Friday, February 24, 2012

Ballet Arizona—the stage as artist's canvas

Ballet Arizona in Play. Photo by Kyle Froman

While it involves most of the senses, dance is very visual. So when someone like Ib Andersen choreographs, the results feel even more attentive to the entire visual experience. Andersen gained renown as a dancer with the Royal Danish Ballet and New York City Ballet, and is also a visual artist. He is now artistic director of Ballet Arizona, at the Joyce through the weekend with a program called Play, to a melange of classical music. 

As an introduction for those of us who'd never seen the company, Play began helpfully, if obviously, with rudimentary ballet steps done to the Mozart song that we know as "Twinkle Little Star" and that accompanies learning the alphabet. Pretty sparkly lights dangled up and downstage, and the dancers were cloaked in bright light (designed by Michael Korsch, who made ample use of cones of light throughout). Solos for each of the 10 dancers followed in this longish segment.

A primer of Andersen's style, each subsequent section varied in tone and complexity. In the first act, the dancers changed costumes for each of the five sections, wearing mostly some version of a leotard, augmenting a clear line. The most striking movement, to Britten, featured the 10 women in ecru leotards, linking raised hands and clustering and moving apart like an accordion. Their individual personas took a backseat to the crystalline formal arrangements vaguely reminiscent of Tudor's Monotones; the overall effect was compositionally stunning. Subsequent quartets and pairs emphasized, somewhat puzzingly, gymnastic moves, or the plasticity and dimensionality of two bodies snaking and intertwining.

The second act was a stand-alone unit of modules to Stravinsky, the dancers in bright pumpkin and teal (by Andersen, who designed all the costumes). Slightly more traditional in technique and affected gaiety, it showcased Andersen's fluency with the "connective tissue" of dance: entrances and exits and segues between phrases. 

It can't be easy for out of town companies to come to New York, where many of the finest dancers are seen regularly (paragon of perfection David Hallberg was in the audience, for crying out loud). But Andersen knows how to emphasize each dancer's strengths, and the company is extremely well rehearsed. Andersen's distinctive balletic voice created vibrant stage imagery that remains burnished in the mind.

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