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Masters of Movement performance 4/3 to 4/5


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#1 Krystin

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Posted 02 April 2009 - 09:29 AM

I just wanted to remind everyone that Ballet Arizona will be performing this weekend at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix. The show will include:

Polyphonia, a seductively intense ballet by Christopher Wheeldon, one of the world’s most sought-after choreographers.

Les Sylphides, a pure classical ballet that will take your imagination on a romantic journey, choreographed by Fokine and staged by Olga Evreinoff.

The Golden Section, choreographed by Twyla Tharp, set to music by David Byrne, “is a never-ending cascade of inventive motion, dancers flying, crashing, sashaying and swaying” – Arizona Republic.

I'll be at the matinee on Saturday the 4th, and I hope anyone in Phoenix will take the time to see this. This will be the Southwest premiere of Wheeldon's Polyphonia...I can't wait! Apparently the only other company west of the Rockies to perform this ballet is Pacific Northwest Ballet.

#2 Krystin

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Posted 06 April 2009 - 11:36 AM

Here is my review-- hopefully I'm not the only poster on BT who got to see this exceptional performance!

Ballet Arizona’s Masters of Movement program was a pure delight to watch. It was presented at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix, which is a wonderful old building with great character. If any ballet fans in Phoenix missed out on this run from April 3-5, I feel sorry for them!

I saw the matinee performance on April 4. The show began with Les Sylphides, which was staged by Olga Evreinoff. The corps dancers rose to the occasion in this ballet, and truly danced as one. Not only was the unison of the group impressive, but the dancers seemed to have the Romantic style of the ballet under complete control. Chelsea Wilcox performed the Valse variation with clean technique and charm. The real standout in this ballet to me was Kanako Imayoshi, who performed the female Mazurka variation. Her sweeping grand jetes had real energy and life. She seemed to eat up the vast stage in no time at all. Her great lines left me wanting to see more from her in other ballets. Ilir Shtylla proved to be a strong partner for Natalia Magnicaballi, although he seemed unsure in his Mazurka variation. Magnicaballi is a gifted classicist, which definitely suits her for ballets such as Les Sylphides. All in all, I thought the presentation of Les Sylphides was very nice, although I was really looking forward to the more modern Polyphonia that was next.

My expectations were far surpassed with this ballet. This was the Arizona premiere, and everyone in the audience seemed to love it! The choreography left me with hope for the future of ballet because Wheeldon’s work seemed to show that classical ballet movement can be done in a fresh way that reinvigorates and modernizes it. The matinee cast had Ginger Smith, Tzu-Chia Huang, Jillian Barrell and Kenna Draxton in the female roles. My eyes were continually drawn to Kenna Draxton, which may have had something to do with the fact that she was a head taller than the other female dancers. She gave a wonderful performance however, which made me understand why she was chosen even though she didn’t blend physically with the other dancers. Her movement was striking and her long limbs were a true compliment to the movement (I always seem to prefer tall dancers, however). Jillian Barrell gave a firecracker of a performance, and I look forward to seeing her in other works. I hope that Ballet Arizona is able to continue bringing world renowned work like Polyphonia to its audiences. It was a real treat for Phoenix to have access to such a brilliant work.

After being so impressed with Polyphonia, I was sure that I would be a bit let down by The Golden Section from the Catherine Wheel. Thankfully, I was wrong! Twyla Tharp is really a treasure, and her work in The Golden Section conveyed the energy and joy that dance brings to life. Despite the 70s-esque golden workout costumes, I couldn’t stop smiling while I was watching this performance. The music by David Burne from The Talking Heads was great, and I can’t imagine how much of a cardio workout the dancers got from this performance. Joseph Cavanaugh gave a commanding performance, and another tall male dancer, I’m not sure, but it may have been Roman Zavarov, was also impressive.

I left the theatre feeling uplifted, and the performance reminded me of why I have loved ballet since I was 3 years old. I am looking forward to BAZ’s next production in May, which is all Balanchine. We are very lucky to have such high quality dancers in performing in Arizona.

