The authenticity and accuracy of Ballet Arizona’s All Balanchine program this weekend relies on the invaluable knowledge of Artistic Director Ib Andersen, himself a Balanchine protégé for whom the great choreographer created major roles in Ballade, Robert Schumann’s ‘Davidsbündlertänze,’ and Mozartiana. With a distinguished background in the Royal Danish Ballet and the New York City Ballet, Andersen now serves as one of only a few répétiteurs authorized to stage George Balanchine’s works.
The program includes Serenade, set to music by Peter Tchaikovsky and the first work Balanchine choreographed for American dancers. The Balanchine Trust describes it as “a ballet of patterns that…explores academic ballet technique…the choreography, as the music, has overtones of love, loss, yearning.” Serenade’s glorious lighting, long translucent skirts, and stark staging are quite literally breathtaking when the curtain rises.
Ballet Arizona dancer Natalia Magnicaballi explains that Serenade’s unusual combination of classicism and drama began as exercises. “Balanchine started choreographing in class…and this girl came late, and he put that in the choreography.” The role continues with a waltz and later an elegy, where a relatively small movement provides striking visual contrast: the dancer unpins her hair.
Magnicaballi demonstrates another position from a section of the elegy known as “Dark Angel,” sweeping her arms behind her head and extending them like outstretched wings. The pose was inspired by Antonio Canova’s 18th-century sculpture of Cupid and Psyche, according to Balanchine expert Suzanne Farrell, for whom Magnicaballi has danced since 1999.
“It’s very interesting for me,” says Magnicaballi, “because [Farrell and Andersen] both worked for Balanchine [in the 1980s], so I have the female…and the male…so it makes sense how they ask for things.” She pauses thoughtfully. “They’re very different in personality, but I think that they complement each other.”
Magnicaballi joined Ballet Arizona in 2002 after working with the Italian company Aterballetto and Julio Bocca’s Ballet Argentino in her home country. She’s particularly beloved by Arizona audiences from lead roles in La Sonnambula (The Sleepwalker), Coppélia, and Swan Lake as well as Ib Andersen’s creations.
The dancer tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in January 2011 — “it totally went tukk,” she describes, accompanying the sound with a twisting, tearing motion. She spent nearly a year recovering and retraining herself. “You have to teach yourself…how to walk again,” she continues. “But I always say things happen for a reason, because I came back stronger. I’m training different — I go to the gym, I lift weights, I do cross-training. It helped like a thousand percent.”
Magnicaballi’s recovery means a return to her signature roles. “I’m so happy to be dancing Movements again,” she exclaims. “It’s my favorite, favorite, favorite.” She’s referring to Movements for Piano and Orchestra, which is paired with Monumentum pro Gesualdo. Igor Stravinsky composed Movements and orchestrated Don Carlo Gesualdo’s madrigals for Monumentum, and pianist William Wolfram provides live music with conductor Timothy Russell and The Phoenix Symphony.
“I had the privilege to work with Suzanne [Farrell] on that,” continues Magnicaballi. “It was created for Diana Adams, and [she] found out that she was pregnant, so she had to rest and stay in bed. So Diana taught Suzanne the ballet in her living room…and she passed it to me, one-on-one…” She nods emphatically. “It’s very special for her, that ballet, and it is for me…I feel like home when I do it.”
She describes Movements as “super-precise…you are constantly moving, and it has to have a certain connection in the way you partner, too. It’s very interesting how the tempo also changes.” Keeping track of the beats in Stravinsky’s music can also be challenging because of meter changes. “When the ballet’s very precise it makes so much sense…it’s like seeing music through the movement,” she says.
Magnicaballi’s perspective on Monumentum was influenced by the composer’s history. In 1590 Gesualdo arranged for the murder of his wife and her lover. “I know that,” says the dancer, “because Suzanne actually came with the story and said, ‘Can you believe this music is so beautiful, and so serene and calm?’”
