Mixed repertoire night kicks off IU ballet theater season
By Peter Jacobi
On a recent weekday afternoon, apparently like most others, activity in the ballet studios on the third floor of IU’s Musical Arts Center was hectic.
The IU Ballet Theater’s fall program, “Steps in Time,” was on everyone’s mind, heart and sinew.
Instructors and dancers were in the midst of preparing the three ballets that Michael Vernon, head of the department, had determined would constitute the program we will get to see this coming Friday and Saturday evenings: “Concerto Barocco,” George Balanchine’s neo-classical creation, set to Bach’s Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins; “Dear Frederic,” contemporary choreographer Dwight Rhoden’s take on music of Chopin, and “Company B,” Paul Taylor’s set of narratives evoked by nine songs made famous by the Andrews Sisters, a trio of vocalists highly popular before, during and after World War II.
“Putting a program such as this together,” said Vernon, “is like casting. It’s personal. I like to match dancers with roles that challenge them. That’s always a major factor when I design a show. Here, in an educational setting, what we perform must fulfill student needs. In the fall, I have to think about the musical accompaniment because we don’t have an orchestra at our disposal. I also want a program that would interest me as balletomane, as a lover of dance.
“The evening must have balance, too, expressed in variety. And, of course, I have to consider what we can get the rights to, whether those who own those rights will allow us to stage what we’ve chosen.
“So, here we are,” Vernon continued, “with three quite different pieces. I love them. The audience, I think, will be entertained. The dancers, I know, are learning from the material. ‘Concerto Barocco’ is a Balanchine masterpiece, and the New York City Ballet’s Peter Martins gave us the approval after he saw movies of what we’ve done here. There’s a personal connection, too, as there is with Dwight Rhoden, whom I’ve known since his dancing years. His ‘Dear Frederic’ blends contemporary ballet and modern dance. It’s catching. ‘Company B’ has become a staple of numerous dance companies. The music is fun to listen to, and Paul has attached content, making the ballet about war, about men moving to the front and leaving loved ones behind. There’s something bittersweet about it, but ultimately the ballet exudes optimism, and a lot of energy.”
During my visit to the ballet studios, I watched Doricha Sales put dancers through their paces in portions of “Concerto Barocco.” She’s on the faculty of the department, a former dancer, a trained educator who works not only with university level dancers but youngsters in the Pre-College program.
The dancers were in a sweat but striving, as Sales, their ballet mistress for the session, told them, to make it look easy.
“Heels! Heels! Heels!,” Sales shouted as she watched. “Don’t turn them.” A few moments later, after more watching, she said, “Overall, it’s sluggish.” Then, the issue was beat; by voice and feet, Sales stressed a one-through-eight rhythm. “That’s better,” she responded to a more precisely danced repeat. “Watch those arms,” she next warned. “Don’t sag. Don’t look down. Look out.” The rigorous dancing continued. So, did the requests and demands from Sales: “Reach. Stretch.” “Sweep the arm.” “Think before you move.”
It was a workout, to be sure.
Meanwhile, Constance Dinapoli focused on another group of dancers rehearsing a portion of “Company B.” Dinapoli danced in the premiere of the ballet when she was a member of the Paul Taylor Dance Company. She’s now on the faculty at George Mason University but also a busy specialist staging Taylor’s works around the world.
“I spent time with Paul this summer,” she told me, “and took part in his 81st birthday party on Long Island. He’s still terrific. When we first did ‘Company B’ in the early 1990s, we were between the Persian Gulf situation and the Iraq War. Paul felt for the troops going off to war and the women left behind. He instilled that feeling in the ballet.”
To the young man soloing in steps choreographed for the Andrews Sisters’ “Tico Tico,” Dinapoli both enunciated and demonstrated a continuing stream of suggestions.
“You want to be the soldier going in and out of bad memories,” she advised. “I need to see that contrast. Let your body reflect the control and then the loss of it. Go from cool to jerky. Make us feel you’re here, and then, as shell-shocked, you’re somewhere else.” The dancer obliged.
Done with him, Dinapoli called on a waiting batch of students, one male and seven females, to take their places for, “Oh, Johnny, Oh, Johnny, How You Can Love.” The dancers began to dance; the instructor, to instruct.
Still elsewhere, Juan-Antonio Rodriguez, a dancer/choreographer brought in to help stage “Dear Frederic,” was putting on his work shoes, getting set to rehearse another set of dancers through portions of that ballet.
“Dwight Rhoden loves steps,” he said during the few moments we had for a chat. “He strives to match Chopin’s notes. The choreography turns playful, whimsical. It fuses traditional and new. A classic line is required, but the dancer, body and self, is given a greater freedom. We’re trying to give the students a more comfortable feel about that.” Then, off Rodriguez rushed to carry out his duties.
“We’re all working hard, and the students are catching on,” said Michael Vernon, summarizing the welter of activity. “We’ll be ready.”
The hard work will continue when IU ballet stages “The Nutcracker,” Dec. 2-4, and “The Sleeping Beauty,” March 23-24.
If you go
Who and What: IU Ballet Theater presents its fall ballet, “Steps in Time,” a triple-header that includes Balanchine’s “Concerto Barocco,” to music of Bach; Dwight Rhoden’s “Dear Frederic,” to music of Chopin, and “Company B,” to songs of the Andrews Sisters.
When: Friday and Saturday evenings at 8
Where: Musical Arts Center, 101 N. Jordan Ave., on the IU Bloomington campus
Tickets: Reserved seating, $12-$20 for adults; $8-$16 for students; available online at http://music.indiana.edu/opera, or call the box office at 812-855-7433