It's been more than a decade since Ib Andersen, artistic director for Ballet Arizona, wowed us with his choreography and set design for Mosaik, which premièred here in Phoenix in 2004, and was performed again in 2006. It featured not only Andersen's choreography, but also sculptural set pieces of his own design and creation.
Though best known for his ballet roots with the Royal Danish Ballet and years spent as a principal dancer with New York City Ballet during famed choreographer George Balanchine's tenure, Andersen is more than a one-time wunderkind in the world of ballet. He's also an accomplished visual artist, who told Jackalope Ranch last year that he came to Phoenix with his painting supplies "because of Arizona's remarkable clear light." Andersen started working with Ballet Arizona in 2000.
Andersen describes his first passion as classical dance, but says his "secondary artistic passion" is creating visual art -- which explains why his creativity is most apparent in mash-ups of visual with performance art. It's evidenced by his newest dance piece, Pines of Rome, which premièred during Today's Masters on Thursday, March 26, at the Orpheum Theatre.
Pines of Rome features not only Andersen's choreography, but also his scenic and costume design. Dancers perform before a backdrop bearing a rectangle partially filled in by curving scribbled lines dotted with dark flecks -- and a series of parallel vertical lines that could easily symbolize all sorts of things: the trunks of tall trees in a forest, the lines of merchandise barcodes, or the bars of a jail cell.
Like the background color behind them, the bars' colors shift throughout the piece. Think whale blue, jade green, caramel, and black. Dancers look like they've been dipped in liquid silver, pewter, gold, or bronze -- shimmering in metallic costumes that sometimes hug their bodies but other times flow loosely or gather in folds that catch and reflect the light as they move.
Andersen's choreography for Pines of Rome is a beautiful fusion of precision with playfulness. Dancers marry technical skill with theatricality. There's much to love here, for both those who love classical dance and those who favor more contemporary fare.
The Orpheum Theatre, with its ornate Spanish baroque interior, is the perfect setting for this piece -- which is set to Ottorino Respighi's "Pines of Rome," a four-movement work that premièred in Rome just years before construction on the Orpheum Theatre began.
Pines of Rome is one of three works featured in Today's Masters -- a two-hour, two-intermission production meant to highlight diverse choreographers. The program opens with Le Carnaval des Animaux (The Carnival of the Animals) choreographed by Alexei Ratmansky and staged by Betsy Erickson. Ratmansky trained at the Bolshoi Ballet in Moscow, where he later served as artistic director.
Le Carnaval des Animaux is set to music by Camille Saint-Saens, a French composer of the Romantic period. It's a whimsical dance filled with animals who flutter, strut, and hop about. Costumes by Sandra Woodall are delightfully detailed and stylized, thus heightening viewer appreciation for each animal's unique personality.
Opening night performances by Paola Hartley (Elephant), Kenna Draxton (Swan), and Jillian Barrell (First Hen) exuded humor and charm, and the entire company delivered both strong technique and enthusiastic performance.
Today's Masters closes with Resonance choreographed by Nayon Iovino, who trained in Brazil and with The Washington School of Ballet. This is the third new work he's choreographed for Ballet Arizona since joining the company in 2012. But it's his first set to music composed by members of Pink Floyd.
With the first ping of the 23-plus minute song called "Echoes," which was recorded for this production by a tribute band called The Great Gig in the Sky, the audience sees a piece of fabric placed front and center on the stage. Its shape and movement, accentuated by Michael Korsch's dramatic lighting, hint at the dancers beneath it.
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Gradually a portion of the fabric rises as if being pulled to the sky by an invisible puppeteer. Soon it forms a giant circle with a somewhat tie-dye vibe, although colors such as cumin, cinnamon and russet conjure images of a cross-cut tree trunk. For some, it may look like a retina. For others, a cosmic sphere floating in space. At times, dancers slide out on their bellies from under and behind the circle.
Ballet Arizona performs Resonance with technical prowess while creating a synergy that heightens its emotive properties. It's refreshing to see Ballet Arizona performing dance beyond the realm of story ballets and Balanchine staples. They've whet our appetite for the new and exotic -- and reminded us of what's possible when Andersen truly lets his two artistic passions collide.
Ballet Arizona performs Today's Masters at the Orpheum Theatre through Sunday, March 29. Tickets start at $15. For information or tickets, visit Ballet Arizona online or call the box office at 602-381-1096.