She continues, “So all those ingredients make you think about how you want to feel and portray the ballet.” Magnicaballi explains that Balanchine’s choreography encourages a natural progression of movement from one balance point to the next. “It’s very rich,” she says, “and the language is very interesting.”
The final work on the All Balanchine program, The Four Temperaments, offers a refreshing contrast. Paul Hindemith was commissioned to write the music by Balanchine in 1940, and it features a theme and variations named after the four personality characteristics of medieval cosmology: melancholic, sanguinic, phlegmatic, and choleric.
“I think what I like about Balanchine is…every single ballet is like you’re stepping into a completely different world,” says Magnicaballi. “We’re doing three different ballets, and I feel like a totally different person in each of them.” She smiles. “It’s so great to have that in a program as a dancer — it’s very fulfilling.”
After Ballet Arizona’s All-Balanchine performances end on May 5, the company moves to an outdoor stage at Desert Botanical Garden for three weeks of Topia, a work choreographed by Andersen using Beethoven’s “Pastoral” Symphony No. 6.
If you go:
Music protesting war and violence takes many forms — from 20th century songs like Metallica’s hit “One” and Sting’s “Russians” to earlier expressions by Bob Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary, and Joan Baez. And long before John Lennon and Pete Seeger made their mark, classical composers were objecting to conflict; for example, Benjamin Britten with his War Requiem and Krzysztof Penderecki with his Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima.
English composer, teacher, writer, and conductor Ralph Vaughan Williams brought his own style of protest and commentary to his interpretation of the Roman Catholic Mass, Dona nobis pacem (“Give us peace”). Written in 1936 and 1937, the cantata uses text from the Bible, a parliamentary speech by British statesman John Bright, and verse by Walt Whitman.
“Dona nobis pacem was written in the dark days of the late 1930s as another European war loomed,” explains MusicaNova Music Director Warren Cohen. “Although the last section ends hopefully, the quiet ending suggests that perhaps he [Vaughan Williams] saw that things were not so hopeful in 1936.”
The six-part work includes martial drums and bugles followed by the mourning of a movement titled “Dirge for Two Veterans,” and through it all a solo soprano voice rises in entreaty. “This plea for peace is emotionally direct…[and] can be seen as a plea for sanity,” says Cohen.
This evening, he leads MusicaNova Orchestra in a performance of Dona nobis pacem and other vocal works in a program called And Open to All: Opera, Oratorio, and Song at Central United Methodist Church. The combined choirs of Arizona School for the Arts and Central United Methodist Church join the orchestra (full disclosure: I’m one of the musicians).
Soloists include singers from a newly-formed Valley organization called Opera Revolution, an offshoot of the music advocacy group Classical Revolution Phoenix, which offers casual, free performances in non-traditional venues as well as the annual Classical Revolution Phoestival. The performers include Karen Hendricks Crawford, Daniel Kurek, Susan Hurley, Andrew Briggs, Joyce Yin, John Cleveland, and Robert Altizer.
“This concert is an exploration of diversity within vocal music,” says Cohen, who has a very personal interest in song since he’s married to a soprano. He chose not only the large, introspective work by Ralph Vaughan Williams but also an assortment of art songs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries as well as a classic operatic scene.
“The songs represent five separate and distinct visions of the subject of desire and love,” he continues, describing works by Richard Strauss, Hugo Wolf, and Aldo Finzi. “From the expression of lost love in ‘Allerseelen (All Souls’ Eve)’ through the psychopathic manipulation of ‘Der Rattenfänger (The Rat-Catcher)’ – based on the Pied Piper of Hamelin — to the glow of ‘Morgen (Tomorrow),’ the anxious puppy love of ‘Cäcilie,’ and the longing of ‘Catharine,’ each song represents a radically different take on the subject.”
