It was an active Valentine’s Day weekend, during which I reviewed Megan Hilty in concert at The Palladium, The Tenors with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra in a Pops concert and “Love is in the Air,” presented by the Indianapolis Ballet. I attended a matinee performance of the IB concert on Sunday at The Toby at Newfields. In many ways, the event was the veritable icing on the cake of the entire weekend’s offerings.
Embracing a Valentine’s Day theme, the program depicted different kinds of love through dance. Indianapolis Ballet Artistic Director Victoria Lyras had this to say about the pieces, “In Paquita’s ‘Grand Pas Classique,’ love is soft and celebrating. ‘The Hunt’ love is worth fighting for; ‘Dance of the Hours,’ love is the joy of movement in all of us; and in ‘Carmen,’ love is fickle and seductive.” Based on my observation, the IB dancers impeccably and splendidly portrayed all of Lyras’ concepts and ideas.
“Grand Pas Classique, ” is a suite of dances in Act 2 from the 19th-century ballet “Paquita,” with music by Ludwig Minkus, featuring Kristin Toner and Shea Johnson in the lead roles of Paquita, a gypsy girl, and a French officer with whom she falls in love. IB principal Toner, one of the company’s first hires, demonstrated she’s an artist who dances from her heart and Johnson shined in a performance that revealed a dancer with dramatic intensity and charisma. Staged by Lyras and IB Associate Artistic Director and Ballet Master Paul Vitali, the piece showcased a company that is growing stronger in terms of its dancers’ technique, execution and overall artistry.
“The Hunt,” was set to music by Danny Elfman from the soundtrack of the 2001 film “Planet of the Apes,” with choreography by Scott Jovovic. Following the previous classical piece, it was so far on the other end of the spectrum that it was almost jarring, but in a good way. Proving that ballet is, indeed, highly athletic, the piece, which was primitive and raw, reflected the stamina, energy, blood, sweat and tears it takes to be a dancer.
Contrasting with the stark work that preceded it was the elegant “Dance of the Hours,” with music by Amilcare Ponchielli and choreography by Lyras. Featuring Indianapolis School of Ballet students, the piece was first introduced as a short ballet in the third act of the opera “La Gioconda.” The music, used in the 1940 Walt Disney film “Fantasia” was instantly recognizable, making the ballet, with its charming and impressive young dancers, a total delight.
Concluding the program was “Carmen,” which choreographer Lyras based on Georges Bizet’s renowned opera. Having seen the opera version numerous times, I was certainly aware of the story.
Set in southern Spain, the plot involves a soldier, Don José, who becomes obsessed with the spirited gypsy Carmen. Leaving his long-time love and military duties, he pursues his mistress. Consumed by jealousy, Don José eventually murders her after she falls in love with Escamillo, a matador. The combination of Lyras’s tantalizing choreography and staging (her use of chairs as props was inspired), costumes of her original design and James Leitner’s lighting in this wordless interpretation of Bizet’s masterpiece was absolutely spectacular. Making the piece even more arresting were the bravura performances of Yoshiko Kamikusa as the passionate Carmen, Chris Lingner as the tortured soldier, and Johnson as the dashing, virile matador, with all of them showing star quality.
Having favorably reviewed last season’s sensational “Balancing Acts: An Evening of George Balanchine” and holiday hit “The Nutcracker,” it was obvious to me that the IB had the potential to develop into something really special. Judging from their most recent achievement, it is clear that innovator Lyras and company are continuing to set the bar high for excellence in their art form. Giving ballet lovers a great deal to look forward to, they have nowhere to go but up.
For tickets and information about “Swan Lake,” Indianapolis Ballet’s next production, April, 18, 19 & 20, call (317) 955-7525 or visit indyballet.org.