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Ib Anderson, Artistic Director, Ballet Arizona

Journey to the desert

by Dean Speer and Francis Timlin

May 2005 -- Phoenix, Arizona

We met with Ballet Arizona’s Artistic, Director Ib Andersen, during a break between shows in his under-the-stage dressing room, at Phoenix’s historic and restored Orpheum Theatre.

DS/FT:  Thanks for meeting with us. It’s our first time seeing Ballet Arizona and would like you to please tell us a little about the Company and in particular your journey from Denmark to Arizona via the New York City Ballet.

IA:  I started ballet at the age of 7 with the Royal Danish Ballet and was there until I was 25. I was invited by Mr. Balanchine to join the New York City Ballet in 1980 and stayed there as a dancer for ten years. After I quit full-time dancing at NYCB, I free-lanced some and began to choreograph in 1987 for my home company, the Royal Danish Ballet. I did some free-lance choreography for three years following that and was then later a balletmaster for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre for two years. I then moved to Arizona for a change of scenery – literally! [laughs] I took the Artistic Director job in 2000 and so have nearly completed my fifth season at Ballet Arizona.

Tell us about some of the changes you’ve implemented as well as some of the challenges you have encountered.

The company has almost completely changed from what it was – both in terms of repertory and of personnel. When I came there was no Executive Director and during my first week with the dancers, it was announced to me that we needed to raise $500K in short order or fold the Company. There was over a $2M deficit! I’m very proud and happy that in four and a half years, that’s been reduced to about $6,000. Trying to grow the budget and reduce the deficit at the same time has been a struggle.

What’s your vision for the future of Ballet Arizona?

I don’t want it to be a humongous company – about 50 dancers would be fine (there are now 30). I think it’s hard to keep the connection with individual dancers when it becomes larger. It gets too corporate. Of course, I want dancers that are as good as possible and to have choreography that looks both forward and back.

We need to nurture audiences and it’s both an educational and intuitive process. This goes slower than I’d like it to be, but I need to be realistic too. Phoenix is humongous. There is only one newspaper, no central city. It’s not an easy place for marketing. One of the challenges is how to reach people, as it’s so different from a traditional urban environment. And people don’t read papers as much as they used to.

The Orpheum Theatre is beautiful and I’ve read that you’re returning to Symphony Hall next season. Could you please expand?

Yes, it’s a question of venue. The Orpheum is a very intimate space; it seats only 1300 whereas Symphony Hall seats about 2,500. We’re in the Orpheum right now because of the construction of the new wing of the Arizona Convention Center. Symphony Hall is also being re-done as a part of this project, with improved acoustics. The Orpheum orchestra pit seats only 25, so it was a challenge finding the right instrumental orchestration for Nutcracker, which we did and I think it worked okay. And because seating is smaller than our normal home at Symphony Hall, we had to do 32 Nutcracker performances, rather than 25.

Live music?

We’re having to dance to tape right now, which I hate as it’s just not the real thing, but I felt like we had a choice of either dancing to tape or not at all. We’ll be going back to live music soon.

To help publicize and support the upcoming Bournonville Festival this Spring, it’s been requested that we ask you some specific questions about this aspect of your background. What are some of your favorite Bournonville ballets?

Oh, there are so many! I like "Kermesse in Bruges,""La Sylphide," Also "A Folk Tale," "Napoli," and "Far From Denmark."

I grew up dancing there from the age of 7 and the Company was packed with true artists, all dead now. It was an amazing period. True artists are very, very rare and Royal Danish Ballet had more than a few!

Have you seen or participated in past Bournonville Festivals?

The first one was in 1979 but went to my first one in 2000. I don’t have too much of a connection with the Company now. I thought there had been a big change. They have gone to referring to written-down notes which, while these can record steps, cannot convey how it should be done, which is to express the joy of life. It’s about exuberance. There is an enormous humanity to the work. It’s not so much about correct steps and arms – if the spirit is not there, it is nothing. Bournonville danced that way is unique in the ballet world. It needs someone there who can inspire. There are still some “golden period” dancers from the generation before who could lend authenticity.

Ballet Arizona recently did "La Sylphide" here?

Nikolai Hübbe staged it for us. It’s not a typical Bournonville ballet. Previously, we’ve done "Konservatoriet" which is a great educational tool for the Company. One difference between Bournonville and Balanchine ballets is that Balanchine is very “with” the music, while Bournonville is more about going over the music. Both connect with the music but with a different effect. The accents, phrasing and timing are unique to Bournonville.

Julia Adam was originally announced as doing a new work for you ...

That’s being rescheduled for the future as she’s expecting a baby.

Speaking of the future, what’s in the works for Ballet Arizona?

The School needs a new building. There are currently only three studios and they are shared with the Company. It’s a big work in progress. We took over the School only a year or so ago. Historically, in recent years, the Company’s financial condition was dragging the School down, so they separated. We’re now getting back together. I believe you cannot have a company without a school; they are interdependent.

Tell us about your work as a visual artist and has this aspect of your creative “eye” influenced your choreographic work?

I’ve been painting for 30 years and even had a studio in New York. I like the extraordinary light here. I see more colors here than anywhere. Sure, my eye as an artist has very much influenced me as a choreographer. I would probably not use space as I do without being a painter.


Edited by Staff.

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