George Balanchines Serenade received a warm Idaho welcome Friday night with cheers, applause and a long standing ovation for Ballet Idahos sublime performance of his masterwork at the Morrison Center.
The performance opened the companys fifth season under artistic director Peter Anastos. Before the performance, Lt. Gov. Brad Little recognized Anastos for his recent Governors Award for Excellence in the Arts.
The performance is noteworthy for several reasons, not the least of which is its high quality.
Balanchine created this neo-classical masterpiece in 1934. It was an immediate classic and has become one of the hallmarks of American ballet. Staged by former Balanchine prima ballerina Jillana with the permission of the Balanchine Trust, this company pulled it off beautifully.
The curtain opened on the breathtaking scene of 17 women bathed in the cool ice blue of John Torres lighting. The ballets iconic opening has long been a delight for audiences.
Set on the wide-open Morrison Center stage, this was clearly the real new Ballet Idaho. Its important to note that many of these same dancers struggled through the companys first concert five years ago.
Here they soared.
They began with simple class positions a sharp move from parallel first to turned out, then tendue and simple port de bras then they launched into a whirling display of ballet technique arabesque, jetés, pique turns, in fluid lines and circles. Sometimes, they rushed into the wings and flew across the stage to create statue-like poses that offered hints of the narrative: love defeated by fate.
Bolstered by two excellent young dancers from the companys academy Christina Zimmerman and Laura Haller the company executed this masterwork with an impressive level of precision and elegance. It set a high bar for future performances.
Principals Phyllis Rothwell Affrunti and Angela Napier Gibson and soloist Lauren Menger, an excellent addition to the company, danced with a perfect blend of poise and refined strength, each with their particular qualities. Affrunti was all innocence and pathos; Gibson was ethereal and polished; Menger, flirtatious and playful.
Nathan Powell and Affrunti were a well-matched and lovely couple. He lifted her as if she were made of air. James Brougham showed himself a strong and adept partner, working with this trio of women, and in the thematic section where he is the dead lover returned to Affrunti then taken away by the Dark Angel (Gibson).
Serenade is the first time Ballet Idaho has tackled a Balanchine ballet. Anastos said he plans to bring Balanchine into the companys repertoire.
It also marks the beginning of the companys first season that will take place entirely on the Morrison Center stage thanks to a grant from the centers foundation.
With this venue to work with, the company will surely continue to grow. Last season, the company was hobbled by concerts at the much smaller Special Events Center.
The concert also featured the debut of dancer Powells choreography in Timepiece, a fun character ballet with a sci-fi twist.
In a speakeasy setting, a group of bank robbers discover theyve stolen a device that can slow down and stop time. The newest member (John Frazer) uses it to grab time with the leaders girlfriend (Menger). The leader, Andrew Taft, a born performer, gets plenty of action here.
The company really looked to be having fun with this piece. A worthy first effort, it was a bold choice for the program and offered a clever and delightful contrast to Serenade.
The closing piece was Anastos Sweet Dreams, a ballet that juxtaposes the music of Vivaldi and Patsy Cline. It works because Vivaldis folk-based tunes blend with Clines country standards.
The ballet contains some fun moments, especially for the male corps, who work well together. It also shows Anastos penchant for comedy, if getting too cute at times. At one point, the guys parody Michael Jacksons Thriller to music by Vivaldi.
Both pieces felt under-rehearsed, which makes sense with the obvious time and effort going into Serenade.
The next challenge for Ballet Idaho: Giving their talented company and artistic leaders more time together in the studio.
Dana Oland: 377-6442, Twitter: @IDS_DanaOland