Sinews, saguaro and starlight

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The sun was just beginning to set as I arrived for Wednesday night’s dress rehearsal of “Topia,” a world-premiere by Ib Andersen being performed by Ballet Arizona through May 26 at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix. After strolling a path lined with luminaria and topiaries, I arrived at the site of the 80 foot stage, set in front of the lush desert landscape that’s an intregral part of the production.

I plopped down at one of the bistro tables closest to the stage and watched final preparations like meticulously mopping a thin layer of desert dust from the stage. The rehearsal got underway just as strips of pink laced through a blue horizon transformed into a smoky gray sky layered with billowing clouds — creating a beautiful backdrop for the women’s creamy costumes and the men’s toned torsos, which mirrored the strong lines of two saguaro cactus towering over the stage.

As male dancers opened the performance, clad only in dance shorts matching the tones of their flesh, I felt a new appreciation for man as machine. These dancers have muscles that’ll give a swift kick to naysayers who think ballet is for sissies. Their athleticism is astounding, and they have the artistry to match. A machine without a muse is merely a lonely vessel, but Ballet Arizona marries them well.

The symphony of sinew feels transformed as female dancers enter the stage with poise and precision. “Topia” features every dancer in the company, in various couplings and combinations. Often Andersen’s choreography seems intended to frame or play off various elements of the desert surroundings. During one dance solo, a dainty white moth flit about for a spell before alighting near the front of the stage, perhaps relenting to its more graceful counterpart.

The work has five movements, and runs an hour or so in length. It features Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 in F Major, op. 68 — also called “The Pastoral.” Costume design is by Ib Andersen and Tenor Texidor, and scenery design is by Ib Andersen and Wrara Pleslow. Lighting design is by Michael Korsch.

Doors open at 5:30pm for folks who want to enjoy a bit of al fresco dining before tasting “Topia” for the first time. Choose a table seat closer to the stage if marveling at the majesty of individual dancers is your thing. Sit in rows of general seating if you’re more into appreciating the overall artistry of the thing.

“Topia” is a sort of master class in coupling visual and performance art. The lone prop is a large strip of white fabric a tad taller than the eight dancers who seem to manipulate it from behind by grasping a cord that runs through the center of the frame formed by 15 triangles. It’s a stand alone work of art, but also serves as backdrop for dances by three male/female duos — and the canvas for creations painted with movement and light.

Saguaro in bloom, and surrounding desert plants growing behind the stage, make for a stunning natural set piece. They soak up the lights that illuminate them like water, reflecting the colors beamed from five towers on each side of the stage — looking like plump mangos shaded with green, yellow and orange. Watching the landscape awash in color called to mind lava lamps, scoops of rainbow sherbet, Moses’ burning bush and all those cactus suckers sold to Arizona tourists.

When the rehearsal ended, dancers took a ten minute break before gathering for notes from Andersen and several run-throughs of various sections of the dance. With each correction, Andersen seemed to be finely pruning a topiary already beautifully crafted but needing just that extra little bit of attention to round out a stray leaf or two. They quit work for the evening at around 10:30pm.

“Topia” opens this evening, May 2, with the first of 17 performances. There’s a special Mother’s Day performance on Sun, May 13 featuring a sweet treat and flower for each mom who attends. They’ll even have chocolates and truffles available for purchase. Click here to learn more about the show, seating/tickets and dining options. Then sit back and let someone else work in the garden for a change.

— Lynn

Note: Ticket holders who arrive early can watch Ballet Arizona dancers take a company class on stage from 6:15-7pm. Doors open at 5:30pm and folks who show their “Topia” ticket can tour the garden before the performance begins at 7:30pm.

Coming up: Art awakenings, Once upon a diary, More Mother’s Day offerings


2 responses to “Sinews, saguaro and starlight

  1. The dancers look fantastic… Would like to see them perform some day. 😉 I’m finally catching up again on blog posts. Thanks for your patience! 🙂

  2. Thanks for being such a loyal reader–I’m enjoying catching up on your posts as well! — Lynn

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