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Review: From Swans to Splendor

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Indianapolis School of Ballet, Scottish Rite Cathedral Theater, May 16-17

Indianapolis School of Ballet’s Spring Concert offered three splendidly performed chestnuts from the classical repertoire and a new work by Roberta Wong, a retired professional dancer and an ISB faculty member.

Wong lives in the worlds of ballet and modern, hard reality and mysticism, the mind, soul and body, photography and being a seer. Her choreography is complex, layered, deeply emotional and physically demanding. We See Things As We Are is set to music by Estonian composer Arvo Part, whose sacred minimalism has a way of seeping into a listener’s bones, as it obviously did for a company of fifteen young dancers. Thirteen (or is it fourteen — hard to count with the movement) are onstage at the opening in configurations of differently numbered lines. They are dressed in off-one-shoulder drab leotards with what appears like an overskirt of grass. From limb stretching airiness they hit the floor in floating fetal positions, rise again and reconfigure into sub-groups, and keep changing space and movement until one feels they have come together towards a consensus only to drift away as a group, like a swoop of birds emptying the space for a single couple to reveal their feelings towards each other and then it’s over as in mid sentence. One must allow this work to enter and swirl like water and air in opposing movement yet in mutual contact. Wong’s choreography is in a class of its own; her vocabulary is singular.

What set the known works apart from having been seen previously was the way the dancers brought their own storytelling to the fore. Building on an assured command of technique, this young company can afford to allow emotions to resonate throughout. Watching a dancer in one and then another work, one sees how the emotional response surfaces and informs the choreography with dimensional characters.

For Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake Act II, guest dancer Chris Lingner emerged from within his harshly glinting plumed garment to fill the stage with a menacing command of the quarter moon pale-glow lakeside. From the moment of entry, Colin Ellis’ Siegfried sensed an uneasiness that drew us into the motif and our ultimate oneness with his crush of defeat in the face of evil. Grace Phelps layered Odette’s vulnerability with the steeliness of a victim under the spell of the oppressor. Equally outstanding was the corps of Leading Swans, Cygnets and Swans. Victoria Lyras staged and added choreography to the original by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov.

The dark mood vanished with George Balanchine’s Valse-Fantasie with music by Mikhail Glinka. As staged by Paul Boos and Lyras, on May 17 Betsy Boxberger and Luther DeMyer, with a corps of four showcased requisite speed and strength with joyful leaps and bounds, lifts and turns.

We were prepped for a wedding and Alexandre Glazounov’s Act III of Raymonda provided a colorful event replete with a variety of Hungarian-style dances including an endearing one by the youngest in the pre-professional program. Lyras staged and added choreography to the original by Marius Petipa.

The program afforded leading roles to graduating seniors Jacqueline Hodek, who will be attending the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, Maria Maccaroni who will be attending the University of South Carolina School of Dance, and Hayden Thomas, who will be attending IUPUI and continue with ISB as a teaching assistant for the Indy Ballet Classrooms Outreach Program.

James Leitner was production manager and lighting designer, scenic design was by Mark F. Smith, with construction by Maria and Dmitry Zaretsky and Judith Gregg Peters, costumes were by Loukia Finale and Victoria Lyras.

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