George Balanchine once opined, "In my ballets, woman is first. . . . They are not equal to men: They are better." Well, the old Russki would be proud, as Ballet Arizona's celebration of the legendary choreographer's 100th birthday spotlights women -- one woman, to be exact: Yen-Li Chen-Zhang. The 36-year-old Taiwanese ballerina, who toe-shoed the dance company line for more than 12 seasons, takes the stage for the final time at the event. While she won't participate in the festival proper -- which consists of two distinct programs of such Balanchine standards as Slaughter on 10th Avenue and Prodigal Son -- Chen-Zhang closes out the weekend with a Sunday-afternoon performance dedicated to her. She'll pirouette and promenade to the Russian master's Serenade and Theme and Variations alongside husband Qisheng Zhang, who retired from the company in 2001.
Chen-Zhang believes Balanchine's works provide the perfect swan song for her career. "He was a master, and his work is amazing and very beautiful," she says. Ballet Arizona artistic director Ib Andersen, one of only a dozen surviving protgs of Balanchine, helped her surpass her boundaries during his tenure. "Ib is more of an artist, but he pushed me in the technique and made me even better," says Chen-Zhang, who'll now focus on her ballet school in Chandler. "I'm just looking forward to a normal life," she says. "I've always enjoyed teaching and seeing girls understand and dance." All work -- and some pli -- make Zhang a happy girl.
Performances run Thursday, June 3, through Sunday, June 6, at Symphony Hall. Tickets are $7 to $62. Call 602-381-1096 or see www.balletaz.org. -- Benjamin Leatherman
Catch some animal flicks at the zoo
The chimps have donned their bow ties and cummerbunds. The big cats behind the counter have refreshments ready. And the elephants, naturally, have cleared the aisles of all trash, gum and assorted filth. The Phoenix Zoo, 455 North Galvin Parkway, has the animals in on the act Friday, June 4, when it premières "Zoovies," featuring the film Brother Bear, with gates opening at 7 p.m. So haul the blankets to the zoo's lakeside lawn, where "up close animal encounters," music and games await. But be patient if the projectionist's a little slow out of the gate -- we hear he's a real sloth. Call 602-273-1341 or see www.phoenixzoo.org. --Joe Watson
Wine tasting raises charity funds
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Ever wasted money on a crappy bottle of wine? Taste it first at the ninth annual Festival of Lights Wine & Beer Tasting in Ahwatukee, where Alliance Beverage Company provides an international selection of new brews and fine wines. Local restaurants offer appetizers, while dentist turned rocker Dr. Ron entertains with his band the Painkillers. Last year's festival brought out nearly 800 people, and a portion of proceeds will be donated to the Melonhead Foundation, an organization that provides support for children with cancer. The soiree begins at 7 p.m. Saturday, June 5, in the Foothills Golf Course Clubhouse, 2201 East Clubhouse Drive. Tickets are $35 to $40. Visit www.festivaloflightsaz.org. --Niki D'Andrea
Bob Edwards does a book signing on June 7
Forgive Bob Edwards if he seems a little sluggish on his new book tour, which brings him to the Frank Lloyd Wright Ballroom of the Arizona Biltmore, 2400 East Missouri, at 7 p.m. Monday, June 7. After all, it's been just a few weeks since the National Public Radio broadcaster left the show he launched back in 1979, Morning Edition, which had him waking up at 1 a.m. every day. Edwards' latest book is about a fellow broadcasting pioneer -- Edward Murrow and the Birth of Broadcast Journalism. So don't blame the guy if he's yawning at your autograph request -- we're sure it's nothing personal. Tickets are $15, $7.50 with book purchase. Call 480-730-0205 for more information. -- Joe Watson