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Ib Andersen's Eroica to Debut at the Desert Botanical Garden

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Back in March 2018, Ballet Arizona announced the upcoming world premiere of Ib Andersen’s site-specific Eroica – An Evening at The Garden, to be performed al fresco at the Phoenix's Desert Botanical Garden. The work will be fashioned around Beethoven’s Third Symphony. The press release provided this scant information on the ballet itself:

The work…challenges conventional expectations and reawakens the human spirit in an immersive tribute to the past, present, and future. Eroica promises to be one of Andersen’s most important works, pushing the boundaries of ballet and pursuing a deeper understanding of what it is to be human today.

“I hope that people come out of this experience with a lot of different ideas and feelings,” Andersen said. “Eroica is going to be a very visual show, one that leaves you with an uplifting message in the end, with hope and trust in humanity.” Andersen is deeply passionate about the work, his response to the divisive influences seen in today’s world.

Since then, someone at BAZ has cornered the typically taciturn Mr. Andersen, and coaxed these more candid comments out of him, published in BAZ's Blog:

“It is literally about the music – Beethoven's Third Symphony is so complex. It’s easy to listen to and be moved by, but to understand the structure is not easy. I am not sure I even really understand it! But I like that element of it. When it was written, it was revolutionary. Over 52 minutes long – the emotional content and level of complexity just hadn’t been done before.

Eroica's choreography is about the past, present, and hopefully about the future. To a degree it is about our current political climate. The 1st and 2nd movements have the most meat and complexity including a funeral march. Then the 3rd and 4th movements are much more uplifting. They are a confirmation or belief that in human nature, good will survive over bad. This is not a story ballet, it’s an emotional ballet. I want to connect on an emotional level. I want you to be moved and not even understand why you are feeling that way.

“I am super excited about this one. I honestly don’t understand how I did this. For me, I created this very quickly – it just sort of poured out of me. And I trusted what I did. I think it’s because I’m so damn old. (Ed: He's a very young and spry 64.) I go with my instinct now more than ever. I don’t second guess my intuition as much. Now you just have to come and see!”

Mr. Andersen's past works at the Desert Botanical Garden have include Topia, performed on an 80 foot wide stage to Beethoven’s Sixth (Pastorale), and Round, performed literally ‘in the round’ on a circular stage, with audience seated on all four sides. From the seating map, Eroica appears to feature a more traditional size/shape stage.

Eroica will debut on Tuesday, May 15, 2018, and will be performed Tuesday through Saturday evenings, starting at sunset, for three weeks.

Both table and grandstand seats are available. Attendees can make an evening of it by arriving early, and enjoying dinner and wine at your table while watching the dancers take class onstage as the sun sets behind them. Performances usually start shortly after sunset, once the stage lighting can be effective. Attendees typically dress very casually.

Here are some photos of past performances Topia at the DBG: http://balletaz.org/gallery/topia/. (BTW, some of these photos show photos of recently retired dancer, Natalia Magnicaballi. The photos are several years old.)

And this page has some videos of Topia from several years back. These can provide a good idea what the DBG performances are like: http://balletaz.org/media-center/video/. (Note: Some of the video links do not work - not my fault!)

And finally, a photo from Topia (dancers Jillian Barrell(?) and TBD, photo by Rosalie O'Connor):


Edited by fiddleback
Updated link to a more direct reference.
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Here are a few quick notes from opening night of Eroica. (Note that this contributor does not consider himself to be a dance reviewer, per se, so will stick to the more objective aspects of the experience, and leave the dance description and evaluation to others.)

Overall experience: Sometimes I will see a ballet and say to myself ‘there’s so much that I didn’t understand; I’d like to revisit it, in order to understand it better’. While I did not get that feeling here, I did feel that ‘I sure did simply enjoy the total experience, and I would really to see it again’. I think that is one way of saying that Mr. Andersen’s choreography has risen to the occasion of illustrating a massive Beethoven score, at the very least at a ‘see the music’ level.  In addition, the tasteful integration of the Garden’s landscape as part of the set was much more significant than in past years.

The ‘Set’ consisted of a number of plain white columns somewhat randomly placed at the back of the stage. To a limited extent, various textures were projected onto the columns, but to a greater extent, they seemed to provide a dividing line between the human emotions being expressed on the stage and Nature – the lush desert landscape just behind the stage. The foliage was close enough to allow it to be well lit, but far enough to provide a spaciousness unachievable in any theatre. Brilliant splotchy patterns projected onto the landscape during the second movement gave the stage an unusually three-dimensional look, and oddly (for the desert) gave the appearance of snow-dusted trees. At another point in the second (funereal) movement, spotlights circled the garden, like spirits on the fly, with the dancers’ gaze following their journey. In a theatre, this would have been tacky, but at the garden, it gave a wonderful sense of the expanse of the venue.

The costumes were for the most part very simple – women in pale blue leotards with a dark sash under the bust, and men in matching briefs. But the women were wearing large diaphanous black shoulder puffs with the slightest bit of glitter, which I found quite fascinating and attractive.

By the way, it appears that casting is the same for every night if the run. Looking forward to others’ thoughts on the show…

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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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Choreographing to Beethoven is always risky, but your report (and the photos) makes this sound a very enjoyable evening.  The desert setting sounds pretty wonderful too....

Edited by Drew
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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.

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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):33046830_10156372973139938_8981136748943

Roman Zavarov, Annier Navarro, Ricardo Santos, and Eric Hippolito (photo Tzu Chia Huang):33101835_10156372973324938_2859254965552

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