Tag Archives: Ballet Arizona

Dance meets competition

Jessica Phillips dances in “Paquita” with Ballet Arizona (Photo: Rosalie O’Conner)

For most folks, the film “First Position” will be a rare glimpse into the world of competitive youth ballet. “First Position,” scheduled to open late May in Scottsdale and early June in Tucson, follows the adventures of six dancers as they compete in the Youth America Grand Prix — the “largest  competition that awards full scholarships to top ballet schools.”

But Jessica Phillips, who has danced professionally with Ballet Arizona as an apprentice since 2009, has already gone behind the scenes of the prestigious competition — competing several times as a soloist and as part of an ensemble from the Bay Area Houston Ballet and Theatre in Texas.

Phillips began dance lessons when she was eight years old, but says she “didn’t take it seriously” until she was 12. That’s when a teacher suggested Phillips enter the Youth America Grand Prix, and Phillips was game. “I remember being so nervous,” she recalls, “knowing that I’d been working for months and months and months.” It all turns on a single dance, and anything can happen.

“Dancers have good days and bad days like any job or day in life,” muses Phillips. “The day of the competition there’s so much stress thinking about all the sacrifices you’ve made.” No matter how well you do, she says, you never feel like it was exactly how you wanted it to be. “You can always be better,” insists Phillips.

Phillips participated in the Youth America Grand Prix when Rebecca Houseknecht, one of the film’s six featured dancers, was competing as well — and the two became friends while housed together during their competition days. Phillips recalls admiring Houseknecht because she “really puts herself out there” as a competitor.

Still, Phillips says it isn’t all about winning. “It’s a learning process,” she adds. Though recognized for being in the top 12 during her third year of competition, Phillips went home feeling something more — the inspiration of seeing other beautiful dancers and they ways they work. Also a new sense of her own unique strengths and style.

The world of competitive dance isn’t for everyone — but Phillips recommends it for dancers who are are passionate and like performing. Especially those who dream of being a ballerina. Phillips recalls running across some not-so-nice dancers and stage moms, but says she met plenty of folks who were “sweet and kind.” Her best advice? “Don’t compare yourself with others.”

“Stay focused on yourself,” suggests Phillips. “Everyone has their own journey.” It’s self-destructive, she says, to start “freaking out” over people you have no control over. Phillips recalls listening to music before taking the stage because it “helps to get the stress out.” Whatever the outcome, competing “gets your name out there.” And the travel is another plus.

“First Position” promises to take audiences on a “yearlong journey around the world” — following both the struggles and successes of its central characters. Another dance film, opening May 18 in NYC, offers a behind-the-scenes look at one of the country’s longest-running dance festival. It’s called “Never Stand Still: Dancing at Jacob’s Pillow.”

Those who’ve tired of “Dance Moms” divas can get a glimpse into the world of competitive ballet when the CW Network (in cooperation with the BBC) premieres a reality TV show titled “Breaking Pointe” on May 31 — which features Ballet West in Utah, headed by artistic director Adam Sklute.

I’m eager to see both films, and the new series — but hope folks who enjoy them will take dance appreciation a step further by enjoying live dance performance in their communities. Dance on the big or small screen is lovely. Dance on stage is magnificent.

— Lynn

Coming up: Tackling bigotry with plays, poems and songs


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

Diving into dance

My favorite dance dad snapped this baby several years ago

Seems the dance teacher duo of “Dance Moms Miami” has decided to delve into the psyches of its charges — coupling choreography sessions with pseudo-therapeutic meanderings into the minds of young dancers. But taking fifth place with an homage to letting go of insecurities seems to have refocused their resolve to destroy all imperfections.

I can’t help wishing, as I watch young Lucas dance each week, that some benevolent ballet teacher would snatch him up — crisply pointed toes and all — and take him away from all that Bieberesque behavior. There’s more to dance than bright lights and bootie shaking — and it appears we’ll soon get a glimpse of it thanks to The CW Network’s new “Breaking Pointe,” which promises a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the world of competitive dance.

I learned of the show from a dancer and ballet teacher who once called Utah home. Turns out Ballet West in Utah, led by artistic director Adam Sklute, will be featured in the new BBC production — conceived as a sort of antidote to the 201o film “Black Swan.”

We’ve been working on a book inspired by burgeoning interest in the dance world, eager to offer dance parents a resource for guiding their own family’s journey with dance. The next step in our own journey will be securing a publisher and getting that baby into bookstores.

We know there’s plenty of interest. Posts I’ve written on the “Dance Moms” phenomenon continue to get a high number of hits, and she’s often approached by dance parents hungry for information and guidance. I was a dance mom for more than a decade, and know there’s more to dance education than schlepping from one two-bit competition to another.

