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  1. Here's an interesting blog post about costume designer Fabio Toblini, and how he worked with AD Ib Andersen in creating MSND costumes: https://blog.balletaz.org/designing-shakespeare-meet-fabio-toblini/ And an interesting excerpt on minor character Hippolyta: "I mentioned Hippolyta, well who is she? She is a queen, she is a slave, she has been captured, and now she is going to get married. If you look at the first few verses of the play, you have Theseus saying, and I am paraphrasing, “Oh don’t worry Hippolyta, I’ve killed all your family and all your people, but don’t worry because in a couple of weeks, I am going to marry you with great pomp, so be happy.” Um okay, so how’s that working for her? I think the Hippolyta I created is quite strange, but I wanted to show that because her background and circumstances are strange. For Act I, I made her exotic but without really knowing where she came from because I didn’t want her to fit, I wanted her to have her own strong look. And then in Act II, she is getting married and going to be the queen, so she needs a beautiful dress. For that, I was inspired by Queen Elizabeth II and a dress she had worn in the 1950’s. But those are the things you have to think about as you create and design characters and you do it for every single one." - Fabio Toblini More costume sketches here: https://blog.balletaz.org/designing-shakespeare-a-midsummer-nights-dream-costumes/ The show is February 13-16, 2020 at Phoenix Symphony Hall.
  2. The problem with new productions is that they, well, don’t exist yet. The visuals – costumes, sets, performances – all live (to varying degrees) within the creators’ minds – places generally difficult to access. (Just ask any marketing department!). In this case, Artistic Director Ib Andersen has already choreographed and presented A Midsummer Night’s Dream in the past, but this time around, it will feature completely new costumes and sets. Tidbits are starting to trickle out… If you’re very quick with your mouse, you can pause the promo video below, and see some photos of designer Fabio Toblini’s captivating costume sketches. It’s easy to spot Titania and Oberon, the Indian changeling, jaguar-spotted Hippolyta and the Duke, a couple of rude mechanicals, and lots of appropriately pint-sized fairies. YouTube MSND Promo Featured in the promo video is lithe, spare, and nimble Ricardo Santos, who seems a natural to portray Puck, although he’ll need to look slightly less gleeful, and a bit more devious in the actual show. (There can be little doubt that Mr. Andersen, the master of character portrayal, will see to this.) Here’s a promo photo of Ricardo/Puck in action, alongside Titania/Jill Barrell: Also new, and obviously a source of pride, is that costumes and sets will be produced in-house at Ballet Arizona’s Center for Dance. Mr. Andersen is quoted from the PV Independent: “We have never undertaken a project this massive in our own shops before, and it is something of which I am very proud.” “To witness what we are able to do and build here is beyond anything I ever thought possible. In our home studios each day, I coach our talented and beautiful dancers in rehearsals, work alongside our costume shop team made up of local artisans who are building more than 80 costumes from scratch, and work in our scene shop with the designers and production team to build the sets for this new production. To be able to create all of this within our very own walls is a ‘dream’ unto itself.” You can catch a Studio Spotlight preview of portions of MSND on January 31, 2020 at Ballet Arizona’s Dorrance Theatre. (Typically no costumes or sets, but almost always interviews and Q&A sessions.) Performances with the Phoenix Symphony are scheduled February 13-16, 2020 at Phoenix Symphony Hall.