#3 Helene

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Posted 06 April 2009 - 01:58 PM

Thank you so much for your review, Krystin!

Roman Zavarov is about the same height as Joseph Cavanaugh, give or take a few inches, but has never struck me as being noticeably tall. According to the cast list on the website, the tall-tall men in this ballet were Ross Clarke and Ian Poulis (matinee, which you saw).

Clarke is also listed for "Polyphonia"; he and Zavarov both have straight dark hair. Poulis is more slender than Clarke, and his hair looks lighter and curlier.

#4 Krystin

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Posted 06 April 2009 - 02:15 PM

Thank you so much for your review, Krystin!

Roman Zavarov is about the same height as Joseph Cavanaugh, give or take a few inches, but has never struck me as being noticeably tall. According to the cast list on the website, the tall-tall men in this ballet were Ross Clarke and Ian Poulis (matinee, which you saw).

Clarke is also listed for "Polyphonia"; he and Zavarov both have straight dark hair. Poulis is more slender than Clarke, and his hair looks lighter and curlier.


Thanks for the info, Helene. I'm going to have to guess that the dancer I liked was Ian Poulis, because he had curly hair (I didn't put it together because the program showed Ian with short, straight hair).

#5 insider

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Posted 06 April 2009 - 06:51 PM

Masters of Movement

The show this past weekend was great! It was a mélange of the very classical, neoclassical, and an exhilarating, jazzy piece.

Les Sylphides was so much better in the theatre than in the studio. The sets and costumes and theatre atmosphere really make this piece spectacular. The dancing was always great but when the dancers get out on stage, they really up the showmanship. I was excited to see Magnicaballi and she did not disappoint. She was magnificent; it is like this ballet was made for her. Her solos and pas de deux were precise and delicate. Huang and Mahowald were also a treat. I wish I could have seen more of them dancing in this piece (although that may not have been possible for Huang, as she was rarely absent from stage, the entire show). Wilcox also shined; she is an emerging favorite of mine. Imayoshi seemed a little off in that particular show, still beautiful, just not her norm. Shtylla was disappointing, poor use of turn out, sickled feet, weak jumps, lazy beats, etc. He just was not my first choice. The corps was decent; they did not play a large part in this piece until the end but were definitely a beautiful moving backdrop that set the scene well. Certain dancers shined far above the rest Saari, Ham, and Wojtowicz. If Anderson is out there reading this, the audience wants to see more Wojtowicz! She has great technique and stage presence but never seems to be cast in any impressive parts. Some of the corps dancers were less than admirable like Stevens, if she were under my direction I would not let her go out on stage with those flat footed scurries. Fazzuoli just didn’t look the part of the frail sylph we are used to and was always a little off from everyone else whether it be her alignment or epaulement, I found her to be quite distracting. Looking back it appears that she has been a trainee for at least two years; apparently Anderson has noticed this too. Edelman was not her usual expressive self, she did well, but I guess I just expected more from her. Lastly, it seems like this very classical style is not for Barrell.

Polyphonia is a Christopher Wheeldon piece; it is abstract and odd, but definitely gets better every time it’s watched. It was wonderful to have at least part of the show with live music! My question at this point in the show was where are all of my favorite men in the company? Zejnati and Ross Clarke proved to have fantastic partnering skills. But, Zejnati seemed slightly disconnected from Huang throughout. Clarke did well too he just lacks something, not quite sure what. Huang danced superbly, I can never say enough about her. Draxton danced beautifully with her long sinewy limbs. I really enjoyed Smith in this piece. She was marvelous, expressive, acrobatic, plus she has turnout to spare. Marshalsay and Barrell were not my favorite. I did not enjoy their piece as much as the others. They are a good match for each other but it was not pleasing to my eye. Barrell has nicely arched feet but is deficient in turnout. When they were on stage together with no one else it was decent, but when next to other dancers they looked out of place. I feel like if I am going to see a professional ballet company’s performance, they should all look uniform in body type especially if they are going to wear costumes that are as unforgiving as these were. I do not think that Barrell has technique that is remarkable enough that would cause Anderson to overlook her body type. For men body type is less important as they are harder to come by.