We’re all plenty entertained by shows like “Dance Moms” — but our own children, who don’t live inside a little box ruled by remote control, need more. They need parents appreciative of the true art and athleticism of dance. And families who support their creative journeys with more than sequins and spandex.

— Lynn

Coming up: Ballet Arizona premieres Ib Andersen’s “Topia” at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix

Note: We’d love to hear from parents with dance-related questions, dance professionals with pearls to share and folks with publishing connections. You can share comments below or reach us at poisedpen@cox.net until our new website takes wings.

I feel the earth move

My relationship to the earth is changing. When post-knee surgery instructions included “no kneeling” and “no squatting,” I suspected my gardening days were behind me. But once my son Christopher — raised on nature walks and front yard veggie gardening — reminded me about an upcoming native plant sale, I resolved to get a bit back into the swing of things.

He’s lobbied me for years about making the transition to gardening with native plant species, puzzled by my attempts to explain the meaning behind other sorts of plants I’ve embraced through the years. Most remind me of places lived before moving to the desert — all located near forests where I feel most at home.

But water is scarce, and so too is time. Using native species makes practical sense — and I can only hope some measure of true inspiration for desert gardening will worm its way into my heart. Cactus never really cut it for me. This feels like the first time I’ve noticed that the darn things actually blossom for a spell.

I took a trusty rake to my long overgrown garden yesterday in a botantical spin on “out with the old and in with the new.” It broke off near the tines, apparently angry over all those seasons of neglect. But the little stub that remained was enough to get the job done. I’ve got a clean slate, a fresh palette. And the will to feel the earth move.

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This morning we strolled through the Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden at Chaparral Park. And I’ll be hitting the plant sale at the Center for Native and Urban Wildlife at Scottsdale Community College later this week (Thurs and Fri 9am-1pm in Toad Hall, and open to the public). It’s a fitting way to celebrate Earth Day, which plenty of other folks will be doing this month at various Valley venues — from the Desert Botanical Garden to Phoenix Zoo.

Folks who favor the feel of playing in the dirt while keeping their own hands clean are eager to witness the unfolding of a new Desert Botanical Garden/Ballet Arizona collaboration called “Topia” — which’ll blossom beyond the traditional stage during its May 2-26 run at the garden. Choreographer Ib Andersen (artistic director for Ballet Arizona) is both dancer and visual artist, so I’m eager to experience his marriage of nature with movement.

Those who like their celebrations on the cooler side can head to Valley theaters for the Earth Day premiere of Disneynature’s “Chimpanzee.” Also Arizona libraries, colleges and museums offering special Earth Day fare. I’d love to list them all for you here, but I’ve spent far too much time at my laptop of late. It’s time I feel the earth move.

— Lynn

Note: Click here to find Earth Day celebrations and other family-friendly events featured in the Raising Arizona Kids magazine calendar (and to learn how you can submit calendar items to the magazine).

Coming up: Human rights and human rites

Photos: Scottsdale Xeriscape Garden at Chaparral Park

Gaga for dance

Batsheva Dance of Israel performs March 22 in Scottsdale

Israel’s Batsheva Dance Company, founded in 1964 by Martha Graham and Baroness Batsheva De Rothschild, uses a little something called “Gaga” — the movement vocabulary of choreographer Ohad Naharin — to explore and perform “new movement possibilities.” Folks who go “gaga for dance” can enjoy their work Thurs, March 22 at Scottsdale Center for the Performing Arts.

Come April, the center will present two companies from Australia — “Chunky Move: Connected” Fri, April 6 and Sat, April 7 and “Marrugeku: Buru” Sat, April 14. The latter features “stories of the indigenous people of Western Australia told through hip-hop music and stilt dancing.” They’ll present “Dance Brazil,” featuring “dazzling Afro-Brazilian music and dance” Thurs, April 26 and Fri, April 27 and Movement Source Dance Company brings their “Inspiration” to the venue Thurs, May 10 and Fri, May 11.

SambAZ performs March 24 at the MIM in Phoenix

The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix presents “Experience Brazil” Sat, March 24 — which includes SambAZ dancers performing works inspired by “Brazilian and Carnaval culture” with Grupo Liberdade from 11am to 12:30pm. The event also features live music, drum workshops and more.

If you’re truly “gaga for dance,” a couple of dance performances will never do. Hence, I’m happy to share a diverse assortment of additional offerings headed our way in coming weeks and months, including several taking place this month. Let other folks go “gaga” for shoes or chocolate or basketball. You know that dance is where it’s at.

