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‘Play’ is great reprise for Ballet Arizona

The Arizona Republic, by Richard Nilsen

It is great fun to come back to a new dance you’ve seen once before and be reminded of what you loved the first time around.

Ballet Arizona: ‘Play’
Reviewed Friday, May 14, at the Orpheum Theatre, Phoenix.

Ballet Arizona first performed “Play” in 2007. Then, it was a world premiere of a full-length ballet by the company’s artistic director, Ib Andersen.

Now, seeing it again, one is reminded how much enjoyment is to be found in it. The sense of recollection begins immediately with the stage full of tiny lights, like a night sky, for Mozart’s variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” It continues with the jaunty, funny walk of Sergei Perkovskii at the beginning of the Andante from Franz Schubert’s Octet, and the opening of Benjamin Britten’s “Prelude and Fugue,” with all the dancers upside down, feet in the air like so many antennae.

There are seven scenes in the evening’s performance, but it otherwise divides into two halves. The second half is all Stravinsky, with music from his Suite No. 2 – which is Stravinsky in his circus music mode – and a suite from his “Pulcinella.” We often think of Tchaikovsky’s music as the quintessence of ballet music, but really, the greatest, most prolific composer of great and memorable music for dance has to be Stravinsky. His music bubbles and bounces, and provides the dancers with the perfect accompaniment to a ballet of energy and delight.

Yet, the highlight of the program comes at the end of the first half, with the slow, sensuous pas de deux, to music by Arvo Pärt, danced by Natalia Magnicaballi and Astrit Zejnati. The two dancers only break body contact once, near the end, when the music momentarily halts. Otherwise, it is two bodies exploring each other in an intimacy that is exceptional on stage. At one point, Magnicaballi manages – like Martha Vickers with Humphrey Bogart in “The Big Sleep” – to sit in Zejnati’s lap while he’s standing up.

Some of the sections are stronger than others, but only the double pas de deux in Pärt’s “Cantus in Memory of Britten” sags. Most, like the Magnicaballi-Zejnati coupling, should be performed again and again. Give us more.