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Indianapolis Ballet: In Rehearsal for “An Evening of Balanchine”: Part 1

by Rita Kohn
September 24, 2019
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
Violette Verdy danced with New York City Ballet 1958-1977, followed by stints as a director of ballet companies, and as Professor of Music [Dance] at Indiana University from 1984 until her death in 2016.

Violette Verdy’s spirit was in the rehearsal studio on August 28, 2019; emphatically witty and most certainly again in the moment of discovery. George Balanchine created "Sonatine" for Miss Verdy in 1973, but she owned it only insofar as she could share its delight with future generations, and that’s the legacy Zippora Karz is bringing to Indianapolis Ballet as a Balanchine Trust répétiteur.

Just as Miss Verdy, dancing this work with Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, expressed anticipation of relating, always being inside a new thought, inside a musical phrase revealing itself in concert with movement, Miss Karz coached pairs of IB dancers to feel the freedom of forward momentum in a shimmer of change.

“Balanchine took a classical form to have dancers reveal their relationship, within the moment, every moment within the moment; life’s celebration of life as a sequence of steps, a sort of magic of life’s nuances.” Miss Karz animates her words with a physical radiance that conveys the reverence due to Balanchine for his understanding of what Verdy was capable of lifting up from Ravel’s piano solo. “Balanchine was such a genius, to be inspired by a dancer; to find the love and life within life itself; you can’t help but inspire love.”

This is at the heart of what the pairs of Indianapolis Ballet dancers were sifting through as they inhabited Ravel’s world at the turn of the 20th Century, and of Balanchine, Verdy and Bonnefoux in 1973. The IB dancers had just come off a program at The District Theatre in Indianapolis, that included Victoria Lyras’ choreography for Ravel’s “Mirrors,” written in tandem with “Sonatine.” The music of Ravel was in their bones, as a counterpoint to the seething, unsettling feel of his time.

1973, too, was fraught with tumultuous events—the seeming never-ending Cold War being egged on by the space race, the Vietnam War, the Watergate scandal, the oil crisis, the energy crisis. People felt battered by events out of their control. We needed Balanchine’s uplift then, as did people in France in 1906, as we do now.

“Sonatine, quietly elegant in form, is not about two people being lovers, it’s a love of life, it’s not aggressively proving dominance, it’s inviting, it’s a window to what is sacred and safe.” Miss Karz expands her thoughts in concert with the progression of Ravel’s three movements, allowing us to feel the totality of how much we can value in life itself.

“It’s what words can’t speak, it’s sharing a love of human relationship. Today, with media there is a different sense of time, of relationship. With quietness we can have a plasticity; timelessness is a sense of time. Music makes you aware of time, of humanity.”

Experiencing the dancers, in pairs, taking ownership of the choreography and its execution, I felt a radiant dimensionality infuse the space as a glow from within the bodies, dancing being calming and energizing at the same time. Ravel gifted the first movement, a recognizable sonata form marked “Moderate,” with an unexpected leaping melody that reappears in different textures in the second “Minuet" movement, and in the third “Animated” movement.

As a ballet, explains Miss Kartz, “It’s always a pas de deux between heart and technique, between time and timing, not just between a female and a male. The changing counts defy falling into a comfort zone.” You always have to be into the movement to come, at the same instant you’re in the present movement growing from the movement just exited. Momentum is in a continuum of past-present-future, and its tempo alters just as quickly as you think you’ve nailed a count.

Inhabiting Ravel’s "Sonatine" as a ballet is an example of intellect and athleticism making split second decisions in concert with emotion and desire. Add in the element of live music, with a piano and a pianist on-stage, the dynamics of a pas de trois tugs at the simplicity. The interplay can take an observer’s breath away. At the end, expect the silence to be animated with a roomful of heartbeats.

When first I witnessed Balanchine dimensionalizing Ravel’s composition, it seemed to me that Verdy was not so much dancing with a male partner, as she was partnering with life itself, inviting life to follow her where her steps were leading them —into yet another unknown, with the surety of trust and discovery. I still felt that way in the rehearsal room.

What will happen after that leap into the wings?

Is this autobiography at work?

“Balanchine never lost sight of what was given to him,” observes Miss Karz. “He was grateful, and underlying gratitude was reverence of life.”

In 1973 Miss Verdy was fifty years old, just four years away from retiring from a career that started at age fifteen. The Indianapolis Ballet dancers are half her age when she premiered the ballet. Yet the compelling story is as relevant to them as it was to Miss Verdy. A two-year-old company nurturing their passion for dance and yet the requirement remains as a trust of faith, a leap into the unseen from the audience’s vantage point. By the time we experience this ballet in performance, September 27-29, it will have released itself into something not so edgy. Yet, when Miss Karsh relates Miss Verdy’s caution not to get too comfortable, not to know the next moment as a practiced move, the dancers understand; adventure into the music, perfection is with unknowability.

While this is the first Balanchine staging for Indianapolis Ballet by Miss Karz, she has presented Master Classes with the Indianapolis School of Ballet from 2010-2012. Some of the IB company members remember her zestful coaching then. As a soloist with the New York City Ballet, Miss Karz performed for 16 years on stage and in televised performances, dancing in works by Balanchine, Jerome Robbins, Peter Martins and Lynne Taylor Corbett. As a repetiteur for the George Balanchine Trust, she stages Balanchine ballets for schools and companies worldwide. Her formal bio reads, “Diagnosed with juvenile diabetes at the age of 21, she is passionate about motivating others to take care of themselves and live their dreams, regardless of what they see as obstacles. She is the author of “The Sugarless Plum” and a children’s story, “Ballerina Dreams.” [see: zipporakarz.com].

Indianapolis Ballet and Indianapolis School of Ballet founder Victoria Lyras appeared as a guest artist with the Indianapolis Ballet Theatre during its 1991-92 season in a special program, which included Jeffrey Gribler of the Pennsylvania Ballet, and Panayis Lyras, Ms. Lyras’ brother and internationally-renowned concert pianist. Ms. Lyras and Mr. Gribler danced George Balanchine’s Sonatine, staged and coached by Violette Verdy. Mr.Lyras will be onstage as the soloist with "Sonatine" in performance by Indianapolis Ballet, Sept. 27-29.

In rehearsal for An Evening of Balanchine: Part 2: Observing Staging Allegro Brilliant and Who Cares? is coming up next.

An Evening of Balanchine: "Allegro Brilliant", "Sonatine", "Who Cares?" - September 27-29, 2019, The Toby at Newfields

Tickets indyballet.org; 317-955-7525

Continuing public performances:


New Works Showcase Series – October 31-November 3, 2019 | The District Theatre

"The Nutcracker" presented by Methodist Sports Medicine – November 29-December 1, 2019 | Murat Theatre at Old National Centre

Love is in the Air: "Rubies" & "Tango Forever" – February 14-16, 2020 | The Toby at Newfields

"Sleeping Beauty" – April 17-19, 2020 | The Toby at Newfields
IB dancers Yoshiko Kamikusa and Chris Lingner rehearsing Balanchine's 'Sonatine'.

IB dancers Yoshiko Kamikusa and Chris Lingner rehearsing Balanchine's "Sonatine".


IB dancers Yoshiko Kamikusa and Chris Lingner rehearsing Balanchine's 'Sonatine'.

IB dancers Yoshiko Kamikusa and Chris Lingner rehearsing Balanchine's "Sonatine".

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