Arts & Culture
Prepare to see more than a menagerie onstage when Ballet Arizona performs Director’s Choice at the Orpheum Theatre this weekend. “It’s a challenging, very diverse program,” says Ib Andersen, the troupe’s artistic director, who chose three disparate works to showcase his dancers.
Alexei Ratmansky’s ballet Le Carnival des Animaux (The Carnival of the Animals) is easily the most family-friendly element. It uses 14 segments of appealing music written by French composer Camille Saint-Saëns, including familiar favorites like the gorgeous cello solo called “The Swan” and a charming xylophone-rich movement named “Fossils.”
“I liked his [Ratmansky's] version of it,” says Andersen. “It’s just a very funny piece, and…it shows his quirky (side). He’s really one of the best around, I would say.”
Formerly the artistic director of Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet, the Russian-born Ratmansky now serves as American Ballet Theatre’s artist-in-residence; at 44 he’s been called one of the two “most important choreographers under 70” by The New York Times (the other is Mark Morris). Ballet master Betsy Erickson assisted Ratmansky when he created Carnival for San Francisco Ballet in 2003, and she taught and rehearsed the work with Ballet Arizona’s dancers last October.
Despite a gap of five months and several intervening productions, “it’s pretty imprinted in their muscle memory,” she says. “You turn on the music and their muscles will just automatically remember the rhythms.” Erickson matched roles to individuals based on their personal characteristics. “It was clear that Shea [Johnson] and Nayon [Iovino] would be the lion, and…Paola [Hartley] — she’s a fabulous elephant.”
Ratmansky uses his distinctive style of movement to convey the attributes of each creature; hips roll and torsos twist in unusual directions. “He does a lot that uses the torso in a looser, more modern sense,” Erickson explains, “and something that’s really key with him: a lot of the musical accents are down rather than up.”
“So in other words,” she continues, “you’ll see a Balanchine ballet [that] might be very light — it’ll go ‘and up and up and up’…he’ll go ‘down and down and down.’ It’s just a different approach to musicality, to make the movement more grounded.”
These characteristics require the dancers to learn a different sort of physical language, says Erickson, and she stands to demonstrate.
“In classical ballet…let’s say this is the standard arm, and a passé is vertically from the floor and this leg is bent and this knee is turned out.” Erickson shifts, and the alignment of her body changes. “And I’ll do this, and there you have something that’s in The Carnival of the Animals, for the lion…the knee is rotated in, the hip is dropped back, the body is over…you have the same position in the arms except now the upper arm would be curved. So you see the difference? That’s just one example.”
Dancers “swimming” as fish must leap with flexed feet instead of pointed toes, joined in an aquarium by a drifting jellyfish in a huge tutu — “all of her movement is very jelly-like,” says Erickson.
Elsewhere, they peck and scuttle as chickens. “It’s very angular,” continues Erickson. “They also have their hips out, which you wouldn’t do in classical ballet; you’d have your hips under you. Their costume even reflects that…it’s very ingenious, actually — it’s like a bustle in the back, so it looks like tail feathers sticking up.” Other scenes include horses, kangaroos, turtles, and other creatures in a comical competition.
The lithe, fluid athleticism and elegantly modern costumes of Diversions turn Director’s Choice onto a different path, highlighting the dancers in classically based positions. Andersen created the work in 2010, bringing praise to Ballet Arizona for a Kennedy Center performance.
Diversions was named for its music, written in 13 movements by Benjamin Britten for a one-armed piano virtuoso. “It’s a little bit like a roller-coaster ride, you know…there’s ups and downs. It covers an enormous emotional surface,” says Andersen. “There’s a lot of irony in it, and a lot of…I mean, you name it.” He laughs. “But then I’m a big fan of Britten, period.”
Setting a ballet to such complex music is an intricate process, not easily described. “I work in the moment,” Andersen declares. “I don’t sit at home trying to figure out what they’re going to do. I listen to the music so I know it inside out, and I kind of have an idea about the flavor…but never the steps. That, I always do on the dancers right there. I think the best comes out that way.”
“I usually don’t choreograph more than 2½ hours a day,” he continues. “After that, my brain is mush.” Andersen pauses to consider. “It all depends, you know? Sometimes it’s very simple and you can do maybe a lot, and sometimes it’s something that requires just completely the right movement that you don’t have in your repertory and you have to sort of…create the right movement. And that sometimes can take a long time.”
For example, the finale of Diversions involves 20 dancers, “and they’re more or less onstage, all of them,” says Andersen, “and they’re doing different things at the same time. With that…I’ve done less than a minute [of choreography] in 2½ hours. But even so, I actually work quite fast.” He shrugs. “There’s no formula, you know? You just do one step at a time.”
The newest work on the Director’s Choice program was created within the past few weeks by 32-year-old Spanish-born choreographer Alejandro Cerrudo, a rising star in the world of dance especially since he joined Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in 2005. Ballet Arizona performed Cerrudo’s OffScreen in 2011, and commissioned this latest piece. “I think he’s very talented,” says Andersen. “Mostly I like his sense of humor…and his movement is very sensual, I think. And it’s important for the company to have things done on them — even just the process.”
Somewhat reluctantly, Cerrudo reveals his creation’s title: Second to Last. “I think it’s almost like putting a name to your son,” he says. “It can be for many reasons; it can remind you of someone, or you just like the sound…it’s subject to interpretation.”
“It’s a more serious work,” the choreographer continues slowly. “I’ll say it can be poignant…not sad, but I guess love is present. It wasn’t my intention to explore relationships, though.” He elaborates: “It’s about finding movement within two people — all the possibilities I could find…but movement research rather than trying to look for that specific feeling.”
Second to Last features scenic design by Wrara Plesoiu and lighting by Michael Korsch, as well as simple black trousers and dresses created by Leonor Texidor to complement the dancers, not distract.
“My intention [for the costumes] is that no one speaks about them after the piece,” says Cerrudo. “I don’t want people to say, ‘they were so beautiful,’ or ‘they were so ugly’ — they’re on a second plane from the choreography. We didn’t make the costumes to create a role.”
He spent a month exploring a vast palette of movement and music with the troupe, choosing six dancers and two pieces of music — Metamorphosis I by Philip Glass, and Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirrors in Mirrors) by Arvo Pärt. “The genre is ‘Cerrudo’ genre,” he replies when pressed. “I’ve choreographed to classical music and to Dean Martin — all kinds, so however it comes out will be my style.”
“It’s a very collaborative process,” Cerrudo says. “I like to work with what I have in front of my eyes, in front of my hands.” He laughs wryly and sighs. “That’s why it’s nerve-wracking…I can’t be so prepared because I don’t want to.”
“On a large scale, as a choreographer one of my goals is reinventing myself,” he continues. “I don’t want to have a signature. I want to surprise the audience…and every time they come to a Cerrudo work, they don’t know what they’re going to see and they’re just excited.”
If you go:
Ballet Arizona performs Director’s Choice
through March 31
Long-buried city founders lie buried in the heart of downtown Phoenix, and their history returns to life twice each year with character-driven cemetery walks. Thanks to the non-profit Pioneers’ Cemetery Association (PCA) and a handful of enthusiastic volunteers organized by author and Association board member Debe Branning, these events visit the denizens of the Pioneer and Military Memorial Park cemeteries near 14th Avenue and Jefferson Street.
Attendees of all ages meet historical figures depicted by actors in costume — on March 23, for instance, the theme was early Phoenix physicians, with actor Mark Broadley taking on the role of 19th-century state Surgeon General Dr. Scott Helm. “Debe knows the history of the cemetery backwards and forwards,” he says. “She’ll do the research on some of the most interesting people buried there…and then [Branning] writes a short monologue for usually eight people and recruits the re-enactors.”
Broadley, who’s been involved with the cemetery walks for six years, continues. “Once she sends us our biographies we’re basically turned loose to do our own research on the character, prowl around local thrift stores for costumes, and decide what props, if any, our character might have used.” He adds, “Most of my preparation involves studying the script so that I’m comfortable enough to give the speech a number of times for each tour group that comes through.”
To recreate those characters, Debe Branning says, “I read hundreds of obituaries and old newspapers, and actually dive into their ancestry a bit so that I can get a feel of what these pioneers were made of and what their family life was like.”
This year’s spring walk also called on a few of the physicians’ wives with their own unique accounts of early Phoenix life, and it was followed by an informal ice cream social. October’s walk coincides with an outdoor dinner party fundraiser at the Memorial Park called Dining Among the Dead, and all proceeds go toward tombstone restoration. Other opportunities to visit the Park occur every Thursday as well as the fourth Saturday of each month.
Branning strives to reconnect the community with the cemetery and remind Valley residents about the forgotten early Phoenix pioneers buried in the Park. “They come from many backgrounds and professions,” she says, “and some met strange untimely deaths.” With the help of a cadre of volunteers, Branning organizes outreach and paranormal research events in the hopes of reviving interest in Arizona’s burial sites and engaging newly-interested participants.
Around 2007, recalls Broadley, “Borders Bookstore hosted a group called MVD Ghostchasers (made up of past and present employees of Arizona’s Motor Vehicle Division) that lectured about their investigations of haunted places around Arizona.” He continues, “Having always been interested in ghost stories and things that go bump in the night, I went to the lecture and met the group’s founder (Branning) after the event.”
The practice of dowsing also plays an interesting role for many of the cemetery volunteers — it’s a method of divining answers and locating objects (including unmarked graves and water) using a hand-held wand or pendulum. “Dowsing of cemeteries has been used back east and in other countries for centuries,” says Branning, who was taught by a dowser from Missouri and teaches a class on the subject herself. “You can map out a cemetery, determine the rows, and have a rough idea of how many are buried at a site.”
The history of the Pioneers’ Cemetery Association itself began in 1938, when a group including Carl and Thomas Hayden and Barry Goldwater banded together to preserve the historic cemeteries near the State Capitol building. Used between 1884 and 1914, those seven small cemeteries on 11 acres include several established by Phoenix’s fraternal orders, including Ancient Order of United Workmen, Independent Order of Odd Fellows, Knights of Pythias, and Masons.
It’s reported that Civil War veterans are buried in Porter cemetery, which abuts Rosedale (also called Loring or Walker Cemetery), while Loosley, the city cemetery, houses Jacob Waltz, the “Lost Dutchman” of gold-mining fame. More ancient secrets lie buried beneath those estimated 3700 pioneer graves in the remains of a Hohokam village known as La Villa.
Together with the historic 3000-square-foot Smurthwaite House, built in 1897 and serving as the PCA’s headquarters, the cemeteries were designated as the Pioneer and Military Memorial Park in 1988, and are listed on the National Register of Historic Places, allowing Arizonans to not only remember the often unsung heroes who helped create Phoenix but also care for their monuments and burial sites, preserving a bit of history.
If you go:
What: Visit the Pioneer & Military Memorial Park and Smurthwaite House any Thursday (e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org first to get in touch with volunteers), or bring the family and stroll through time on the fourth Saturday of each month through May (Apr. 27, May 25)…and don’t forget to plan for the Dining Among the Dead fundraiser in October.
Where: 14th Ave. and Jefferson St., downtown Phoenix
Contact: 602-534-1262 or www.azhistcemeteries.org
Additional Info: Another local organization, the Arizona Pioneer & Cemetery Research Project, was founded in 2004 and focuses on dowsing to locate graves as well as marking and protecting burial sites.
Unless otherwise noted, all photos courtesy Debe Branning.
DPJ’s Bike Chic series by Nathan Simpson. You may see him around town scouting locals who not only ride their bikes but look dapper doing it.
Name: Mikey Jackson
Occupation: Bartender at The Lost Leaf/Artist
Favorite thing about downtown Phoenix: Downtown is a village. People look out for each other and they get jazzed about being involved in the community.
Favorite places: I’m obviously biased, but I love The Lost Leaf. Bikini is also a great Phoenix gem that’s off the beaten path. Food wise, I’ve been spending a lot of time at Welcome Diner and I love Federal Pizza.
Where do you go for grooming? I get my hair done at Palabra. I used to just have what I guess you would call a fro, but they do a really great job. They also show art and I have a solo art show coming up there in May.
Typical bike ensemble: If I’m going to be riding a lot in the day, I’ll throw on my old boots that I know I can thrash. Otherwise I just try to dress for the weather.
