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The Toby Theater at Newfields
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Indianapolis Ballet Scores with Balancing Acts: An Evening of George Balanchine

by Rita Kohn
October 1, 2018
The Toby Theater at Newfields
4000 N. Michigan Rd.
Indianapolis, IN 46208
(317) 923-1331
Rita Kohn, member: Dance Critics Association, Authors Guild, Dramatists Guild
George Balanchine’s multifaceted gifts as a teacher, choreographer, programmer and audience advocate were vivid at Indianapolis Ballet’s season opening production Balancing Acts: An Evening of George Balanchine at Indianapolis' The Toby at Newfields, Sept. 27-30, 2018.

The gutsy three-part all Balanchine program by the fledgling company opened with the joyful "Raymonda Variations," to music from the first and last acts of Alexander Glazunov’s original 3-act ballet Raymonda. The curtain opened to a brightly lit garden scene with the corps of twelve women in pink dresses glyphing central Europe clothing and interweaving in threes to sculpt poses in fluid momentum. For my purpose of enjoying the ballet, a demure “Countess Raymonda,” [rather than an anonymous reference to Female Variation] differentiated in a blue dress, entered and interacted with her friends [danced by Kristin Toner, with Riley Horton as her fiancé, on Sept. 27 and Sept. 30 and Yoshiko Kamikusa, with Christopher Lingner on Sept. 28 and 29].

What distinguishes Raymonda as a brilliant ballet midway in Balanchine’s career at New York City Ballet, are the continuation of his signature sharing of the unique personalities of dancers emerging from the corps de ballet and his theatricality that opens the way for each “Raymonda” to transition on her own terms from first entry to final moment — from shy to full-out "I’m in love" — and each “Prince” on his own terms from, “I’d like you to like me" to "wow, you like me."

Three decades after he built his first ballet in New York City upon the individualities of his young troupe and upon class and rehearsal events, he continued to honor dancers with "Raymonda Variations," showcasing not only technique, but their intellectual subtext to the question propelling the namesake from which these variations stem: is there such a notion as too much dancing? One is reminded of the consequences of Giselle; yet here it’s a bit hard to admonish the non-stop generosity of spirit one is witnessing.

In the audience, feeling the vibe, I realized founding artistic director Victoria Lyras and her staff have built this new company upon the same verve and joy that grew a uniquely American form of ballet through Balanchine’s respect for what dancers bring to the portrayal. I felt I got to know these dancers through their deportment of variations as profoundly as if each had written a bio in the program. Sharing at different performances were: Buse Babadag and Indiana Coté for Variation 1; Jessica Miller and Mary Ann Schaefer for Variation 3; Sierra Levin and Abigail-Rose Crowell for Variation 4. Rowan Allegra and Camila Ferrera danced Variation 2 and Variation 5 respectively at all four performances.

Next, Balanchine's Serenade opened to moonlight spreading its pale glow onto the dimly lit stage. In blue tulle-skirted dresses, dancers stood statue-still, upper bodies 3/4 to the audience, faces tilted upward, right arms raised with palms facing out, as if to shield their eyes. Suddenly, the tableau took on life as with a slow waft of air; in perfect unison feet opened into first position and, as a body of one, the audience let out the breath each had been holding. We are immediately drawn into the exploration of that space through an accumulation of shifting patterns and designs, moving with the feel of Tchaikovsky’s "Serenade in C’s" urgency, unpredictability and mystery. Within the ebbing and flowing, we feel uneasy — what can happen in this space —loss, yearning, death, re-birth, descent, ascent, fear, trust?

Yes, trust. In its finality, Serenade's breadth of movement solidifies into that most unifying of instincts: trust. The breathtaking opening finds its counterpart in the brilliance of its final scene. Applause rightfully was suspended until the depth of that moment could be absorbed. One-by-one the audience rose in tribute.

The corps de ballet included: Abigail Bixler, Abigail Burkhardt, Indiana Coté, Abigail-Rose Crowell, Anna Davis, Rachel Durham, Abigail Enterez, Mackenzie Kirk, Michelle Lebowski, Sierra Levin, Abby Marten, Jessica Miller, Caroline Rettig, Mary Ann Schaefer; Gregory Guesser, Riley Horton, Leonard Pérez, Aaron Sternberg. Specialty roles are danced at all performances by Yoshiko Kamikusa, Kristin Toner and Shea Johnson; at alternating performances by Mary Ann Schaefer, Jessica Miller, Christopher Lingner and Kris Santos. Dancers Rowan Allegra, Buse Babadag, Camila Ferrera and Katherine Sawicki took on supporting roles.

Serenade was the fulcrum upon which this Indianapolis Ballet program was balanced. It was the first work Balanchine choreographed, as the graduation exercise for his first class of students at the School of American Ballet in 1934. Indeed, Serenade is the visual definition of what sets American ballet apart from any other nation’s notion of ballet. It’s the Balanchine work that most epitomizes every young dancer’s sense of hope — it is possible to come with what you have and, with unflagging dedication, grow into service to the art. In this same vein, over his fifty-year tenure with what grew into New York City Ballet, Balanchine continued to work on Serenade until the version I saw on Sept. 27 and 28, gained standard status. At its premiere Serenade asked something extra from the audience, and it still does today. "Raymonda Variations," even in 1961 when it premiered, was closer to expectations for U.S. audiences who were attuned to Russian romantic-classical ballets. In 2018 that still holds for Indianapolis audiences. Serenade always surprises with its vivacious nod to U.S. dynamics. Dancers with speed, grit, a tinge of raw energy are let loose by "Mr. B."

