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Ballet Arizona, Ib Andersen and Glimpses of Brilliance

February 25, 2012

"Play" Dancers: Paola Hartley, Roman Zavarov Photo by: Kyle Froman

I was unsure of what to expect from Ballet Arizona’s showing at the Joyce Theater. I have seen so much dance at the Joyce over the years that I respect it for the bastion that it is. So what I got from Friday night’s performance was not what I had expected.

I knew of Ib Andersen and had seen him in many of past NYCB performances and respect him for the great dancer he was. He joined the Royal Danish Ballet at age 16 and became a principal dancer at 20 — the youngest principal in that company’s history. In 1987, while Andersen was still with NYCB, the Royal Danish Ballet gave him his first choreographic commission, for which he created 1-2-3—1-2. When he retired as a principal from NYCB in 1990, Andersen began a second career as a guest ballet master for companies around the world. He staged ballets by August Bournonville, Michel Fokine, Jerome Robbins, and others; most notably, Balanchine. His affinity for Balanchine’s works led to Andersen’s appointment as a Balanchine Repetiteur, one of a handful of artists worldwide authorized by The Balanchine Trust to stage the master’s pieces. After a tenure as ballet master with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Andersen accepted the position of artistic director for Ballet Arizona where he directs 36 dancers as well as creates original works for the company.

Andersen’s Play which premiered in 2007 is ripe with the Balanchine influences that are his heritage. The breakdown and use of the music and angled and sometimes awkward movements and groupings are ever present. But somewhere, somehow something errs. Was if bad, no! Was it great, no! Play hovers somewhere in that no-man’s land of between bad and great but in all honesty there are glimpses of brilliance held within the work.

"Play" Dancers: Ballet Arizona Ensemble Photo by: Kyle Froman

As I have stated, the beginning was awkward. Dancers grouped in center stage while performing classroom technique exercises. It began with battement tendu to battement frappe, coupe grand battement with arms going from first position to third and then variations of these basic exercises, the ground upon which all classic technique is developed through repetition and attention to detail. Odd for a beginning but then I remembered Mr. Andersen’s Balanchine influences and watched as the ballet grew from there.

Play is group of dances set to seven pieces of music, Mozart, Schubert, Benjamin Britten, two by Avro Pärt and two by Stravinsky. My favorite and the true glimpses of brilliance within the work was the dances set to Benjamin Britten and the two by Avro Pärt. The last three dances of Act I.

"Play" Dancers: Ballet Arizona Ensemble Photo by: Kyle Froman

A work for ten women, Prelude and Fugue for 18-part String Orchestra, OP. 29 by Benjamin Britten was alone worth the price of the ticket. It had all the hallmarks of what is considered contemporary ballet. Strongly abstract and somehow a little disturbing but in a fascinating way, not a sound could be heard in the audience, so transfixed by what we were witnessing on the stage. The women, all of which dance with such aplomb, dignity of carriage and lyricism, wove a portrait of feminine beauty and strength dancing with in pools of luminescence that altered the landscape as the dancers are portrayed both with shadow and light.

Avro Pärt’s Cantus in Memory of Benjamin Britten was a work for two couples. The dancers, Tzu-Chia Huang and Ilir Shtylla with Michelle Mahowald and Joseph Cavanaugh performed exquisitely with a purity of purpose that was dreamlike and somewhat surreal. The whole created an ambience of tenderness that pulled at the heart strings. Enough cannot be said about Michael Korsch for his lighting design and it’s the integration into this piece as well as throughout the ballet. Mr. Korsch has been the lighting designer and technical director for Complexions Contemporary Ballet since 1998.

Duet from "Play" Dancers: Natalia Magnicaballi and Astrit Zejnati Photo by: Kyle Froman

Act l of the evening closed with a duet. Set to Avro Pärt’s Festina Lente which was danced by Natalia Magnicaballiand Astrit Zejnati. These two gifted and superb dancers were intertwined with sensuality and exhibited chemistry so tangible between them it seemed electrified. The duet was fascinating; the dancers attired in only the briefest of costumes, allowed for the passion of the performance to ring true. Enough cannot be said of Astrit Zejnati, who dances with such bravura and conviction plus faultless technique I was disappointed he was not featured more in the evening’s work. When he is on stage the eye is quickly drawn to him. –

"Play" Dancers: Michal Wozniak, Tzu-Chia Huang, Roman Zavarov, Michelle Mahowald Photo by: Kyle Froman

Act ll lacked the abstraction of the previous three of the five dances that made up Act l. It was a fun frolic of Balanchine proportion along with evidence of Ib Andersen’s Royal Danish Ballet past. Set to Stravinsky it fills that stage with liveliness and the finale which utilized the whole cast was a worthy ending to the evening.

I would wish to see more of Mr. Andersen’s abstract work that I was so intrigued by. I hope to see more contemporary ballet’s from him, for that was part of Balanchine genius, creating ballets that were prevalent, intriguing and original.

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