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Ballet Arizona - Valentine Fire Program

‘Indigo Rhapsody,’ ‘Ave Maria,’ ‘Sinatra Suite,’ ‘Paquita, Act III’

Red Hot in the Sonoran Desert

by Dean Speer

February 18, 2005 evening -- Orpheum Theatre, Phoenix, Arizona

What a delight and thrill it was to see Ballet Arizona for the first time. We flew in from cold and sunny Seattle, where the skies have been clear for way too long, to rainy Phoenix in the middle of the true desert. Somehow we got our weather patterns reversed but not our love of the ballet and of the strong presentation Ballet Arizona made on the stage of the historic and restored downtown Orpheum Theatre.

From the first tendu in Artistic Director Ib Andersen’s “Indigo Rhapsody”, set to Rachmaninov’s famous Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, op. 43, I knew we were seeing a solid ballet company of beautiful dancers and one that was in a work by the “house” choreographer that showed off the strengths of the Company men and women.

The men began the work and were soon joined by the women in a motif of steps based on fundamental ballet body positions – croisé, effacé, a la second, a la second repeated with half turns that cleverly brought the dancers back to en face. From there, Andersen built his work.

My only suggestion was that I found the lighting to overly designed and really felt it came into its own only during the adagio section when the backdrop became lit with an ochre color and a couple of black bands or legs came down. Then I felt the stage properly dressed for this ballet. Otherwise, I found it sometimes too dark and not really matching the design of the dance.

Andersen returned to his theme, finishing the ballet with a tutti section and confirming this is a company of strong and experienced dancers.

“Ave Maria” (1995) by Dwight Rhoden was clearly a hit with the audience. Set to a tape of a countertenor singing this famous music, this pas de deux is a showcase and featured Paola Hartley and Astrit Zejnati. While it could perhaps have represented an Adam and Eve, Mr. Zejnati later told us that the stager, Christina Johnson, said the male was an angel helping the Mary figure. Full of unusual shapes and partnering moves that were quite athletic and lovely and very kinetic.

Twyla Tharp’s well-known “Sinatra Suite” was fun to see live for the first time. I remember first seeing this in a Dance in America broadcast many years ago and more recently on video tape. Ballet Arizona was very fortunate in being able to have one-half of the original cast stage it for them – Elaine Kudo. It was just as I had remembered it and more. Lisbet Companioni and Michael Cook really got into the skin of these five songs [“Strangers in the Night,” “All the Way,” “ That's Life,” “My Way,” and “One for My Baby (and One More for the Road”) and particularly Companioni “got” the flavor of the style that Tharp I believe was after. My only wish is that I’d like to see Tharp put in a reprise of “Strangers in the Night” as the ballet just cries for a this, making what I believe would be a stronger choreographic finish than only the male solo “One for My Baby.”

The evening concluded with the famous last-act of the full-length Petipa ballet, “Paquita,” lovingly staged by Olga Evreinoff, with costumes and scenery on loan from Pacific Northwest Ballet, which were designed by former Kirov Ballet head, Oleg Vinogradov. It was clear from her pre-performance remarks that Evreinoff has put a lot into the staging of this ballet beyond merely teaching steps and patterns.

“Paquita” is the ballet where legend has it that Mathilde Kschessinskaya ran into Pavlova in Paris once and remarked that they should revive “Paquita” with Pavlova in the ballerina lead. “With you in front and all of us behind you.” (Kschessinskaya was the first Russian ballerina to do 32 fouettés and was the mistress of the Czar. She later taught for many years in Paris.)

The dancers were in good form and had the right bouncy “feel” and look, being coached by Evreinoff. Natalia Magnicaballi and Zejnati were well-paired as the lead couple. When I first saw Magnicaballi early on turn solidly – and to the right – I thought, “Good! Turning is no problem here.” And that was true. I was surprised that she chose, however, to do her 32 fouettés of the coda finale to the left and seeming to get a late start, didn’t appear to me as confident and, yes, the fouetté counter was on and logged in at 27. I enjoyed Magnicaballi’s phrasing and attack and sense of classical style and performance. Zejnati hit his stride in Paquita, showing his beautiful and remarkable line and his elegance as a true first-rate dancer of noble carriage.

I always liked the pas de trois, including the arabesque hops voyagé they do together, changing diagonals and port de bras. Full of charm, zest, and wit. Giving us their best – all in red tutus and tunics – were Lisbet Companioni, Bryce Corson, and Paola Hartley. This version has only two female solo variations (there are four as I recall, not including the ballerina variation from the pas de deux) which were brightly danced by Kenna Draxton in 1st Variation and Giselle Doepker in 2nd Variation.

I so thoroughly enjoy what I call the rumbling finale with the women making very fast, running coupés en pointe and doing some major traveling, with arms up in fourth position. Totally fun.

It was a memorable rendition given by a company that shows the promise of becoming one of the Southwest’s premier ballet companies. I’m just sorry that I didn’t get the chance to see other performances of a program that really showed the range of what this Company can do and offer to their audiences, and to enjoy alternate casts – but look forward to seeing this Sonoran Desert based company again in the near future.


Edited by Staff.

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