Katey Koderik performs "I Believe" for American Voices 2011 (Photo: Tim Fuller)

Center Dance Ensemble performs “Dance AZ/100,” which honors the Arizona Centennial with the premiere of “Western Suite” to music by Aaron Copeland and “Concierto Madigral” music by Joaquin Rodrigo March 22-25 at the Herberger Theater Center in Phoenix. Come April they’ll perform “American Voices” featuring new choreography to the words of America’s great poets.

Alvin Ailey Dance Theater, which blends “African American cultural expression and the American modern dance tradition,” performs Sat, March 24 and Sun, March 25 at Mesa Arts Center. “Dancing with the Queen Creek Stars” hits the Queen Creek Performing Arts Center Sat, March 24 — featuring six “respected community leaders” partnered with the Utah Ballroom Dance Company for waltz, samba and such. MarioCo. Dance brings jazz dance to the Herberger Theater Center Thurs, March 15, with a performance dubbed “Propulsion.”

Alvin Ailey Dance Theater performs March 24 & 25 in Mesa

Ballet Arizona presents “Director’s Choice” March 29-April 1, a new Ib Andersen work titled “Topia” May 2-26 (in  collaboration with the Desert Botanical Garden) and “All Balanchine” May 31-June 3.

State Street Ballet of Santa Barbara performs “Jungle Book” — an original production by Rodney Gustafson set in the fabled jungles of Rudyard Kipling’s Africa — Fri, March 30 at the Del E. Webb Center for the Performing Arts in Wickenburg. A lovely option for those of you who go “gaga” for both dance and exploring other parts of our fair state.

Scorpius Dance Theatre performs May 3-5 in Phoenix

Scorpius Dance Theatre presents “The Kick-A Dance Showcase” featuring the work of Arizona choreographers plus those from other fab places May 3-5 at the Phoenix Theatre Little Theatre. Let your little ones think the “A” stands for “arabesque.”

Finally, I leave you with a trio of dance events coming to Tempe Center for the Arts. Flamenco and belly dance artists Yumi LaRosa and Ava Fleming present “cultural music and dance” Sat, March 31 at TCA. CONDER/dance presents “inextricably linked” — “a performance inspired by flight and costumed entirely in vintage clothing” — Sat, April 14. The CONDER/dance performance also includes dance films from Belgium and NYC.

A Ludwig Dance Theatre performs April 19-22 in Tempe

A Ludwig Dance Theatre presents “Project 2012: Looking Back; Moving Forward” April 19-22 at Tempe Center for the Arts — which continues the company’s collaboration with choreographers Babs Case, Mary Fitzgerald, Kelly Roth, Karen Schupp. Look for a reprise of past works, an examination of issues facing contemporary society, audience involvement via text messaging and a little something that’ll have Valley theater buffs going “gaga” — the performance of a Daniel Nagrin improvisational piece titled “Someone” by actor, fight choreographer and ASU professor David Barker. That, my friends, will be a “gaga” moment in all its glory.

— Lynn

Note: I’m working on a roundup of spring recitals and performances being presented by youth dance companies and dance schools in the Valley. If your group is presenting a spring recital or performance, please send details (and photos if you like) to rakstagemom@gmail.com.

Coming up: Dance meets dirt?, From Brooklyn to Japan

Romeo, Romeo…

A scene from "Romeo and Juliet" performed in 2011 at the Utah Shakespeare Festival (Photo: Karl Hugh). View their current season at http://www.bard.org.

A pair of “Romeo and Juliet” productions come to Valley stages during the 2012/13 season, so those of you who’ve enjoyed one or more of this season’s theater productions featuring star-crossed lovers ala Shakespeare can now experience its grandeur as a work of opera or ballet.

Ballet Arizona presents “Romeo and Juliet” featuring music by Sergei Prokofiev and choreography by artistic director Ib Andersen Feb. 14-17, 2013. Those of you who insist it’s far too early to think of such things should recall just how recently we seemed to be celebrating New Year’s Eve. Time moves quickly, especially in matters of the heart.

Arizona Opera presents “Roméo et Juliette,” written by Charles Gounod, Nov. 16-18. The Arizona Opera production, sung in French with English subtitles, features lyric soprano Jennifer Black of the Metropolitan Opera performing the aria “Je veux vivre.” Talk about a moment.

Love fares no better in most works of opera, which is part of their appeal for those dashed in everyday life by similar dreams and disappointments. Arizona Opera opens its 2012/13 season with another tale of tragic romance set against feuding family — performing Donizetti’s “Lucia di Lammermoor” Oct. 12-14. Think Scottish moor instead of Italian piazza.