For the program's final ballet The Four Temperaments, which premiered in Spring of 1948 at the fledgling Ballet Society, Balanchine commissioned composer Paul Hindemith for a score. In drawing out the meaning of Hindemith’s music, Balanchine made a piece that feels like an intersection between Mondrian’s Broadway Boogie-Woogie, a population of insects, the inner mechanisms of a foundry and the politics of Fascism. The acrobatics of the human body meld and mold into a continuum of abstractions, goings-on of arthropods, mechanisms at top efficiency and guiltless systematic killing. Is it metaphor, abstraction, reality? The ballet’s four movements are named for the humors that determine our temperaments — “Melancholic,” “Sanguine,” “Phlegmatic,” and “Choleric,” — that are akin to the four classical elements of earth, air, water and fire. What is clear is the essentiality of balance in all things — be they natural or human-made. Dressed in black & white rehearsal clothing, the dancers never stop moving, even when the curtain falls.

Balanchine masterfully projected the past onto the contemporary in all facets of his ballets. What he asked of dancers and designers was the expression of logic in movement. The subtleties that I saw with both Indianapolis Ballet casts brought into fore all that Balanchine demanded: increased clarity and breadth of motion, sharpness of nuance, intensity of image: fast, strong, meaningful. His works remain immediate and universal. Abetting the artistic integrity required by The George Balanchine Trust, were répétiteurs Diana White and Rebecca Metzler, and ballet mistress Melinda Roy in residency at Indianapolis Ballet through to opening night.

Victoria Lyras trained at the School of American Ballet from 1967-1976 during which time she performed with the New York City Ballet. Transitioning at age 17 to the Pennsylvania Ballet, she rose through the ranks to soloist and principal dancer dancing multiple roles in the Balanchine repertoire.

The Photography of George Platt Lynes opened at the Indianapolis Museum of Art on the campus of Newfields during the run of Balancing Acts: An Evening of George Balanchine. As the first photographer for The New York City Ballet, he set the bar high for capturing movement as an image of vitality. His iconic photographs of Balanchine's dancers are part of a fulsome retrospective of work that is entrusted to the Collections of the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University and on loan to the exhibit, which runs through Feb. 24, 2019.

Next up for Indianapolis Ballet in 2018 is their New Works Showcase series,
Nov. 8-11 at Indianapolis' The District Theatre and The Nutcracker, Dec. 14-16 at Indianapolis' Old National Centre.

Learn more at: indyballet.org, 317-955-7525 and at discovernewfields.org
Dancers: Glenn Kelich & Buse Babadag<br>Ballet: The Four Temperaments <br>Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Dancers: Glenn Kelich & Buse Babadag
Ballet: The Four Temperaments
Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Photo © & courtesy of Moonbug Photography


Dancers: Abigail-Rose Crowell, Rowan Allegra & Khris Santos<br>Ballet: The Four Temperaments <br>Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Dancers: Abigail-Rose Crowell, Rowan Allegra & Khris Santos
Ballet: The Four Temperaments
Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Photo © & courtesy of Moonbug Photography


Dancers: Jessica Miller, Mary Ann Schaefer, Shea Johnson, Sierra Levin & Indiana Coté<br>Ballet: The Four Temperaments <br>Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Dancers: Jessica Miller, Mary Ann Schaefer, Shea Johnson, Sierra Levin & Indiana Coté
Ballet: The Four Temperaments
Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Photo © & courtesy of Moonbug Photography


Dancers: Indianapolis Ballet<br>Ballet: The Four Temperaments <br>Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Dancers: Indianapolis Ballet
Ballet: The Four Temperaments
Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Photo © & courtesy of Moonbug Photography


Dancers: Indianapolis Ballet<br>Ballet: The Four Temperaments <br>Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Dancers: Indianapolis Ballet
Ballet: The Four Temperaments
Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Photo © & courtesy of Moonbug Photography


Dancers: Kristin Toner & Riley Horton<br>Ballet: Raymonda Variations <br>Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Dancers: Kristin Toner & Riley Horton
Ballet: Raymonda Variations
Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Photo © & courtesy of Moonbug Photography


Dancers: Indianapolis Ballet<br>Ballet: Raymonda Variations <br>Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Dancers: Indianapolis Ballet
Ballet: Raymonda Variations
Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Photo © & courtesy of Moonbug Photography


Dancers: Kristin Toner & Riley Horton<br>Ballet: Raymonda Variations <br>Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Dancers: Kristin Toner & Riley Horton
Ballet: Raymonda Variations
Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Photo © & courtesy of Moonbug Photography


Dancers: Indianapolis Ballet (featured dancer Kristin Toner)<br>Ballet: Raymonda Variations <br>Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Dancers: Indianapolis Ballet (featured dancer Kristin Toner)
Ballet: Raymonda Variations
Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Photo © & courtesy of Moonbug Photography


Dancers: Indianapolis Ballet<br>Ballet: Serenade <br>Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Dancers: Indianapolis Ballet
Ballet: Serenade
Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Photo © & courtesy of Moonbug Photography


Dancers: Indianapolis Ballet<br>Ballet: Serenade <br>Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Dancers: Indianapolis Ballet
Ballet: Serenade
Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Photo © & courtesy of Moonbug Photography


Dancers: Yoshiko Kamikusa, Shea Johnson & Jessica Miller<br>Ballet: Serenade <br>Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Dancers: Yoshiko Kamikusa, Shea Johnson & Jessica Miller
Ballet: Serenade
Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Photo © & courtesy of Moonbug Photography


Dancers: Indianapolis Ballet<br>Ballet: Serenade <br>Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Dancers: Indianapolis Ballet
Ballet: Serenade
Choreography by George Balanchine (c) The George Balanchine Trust.

Photo © & courtesy of Moonbug Photography

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