The program’s operatic excerpt is an ensemble scene from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, set at a party hosted by Giovanni himself, who hopes to seduce the country girl Zerlina in the course of the evening. They’re joined by Zerlina’s fiancé, Giovanni’s servant, and three masked strangers who secretly seek revenge against the seducer.
Musically, the scene features multiple voices and three instrumental ensembles, and at one point three different dances — a waltz, a quadrille, and a minuet — overlap in carefully engineered chaos “as Mozart anticipates the experiments of Charles Ives by 125 years,” says Cohen, whose adventurous programming has won him an award from the American Society of Composers, Authors, and Publishers (ASCAP) and the American Symphony Orchestra League (ASOL).
“[It’s] a tour-de-force of complexity,” he concludes. “The seven voices appear in the guise of soloist, duet and trio partners, and ensembles, sometimes tripping over each other as the various operatic conventions run almost simultaneously.”
If you go:
When: Thursday, April 25, 7:30PM
Where: Central United Methodist Church sanctuary, 1875 N. Central Ave.
Music and art—they seem to go so well together. It just sort of rolls off the tongue: musicandart, artandmusic.
For some of us in grade school, they were even taught at the same time and maybe even by the same teacher. If you were good at one, there was a good chance you might have been good at the other.
Then maybe you go to college, or maybe you don’t, but either way a person ends up traveling down a path that is predominantly music OR art. Somewhere in this process, a person might keep ties to both and some people even manage to integrate it seamlessly with the work they do, but most lean to one side or the other.
The artist stares longingly at the violinist, remembering what it used to feel like to labor over a solo. The violinist attends art openings to vicariously sense the feeling of creating a new body of work.
How did we become so separate?
I will admit that I am one of those people. I used to play flute and bass guitar and believed that I could really be amazing at both music and art but at some point, I felt I had to choose to make one or the other better or risk being mediocre at both. The word “dilettante” kept jumping to mind.
Maybe this explains a phenomena I have troubling understanding in our sunny city: the Grand Canyon of a divide between the art and music communities. I discovered this after meeting my partner who came from a music background into multi-media artwork. It seemed like a natural progression. I assumed we would have a lot of friends in common. But, it turned out that we knew virtually none of the same people. How could this be?
Artists and musicians share a lot of the same struggles: attempting to make a living while doing the thing you’re good at; fitting in time to practice while managing the making a living part and all of life’s other sundries; determining whether to go the more commercial or more independent route; and fielding all of the inquiries from family members/friends/acquaintances about what you really do. It seems we’d have a lot to talk about with each other.
It also seems as though we’d have a lot to collaborate on. While we’re working at putting together new multi-media pieces and staging impromptu events in vacant lots, members of both communities could step outside of their familiar zones and try something that lands in the middle. In the process of brainstorming, we might even realize that our creative processes are very much the same. John Cage, Merce Cunningham and Robert Rauschenberg collaborated often in the 1950s to 1970s, generating multi-faceted pieces that would have been very different had they been coming from a solo perspective.
Mingling of these worlds surely occurs from time to time but, as both communities struggle for audiences, respectability and a place in the cultural landscape of Phoenix, we could benefit from joining forces more often. Each group brings its own audience that is likely unknown to the other’s. By intertwining mediums and people, we broaden the artistic landscape for both. Downtown Chamber Series has managed this successfully with their performances that take place at various art spaces downtown. They can promote the show and their own concert—promising their audience a dynamic experience that they may not have sought out alone. Before long, both audiences could potentially double while also adding something new to our experience of culture here.
Closing the gap between these two worlds doesn’t have to mean jumping to the other side. It could simply mean acknowledging that we’re both really after the same things. We’re not so different, after all.
Should we fast before we feast? Or maybe proper training includes stretching our stomachs so we can better enjoy the community/gastronomic event that is Feast on the Street.
Whatever your strategy, get the scoop on this first-ever “Urban Harvest Festival.”
What: Feast on the Street
When: Saturday, April 13, from 2 to 9 p.m.
