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Arizona Republic Critic Richard Nilsen Retires

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Arizona Republic critic Richard Nilsen is retiring, and for his final piece, he paid tribute to what he called his "transcendent moments." Ballet Arizona is among them:

Since Ib Andersen took over Ballet Arizona in 2000, the company has been the single best artistic entity in the Valley, better, really, than Arizona deserves.

But three dancers in particular have given me the greatest thrills. I will miss them more than anything else I leave behind me.

Natalia Magnicaballi (pictured left and center) is magic onstage. Long and leggy, she has the kind of stage charisma that others would kill for. Etched in my brain as the quintessence of grace is her role in George Balanchine's "La Sonnambula," gliding en pointe, backward, as if on ice skates.

But there's also Paola Hartley (pictured right), who may not have the unstudied grace of Magnicaballi, but has the most perfect sense of art. She knows each part to the bone and manages to find the expressive equivalent. Her dying swan from "Swan Lake" left the audience believing she actually was a swan: Her arms were perfect.

Both dancers are technically sharp, but technique gets you only so far. Each has a different route for elevating technique to art.

Finally, Astrit Zejnati never has given anything less than a perfect performance: committed, graceful and grown-up. This last has less to do with age and more to do with inner strength. One doesn't often think such things in the world of ballet, with its emphasis on youth, but maturity gives a role gravitas. One senses that Zejnati will never miss a lift, never fail his partner, but what's more, will always create a character as he dances. He is a joy to watch.

I'm not sure that Ballet Arizona is better than Arizona deserves, but in it's own way, it's as good as it gets.

I was lucky, too, to have seen that "Semele".

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Twice, and too briefly each time.

I remember once when he subbed for our adult ballet class teacher one Saturday morning. Long used to short, perfunctory adagios, the class performed short, perfunctory adagio, but he would have none of that, and demonstrated the emotional flow by using the metaphor of weather in Seattle. It was a lovely class.

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