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Ballet Arizona offers Robbins, Andersen hits

The Arizona Republic, by Richard Nilsen

There are two ways to love dance. For many, there is the individual dancer, or the pair in pas de deux. For most ballets, the climax of the evening comes in the pas de deux. But for others – and increasingly in more modern dances – what holds your attention is the interplay between groups of dancers. Balanchine, was, of course, the supreme master of this sort of athletic counterpoint.

Ballet Arizona’s latest production gave us peak moments in both sorts of dance.You could hardly find a more moody and beautiful set of partners than in Jerome Robbins’ “In the Night,” which features three couples, in three different states of relationship.

On Friday, the first couple was danced by Paola Hartley and Roman Zavarov, in a slow, smooth, sensitive exploration of each other, like lovers first discovering each other’s bodies.Natalia Magnicaballi and Ilir Shtylla then presented a more formal pair, dancing the rituals of partnership, almost as if they were at a ball, climaxing in an unusual lift with the ballerina’s head down and her long legs straight up in the air.The third pair, Ginger Smith and Astrit Zejnati, were a stormy couple, rejecting each other and reconciling.

You could hardly have asked better from any of the dancers; emotions were high and one imagines that anyone in the audience would finally recognize him or herself onstage with a kind of start.

Each pair danced to a different Chopin Nocturne, played live by pianist Dianne Chilgren. For a fourth Nocturne, all three couples came out together, testing their mode of couplehood against the others.This was the first Robbins ballet danced by our company, and it had better not be the last. It was magnificent. It was the middle third of the program and felt like the slow movement of a dance symphony.

The finale was, accordingly, a bright, bouncy, energetic piece primarily for groups of dancers bounding across the stage like antelope, choreographed by Ballet Arizona Artistic Director Ib Andersen. It was almost like Twyla Tharp meets George Balanchine. It was also Andersen’s best ballet, with not a moment of languor or hesitation.

Although the thrust of the choreography was in larger groups, the single climax was a pas de deux of tremendous originality and distinctness, by Tzu-Chia Huang and Russell Clarke.

We should be grateful that our ballet company has so many first-rate dancers that we can field this many pairings in an evening and come away satisfied – even thrilled – by all of them.

The only disappointment of the evening was the first “movement,” a rerun of the company’s selections from “Raymonda.” Perhaps it is just that we have spent the first half of the season in Russian ballet and needed a break, but the Petipa choreography to the pedestrian music of Glazunov, although performed well, is not a very exciting slice of dance.