  3. Sadly, four of Ballet Arizona’s dancers will not be returning next year – all moving on in different directions. Mimi Tompkins, who rose so quickly from neophyte to dance so many principal roles including Juliet, Aurora, and the Sylph, will be returning to school at Columbia in the fall. Amber Lewis and Jackson Dwyer are going to Hong Kong Ballet. We will dearly miss Amber’s on-stage (and off-stage) personality (especially as Gamzatti), and will always remember Jackson’s revealing portrayal of Apollo. Anna Grunewald will be moving to Miami City Ballet. Although Anna was with BAZ for only one season, she danced solo roles such as Songbird Fairy and Princess Florine in Sleeping Beauty. Read fascinating farewell interviews with all of these dancers at: https://blog.balletaz.org/a-bittersweet-goodbye/
  4. Napoli seems to be having a West Coast resurgence. BAZ did it in 2015, and Oregon Ballet just did it in October 2018. And now BAZ again in the fall of 2019. In 2015, BAZ used sets and costumes from Denmark. While these were the ultimate in authenticity, they almost led to disaster – at least for the sets. Coming by slow boat from Denmark, they got hung up in a longshoreman’s slowdown in Long Beach, and just barely arrived in time; the US premiere of Napoli was almost a disaster! (Costumes came by air, and so were not delayed.) Now, there are apparently sets and costumes in Oregon, which would undoubtedly be less expensive and more reliable to transport, albeit perhaps less authentic…
  5. Studio Spotlight attendees were given a peek at portions of Ballet Arizona’s upcoming premiere of Emeralds tonight. I have to say that I’ve watched the POB BluRay version and enjoyed it, but seeing it live and up-close in the Dorrance black box theatre really sent chills down my spine. Despite the lack of costumes or set, watching the elaborate pointe work of the corps and hearing the lushness of Faure’s Pelleas and Melisande during the Prelude was captivating. Arianni Martin and newcomer Luis Javier Corrales (both originally from Cuba) danced the lead roles. (It seems that AD Ib Andersen often gives leading roles to new arrivals – perhaps as something of a ‘sink or swim’ tactic?) The Nocturne was danced by a wonderfully ethereal Mimi Tompkins, who was partnered by a most attentive Randy Pacheco – I always find it engaging when the guy looks like his only reason for existence is ensuring that everything goes perfectly for his partner. To me, these two were perfectly matched for this very reserved section of the ballet. Also performed were sections of Theme and Variations, with Jillian Barrell and Nayon Iovino in the lead roles. In a post-performance interview, Ms. Martin pointed out that she had exposure to Theme and Variations at Ballet Nacional de Cuba, this being the only Balanchine ballet that was performed there - apparently because Alicia Alonso had danced it for Ballet Theatre during her time in New York. Ms. Martin will also dance the lead role in T&V. Also on the All-Balanchine program will be Square Dance. May 2-5, 2019 at Phoenix Symphony Hall.
  6. The evening presents a juxtaposition of extremes, from Bournonville’s most classic of ballets, La Sylphide (from the 1830’s), to Ib Andersen’s re-imagined The Firebird, set millennia into the future. Nevertheless, the dance throughout is classical or neoclassical ballet. And, of course, the music under the baton of Timothy Russell is complete and authentic. Mr. Andersen's Firebird uses most of the themes, story elements, and characters of Diaghilev’s original, but transports them to a futuristic time in another galaxy. The mythical bird has been replaced with an Alien form – a golden pillar of energy, able to control the actions of others. This Prince has a “Crew” on his voyage of exploration, and it is this crew that manages to subdue the powerful Alien. Although they are labeled “Warrior Princesses”, we are relieved to see that these Princesses do not seem particularly threatening, wearing lovely flowing white garb. The traditional Kastchei and his monsters, have militaristic replacements – far more visually appealing that the traditional ones. Such an ambitious re-imagining could easily have come off as tacky. Fabio Toblini’s costume designs dispel that concern. This Alien/Firebird is a pillar of golden energy – tall and slim, with a spare use of sequins that seem to radiate sparks. Gone are the mangy, ragtag monsters of Firebirds past; they’ve been replaced by sleek, futuristic automatons, their high-tech components actually riveted to their bodices. And evil Kastchei looms as a towering, hulking lord - dark, threatening, and armored. But when conquered, his armor is stripped away, and he