I experienced a rarefied event Friday when I attended “Balancing Acts: An Evening of George Balanchine” presented by Indianapolis Ballet, an outgrowth of Indianapolis School of Ballet, at The Toby at Newfields. It was rarified because it was the first performance of the IB’s inaugural season and residency in its new home and the introduction of its full 20-member company. Adding to the significance of the evening was the program itself, which consisted of three of Russian-born choreographer George Balanchine‘s most prominent works, including “Raymonda Variations,” “Serenade,” and “The Four Temperaments.”
The average person would not know the full significance of this program, but ballet devotees certainly do. To confirm my own awareness of its import, during an intermission, I asked Paul Vitali, IB’s associate artistic director and ballet master, how it was that the company was given permission to perform works by Balanchine. He was regarded as the foremost contemporary choreographer in the ballet world. Vitali said that permission was granted by The George Balanchine Trust, which authorizes staging of Balanchine’s ballets, to IB founding artistic director Victoria Lyras. But first, Lyras had to submit videos of company members demonstrating that they possessed the artistry and technique to execute Balanchine’s choreography. It helped too to that Lyras was once a student at The School of American Ballet, which was co-founded by Balanchine and later, she danced his ballets as a professional ballerina. To summarize, it says a great deal about Lyras’s connections and artistic credibility that IB managed to accomplish this coup. Ensuring that Balanchine’s style and technique are followed to the letter, Balanchine Trust répétiteurs Diana White and Rebecca Metzger were enlisted to work with the IB dancers.
As far as my reaction to the program, all I can say is that I was totally engaged and thoroughly impressed with the musicality and technique demonstrated by the young IB company, which, by the way, I admire for its inclusivity.
“Raymonda Variations,” featuring Yoshiko Kamikura and Chris Lingner, who partnered magnificently, was most impressive for the synchronized movement of the company, which was impeccable. As I scanned the dancers, I was simply amazed by the precision they demonstrated while dancing to Alexander Glazunov’s alternately grand and joyful music. As far as Balanchine’s choreography itself, I was totally captivated by its intricate architecture as it related to movement and space. The fact that he was a musician was obvious in the detail he incorporated into his work.
“Serenade,” set to music by Pyotr Tchaikovsky, was simply sublime. Featuring dancers dressed in gorgeous blue costumes originally designed by New York City Ballet legend Barbara Karinska and recreated by Lyras, the lyrical piece performed by 28 company members engendered what my guest described as “tranquility,” a sentiment with which I totally concurred.
One of Balanchine’s earliest experimental works, “The Four Temperaments,” set to music by composer Paul Hindemith closed the program. Combining classical ballet steps with an angular style, the stark piece is inspired by a medieval belief that human beings are made up of four different humors that determine a person’s temperaments. Out of balance temperaments portrayed included “Melancholic,” “Sanguinic,” Phlegmatic,” and “Choleric.” As you can imagine, this piece was anything but lighthearted. As a result, though I appreciated the intricacies of Balanchine’s choreography, I found this work less appealing than the others. At the same time, I could only imagine how audiences responded to what was surely considered avant-garde when it premiered in 1946.
As I exited the theatre, I overheard an audience member say, “It was much more than I expected.” Though such an expression could be interpreted as a backhanded compliment, I prefer to think of it as an acknowledgment that Indianapolis Ballet presented an artistic product of the highest caliber and one that set the bar high for what is still to come.
For tickets and information about the Indianapolis Ballet 2018-2019 season call (317) 955-7525 or go to indyballet.org.