Review: Ballet Idaho shines in season opener

A diverse mix of classic and new American works highlighted the program.

Idaho StatesmanNovember 4, 2013 

The Morrison Center curtain opened, revealing the stark, elegant, blue-hued tableau of George Balanchine’s “Serenade” on Saturday night — the start of Ballet Idaho’s sixth season under artistic director Peter Anastos.

The piece was a welcome reprise from last season because it highlights this company’s strength for tight classical ensemble work and lovely, elegant lines.

Led by principals Phyllis Rothwell Affrunti and Angela Napier Gibson and soloist Lauren Menger, the company performed the piece beautifully from beginning to end.

It’s shocking to realize that “Serenade,” created in 1934 — the first work Balanchine did in the United States — is so choreographically relevant today. It is the template on which American ballet springs.

The company is developing a depth of talent in its ranks from the soloists to the corps men and women — everyone danced well.

“Akimbo,” a ballet by San Francisco-based choreographer Charles Anderson, who danced for Balanchine for more than a decade in New York City Ballet, offered some lovely echoes of Balanchine’s masterwork.

It’s a fast, athletic contemporary piece that challenged dancers Andrew Taft, in his impressive debut as a principal, Menger, Affrunti, Megan Hearn, John Frazer and new company member Jake Casey in both technique and stamina.

Anderson’s choreography kept pace with the complex and driving music of Kronos Quartet, and the dancers matched its intensity. Taft and Menger made a dynamic pair in their pas de deux. Frazer and Casey were a knockout in their combative duet, and Affrunti and Hearn were lovely in the women’s duet.

Sandwiched in between was company dancer Daniel Ojeda’s choreographic debut “Qualia.” It featured James Brougham as a man struggling with a guilty memory represented by dancers Elizabeth Herrmann, Graham Gobeille and Menger.

New choreography is difficult — and like this piece it is often overthought and overchoreographed. Ojeda shows a clean sense of movement that will grow nicely with time.

The closer was Anastos’ 1930s-style comic ballet “Footage.” It’s a fun, effervescent and splashy audience pleaser that shows this company well.

Brougham was a standout, pulling off difficult technique — multiple turns in the air, pirouettes and leaps — in a full tuxedo. His partner, the delightful Gibson — who was totally on for the whole night — simply sparkled. Affrunti and Taft were hysterical in the comic tango section.

Ballet Idaho's next performances are of the holiday classic "The Nutcracker" on Dec. 20, 21 and 22.

Dana Oland: 377-6442, Twitter: @IDS_DanaOland

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