And they went out with a bang...My favorite piece The Golden Section choreographed by Twyla Tharp was fun and lively. I loved it, unfortunately it was too short. Mitchell, Wojtowicz, Draxton, Bandera, and Cavanaugh all were fabulous! Huang, Smith, and Ross Clarke looked slightly uncomfortable in this style of dancing but it was still great. I was disappointed that I went to one of the shows that Wozniak was not performing in, his performance in the open rehearsal was so light hearted and funny. Wilcox really stood out in this piece as well, she was so vivacious. And there was of course my favorite the tall, muscular Zavarov. He has such grace and strength; he is an absolute joy to watch. There is nothing like gold velour bun huggers! ;)

#6 stinger784

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Posted 06 April 2009 - 08:08 PM

Thank you so much for your review, Krystin!

Roman Zavarov is about the same height as Joseph Cavanaugh, give or take a few inches, but has never struck me as being noticeably tall. According to the cast list on the website, the tall-tall men in this ballet were Ross Clarke and Ian Poulis (matinee, which you saw).

Clarke is also listed for "Polyphonia"; he and Zavarov both have straight dark hair. Poulis is more slender than Clarke, and his hair looks lighter and curlier.


Thanks for the info, Helene. I'm going to have to guess that the dancer I liked was Ian Poulis, because he had curly hair (I didn't put it together because the program showed Ian with short, straight hair).


Hmmm I don't have curly hair but I am tall and slender. If you tell me which part, I would be able to tell you who it was.

For the record, Zavarov's presence and height you speak of is how he holds himself on stage. He is only about 5'8".

#7 Helene

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Posted 06 April 2009 - 08:14 PM

Maybe I should have said "wavier" -- your hair doesn't look straight to me when you're onstage. Do I need new glasses?

Does Bandera have curly hair?

#8 stinger784

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Posted 06 April 2009 - 08:16 PM

Maybe I should have said "wavier" -- your hair doesn't look straight to me when you're onstage.

Does Bandera have curly hair?

Humberto does have curly hair but it shorter than Ross and I. When my hair is longer however, it is wavy, like I had it for Don Q.

#9 Helene

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Posted 07 April 2009 - 07:47 AM

It's unfortunate that Jerome Robbins chose Chopin's Prelude op. 28, no. 7 for "The Concert"; the piece elicits more than a few giggles as the short overture to "Les Sylphides", but when the curtain rises on the breathtaking opening tableau of Fokine's almost century-old work -- it will be 100 years old this June -- all thoughts of ladies in pale blue leotards with pale blue feathered hats (or Trocks, for that matter) are banished, and a moonlit world is illuminated when the dancers begin to move on the intimate stage of the jewel-box Orpheum Theatre.

Almost as exposed as a work by Bournonville, any unsteadiness, bobble, or effort telegraphs its way to the back of the theater and disrupts the illusion of lightness and clarity. It takes an exceptionally strong cast that can transcend technique and a corps that not only moves as one but breathes life into the tableaus to fulfill the promise of that great opening.

As staged by Olga Evreinoff, the Ballet Arizona corps did both. Without a story -- no transformed swans, rejected and vengeful Wilis, or posse of The Sylph -- the women had two things on which to rely: style and the score. With legs hidden by long romantic tutus, style was concentrated primarily from the waist up, with the type of shading and sublety not typical in the neoclassical and contemporary repertoire, and often missing from performances of classical and Romantic works. In this corps I saw soft arms, shading in the neck and shoulders, and most remarkably, soft hands and fingers, down to the fingertips. In three performances, a broken wrist was a rare sight. If I wished for more, it was a bit more ease in the way the heads sat on necks, but there was no doubt as to the commitment to the work.

