and a touring professional the next?
"It's almost like I've read it about someone else, not Amy," Bauer says. "I'm really excited about this year. Even though I'm in the same place, it's like going from junior high to high school. It's a lot harder than I thought it would be, but it's the only way to be professional. It's very hard, but it's great."