Just five years ago when Peter Anastos arrived in Boise to start a new Ballet Idaho, things were pretty touch and go. He brought together a company of dancers some for their first company and had less than a month to put on his first performance.
It was a miracle we had something on stage, Anastos says. We were planning day to day.
That was then; this is now.
Today, its a company that gets stronger and more captivating with every performance.
Its been a whirlwind five years that included creating the companys signature Nutcracker, a bevy of repertoire concerts and last seasons masterful staging of The Sleeping Beauty. This season, Anastos and crew will take on what is arguably the most iconic ballet ever created: Swan Lake.
The beginning was so dicey we certainly didnt see ourselves in this position five years later, Anastos says. I just kept pushing. You dont know unless you go for it.
Anastos was born under an ambitious planet. He planned to be a pianist until middle school, when he saw a Russian company perform Swan Lake.
In his long career in the ballet world, he has been the artistic head of Cincinnati Ballet and New Jerseys Garden State Ballet, and he was a co-founder of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, an all-male company that broke all the rules and then made new ones.
In September, Anastos received the Governors Award for Excellence in the Arts, and the artistic director who was once planning on the fly just completed Ballet Idahos next five-year plan.
What impact did Les Ballets Trockadero have?
It brought thousands of people to ballet performances and created a huge audience to see more. Once people saw the Trocks, they were no longer fearful of ballet as something they couldnt understand. Laughter is great medicine! We inoculated people against any prejudice about ballet. The other impact was on the inside of the dance world we loosened a lot of people up. We helped take ballet out of the temple and into popular culture.
How do you think the dance world has changed the most?
Its the dancers. Dancers today know time is limited, and theyre in a bigger hurry to get stuff done. They are willing to take risks. I think thats a cultural change. It used to be you were grateful to be in the corps de ballet, and it was a bit hippy-dippy. Thats why I think Ive been able to push this company and make things happen. Its because I have dancers who can do it.
Why do you think The Nutcracker endures?
It defines traditional Christmas and the warmth of the holiday spirit. It is dependable in a changing world. It brings everyone back to childhood, to a safe place where sugarplums really do dance in your head.
Whats your favorite bit of Nutcracker lore?
Did you know that the ballet was a tremendous flop when it was first done? Amazing, isnt it? It took 50 years for people to catch on to the magic of Nutcracker. But then lots of great masterpieces were misunderstood at the time they appeared. Since we think of it as such a traditional holiday event, its interesting to note that Nutcracker was way ahead of its time. It was edgy before people even knew what edgy was.
How do you keep your creative spark alive?
Different dancers, different casts. They can make a ballet completely new and fresh. One of the greatest things about ballet is that no two dancers look or dance alike, so even doing an old work with new dancers makes it come alive and change in different and exciting ways. Often, a ballet is better as it ages because new dancers bring such different energy to it.
How do you recruit dancers for this company?
We used to travel to audition. Now, dancers are calling us. Weve had about 100 dancers fly into Boise to audition for us, and we had four jobs to offer. Ballet Idaho and I must say Boise has reached a level of sophistication in the dance world, because of Trey (McIntyre) being here and for other things, too. The way we attract dancers now is by our growing reputation.
Whats in your MP3 player?
I have just started buying microchips with gigantic memory so I can download complete operas. I can now carry around Wagners Ring Cycle in something the size of my thumbnail. Well, maybe just Tannhauser, but lots of Wagner lately. Who wouldve guessed Wagner would ever be portable?
What are you reading?
Im now reading the Diaries of Christopher Isherwood, a great English writer who settled in America. His diaries are fascinating; he circled in such a diverse group of people, and he led such a fabulous life. Hes a little more hip than Samuel Pepys (the famous 17th century diarist), and he lived in equally interesting times.
Whats the best advice youve ever received?
All of us in the arts have our ups and downs. I once received a great piece of advice from Frederick Franklin, a dancer with the Ballets Russes de Monte Carlo in the 1940s and still alive today, still active, still very funny and charming. He told me, If you hang around long enough, you will be rediscovered and start all over again!
What would you like your dancers to understand about their legacy?
Dancers inherit their own special place in history. Each dancer who creates and performs becomes a part of the centuries-old continuum of ballet; they become a link to the past and a portal to the future. Each dancer inherits everything they learned from others, and they pass on everything they know and everything theyve created to the next generation. What a great and rewarding and fulfilling life this is!
What about the next five years?
Were going to focus on four things: producing 19th century classical story ballets, bringing the great works of Balanchine to the stage, creating new contemporary works and building a touring repertory.
What still surprises you about Idaho?
How strongly I love being here. When I moved here I feared being out of the loop. That didnt happen. Idaho is deep. Idaho is its own loop.
Dana Oland is a former professional dancer and member of Actors Equity who writes about performing and visual arts for the Idaho Statesman. She also writes about food, wine, pets, jazz and other aspects of the good life in Boise. Read more arts coverage in her new blog at Voices.IdahoStatesman.com/oland.