In the matinee performances, Chelsea Wilcox, dancing the Valse role, was a grave and grounded presence, more Effy than Sylph in terms of weight, and she seemed to be focused more on technique than movement. She has a strong upper body, and she resisted every temptation to fudge, but this was more of a growth role than a fully realized interpretation. By contrast, in the evening cast, Michelle Mahowald's sculptural arms, hands, and shoulders, with many shades in epaulment and musical expressiveness took my breath away, and she, so lifted from the waist, danced with a lightness and effervescence, never once showing the work behind the movement. Natalia Magnicaballi, in the matinees, like many senior ballerinas in the main role, brought a presence and an elusive backstory, while in the evening, the company's junior ballerina, Ginger Smith responsed like a clean slate to the music's rhythm and flow. Magnicaballi danced to the beat, while Smith danced to the pulse. Where Magnicaballi was most musically informed was in her solo, where her expressive feet could have been playing the piano version of the Prelude. As the Mazurka soloist, Tzu-Chia Huang danced with lightness, ease, and refinement in the matinees, and Kanako Imayoshi danced with radiance and clarity, bringing air into what had been a bit constrained until that point.

Ilir Shtylla in the matinee didn't match Astrit Zejnati's elegance and technique, especially in his legs and feet, but what I liked particularly were his expressive arms and the way he responded with his face and shoulders to each of Magnicaballi's whispers and promises. The evening cast presented a fully realized performance -- by the middle of evening performance, I forgot that it was being performed to a recording -- while the matinee cast show a work in progress, with the notable exception of Imayoshi.

"Polyphonia" has been performed by many companies. I'd seen Pacific Northwest Ballet's version, but it took a second look with another company to prove why it has legs and that my initial impression wasn't based on specific performances: it is a musically specific and accomplished response to a beautiful and challenging piano score to music by Ligety. Here, it was more sensitively cast overall, with Smith (matinees) and Magnicaballi (evening) sharing the main role, both partnered by Ross Clarke. Again these two dancers gave very different responses to the same choreography. Magnicaballi's authority comes from her legs and feet, juxtaposed with a very still torso. I've never seen Smith dance anything other than from the center, radiating out to her limbs. Aside from the contrast that differences in height and frame bring, each dancer's movement quality illuminated different aspects of the choreography and the music. Clarke now dances neoclassical roles as if he were reared in them, and he was an equally fine partner to both dancers.

Tall, regal Kenna Draxton isn't often cast as the romantic lead, and it was moving to see her dance the pas de deux and solo to the most haunting, romantic part of the score, her long, beautiful legs and feet as impressive in soussus or bouree as she was in full, expansive arabesque and failli. As tall as her partner, Shtylla, on flat, she towered over him on point, and yet he remained just as strong a presence. Zejnati was paired with Huang in the lightest of the couples, the scherzo counterpoint, and Huang's more classical approach, upright and precise, was a good contrast to her partner and to the other women in the cast. One of the highlights was the section for two men, danced by Zejnati and Daniel Marshalsay, whose combined energy snowballed. Zejnati has a master jazz musician's timing, that split second precision that is like perfect pitch. Marshalsay gave a very dynamic performance partnering Jillian Barrell, who just crackled in their fast-paced pas de deux, full of weight shifts and instant direction changes, going from full throttle to stopping on a dime, and giving the dance an esctatic sense of play. Cameron Grant was the brilliant piano soloist.

If I had only seen Twyla Tharp's "Golden Section" (an except from the longer "The Catherine Wheel"), I would have thought that Tharp had no use for women. For much of the work, the women were in a bent-kneed hunch, any line obscured by Santo Loquasto's leg warmers, and Kenna Draxton, whose stature on point in the Wheeldon rose to the rafters, looked like the tall girl in junior high who's trying desperately to appear short. Much of the rest of the time, apart from the occasional solo, they were bounced off the men. By contrast, the men, who had the same array of bent-kneed chaines, looked expansive. Given the program, "Golden Section" provided much-needed roles for men in the company, and it was great to see Roman Zavarov, Joseph Cavanaugh, Humberto Bandera, and Ian Poulis (matinees)/Slawomir Wozniak (evening). Ross Clarke looked much more at ease in it than when the work was produced a few years ago, and it was a hoot to see him and Shtylla play air guitar. Who knew that the head-banded Shtylla, arms and shoulders all loosy-goosy and head bouncing like a bobble-head toy, could boogie like that?