is reduced to a withering, skeletal shell (all superbly acted by Ethan Price). Here’s a very short promo video showing Alien, militaristic Monsters, Princess, Alien again, and finally the Prince. https://www.instagram.com/p/BtwRVnYgRh8/ The story gets off to a rather slow start – with the Prince and his Crew laboriously exploring some sort of mysterious meteorite that has landed nearby. Things liven up once the Alien (Rochelle Anvik) materializes. Rochelle masters some devilishly frenetic choreography – mostly on pointe – portraying the Alien’s energy. The Princesses do perform the traditional game – this time tossing crystals. This is a delightful scene –seemingly consisting of random motion and play, but of course highly choreographed. And when the Alien coerces monsters and princesses to dance feverishly, the combined effect of the music, choreography, and costumes are spellbinding to watch. In the closing moments, to the accompaniment of some of Stravinsky’s most magnificent music, the Prince (Helio Lima) and Princess (Arianni Martin) are garbed with spectacular long, flowing capes and headgear. This is pure theatrics, but it works, and serves as a final crowning moment to the ballet. Both Helio and Arianni seem to ooze royalty from every pore – exhibiting magnificent poise on stage, and showing exquisite attention to every step. A massive stage-sized wrap-around rear projection screen provides the scenery. I love it whenever the curtain flies up, and the audience gives a collective gasp at the grandeur of the opening scene (always happens in Rubies). Michael Korsch’s opening inter-galactic visual drew such a response from the opening night crowd, with a very brief video hinting that someone must be travelling to distant galaxies. He uses video motion sparingly, but to great effect, such as when portraying the Alien’s energy with electric effects. And the forest/garden backdrop was especially fascinating – definitely arboreal in nature, but not of this earth. (Think perhaps of being inside of a tangle of giant mangrove roots.) All in all, the concept, costumes, choreography, and visual design, blended with Stravinsky’s exceptional score, make this Firebird one of the most exciting, innovative, and visually stunning ballets I have seen. Bring us more, Mr. Andersen! Also on the bill is La Sylphide. With Mr. Andersen having been raised on such fare from a tender age at the Royal Danish, this is undoubtedly a very authentic presentation. Jillian Barrell danced a wonderfully ethereal Sylph, to Nayon Iovino’s suitably infatuated James. BAZ fans will be delighted (or perhaps horrified) to see retired principal dancer Tzu Chia Huang (Cinderella, Juliet, etc.) cast in the character role of Madge the witch. Ms. Huang, who offstage is the gentlest of ladies, gave us a deliciously malicious Madge, whose every motion dripped evil. In the second act, I was delighted to see the quaint, yet elegant poses and lovely classic tableau of the sylphs – something just not seen in today’s ballets. The Firebird and La Sylphide will be performed at Phoenix Symphony Hall on February 14 through 17, 2019 with the Phoenix Symphony.
  7. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H7_7mmMzSb4 This 12 minute video documents many of the steps involved in creating a newly conceived The Firebird. It includes interviews with Ib Andersen (AD) and Maria Simonetti (Rehearsal Director), designers Fabio Toblini (Costumes) and Michael Korsch (Lighting), costume producer Eric Winterling, and dancers Helio Lima (Prince), Rochelle Anvik (Firebird/Alien), and Arianni Martin (Princess). There are some great sequences showing Mr. Andersen in his native environment (the studio) creating a new work and working with his dancers. Not much in the way of dancing here, but many costumes are modelled towards the end. There are a couple of great stills of the ‘monsters’ at about 7:30. (They go by very quickly – you’ll have to stop the video to appreciate them.) The video was created about 4 weeks prior to the scheduled premiere of the show, to show to a Ballet Arizona Gala audience. BTW, the sold-out Studio Spotlight mini-performance gave us a run through of roughly the first third of the choreography. Most interesting was the alien choreography – ultra high energy as danced by Rochelle, who makes for an appropriately tall, slim alien. No evidence of the birdlike movements of the Mariinsky's Firebird, which I enjoy, but would be out-of-place in this other-worldly environment. Compare Fabio's alien costume sketch to the real thing at 08:00 in the video: The Firebird and La Sylphide will be performed at Phoenix Symphony Hall on February 14 through 17, 2019 with the Phoenix Symphony.
