The culmination of a month of almost daily six-hour-long practices for IU ballet dancers will open tonight.
The fall ballet, “As Time Goes By,” is a collection of three pieces — the father of American ballet George Balanchine’s “Divertimento No. 15,” the world premiere of Sasha Janes’ “Saudade” and Indiana-born choreographer Twyla Tharp’s “As Time Goes By.”
“They all represent a very distinctive style, but the dance and the music always communicate with each other very well,” said Tal Samuel, conductor of the accompanying orchestra. “The variety of the program is the thing that keeps everything together.”
Balanchine’s classical choreography combines intimate pas de deux, or duets, with moments in which more than 15 dancers are on the stage at the same time. All of his choreography reflects his attunement to the way movement should be paired with music, Samuel said.
Conducting the orchestra while also watching every movement of the dancers requires a lot of effort, Samuel said, but it makes the show run so smoothly it appears to the audience as if it is running itself.
“You have these two very different languages, music and dance, which work in completely different dimensions,” Samuel said. “You have as a conductor a very big responsibility to try and sync them together.”
The dancers practice with only recordings of the music or sometimes with a single live pianist during most of the preparation for the performance. During dress rehearsals the last week before the show opens, the dancers practice onstage at the Musical Arts Center with Samuel’s live orchestra for the first time.
“You never know what’s going to happen onstage, especially when you’re working with a couple of different casts,” Samuel said. “Their bodies are different, so that means they’re going to be moving differently. You as the conductor have to be able to adjust immediately to everything that’s going on onstage.”
For the two-hour program, all of the dancers must build extreme stamina, senior ballerina Alexandra Hutchinson said. Many of them cross-train to keep up with the physical demands, because ballet is just as much a sport as it is an art, she said.
All of their hard work goes into creating the appearance of perfection, Hutchinson said. In her solo in “Divertimento No. 15,” she focuses on being confident and elegant, even if she makes a small mistake.
When performing, all of the dancers have to think about the rhythm of the music, their musicality, their placement onstage, the choreography and any corrections, while still maintaining a smile.
“There’s the illusion that everything is easy and carefree, but it’s the opposite,” she said. “You’re thinking about a million different things at one time, but I think that’s what makes it so beautiful.”
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