I didn't see, though, how apart from the human wheels towards the end, the choreography was a specific response to the music by David Byrne. If there was pattern and structure, I couldn't find it: why these groupings? Why this movement, now? To what end is much more understandable: the dancers looked ecstatically happy dancing this -- they left everything on that stage -- and each audience rose immediately after the final blackout, greeting the dancers with an uproarious ovation. People bounded out of the theater, raving about the work, clearly energized. I love this music, which normally would have me wanting to dance in the aisles, but by the third performance, I felt pounded into submission.

#10 sandik

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Posted 07 April 2009 - 09:31 AM

I love Golden Section, and though I think it works fine as a stand-alone piece, seeing it in its context (as the apotheosis at the end of a complex, dramatic work) might make Tharp's choices seem more clear. She does seem to make some dynamite roles for men, and GS has a fair share of them, but I love the rush of action and the thrill of the virtuosity piling up as the work develops so much that I tend to gloss over what might be glitches in other pieces.

Ailey has been performing GS recently, and doing a fabulous job, as you might imagine. If you get the chance, see them!

#11 Arizona Native

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Posted 07 May 2009 - 06:53 PM

Yes, the “Les Sylphides” put me in mind of Bournonville, as well – particularly the adagio solo sections: the 120 degree en pointe arabesque with the slo-o-ow roll through to plie, the lovely line with raised leg suspended belying the tensile strength of unified muscle, ligament, tendon, and intention; the harmonic unity, the flattering and even ladylike white costumes similarly evocative. Lovely as it was, I can’t help but think this work is a bit of a waste for a company such as this, with so many accomplished women mostly relegated to providing lovely poses. And, what’s the use of having so very many strong male dancers, if they’re not put to use?

Speaking of strong men, sitting next to the pianist for “Polyphonia” was company dancer Nathan Vander Stoep, looking handsome in a tux, assisting Mr. Grant at the piano. Mr. Vander Stoep is himself a musician, playing locally in “Bones Southwest,” a trombone ensemble: http://bonessouthwes...player-bios.htm. Mr. Vander Stoep will not be returning to Ballet Arizona next year, unfortunately. His classical line, expansive jumps, strong and considerate partnering and all-around-nice-guy persona will be missed. The many fans of the vibrant Karen Wojtowicz, too, will be disappointed to learn that she is leaving the Company. Ms. Wojtowicz will become a full-time university student. I cannot help but feel that her true potential as a dancer has not been fully realized, even as I recognize that financial considerations have never allowed the number of performances that would be necessary to cast Ms. Wojtowicz (and others whose performances suggest they are fully capable of greater artistic opportunities) and also provide recognized principals with appropriate and deserved roles.

While Ms. Kaplan expressed surprise at seeing Ilir Shtylla bougie to David Byrne, I was amazed by Ginger Smith, who, heretofore, has so ably portrayed the ingénue. Gone was the romance of Giselle and Juliet: Ms. Smith was movin’, groovin’, and just plain sexy. As Roman Zavarov danced into her orbit, then, briefly, with her, they produced a magnetic moment, creating a force field suggesting great potential. Though this is not a pair I would have ever thought of, they looked uncommonly good once seen together, sharing intelligence, musicality, intensity, a feline beauty, surprising proportionality, and emotional depth. Ballet Arizona has yet to produce a pairing of great chemistry along the lines of the other larger, nationally-recognized companies. Perhaps this will be the pair.

See you this weekend at the Mother’s Day Weekend performances!


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