Ballet AZ Blog

Behind-the-Scenes of All Balanchine with Ib Andersen

Tell us about All Balanchine! 

The repertoire this year is spectacular… but it is Balanchine, so it is always extraordinary. Each piece is so different from the other, from the costumes to the music, so the audience will have a beautiful showcase of his depth and range as a choreographer.

Prodigal Son is based on the biblical story. It premiered in 1929 and was the last ballet that Balanchine choreographed for Ballet Russes under Sergei Diaghilev. They commissioned famous French painter, George Rouault to design the sets and Sergei Prokofiev to compose the music, who ended up disliking what Balanchine did with the ballet.

Between the characters and the choreography, Balanchine did a brilliant job of encapsulating the range of human emotion. The Prodigal Son role has a lot of meat – from the time the curtain goes up to it coming down, you are looking at a completely different person. Then you have the Siren, which I think is the more difficult role. She is an other-worldly being that has to be cold as ice and cynical and an alluring goddess at the same time.

La Valse premiered in 1951. The music by Maurice Ravel is sensational – he wrote in the notes, “We are dancing on the edge of a volcano.” It is so powerful and you can feel it in Balanchine’s choreography. The world he creates is surrealist and the story is dark, it feels like an Edgar Allen Poe poem, but it is a ballet that leaves you wanting more.

Square Dance is one of Balanchine’s odes to Americana. The ballet has been changed here and there since it premiered in 1957. Originally, the musicians were on stage with a square dance caller, calling out the steps to the dancers. From a technical side, this is one of Balanchine’s most challenging works. Dancers need to be about to jump and turn, be fast but musical, while making it look effortless. This ballet requires an almost surgical precision.

What is it like coaching dancers for Balanchine repertoire?

Coaching can be a complicated process but thankfully I have been doing this for so long, it is like second nature to me. In rehearsals, I can immediately see what needs to happen, but it is very personal, both how each dancer approaches the role and how I approach coaching them.

Balanchine believed, as do I, that you cannot change people. They are who they are. You can tweak things but they have to remain themselves, otherwise it won’t resonate with the audience.

We end the season with The Four Seasons. How has it been revisiting this ballet? 

I always enjoy revisiting ballets. As I have said before, the picture becomes clearer each time you perform. My thought when creating this piece was that the vastness of the space at Desert Botanical Garden and the desert sky requires something special. Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons was the perfect choice, but it is an intense ballet. There are 12 movements and it is very physically demanding for the dancers.

When creating a ballet, the biggest goal is to challenge yourself. You need to constantly push yourself to go further and this ballet definitely did that for me. It wasn’t just choreographing, it was also creating the costumes, which I had hand-painted during Covid. They are all fairly abstract, with bursts of color. Each reminiscent of spring, summer, fall and winter. We are currently touching them up and it has been a reminder of what a creative endeavor this ballet was from start to finish.

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