  8. Below is the plot of Ib Andersen’s forthcoming other-worldly Firebird, as described in a recent marketing email. Mr. Andersen describes it as "sort of like Star Trek meets Lord of the Rings, maybe a little Game of Thrones, maybe a little bit of A Space Odyssey 2001". In a remote place, the Prince and his crew explore a strange and mysterious object. The men are captivated and intrigued by its existence. Energy and light begin to escape from the object, and an alien starts to materialize before them. The men, astounded by such a wondrous creature, attempt to capture her. Powerless against the group, the alien submits to their strength. The Prince, realizing her distress, helps revive her and allows her to regain strength. Fully restored, the alien leads the Prince away from his crew, transporting him to the world of the Immortal Kastchei and taking him one step closer to his destiny. In gratitude, she bestows upon him a gift – a magic crystal – that will call for her assistance should he ever need it. The alien then disappears, leaving the Prince to wander alone. Kastchei’s prisoners, the Princess and her tribe of warrior princesses, gather together for their daily recreation time under the supervision of Kastchei’s High Ranking Generals. While the women play, the High Ranking Generals fall asleep, leaving them unwatched. At this moment, the Prince suddenly stumbles into the group. As if drawn together by fate, the Prince and the Princess dance together and declare their love for each other. Lost in their own world, the two fall asleep in each other’s embrace. The group awakens and the High Ranking Generals discover the Prince and the Princess together. They rip them apart, seize the Prince and prepare to deliver him to Kastchei. Kastchei arrives with a horde of his monsters, people he has captured and enslaved who have lost their humanity under his spell. He is angered by the Prince’s actions and attempts to destroy him. The princesses beg for Kastchei’s mercy to no avail. The Prince suddenly remembers his gift from the alien and uses it to call for her presence. At the last moment, she appears. Using her energetic powers, she forces everyone to dance wildly, draining them of their will and controlling them until they collapse. Instead, the alien forces the High Ranking Generals to destroy Kastchei and tear him apart. With Kastchei’s death, his evil spell is broken and the land is once again free. Their destinies fulfilled, the Prince and the Princess are crowned and all at the ceremony rejoice. From Facebook, Fabio Toblini’s design for the Princess costume, modelled by Princess Arianni Martin: Also from Facebook, juxtaposition of the evening’s two works: The Firebird and La Sylphide (Mimi Tompkins and Jillian Barrell): A brief video to convince you this really will be different: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uguFqt_qgcM And a VERY brief interview with Designer Fabio Toblini, showing costume sketches: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7GUNAQydw6k The Firebird and La Sylphide will be performed at Phoenix Symphony Hall on February 14 through 17, 2019 with the Phoenix Symphony. The Studio Spotlight performance on February 1, 2019 will afford the first chance to sample the choreography of (hopefully) both works in the Dorrance Theatre (no costumes or sets). These one hour performances typically include interviews with dancers and artistic staff.
  9. One more production tidbit from Modern Luxury Scottsdale magazine: ‘Andersen is even hauling in a massive 120-foot-tall panoramic screen – think IMAX instead of Nijinsky - challenging the viewer to see ballet from a different perspective. “Hopefully, it’s going to be something that is very visually striking” he says.’ This is most likely referring to the LED video wall that Arizona Opera purchased last year and has been using as a full-scale animated video backdrop at Symphony Hall. Sounds like Ballet Arizona will be borrowing it for its Space Age The Firebird. The mind reels at the possibilities... (Note, the Opera's video wall is actually only 27’ tall (and 57’ wide). Symphony Hall would need to be demolished and rebuilt to accommodate a 120’ tall screen - probably not within BAZ's budget. Also, dancers in the gravity-defying photo at the above link are Amber Lewis, Ricardo Santos, Allejandro Mendez, Jackson Dwyer, and Alison Remmers, with an uncharacteristically zany Ib Andersen on the right.)