Where: Downtown Phoenix, in the Evans Churchill/Roosevelt Row Neighborhood. First St. will be closed to car traffic to make room for the half-mile long dinner table from Taylor St. to Margaret T. Hance Park.
Admission: Free. Everyone is invited to stroll and enjoy the activities, but you will be paying for the food and beverage you consume. There is also a VIP ticket option that will give you access to a comfy indoor lounge.
Who’s Serving This Feast? It’s a veritable smorgasbord of eats featuring several downtown restaurants and food trucks. Step right up and order, then be sure to sit for the 6 p.m. dinner seating (see below).
- Angels Trumpet Ale House
- Athenian Express
- Blue Hound Kitchen & Cocktails
- Breadfruit & Rum Bar
- Carly’s Bistro
- Giant Coffee
- Hsin Café
- Jobot Coffee Shop
- Matt’s Big Breakfast
- Phoenix Public Market
- Pita Jungle
- Portland’s Restaurant & Wine Bar
- Potbelly Sandwich Shop
- Song Bird Coffee & Tea House
- Squash Blossom
- Tammie Coe/li>
- The Turf Irish Pub
- Welcome Diner
- Plus Food Trucks parked along First St.
Scheduled Highlights (be sure to check out the FULL schedule of events):
The Kick-Off Salad Toss
A “massive” ceremonial salad toss by Renaissance Phoenix Downtown Hotel’s Chef Brian Archibald. Yep, a giant salad will be tossed using a tarp. Guests will gather around a recipe of fresh and local ingredients, typically discarded due to their bruised appearance.
- When: 2:15 p.m.
- Where: Intersection of Pierce & First Street
A “Mobile Garden Parade”
Gardens in buckets, some on wheels, including trucks, wheelbarrows, and bikes, will be led by Bad Cactus Brass Band.
- When: 3:15 p.m.
- Where: Begins at Garfield Street, marching north to Roosevelt and looping back to Garfield
Formal Dinner Seating
Take a seat! Break bread with hundreds of your closest and new-found friends at the half-mile long dinner table.
- When: 6 p.m.
- Where: The dinner table on 1st St.. stretching from Taylor St. to Margaret T. Hance Park
A formal toast to reconnect urban dwellers with a focus on the importance of the sun’s changing position and schedule in agricultural life.
- When: 7:33 p.m. – to be exact. (The official time of Sunset, April 13, 2013.)
For more, visit FeastontheStreet.org.
The fabulous high-kicking dancers of La Cage aux Folles (which translates as The Birdcage) hang up their feather boas after Sunday’s final evening performance on April 7 at Phoenix Theatre. Known as Les Cagelles, eight gender illusionists provide flirtatious, flouncing backup for their headliner, Zaza.
Rusty Ferracane plays the role of Georges, the owner of the musical’s eponymous St. Tropez nightclub and long-time partner to Albin, who performs as Zaza. “That’s usually my most challenging part in a musical — the dance,” Ferracane confides, shaking his head in appreciation of the inimitable Cagelles.
“I always say I’m not talented enough to be in the chorus, because they have to dance and sing and act, and…that’s too hard,” continues Ferracane, downplaying his stellar performances in shows like Man of La Mancha and I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change. He laughs. “Poor guys! I’m really grateful I’m not doing that — I make a very unattractive woman.”
“The Cagelles are difficult to cast,” declares director Michael Barnard. “Some men’s faces just don’t translate to a female face…and yet they’re very talented. But the point is, you’re trying to create an illusion that this is actually a female.”
“The real La Cage aux Folles takes the business of being a female illusionist quite seriously,” Barnard continues, “so they’re professionals to the nth degree…part of that is to truly try to fool the audience. After a while you begin to wonder, ‘Am I really staring at a man?’”
The actors playing Les Cagelles arrive at least 90 minutes before curtain, tucking away extra bits using gaffs between their legs. They don several pairs of stockings, chest and hip padding, tape, and layers of make-up — “plus they’re dancing in high heels,” adds Barnard with a chuckle.
