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Jack Reed

2016 All-Balanchine program, Symphony Hall, Phoenix May 5 - 8

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Thursday May 5 at 7 pm

Ballet Arizona opened their Balanchine weekend rather carefully last night, like someone might open an unfamiliar package, and there was a dutiful quality, a sense of showing what they’ve learned in the studio, and less of a quality of showing us what they hear - how the music is telling them to move, now. (We could see how the choreographer heard his music, and, as usual with Balanchine, that’s fascinating.)

What these performances need is more “blood,” more boldness, more flow; detail was abundant, but not so much an organic outgrowth of these dances. This was opening night for this program, though, and maybe with more confidence, it will expand, and more abandon, just verging even on a little recklessness, will appear.

I will say that Arianni Martin, in the role of Terpsichore, was rightly cast: The best of the evening. More “plastic continuity” of flow, with some cumulative effect as a result, and no loss of or glossing over the details along the way, either. And the pas de deux in last night’s Apollo (with Roman Zavarov in the big title role) had a welcome, unusually playful tone.

(Apollo was staged by Ib Andersen, the remainder by Ben Huys; Huys, incidentally, might be seen dancing in an old video of last night’s opening ballet, Walpurgisnacht Ballet with the superb Kyra Nichols and excellent Nicole Hlinka.)

But otherwise in Symphony Hall last night, there was often a more static effect of taking positions and moving to the next one, not to mention a general smallness, throughout the evening.

(This was, thankfully, the original version of Apollo, although there were some minor “reinterpretations” in the form of lighting in the short initial “birth” scene which isolated Leto and her abstracted “labor” movements (not so intense as we sometimes see) high above the stage, the rest of the space below invisible in complete darkness, until the infant Apollo appears in his swaddling clothes and the handmaidens, called “Nymphs” this time, come to unwrap him; and also later in the use of a realistic gold lute in place of the symbolic white one used originally.)

But I can always quibble; and these performances do show many of the virtues of these superb ballets - the latter two, arguably, great ones. If the opening Walpurgisnacht Ballet didn’t gleam with the life of the Suzanne Farrell Ballet’s rendition last Fall (nor did it have soloists near the caliber of that old video I mentioned above, or even of TSFB's cast), their Symphony in Three Movements stands comparison with the Miami City Ballet’s I saw last Friday, for fine detailing and finish to the phrasing as against MCB’s more full-blooded but currently glossed-over and clipped treatment of the movement (but it would have a harder time in comparison with MCB’s former power in this).

Alistair Macaulay’s remark about Ib Andersen’s company’s place among the Balanchine diaspora, that it “ranks among the most significant,” quoted on BA’s web site, still seems to me judicious and apt.

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Friday May 6 and Saturday May 7 evenings and Saturday May 7 matinee

The event of the weekend for me so far was Natalia Magnicaballi’s Terpsichore in Apollo at today’s matinee: Large, clear, yet with a certain luxurious soft luminosity; and with her partner, Jackson Dwyer, possibly taller than Roman Zavarov in the other cast, but more importantly, with knowledge of what to do with that length of torso and limb beyond Zavarov’s, they were a pair on such a level that the play in the pas de deux became, appropriately, "the gods at play." They are cast in Sunday’s matinee as well.

And to put what I said above into perspective, in general, the dancing in these performances is on such a level of beauty and clarity, especially with respect to completion of phrase, if not as energetic as I’d like, that the frequent instants of stasis, of loss of forward flow - just instants - are the more noticeable as lapses.

And it struck me that in the evening cast, Amber Lewis, the demi in Walpurgisnacht Ballet, danced with more lovely flow and appealing vitality than Mimi Tompkins, the principal. (Not that their parts are equal, the demi is much smaller; but I would like to see Lewis have a go at the principal role next time around.)

(Sometimes there's a little fun at the applause. Not so important to note as the outstanding qualities of some of the dancing, but Magnicaballi teased one flower from her bouquet and handed it to Dwyer, a traditional gesture which looked quite genuine this time, in view of the quality of his performance. But he found himself short of hands as the four leading dancers joined hands downstage to accept our applause together. So he quickly put the stem of his flower in his teeth, to the amusement of many of us, not least Magnicaballi herself.

And I soon gathered that this was Dwyer's first solo role! Nothing like starting your carer at the top, and well worth a little fun in celebration of it.)

Edited by Jack Reed

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(This was, thankfully, the original version of Apollo, although there were some minor “reinterpretations” in the form of lighting in the short initial “birth” scene which isolated Leto and her abstracted “labor” movements (not so intense as we sometimes see) high above the stage, the rest of the space below invisible in complete darkness, until the infant Apollo appears in his swaddling clothes and the handmaidens, called “Nymphs” this time, come to unwrap him; and also later in the use of a realistic gold lute in place of the symbolic white one used originally.)

Fortunate you -- we used to see this version (at Pacific Northwest Ballet) but now we have the stripped-down Apollo.

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