  10. Oboerin, here are a few belated thoughts on Sleeping Beauty... Regarding the Rose Adagio, two of the Auroras expressed their thoughts to the audience at the Sleeping Beauty Studio Spotlight preview. Jillian Barrell did indeed tell the audience that the Rose Adagio was not her favorite, and that it was a relief to get through it. (One can only imagine that it would be very stressful for any ballerina.) But, on the other hand, Arianni Martin, said that the Rose Adagio WAS her favorite and that she loved doing it!! I saw Jillian on a different night, and she pulled it off just fine. I agree with you that Amber Lewis was an outstanding Lilac Fairy. She is certainly very versatile, and she seems to typically be cast in the more athletic, more dramatic (e.g. Gamzatti), or more comic (sister in Cinderella) roles that seem made for her. For this show, I thought that she appeared spectacularly serene, confident, and all-knowing - a perfect Lilac Fairy. Another standout for me was Rochelle Anvik, in the role of Carabosse. Rochelle's Carabosse was deliciously evil. There was something about the way that she moved that exuded malice. This was especially clear as the other fairies surrounded her, imploring her to be kind. Her instantaneous switch in demeanor from saccharine to threateningly dismissive as she faced each fairy was superb.
  11. Drew, let me clarify my rather vague thought of the story being "traditional". What I meant to say was that it seems likely that all of the main character groups (princesses, monsters, prince, chief monster, etc.) will be there - possibly in different garb, but likely in similar roles, and with a relatively traditional story line, albeit set in the future. What we can glean at the moment from the costumes is that the traditional villains (monsters) are likely to be some kind of alien beings. Costumewise, this does not hurt my head in the least, since the monsters seem to traditionally be dressed as ragamuffins, neither visually appealing nor choreographically appealing. I'm thinking that these rather sleek alien outfits will be more visually appealing on stage, and will allow the choreography to not be hidden by the costumes. Personally, I think it has the potential to be quite spectacular. We'll see...
  12. When first announced, the mere mention of an all-new Firebird, choreographed by Artistic Director Ib Andersen, aroused great local interest. Indeed, Ballet Arizona fanned those flames (so to speak) by printing the most extravagant season brochure in memory, with a stunning photo of dancer Mimi Tompkins on the cover - featuring exactly what one would expect – a sumptuous flowing red feather/flame outfit. Well, almost a year has gone by, and it appears that the concept for the production has, well, matured, to say the least. Now, let it be said that Mr. Andersen is a dedicated and superb story-teller, having grown up in the Royal Danish Ballet, danced many of the major story ballet roles for RDB, NYCB, and others, and that he has also choreographed a raft of superb story ballets for Ballet Arizona. At heart, he is a traditionalist. Keep all that in mind when reading the following recent quote from him: “Fabio Toblini, our costume designer, was in town last week, and we defined many things while he was here. I have also begun choreographing. I think in 4 days I have already done 11 minutes (which is a lot). I am making The Firebird into an alien. I’m changing who the characters are. It’s sort of like Star Trek meets Lord of the Rings, maybe a little Game of Thrones, maybe a little bit of Space Odyssey 2001 (ha!). It is still undefined, but I will say they will land in a spacecraft and so you just need to use your imagination.” (from Turning Pointe Donor Report ) Ohhh. Kayyy. So it sounds like it’s shaping up to consist of 1) the Stravinsky score (for sure), 2) a more-or-less traditional story (probably), 3) more-or-less classical choreography (likely), and 4) an out-of-this-world setting and costumes (definitely!). With regard to aliens, BAZ has posted these photo tidbits: Alien/Monster costume sketch, with both male and female monsters: Fabio Toblini Monster Costume Sketch Alien/Monster women’s costume, with high-tech insignia and rivets: Various futuristic swatches for alien costumes: Swatches (click photos to see more.) Paired with The Firebird will be La Sylphide, with choreography by August Bournonville and staging by Mr. Andersen, who is clearly on home turf here. Odds are that this will be a spectacular evening. Hopefully BAZ will be providing more photos and info on Firebird/Sylphide once the holiday season is over. The earliest opportunity to get a peek at The Firebird and/or La Sylphide will be at the Studio Spotlight (behind-the-scenes) show on Feb 1, 2019, at Ballet Arizona Studios. (At $33 to $38, Studio Spotlight is one of BAZ's best kept and most affordable secrets.) The Firebird (World Premiere) and La Sylphide will be performed with the Phoenix Symphony at Phoenix Symphony Hall on February 14-17, 2019.