Ferracane believes the appeal of female illusionists lies in what he calls the ‘wow’ factor — “you know, the glamour of a drag queen,” he explains. “You don’t have that with a woman turned into a man, because there’s no glamour there, there’s no entertainment value to that. You need the glitz.”
Traditionally, men impersonating women have always had greater entertainment value onstage than women posing as men. “I just think it’s fighting the stigma,” suggests Robert Kolby Harper, who plays Albin/Zaza opposite Ferracane in a role requiring plenty of mascara and chutzpah. “Men dressing up as women…it’s a wider gap from the typical idea of what a man is.”
“Lots of men get in touch with their feminine side in different ways, but capturing the illusion of it — it’s an art form. But think about it,” Harper continues. “It’s really no fun being a man. I mean, how fabulous is that?” He shrugs. “Not very. There’s no mystique.”
Barnard suggests that the innate allure of men dressed as women stems from the appeal of the forbidden. “I think men have a stronger sense of fascination when it comes to fantasy…so I think there’s something strangely titillating and yet at the same time dangerous…mysterious and unique.” He adds, “Any time men dress up as a woman it’s always good for a laugh.”
The comfortable, loving partnership of Georges and Albin in La Cage shows signs of stress when their son Jean-Michel asks his parents to disguise their relationship in order to pass muster with his future in-laws. Ferracane and Harper use the foundation of their own long-time friendship and previous acting collaborations to establish a credible on-stage rapport.
Says Barnard, “They’re good friends in real life… I think they play off each other and…know each other’s sense of humor well.” Harper laughs. “Oh, yes — we’ve played lovers like four billion times.”
Their first show together was Hello, Dolly. “We played lovers then too,” jokes Harper, “…Cornelius and Barnaby. I mean, they’re not really lovers, but we always thought that it could have happened.” He chortles wickedly. “That was our first romance,” agrees Ferracane with a chuckle.
“I feel so comfortable with Rusty,” Harper continues. “I’ve known him about 21 or 22 years, and we’ve worked together many times…so that’s the awesome part — that kind of camaraderie.” He and Ferracane strive to give their characters believable depth.
“It’s the warmth in the relationship,” says Harper. “Ultimately you have to get two people who make the audience forget that it’s two men. I think…why this show’s done so well in the past, even back when it opened, was that…the relationship kind of sneaks up on you.”
“Because it’s fine to be gay if you’re funny and campy,” Harper adds ruefully, “but if you get real, some people can react negatively to that. If they’re real and loving and caring and honest, it’s sometimes hard for audiences.” He continues, “You sneak up on them. It’s much harder for somebody to reject someone they adore.”
“I enjoy showing family values in a different light,” says Ferracane. “It’s not…typical, but they’re definitely a strong, loving, committed family that’s supportive.” He thoroughly enjoys the show’s music, too. “Jerry Herman is so great with a lyric and…a melody, and he really tugs at your heart.”
Is the show still relevant, despite the progress of equality since the play’s birth in 1973 and the creation of the musical ten years later? Harper has no doubt. “I think it’s totally an issue — otherwise gays would be allowed to marry,” he declares.
“There are many unconventional families,” Harper continues. “If you’re an adoptive parent, and you’ve given everything to a child, you know what that’s like. If you’re a stepparent, you know what it’s like to be accepted or not in that child’s life. So I think it’s bigger than just the ‘gay thing.’”
He elaborates, “I don’t know of anybody who has a normal family. What is ‘normal’? A child can be ashamed of one or both parents no matter who the parents are. And what is it like for that child to make you or your partner feel like you don’t have a place?”
“This piece holds up very well,” agrees director Barnard. “There’s not a doubt in my mind that the prejudices of this lifestyle and this world still very much exist today.”
If you go:
La Cage aux Folles continues at Phoenix Theatre through Sunday, April 7.