Ballet Arizona Presents

ALL BALANCHINE

As a performer, Ib Andersen amassed an impressive dual résumé as a critically acclaimed ballet dancer in both the classical and contemporary genres. First, as Royal Danish Ballet’s youngest-ever principal male dancer, he was accomplished in the reserved restraint and lyrical training of August Bournonville. Then, as the last George Balanchine protégé at New York City Ballet, Andersen shifted gears to learn a new language: the bold, almost-brazen aesthetic of combining steps at lighting speed.

The result was a stellar dancing career and, following a brief hiatus, artistic directorship of Ballet Arizona. Now in his 19th year, Andersen continues to deliver world-class ballet to the Valley. Beginning tomorrow through Sunday, you can see the fruition of his work at this month’s All Balanchine  program at Phoenix Symphony Hall. 

The hard-edged beauty of Balanchine ballets is owed to the choreographer’s allegiance to expanding the traditional ballet lexicon. As one of only a handful of artists worldwide entrusted by the Balanchine Trust to stage these masterpieces, Andersen has followed suit, transforming the state’s only professional ballet troupe into a “Balanchine company.” Its dancers increasingly practice the sharp attacks, the hyperextension and the daring speed associated with the phenomenon trademarked as “Balanchine technique.” 

Above: Left to right; Ib Andersen, Suzanne Farrell and George Balanchine rehearsing for the premiere of Mozartiana in New York City Ballet Studio, May 1981. Photo by Steven Caras.

Balanchine was the single choreographer who did the most to move traditional ballet forward in the 20th century. Starting out as the last major choreographer for Diaghilev’s legendary Ballets Russes, Russian-born Balanchine came to America in the 1930s and, after World War II, co-founded New York City Ballet. Over the ensuing decades he created many dozens of ballets, popularized The Nutcracker and helped to shape ballet into an American art.

Balanchine also moved the focus of ballet from storytelling to the steps themselves. Neither a fairytale (as in the traditional Swan Lake) nor an overall concept(as in Les Sylphides) served as the foundation for his ballets, but rather the exploration of how to combine steps in a new way, expressive in and of themselves. For Balanchine, the choreography was everything. Never concerned to express a specific concept or story, it was all about the steps, the music, the purity of line and the beauty of the human body.

If anything replaced story and concept in Balanchine’s ballets, it was music. ”See the music and hear the dance” is a phrase often used by Balanchine aficionados to describe his approach to creating ballets. The three on this month’s program are a good representation;

Balanchine was the single choreographer who did the most to move traditional ballet forward in the 20th century. Starting out as the last major choreographer for Diaghilev’s legendary Ballets Russes, Russian-born Balanchine came to America in the 1930s and, after World War II, co-founded New York City Ballet. Over the ensuing decades he created many dozens of ballets, popularized The Nutcracker and helped to shape ballet into an American art.

Balanchine also moved the focus of ballet from storytelling to the steps themselves. Neither a fairytale (as in the traditional Swan Lake) nor an overall concept(as in Les Sylphides) served as the foundation for his ballets, but rather the exploration of how to combine steps in a new way, expressive in and of themselves. For Balanchine, the choreography was everything. Never concerned to express a specific concept or story, it was all about the steps, the music, the purity of line and the beauty of the human body.

If anything replaced story and concept in Balanchine’s ballets, it was music. ”See the music and hear the dance” is a phrase often used by Balanchine aficionados to describe his approach to creating ballets. The three on this month’s program are a good representation;

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Theme and Variations (1947), in all its grandeur, pays tribute to Balanchine’s imperial Russia with its regal structure and sumptuous Tschaikovsky score. An intensive display of the classical ballet vocabulary, the ballet was intended, as Balanchine wrote, “to evoke that great period in classical dancing when Russian ballet flourished with the aid of Tschaikovsky’s music.” The ballet opens to reveal a corps of twelve women and a principal couple. As the ballet moves from variation to variation, the solo performances of the ballerina and her cavalier are interspersed among the corps performances. As in all classical ballets, there is a central pas de deux. A grand polonaise builds to the climactic finale for the entire cast of 26 dancers.

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Emeralds (1967), one part of a three-part Balanchine suite titled Jewels, will be a first for Ballet Arizona. Balanchine told journalists that he had been inspired by a visit to the  renowned jewelry house of Van Cleef & Arpels, where he had been especially impressed by the emeralds, rubies and diamonds. So those became the names and colors of his three new ballets. Based on three countries where his idea of ballet had been forged, Emeralds represents France, where Balanchine experienced his first successes as Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes choreographer. Emeralds evokes the elegance and romanticism of 19th century France. In keeping with the Gallic theme, Balanchine chose music by Frenchman Gabriel Fauré.

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Square Dance (1956), one of the most technically-demanding ballets in the Balanchine repertoire, combines the spirit and verve of an American folk dance with the precision and techniques of classical ballet. Known for his love of all things American, Balanchine expertly reinvents square dancing to fit his neoclassical minimalism, retaining its fascinating patterns and effervescent spirit. He felt the two types of dance, though widely different in style, had common roots and a similar regard for order. He wrote, “The American style of classical dancing, its supple sharpness and richness of metrical invention, its superb preparation for risks, and its high spirits, were some of the things I was trying to show in this ballet.”

 

May 2 – 5
ALL BALANCHINE
Ballet Arizona
www.balletaz.org