  13. This contributor seems to have inexplicably become ever-so-slightly addicted to Mr. Andersen’s Eroica. Why this should be wasn’t initially clear. The balmy evenings at the Garden certainly have helped, but there’s been lovely weather in past years too. And, of course, Mr. Beethoven also gets a giant slice of the credit for providing a dramatic and dynamic score, but that was the case for Topia also. Then if finally began to dawn on me why this particular show had such appeal. The first enticement is the casting. Uncharacteristically, the cast is the same every night. I believe that this is because Mr. Andersen choreographed Eroica precisely to the makeup of his Ballet Arizona company – the choreography fits his troupe like a glove. Whereas, for any other ballet, one might need to attend on several nights to catch the various leading couples, here they are all dancing every night. In addition, these leading couples are frequently dancing side by side, giving one the opportunity to take them all in at once – a rare opportunity to luxuriate in the best talent this company has to offer. Furthermore, all of the dancers in the company perform quite a bit, and with meaningful and interesting roles. Another allurement is the way in which Mr. Anderson deploys his male dancers. This is no Balanchine-esque ballet, where the men exist mostly to put the women on pedestals. The men are featured every bit as much as the women (perhaps more so) in pas de quatre, pas de six, and other configurations. But even more striking is that in addition to the expected allegro moves, the men are also given many fluid, rounded moves. At one point, a line of men make swishy S-shaped curves with their arms; the women are moving similarly, but the men are more prominent – they are (shockingly!) in front of the women. This is a decidedly non-classical move in a largely classical ballet. (It must be noted that this may be our last opportunity to see retiring dancer Annier Navarro perform. Mr. Navarro is one of the talented group that came to Ballet Arizona from Ballet Nacional de Cuba, after defecting during a tour to Mexico City. His obvious dedication to his art form, his cleanness of movement, and exemplary épaulement made him a constant pleasure to watch.) And one final note regarding the professed political nature of Mr. Andersen’s choreography. There can be no doubt that there are many instances of both men and women dramatically falling from high places (having been hoisted on the shoulders of others), but to relate these moves to political situations would require a far more sobering mindset than the artistry of the dancers, elegance of the costumes, and splendor of the venue would otherwise encourage. Perhaps I’m simple-minded, but I find myself attending simply to enjoy, and not to analyze. Eroica runs at the Desert Botanical Garden through Saturday, June 2, 2018. Given the only once-a-year opportunity to perform at the Garden, and the typical rotation with other works, it seems unlikely that Eroica will be repeated anytime soon. Falling from high places (photo Tzu Chia Huang): Roman Zavarov, Annier Navarro, Ricardo Santos, and Eric Hippolito (photo Tzu Chia Huang):
  14. Lynn Trimble of the Phoenix New Times writes: "The result is the dance equivalent of a complex abstract painting, executed with passion, and open to countless interpretations. Like many fine works of art, it beckons viewers to reflect on their own experiences and ideas, while hinting at the many layers of the artist’s own perspective." Full review here: http://www.phoenixnewtimes.com/arts/ballet-arizona-debuts-ib-andersens-eroica-at-desert-botanical-garden-10425446 You can still catch Eroica through June 2 2018.
  15. Finally, Ballet Arizona has released some photos by former principal ballerina Tzu Chia Huang. Samples below. Here's a link to the complete set on Facebook. Hopefully additional photos from company photographer Alexander Iziliaev soon to come... First Movement: Jillian, Ariani, Mimi, and Amber: Ariani/Alejandro, Jillian/Nayon, Amber/Helio: Final movement, full company:
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