Those who love the art form of ballet, which originated in the 15th century, have become downright spoiled thanks to “Evening With The Stars,” the always spectacular annual gala presented by the Indianapolis City Ballet which was held for the 5th consecutive year Saturday at the Murat Theater at the Old National Centre.
The gala, produced by Kevin R. Hesse, with Jolinda Menendez as performance director, features internationally known dancers who perform with some of the greatest companies in the world. It is presented by the ICB as a means of developing audiences and attracting financial support for its educational programs.
Currently the organization offers a series of master classes for young ballet students taught by seasoned professionals. Future plans for the ICB include the establishment of a chamber-sized ballet ensemble that will develop and present new works by emerging international choreographers.
This year’s edition of “Evening With The Stars,” was emceed by George de la Peña, a ballet dancer, choreographer, musical theatre performer and teacher. Also an actor, de la Peña starred as Vaslav Nikinsky in Herbert Ross’ 1980 film “Nikinsky.” An ideal choice for his master of ceremony duties, the amiable de la Peña sometimes deviated from a prepared script to add his own, often insightful, commentary after each performance.
The gala program, which, once again, included a mix of classical and contemporary ballet styles, was performed in front of an enthusiastic crowd of 1,850 that included a large contingent of ballet students representing numerous dance studios throughout Central Indiana.
Considering that the program held, as de la Peña noted, such “an embarrassment of riches,” it is difficult for this writer to choose favorites pieces and dancers but there were definitely some that stood out.
One was choreographer Edwaard Liang’s (who was present to introduce this and another of his pieces later in the program) “Distant Cries.” A pas de deux featuring Yuan Yuan Tan & Damian Smith, in an impeccable display of intricate partnering, dancing to music by Tomaso Albinoni — the piece suggested a couple in an ambiguous relationship which is alternately thorny and loving.
Tan and Smith were also mesmerizing in the ethereal "Among the Stars," with choreography by Jessica Lang to music by Ryuichi Sakamoto. Tan appeared to slip on fabric which was an essential prop in the piece but Smith was there to catch her, making the near disaster, nearly unnoticeable.
Liang’s other work, “Wunderland Pas de Deux,” a duet to music by Phillip Glass which he said was composed during a stay in Siberia when he had lots of time on his hand, was also striking for its representation of a push/pull relationship between insect-like characters performed by Ballet Met dancers Adrienne Benz and David Ward.
Also compelling was an excerpt from Czech choreographer Jiri Bubenicek’s “Toccata,” during which the soloist danced in silence. The original ballet was set to pieces of music composed by Bubenicek's identical twin brother, Otto. The solo in this program was created and performed without music as it first appeared on New York City Ballet. Moving feverishly fast, New York City Ballet principal dancer Robert Fairchild, gave an expressive performance of Bubenicek’s intriguing piece
Choreographer Cherylyn Lavagnino’s tender “Rest Beloved,” in which New York City Ballet principal Tiler Peck and Robert Fairchild danced to music composed by Johann Sebastian Bach was inspirational. During Lavagnino’s introduction of her lyrical work she mentioned that Peck and Fairchild had recently become engaged, making for a chemistry between the two that was reflected in this supremely romantic duet.
Given that all of the gala dancers are world class virtuosos in their own right, it is almost impossible to single out solo or duet performances but there were some that captivated this writer.
Flawless as partners were Stuttgart Ballet principals Alicia Amatriain and Jason Reilly in both “Eugene Onegin Mirror Pas de Deux” choreographed by John Cranko to music by Tchaikovsky and also crowd favorite, “Mona Lisa” choreographed by Itzik Galili to typewriter sounds composed by Thomas Höfs.
Equally tremendous was the partnering of Royal Ballet soloists, Mellissa Hamilton and Eric Underwood as they masterfully executed Christopher Wheeldon’s sensual, tension-filled choreography in “Tryst” set to music by James McMillan.
American Ballet Theatre principal Gillian Murphy was enchanting for her superb musicality and flawless technique as she danced with Cory Stearns in “Depuis Le Jour” with choreography by Gemma Bond to music by Gustave Charpentier and with James Whiteside in “Black Swan Pas de Deux” with choreography by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov to music by Tchaikovsky.
Australian Aaron Smyth who will soon be joining Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet, known for his beaming smile and infectious personality, demonstrated agile athleticism coupled with the effortless grace of Gene Kelley as he used his foot to toss his Fedora hat atop his head while dancing on the top of a prop piano and onto a stool during “New York State of Mind,” with music by Billy Joel.
16-year old Miko Fogarty, winner of the 2013 Moscow Ballet Competition, and a student at the Indianapolis Ballet Conservatory, was also impressive and drew considerable applause as she demonstrated an astounding leg extension that made it possible for her foot to strike the tambourine she held aloft during “Esmeralda Variation” with choreography after Jules Perrot to music by Cesare Pugni.
Through the performances of these elite “Evening With The Stars” participants local audiences have once again been exposed to the best of what ballet has to offer by the ambitious Indianapolis City Ballet, led by chair Robert R. Hesse and vice-chair Jane Fortune. By raising the bar for high for what it hopes to offer Indianapolis on a regular basis, the group has created an expectation for the kind of excellence that can only be met with full community support. For a city that continues to boast of its world class quality of life, it is hoped that a high caliber of ballet such as that envisioned by the ICB can someday be added to its list of amenities.
For information about Indianapolis City Ballet call (317) 339 – 1413 or visit www.indianapoliscityballet.org.
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