Choreographers presenting work for Today's Masters found inspiration is some unlikely places. For pieces featured in Ballet Arizona's annual contemporary dance program, artists drew on neurons, tree shade, and Elvis Presley.
Today's Masters includes five works by contemporary choreographers, including Ib Andersen, artistic director for Ballet Arizona since 2000. The show opened Thursday, March 22, at the Orpheum Theatre, and continues through Sunday, March 25.
It's decidedly different from typical Ballet Arizona programming, which skews toward classical ballets and work by George Balanchine.
Instead, choreographers share eclectic visions, driven by diverse inspirations and experiences.
Nayon Iovino is one of three choreographers showcased in this year's production. His work has been part of previous Today's Masters programs.
He says Today’s Masters is “a chance for dancers to take their bodies to new places they haven’t been before.” And it’s a way to highlight what he calls "the raw athleticism” of contemporary ballet.
Andersen took inspiration from Elvis Presley — and Danish folk dance. Hence, his new work titled "Pelvis," which is performed to Danish folk music. It features choreography and costumes inspired by the 1950s and serves as an homage to the charisma of Presley and folk traditions around the globe, according to company materials.
It seems an odd coupling, until you consider Andersen’s background. He was born in Copenhagen in 1954, joined the Royal Danish Ballet as a teen, and became a principal dancer when he was 20 years old. Like Presley, he enjoyed early success and quickly rose to the top of his field. Andersen left Denmark to join the New York City Ballet, where he was principal dancer under Balanchine's direction.
"Pelvis" is one of two Andersen pieces included in Today’s Masters. The other is an excerpt from Round, his full-length ballet that premiered in 2016 at the Desert Botanical Garden. Titled "Afternoon of a Fawn," it explores man’s connection to nature, with an all-male cast. It’s been restaged for performance on a traditional stage, rather than in-the-round.
Expect another nod to the 1950s, as well as the 1960s, in Alejandro Cerrudo’s PacoPepePluto. Cerrudo has been the resident choreographer for Hubbard Street Dance in Chicago for a decade now. This seven-minute dance plays out to a trio of songs by classic crooner Dean Martin. Like "Afternoon of a Fawn," it features an all-male cast.
Iovino has high praise for Cerrudo, whose choreography also has appeared in past Today’s Masters programs. “His work is incredible,” Iovino says. “He really shows emotions through his movement.”
Today’s Masters also includes the Arizona premiere of a 2012 Cerrudo piece called "Never Was." He took inspiration from an 18th century Handel aria that celebrates the shade provided by a tree, then created a dance infused with real and metaphorical shadows.
The other new work in the mix is Iovino’s "Threads," which explores the ever-shifting connections of new ideas, and how they impact identity.
Sometimes Iovino begins a piece with an idea, then creates movement to give it life. But something different happened with "Threads."
“Once I saw the movement, I gave concepts to what I was seeing,” he says.
Those concepts included the ways neurons connect in the brain, influencing the set design by Wrara Plesoiu. Expect to see lines of thread running from the backdrop to the dancers. “It’s a moving set,” Iovino says. “As the piece grows and transforms, the set becomes more complex.”
The music for "Threads" mixes sounds from Africa and Brazil with composer Philip Glass’ take on an Islamic call to prayer.
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“I hope the audience gets hooked, because it’s so physical and entertaining,” Iovino says.
He's considering the big picture, too.
“We grow from seeing new art. It challenges us, and gives us a new perspective.”
Ballet Arizona performs Today's Masters through Sunday, March 25, at the Orpheum Theatre. Tickets start at $25, and are available at Ballet Arizona's website.