From Russian dance, with love. Ballet Idaho takes on Tchaikovsky and his compatriots.

doland@idahostatesman.comFebruary 14, 2014 

0214 scene arts

Ballet Idaho prepares for its Russian program and study of the waltz with several Tchaikovsky pieces.


  • The details

    BALLET IDAHO’S RUSSIAN PROGRAM: 8 p.m. Feb. 14-15, Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Lane, Boise. $38, $43 and $58. BSU students receive a 50 percent discount; faculty and staff receive a 25 percent discount. 426-1110,

Waltz music is somewhat magical. The one-two-three, one-two-three is a rhythm that makes you feel like dancing.

Now, Ballet Idaho artistic director Peter Anastos is taking that to heart as he sets a new ballet to a whirling and expressive collection of Tchaikovsky’s waltzes.

Tchaikovsky was not only one of Russia’s greatest composers, he was one of the world’s greatest — and one of the best to compose in 3/4 time. Choreographing the ballet, Anastos was inspired by the lush, rich compositions. The more he worked on the piece, the bigger it became in response to the music.

“The guy was a waltz machine,” Anastos says. “He wrote some of the most beautiful waltzes for ballets, but there are so many other waltzes that people don’t know.”

Anastos’ “Tchaikovsky Waltzes” will close the company’s Russian Program, which includes a performance of Act 3 from Glazunov’s rarely performed “Raymoda’s Wedding,” and ballet master Alex Ossadnik’s take on Rimsky-Korsakov’s “Scheherazade.”

Tchaikovsky wrote a bounty of ballets for the St. Petersburg Imperial Theatres and ballet master Marius Petipa, including “The Sleeping Beauty,” “Swan Lake” and “The Nutcracker.”

“Tchaikovsky” opens with the “Garland Waltz,” one of the composer’s most famous from “The Sleeping Beauty,” danced by the Ballet Idaho Academy students. (Disney fans will recognize it as the melody to “Once Upon a Dream,” from the 1959 animated film.)

Tchaikovsky also wrote waltzes in his orchestral suites, operas and sometimes as a musical exercise.

You’ll hear all of those styles.

Several symphonic waltzes make up the meaty center of the ballet. Together they unfold as an impressionistic narrative — if not an actual story — as each is an interpretation of the music and perhaps the life of the composer.

The piece for five men is originally from the Third Orchestra Suite. It’s got the flavor of folk music, so Anastos leaned heavily on a syllabus of “character” dance. Character dance is the study of folk dance — mostly European — that gives many ballets their character of nationality.

“When you get in a studio, and everyone gets into the rhythm,” Anastos says. “Getting down on the floor and up in the air, and down, and up, it becomes this whole thing.”

Learning those steps at least initially added to the difficulty of learning the choreography, says dancer James Brougham.

“It’s kind of a hybrid,” Brougham says. “It takes time to get to know it. The hardest part is when you have to think about what’s coming next. And, yes, this is hard — you never know what Peter’s going to do. But he knows what looks good, and the better you get, the harder he makes the choreography.”

That’s part of the plan and the process of building a company and creating dancers, Anastos says.

“Choreographers get into a room and create problems,” he says. “The dancers solve them. When you get talented people in front of you, you want to push them to go further. No one in ballet ever says, let’s do a little bit less.”

The ballet also suggests something about Tchaikovsky: He wrote beautiful music but led an emotionally conflicted and sad life. That sadness often underscores even his most beautiful and lively compositions, Anastos says.

“There’s a waltz from the Third Orchestra Suite — it’s lush and huge but it’s a very bleak landscape, and has a really desperate sort of soul,” he says.

The section involves a young man — an artist, danced by John Frazer — who dances with the internal demons that torture him. Of course, this is ballet, so those demons are all long, leggy ballerinas.

“He (Tchaikovsky) also wrote a gigantic canon of piano music,” Anastos says. “He had an enormous output, much bigger than Chopin.”

Anastos, who dreamed of becoming a concert pianist before he saw his first ballet as a teenager, loves to choreograph piano waltzes.

He took four short piano waltzes and created the next movement of the ballet — a series of beautifully lyrical and sweet pas de deux.

“One is called “Un Poco de Chopin (A little Chopin),” an homage to the Polish pianist and composer. In the 19th century, Imperial Russian maestro Riccardo Drigo orchestrated it for Siegfried and Odette in Act IV of “Swan Lake.” When Anastos staged his “Swan” last season, he omitted it.

“For me, it is always a cut,” he says. “It’s already a long ballet, but Andrew (Taft) was very upset because he wanted to dance to it.”

Now, Taft and Phyllis Rothwell Affrunti will perform it in the original form, as a simple piano waltz.

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