Best of Phoenix

Best of Phoenix 2015: Ballet Arizona's Ib Anderson's Created the Site-Specific Topia Performance Piece

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If you like sameness, this is a good place, because things don't change that much. If you like intense things, this is also good, because there's a very intense summer. And then January seems pretty intense, too, because even though it doesn't get cold here, it seems cold to us because it's always so hot the rest of the time.

And yet, this is not an easy city in which to do anything cultural. Not because the audience is not here or is not interested. It's just that it's so hard to let people know what you're doing, maybe a dance performance or a production of some kind, because of all the sprawl. In New York, you're out walking, you see a sign that says "Ballet next week!" and you think, "I will go to that." Here, you need a billboard to drive by, to tell you what is happening tomorrow. The audience must always be seeking out their pleasure — looking, reading, keeping their minds on what the next performance is.

But, you know, I cannot complain about the audience here. They are very open to new things. They're not jaded; they haven't seen everything.

In New York City, it takes a lot to impress them because they may not have seen everything, but they might think they have. The audience here is very "with it" and also very hungry for culture. They are not easy to fool. I don't ever try to fool them, though, so I wouldn't know.

I think I moved here in 1997 or 1998. From Pittsburgh. I loved living there, but I didn't fit in. I moved there from New York City. I was there for 14 years, and it was a hard city to move to Pittsburgh from. I got a job offer with the Pittsburgh Ballet and I took it. But then I came here, and what I found was I was doing things inspired by the desert. By nature. You don't do that in Pittsburgh. How could you?

Here, I can do a whole production that is just about the desert. I am doing one like that at the Desert Botanical Gardens next summer. It's about the intensity of the light, the colors, the details in nature. I couldn't have done that anywhere else, be inspired by nature, as I am out here in the West.

I think everyone is affected by their surroundings, and ballet is a visual art. Every visual thing looks better in the kind of light you get here. The desert? What I like about it is the clarity the light gives, that lets things stand out here. Things that would look ordinary anywhere else look extraordinary here, because of that light. It's unlike light anywhere else in the world. That's what I like about it here. It's not the damn city. It's the light. — as told to Robrt L. Pela

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela