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Indiana University Ballet - Fall Ballet: Light and Shade

by Rita Kohn
September 28, 2012
Amazing things happened at the Musical Arts Center in Bloomington when ballet and music students embraced artistic director Michael Vernon's challenging program of cutting edge 20th century choreography.

Each work grabbed hold and wowed beginning with Twyla Tharp's "Sweet Fields". Dancers in simple white body garments with jackets wafting as they moved, showed us the gentle, reverential side of Tharp's canon. An off-stage chorus, directed by Gregory J. Geehern, intoned traditional Shaker hymns that gave texture to a blending of innocence with sophistication, airiness and earthiness.

In non-stop movement of arms crossing, raising and lowering, deep lunges followed by skimming flat-footed thrusts to the floor that moved in repetitive, reversing symmetry the dancers flowed in and out from each other.

Most amazing was the athleticism, precision, lifting and turning of six male dancers in the third movement emulating power machines at work.

Tharp's emulation of grace was followed by Peter Martins' playfully whimsical "Eight Easy Pieces" and "Eight More", each set to Stravinsky compositions.

"Eight Easy Pieces" paired three ballerinas en pointe in constant playful motion in trios, duets and solos danced to pianists Daniel Lin and Christopher Miranda at one piano ripping through eight different rhythms: March, Valse, Polka, Andante, Espanela, Balalaika, Napolitana and Galop.

For "Eight More", Stravinsky orchestrated these same piano exercises to create a lustier tone. Three male dancers in sync with the exuberant Ballet Orchestra players conducted by Nicholas Hersh vied for attention as they outdid each other in bravura twists, turns, jumps and impishness. I was left breathless. The program closed with Martha Graham's iconic story ballet, "Appalachian Spring" with music by Aaron Copland. Set in 19th century Pennsylvania as the then pioneer western frontier, the work is a vignette in eight parts going from introducing its characters to the piece's newlywed couple finding their place as members of a community.

In capturing the "essence of an ideal" at the juncture of World War II, the ballet personifies hopefulness, strength, endurance and faith. Graham's choreography filled the space with sweeping, extended and expansive movement. With the IU Ballet Orchestra conducted by Hersh and recreations of the original minimalist set by Isamu Noguchi, lighting by Jean Rosenthal and costumes by Graham, the company of eight dancers emulated the endless possibilities of people always ready to move forward.

Guest artists staging the original choreography on IU Ballet students were Alexander Brady for "Sweet Fields", Zippora Karz for "Eight Easy Pieces" and "Eight More" and Denise Vale for "Appalachian Spring".

Note: Indianapolis native Christopher Linger was a featured performer in "Sweet Fields" and "Eight More".
IU Ballet performs 'Sweet Fields'. Photo courtesy of IU Ballet.

IU Ballet performs "Sweet Fields". Photo courtesy of IU Ballet.


Photo courtesy of IU Ballet.

Photo courtesy of IU Ballet.


IU Ballet performs Martha Graham's 'Appalachian Spring'. Photo courtesy of IU Ballet.

IU Ballet performs Martha Graham's "Appalachian Spring". Photo courtesy of IU Ballet.

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