John Selya spent the past month pushing Ballet Idaho’s dancers into the quirky, sometimes frantic, always impetuous realm of brilliant choreographer Twyla Tharp.
Selya met Tharp at American Ballet Theatre, where she was associate artistic director and he was a dancer. They clicked. He’s worked with her since, creating pieces for the ballet and for Broadway stages. He received a 2003 Tony nomination for his role in Tharp’s “Movin’ Out,” her Broadway musical/ballet inspired by Billy Joel’s music.
“Nine Sinatra Songs” is a suite of dance duets set to some of Frank Sinatra’s signature hits, including “That’s Life,” “Something Stupid” and “My Way.” It’s also one of Tharp’s most approachable pieces, yet it embodies her wildly renegade approach that has revolutionized the dance world since the 1970s.
This is Ballet Idaho’s first time performing a Tharp piece, part of artistic director Peter Anastos’ mission to do the works of great American choreographers. On the “Sinatra and More” program, you’ll also see Balanchine’s “Valse Fantaisie,” Anastos’ “Ravel Piano Concerto” and Alex Ossadnik’s “Scheherazade.”
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Q: Not all classically trained dancers can do Tharp’s movement. What’s the trick?
Selya: It’s a challenge. You have to have an underlying technique, and then you have to let it serve as a vehicle to express her physical ideas. The blueprint is Baryshnikov and that’s a strong ballet technique mixed with a wicked sense of humor. Those are the two requisites.
Q: Why is this piece such a hit?
A: It’s the romance of the music, and it’s the disparate styles that have landed together. You have a modern dance sensibility, and they’re in ballroom attire in a formal setting. It doesn’t just reflect what Sinatra is doing. The movement adds another element that enhances the music. You would never think that this kind of step goes to that song. It’s a very odd pairing but it’s great, like bacon and peanut butter.
Q: How do you reconcile Tharp’s brand of modern to ballet technique?
A: It’s a dilemma. You want them to aesthetically be up there, but you don’t want them to have a two-dimensional ballet approach. You have to bend the technique, and sometimes you have to forget it. Certain technical things undermine lifts and passages. You have to be brave, and these dancers are. It’s a scary place to let go and feel like you’re not doing anything.
Family of Woman Film Festival
Two years ago, Sun Valley’s Family of Woman Film Festival began a partnership with Boise State University. Last year, festival founder Peggy Elliott Goldwyn brought two films and speakers to BSU.
This year, she brings three, with panel discussions and speakers who will help shed light on issues confronting women and girls globally. All screenings will be held at 6 p.m. at Boise State’s Special Events Center and are free.
▪ Tuesday, Feb. 23: “Sound of Torture” is about Swedish-Eritrean radio host Meron Estefanos, who advocates for female Eritrean refugees held hostage in the Egyptian Sinai Desert. Estefanos will be part of a discussion moderated by Idaho Public Television’s Marcia Franklin.
▪ Wednesday, Feb. 24: Oscar nominated-documentary “The Hunting Ground” is an expose on the epidemic of rape on U.S. college campuses. The film’s subject, Sofie Karasek, will be part of a discussion moderated by Annie Kerrick, BSU’s director of Title IX.
▪ Thursday, Feb. 25: “India’s Daughter” is about Jyoti Singh, an Indian medical student whose violent murder by gang rapists exposed the misogyny of Indian society. Director Leslee Udwin will be part of a discussion moderated by the Idaho Statesman’s Dana Oland.
The Family of Woman Festival runs Tuesday, Feb. 22, to Sunday, Feb. 28, in Sun Valley. For a full schedule, go to FamilyOfWomanFilmFestival.org.
‘Sinatra and More’
8 p.m. Feb. 19-20, Morrison Center, 2201 Cesar Chavez Lane, Boise. $38-$58. 343-0556, ext. 220; BalletIdaho.org.