As I’ve written before, my knowledge of ballet is limited. I’ve never studied dance nor taken any kind of ballet appreciation course. I’d never even attended a ballet before about 10 years ago. As such, my opinion about the quality of a production or a performance is uninformed. I can usually tell if something goes terribly awry. The audience response usually lets me know if something is particularly good. What lies between the two extremes eludes me. A “C-” performance looks pretty much the same as “B+” to my untrained eye. That said, I have learned a few things about my taste as an audience member. I may not have the words to articulate what I like but, like pornography, “I know it when I see it”.
I prefer pieces that are more abstract and less tied to a narrative plot. Ballets based on fairy tales or other stories spend a lot of time with the exposition movement needed to set the scene and tell the story in a medium without words. That is not to say I prefer modern dance to classical ballet movement, only that I enjoy the beauty, grace, and expressiveness of the movement when it is not attempting to communicate a linear plot. For that reason, one of the productions I await most eagerly each season is “Modern Masters”. This year’s production was all I’d hoped for. To my eye it was outstanding.
The first of the evening’s three pieces was choreographed by Alexi Ratmansky (1968- ) to Saint-Saens’ Le Carnaval des Animaux (1886). It was bright and energetic and very funny. Harper’s Other Dad particularly liked the Fossils. I most enjoyed the Roosters & Hens which portrayed the gender politics with a playful, free-spirited, seemingly adolescent style. I also liked the section Saint-Saens called “Personnages à longues oreilles” (Personages with Long Ears). That has less to do with the dancing, however. I just smile at the term ‘Personages with Long Ears’.
The second piece, and my favorite, was choreographed by Ballet Arizona’s Artistic Director Ib Andersen (1954- ) to Respighi’s Pines of Rome (1924). The Symphony performed Respighi’s symphonic poem recently so I was somewhat familiar with the music. The dance was athletic, modern, and very expressive.
The last piece was the most intriguing. Choreographed by Brazilian Nayon Iovino (dob unknown but young!) and set to Pink Floyd’s Echoes (1970), the piece was visually haunting. I was not familiar with this particular music, my Pink Floyd experience being, pretty much, limited to 1973’s Dark Side of the Moon, but I knew immediately it was Pink Floyd. The dancing was ethereal and every bit as impressive as the previous piece but I liked it slightly less because I found it set decoration unsettling. The dance opens with a large round piece of fabric at the center of the stage, picture a very large parachute. Between the abstract coloring, the lighting effects, and the dancers lying beneath it, the visual impression in very textural. The fabric is slowing lifted off the dancers until it hangs at the back of the stage, maintaining its circular shape. The movement of the dancers makes it move subtly and the movement is exaggerated by the lighting. At one point during the piece the center of the fabric is drawn back and up changing the shape from flat circular to something that was both billowy and suggestive of something anatomical. HOD and I spent some time after the performance discussing the possibilities. Objectively it was very dramatic but I found it disturbing and distracting.