IU Ballet Theater Performs New York, New York Spring Ballet
By: Stephanie Foreman
Photo and Audio Production by: A.D. Quig
With vivid descriptions from Laura Whitby, Paul Dandridge and Michael Vernon, I felt I could already see the ballet before attending Saturday night. They painted a picture of the three choreographies featured this weekend, and explained the differences in each. Paul Taylor’s Cloven Kingdom is more physical, which contrasts to the graceful Lilac Garden by Anthony Tudor. The final choreography in the series was Who Cares? by George Balanchine, set to upbeat jazz music by George Gershwin. All of the music in the ballet was performed by the IU Jacobs School of Music, featuring a violin contest winner Benjamin Hoffman who was the violin soloist for Lilac Garden.
The dancers have been preparing for the spring ballet since January, juggling school, work and a social life. Paul Dandridge, a Senior, said that his current 20 hour school schedule on top of rehearsals is something that doesn’t phase him. Laura Whitby said that although she does not have 20 hours of classes, she teaches a dance program for young children– something which is close to her heart, as she has been dancing since she was three years old. Paul was featured in all three dances of the performance, and Laura danced in Lilac Garden and Who Cares?
As the curtain opened to a plain black backdrop, it revealed the cast draped in their finest “ball attire.” The girls’ earrings reflected the many stage lights even before they made their first movement. The first dance, Cloven Kingdom choreographed by Paul Taylor, involved exaggerated arms and quick movements to mimic that of an animal in the wild. The mens’ dances revealed acts of male dominance with difficult acrobatic feats. Paul Dandridge admires Taylor’s choreography stating, “I really enjoy the intensity that is in the dance, throughout the whole thing. Paul Taylor made this dance to somehow project that man can be a social animal. Keyword being animal. It starts out with a very baroque era of music playing and from there it just gets more and more wild until we have headdresses in the end.”
The casts’ tuxedo suits and long dresses contrasted to the type of dance they were performing, to reveal human’s inner animal. The music switched back and forth from more classical and traditional ballet music, to rhythmic beats and dominant percussion. I was very impressed with what IU Ballet Artistic Director Michael Vernon informed me would be the casts ability to show off their athleticism while making it all look so easy.
As the dancers switched their choreography according to each type of music being played, a girl leaped across the stage wearing a mirrored ball on her head–just a preview of more reflective hats to come. As the dance continued, more girls appeared wearing different shapes of reflective hats as they circled a dancing couple, until finally, every couple was wearing a mirrored headpiece. This choreography was not something that the ballet newcomer would immediately respond positively to, however it was amazing to watch the acrobatic feats of the boys, the high jumps and footwork of the girls, and the overall modern dance that is so famous in New York today. Michael Vernon calls Paul Taylor the greatest living modern dance choreographer, yet suits the ballet dancers.
Anthony Tudor’s Lilac Garden was performed second, set to a beautiful watercolor inspired evening in a garden backdrop. Laura had explained to me that this choreography had a story to it, and that she was looking forward to acting with her dance. Tudor’s choreography tells a story of a woman who is engaged to be married to someone whom she does not love, but at the eve of her wedding she sees a former lover. Her heart is torn and Caitlin Kirschenbaum dances with deep emotion as she plays the part. This character finds out that her current fiancée has a mistress, which was played by Laura. Her bright blue dress and feather head-piece gave signal to her position and role in the dance, which she executed beautifully. Each performed a pas de deux, switching partners to demonstrate the conflict between the engaged, and the turmoil within the girl’s heart. Caitlin was entirely elegant in her principal role in Lilac Garden and was a joy to watch.
The third and final choreography of the ballet was by George Balanchine, titled Who Cares? Michal Vernon said that one of Balanchine’s famous mottos was that ballet should be entertaining. Set to music by George Gerswin, this jazzy and upbeat dance radiated energy to all who attended. The short, sparkly attire the girls wore was fascinatingly simple and stunning when paired to the boys’ business casual with shimmery ties. Many ballet dancers had demi-solos, showing off their skill and precision, all while keeping a smile on their faces.
The performance was beautiful, combining three very diverse choreographies into one lively ballet. As Michael Vernon discussed with us, this performance highlighted the athleticism of the dancers, the energy in their bodies, and the high level of talent in which they perform– which is very comparable to any of the nation’s top dance companies today.
For more on IU Opera and Ballet, visit their website.