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3/24-27: Ballet Arizona offers contemporary works

The Arizona Republic, by Richard Nilsen

Each season, Ballet Arizona gives over one program to contemporary choreography. This year, it’s “Modern Masters,” a catchall title for a program that spans the distance from contemporary dance to classical ballet.

Ballet Arizona: ‘Modern Masters’
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday, March 24, 8 p.m. Friday, March 25, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday, March 26, and 2 p.m. Sunday, March 27.
Admission: $17-$121.
Details: 602-381-1096, balletaz.org.

“I believe when you create a program, it’s like making a good meal,” artistic director Ib Andersen says. “You have to have all these different elements to be satisfied. You are going to end up leaving the theater fulfilled. Not stuffed.”

The evening begins with a first-course reprise of Christopher Wheeldon’s “Polyphonia,” which the company first presented in 2009. Wheeldon was resident choreographer with the New York City Ballet when he made the dance, and it is set to 10 piano pieces by gnarly Modernist Gyorgy Ligeti.

“It’s about playing with the different aspects of what makes modern ballet modern,” Andersen says.

When he came to Arizona to teach “Polyphonia” in 2009, Wheeldon said, “I wanted to challenge myself with music I was both fascinated by and terrified of.”

Ballet Arizona’s final course is an Arizona premiere of a new dance by Alejandro Cerrudo, called “Off Screen.”

“Alejandro’s piece is very intense and very grounded,” says dancer Paola Hartley, who will perform it with six other company dancers. “The difference between ballet and modern is that everything is closer to the ground in modern, which can be hard for a ballet dancer.”

Cerrudo is choreographer for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, a modern dance company in the Windy City. “Off Screen” plays with movie music (from “Pan’s Labyrinth” and “There Will Be Blood,” among others) and was described by one Chicago critic as “like

spending a day at the multiplex, moving from one theater to another.”

Between these two, Andersen offers what he calls his “first tutu ballet,” by which he means, his first choreography in classical-ballet style.

“I wanted to do something classical, because that’s where ballet comes from,” he says.

It is danced to Prokofiev’s “Classical Symphony,” which Andersen describes as “the kind of music you can barely sit still when you listen to; it is so energized.”

But it literally is a “tutu” ballet: His dancers will wear the traditional short skirt.

“The tutu elevates the legs,” he says. “It becomes about women being on point, and when you are in a tutu, you’d better have very articulated legs.”

And if modern dance is closer to the ground, classical ballet is about weightlessness and flight.

“You don’t want to roll around on the floor in a tutu; it would look ridiculous,” Andersen says.

So it’s based on traditional ballet positions and moves. “It’s about the classical vocabulary,” Andersen says, “but maybe sped up three times.”

“It’s very technical, very demanding. No one could do that a hundred years ago.”

Hartley is one of those who will be dancing in the work.

“Being in a tutu ballet is very exposed,” she says. “It has to be extremely precise to look right. Ib’s choreography is always hard.

“I wish I could be in the audience and see it.”