Ballet Arizona Debuts August Bournonville's Napoli at Phoenix Symphony Hall

Ballet Arizona performs Napoli in metro Phoenix during Valentine's Day weekend.
Ballet Arizona performs Napoli in metro Phoenix during Valentine's Day weekend.
Alexander Iziliaev

We love plenty of things that hail from Denmark: Carlsberg beer, Shakespeare's Hamlet, Bang & Olufsen sound systems, Hans Christian Andersen tales, sleek modern furnishings, Kierkegaard's existentialism, and LEGO bricks.

But we're not sold on Napoli, a ballet first performed in Denmark in 1842. It imagines the road from wooing to wedding for a young couple forced to overcome a mother's doubt, a sea demon's enchantment, and a community's superstitions.

See also: 13 Must-See Dance Performances in Metro Phoenix This Spring

It's one of several storytelling-style ballets by August Bournonville, who served as ballet master and choreographer for the Royal Danish Ballet for nearly five decades during the mid-19th century.

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Watching opening night for Ballet Arizona's production of Napoli felt like watching an old silent movie. Its mime-infused choreography may have played well during Bournonville's heyday, but that day is long gone. Nowadays, such pantomime is best reserved for playing charades.

Still, we understand why Ballet Arizona was the best vehicle for transporting Napoli from Denmark to America. Ib Andersen, the company's artistic director since 2000, was born in Copenhagen -- and started his ballet training at age 7 with the School of the Royal Danish Ballet.

He was 7 years old when he first performed on stage as a fisher boy in a Royal Danish Ballet production of Napoli. Later, as a principal dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet, he danced the leading role of a young fisherman in love. And he's previously staged an excerpt of the ballet's final act.

Andersen staged the Ballet Arizona production of Napoli after Bournonville, and choreographed its second act. We get it. It's a full circle moment. We're proud to have a hometown ballet company that pushes the envelope beyond ballet staples such as Swan Lake and The Nutcracker.

 

And the production isn't without merit. Scenery and costumes, courtesy of the Royal Danish Ballet, are beautiful -- especially coupled with lighting design by Michael Korsch. The Phoenix Symphony, directed by Timothy Russell, does a lovely job with the romantic score.

The opening night cast included Alejandro Mendez as the fisherman Gennaro and Arianni Martin as his beloved Teresina, who will reprise these roles during weekend matinee performances. During evening performances, Nayon Iovino dances Gennaro and Jillian Barrell dances Teresina. Brian Leonard is Golfo, a sea demon ultimately vanquished by the lovers' veneration of the Virgin Mary, for every performance.

Martin, who hails from Cuba and joined Ballet Arizona in 2013, beautifully conveys the innocence of her character and joyous spirit of the Romantic Period that gave rise to this ballet. Her opening night performance demonstrated both technical skill and artistry.

But we're still kind of bummed about giving up a couple of hours we might have spent drinking Carlsberg and making LEGO models.

Ballet Arizona performs Napoli with The Phoenix Symphony at Symphony Hall through Sunday, February 15. Tickets start at $15. For information or tickets, visit Ballet Arizona online or call the box office at 602-381-1096.

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