- Bike – Custom built Fetish frame
- No frills – “She’s not a beauty queen. I try to keep my bike simple, easy and practical”
- Vintage, no-tag flannel
- Graphic T shirt – Eighty Grand
- Bolo Tie – gift
- Silver ring – found
- Gemed ring- From Tucson Gem and Mineral Show
Anything you want to plug? My solo art show at Polabra in May. I also have a blog for my art at hellomikey.net.
Strolling through the winding, palm-lined streets of the Encanto-Palmcroft neighborhood is like taking a trip around the world via architectural history. From the steeply sloped roofs of the English Tudors, the cozy courtyards of the Spanish Colonials, and the smooth adobe walls of the Pueblos, this collection of historic homes spans the globe of period revival architectural styles.
On Sunday, March 24, the public is invited to take a peek behind these stunning exteriors during the Encanto-Palmcroft home tour and street fair (no passport required!) From 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. that day, a collection of homes in the neighborhood will open their doors, allowing guests a closer look at what makes them so special, both inside and out.
The neighborhood, which features some of the larger homes in downtown Phoenix, began development in the late 1920s. Many of the houses were built in the 1920s, 30s and 40s and have since been lovingly restored and maintained to uphold their original design.
Along with the home tour, the event includes a street fair with a wide range of attractions like arts & crafts vendors, food trucks, live music, raffles, and booths from home design and décor services and other local businesses and community organizations.
If You Go
Where: Encanto-Palmcroft neighborhood
When: Sunday, March 24, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.
Tickets: Presale on the website for $18, $20 day of
Parking: Parking is available at the NE corner of Phoenix College, located at 1202 W. Thomas Rd. Trolleys will run throughout the day between there and the Encanto-Palmcroft neighborhood.
Downtown Phoenix is full of artistic, vintage, and historic flair that you can’t find anywhere else in the valley. This is especially true of the historic districts where you see creativity at its finest in elaborate yards and lush gardens that match the diverse, unique houses themselves.
Some people add their own artwork to the face of their yards and alter features to create more personalized spaces that reflect their personalities. Others prefer functionality over design and take a more edible approach. How can it get any more organic than food straight from the earth to the kitchen table? Both approaches contribute to the downtown way of life and to a certain diverse flair that draws many to the area.
Downtown resident and professional artist Pete Deise wants his front and back yards to seek and bring about “togetherness.”
“We live in the front yard,” states Deise. “It faces west and chases the setting sun.”
There are many antique seating areas and anyone is welcome to come into the yard for a chat. Even Pete’s watering process is meant to be therapeutic. He elaborates, “There are no drip lines in sight. There’s only the hose in my hand and the time to contemplate the day’s adventures.”
Pete’s own elaborate rust steel sculptures also inhabit the yard, adding a deeply personal touch. They remain the focal points to the yard and always provide beauty even when the winter season settles in and all the greenery is gone.
“Art is an affliction,” continues Pete. “What else can I say? Some people watch TV; I watch the light and shadows cast up the steel.” A lot of Pete’s sculptures actually mimic nature and one in particular is that of branch limbs, tangled and spindled.
Although the yard remains a bit bare during the colder temperatures of what is considered “winter” for Phoenix, there is always life at the Deise residence and there are many plans for the spring.
Pete explains, “This year there is a raised bed outside the west office window and is set to bloom in sight of the kitchen. This will be a pasta garden. That is, everything you would use in a pasta dish. We are planning also for 42 garlic cloves, carrots, peppers, tomatoes, cucumber, and mustard seed. Everything is full circle. Plant the seeds to see the shoots, nurture the growth, learn and sculpt from observation, then eat.”
The bed is made of old wood and raised off the ground. Pete has added some aesthetically pleasing stones that rest on the wood that also serve a purpose if the need arises to cover the garden.
A chicken coop sits on the side of the house, strategically located by the back door to the kitchen. This serves as easy access for feeding and for grabbing eggs when they are ready.
Last but not least, the pride and joy of the whole yard are the sunflowers planted every February along the perimeter of the property. “This year we will also have corn,” states Deise. “Planting now will provide a colorful future to be enjoyed in late spring and summer.”
The sunflowers are such a beautiful, powerful component and they really draw you into the property. Needless to say, they are the first element you see and the last thing you contemplate when walking away!