Ballet Arizona opens its 2012/13 season with “Giselle,” composed by Adolphe Adam and choreographed by Ib Andersen, Nov. 1-4. It’s one of four works being performed with The Phoenix Symphony at Symphony Hall. Others include “The Nutcracker” (music by Prokofiev, choreography by Andersen) Dec. 7-24 and “All Balanchine” May 2-5, 2013 (featuring “Serenade,” “Monumentum pro Gesualdo”/”Movements for Piano and Orchestra” and “Western Symphony”).

Ballet Arizona’s 2012/13 season also includes “Director’s Choice” — being performed March 28-31, 2013 at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix — which features “Le Carnival des Animaux” by Alexai Ratmansky (an Arizona premiere), “Diversions” by Ib Andersen and “Untitled” by Alejandro Cerrudo (a world premiere).

Arizona Opera’s 2012/13 season features Giacomo Puccini’s “Tosca,” in which passionate diva meets political dissident, being performed in Italian with English subtitles Jan. 25-27. Also Giuseppe Verdi’s “Il Tavatore” (Italian with English subtitles) March 1-3. And Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s “The Marriage of Figero” (Italian with English subtitles) April 5-7.

No worries, by the way, if your Italian feels a bit rusty. If the rest of America can keep up with the Kardashians, you can keep up with a romance language or two. A quick click here will direct you to Arizona Opera offerings from composer bios and opera synopses to tips for first-time opera-goers — plus special programs for youth and adults.

Click here and you can explore education and outreach offerings from Ballet Arizona. Both companies, by the way, are readying for moves to new homes that’ll give them more space for both the artistic and administration elements of their work.

They’re also performing pieces to round out the 2011/12 season — including “Director’s Choice” (March 29-April 1) at the Orpheum Theatre in Phoenix plus “Topia” (May 2-26) at the Desert Botanical Garden in Phoenix for Ballet Arizona — and “Aida” (March 9-11) and “Orfeo ed Euridice” (April 13-15) for Arizona Opera.

— Lynn

Note: Additional information about performance locations (including Tucson venues/dates) are available at each company’s website. Click here to learn about tonight’s special “season reveal” event at Theater Works in Peoria, and here to explore 12 works featured in the 2012/13 “Live in HD” season from the Metropolitan Opera.

Coming up: Doing time

From mariachi to honky tonks

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The Musical Instrument Museum in Phoenix celebrates 100 years of Arizona music with an exhibit titled “I Am AZ Music” — which opens on Sat, Feb. 18 with a full slate of events and runs through Jan. 6, 2013. Admission to the exhibit, located inside the museum’s United States/Canada Gallery, is free with museum admission.

Several performing arts groups are featured in the exhibit — including the Tucson Symphony Orchestra, which gave its inaugural performance in 1929. Also Phoenix Symphony (founded in 1947), Arizona Opera (founded in 1972 as Tucson Opera Company), Ballet Arizona (founded in 1986) and Phoenix Opera (founded in 2005).

Turns out Arizona’s diverse musical roots include cowboy poets and cowgirl singers. Youth mariachi groups and the father of Chicano music. Funky Broadway and choral tunes. Even skate punk and alternative rock. We’ve even got two state anthems, adopted by the Arizona legislature in 1919 and 1982, so we might be due for a third come mid-century.

Plenty of famous musicians were born in Arizona — or based here when they started out or made it big. Seems Buck Owens was playing honky tonks around Mesa in 1945 and the Earwigs gave their debut performance at Phoenix’s Cortez High School talent show in 1964. The latter, of course, became the Spiders, the Nazz and Alice Cooper.

Waylon Jennings was based in Phoenix when he signed with RCA records, as was Wayne Newton when he launched his singing career at Fremont Casino in Las Vegas. The Tempe-based Gin Blossoms released their first full length album, “Dusted,” in 1989 — two years after Tucson-born Linda Rondstadt released the album “Canciones de mi Padre.”

The world can thank us as well for alternative rock bands sporting names like “Meat Puppets” (they started in Phoenix in 1980) and “Jimmy Eat World” (they lived in Mesa when their debut album was released in 1994). Phoenix-born Stevie Nicks as inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998 and Glendale-born Jordin Sparks won “American Idol” in 2007.

The “I Am AZ Music” exhibit includes displays dedicated to Native American music and music rooted in Latino culture. Folks exploring this and other MIM exhibits can wear a device that plays corresponding music prompted by one’s proximity to each exhibit, making for a multi-sensory experience without all the fuss of turning something on and off.

Those who attend the public opening and celebration (Sat, Feb 18 from 10am-5pm) can enjoy the “I Am AZ Music” exhibit, explore the MIM’s many galleries and enjoy several special activities — including musical performances, lecture/demonstrations, a curator-guided tour of “I Am AZ Music” (1:30pm) and more. Details and times are available online at www.themim.org.

— Lynn

Coming up: A double dose of Dorothy