Indiana Daily Student

Elevating movements

Dancers perform "La Bayadère Grand Pas" during the spring ballet East by Northeast on Tuesday at the Musical Arts Center. The ballet will be March 28 and 29.
Dancers perform "La Bayadère Grand Pas" during the spring ballet East by Northeast on Tuesday at the Musical Arts Center. The ballet will be March 28 and 29.

The stage darkened. A ballerina in a pearly-white tutu slowly danced down a six-foot ramp.

She lifted her leg more than 90-degrees from her body, balancing on nothing but her toes.

As she moved down, another dancer followed. Each ballerina was followed by another until about 20 women danced in unison onstage Tuesday at the Musical Arts Center for a dress rehearsal of the upcoming spring ballet.

IU Opera and Ballet Theater will perform their spring ballet “East by Northeast” at 8 p.m. Friday and 2 p.m. and 8 p.m. Saturday at the Musical Arts Center. Tickets start at $8 for students and $12 for the general public.

Laura Whitby, lead soloist of “La Bayadère”, has been preparing all year.

Last fall, Whitby fractured a bone in her foot after a partnered jump she had performed many times in practice and rehearsals for the fall ballet “Classical Europe.” 

“I was tired, it was the end of the day and for some reason I landed on the side of my foot,” she said. “I heard a big crack.”

After fracturing the bone in two different places, Whitby was out for a couple of months and placed on crutches.

After her injury, she said, she did her best to remain positive and work with the athletic trainer and ballet instructors to get back on her feet.

She used a trampoline to get her jump back, completed conditioning exercises and did Pilates and yoga. 

Moving from bar work in sneakers to completing entire jumps took about two months of patience and dedication.

“I had to create a timeline,” she said. “When you first start back, you can’t just jump back into it, because you’re going to be weak.”

Although the injury was traumatic, Whitby doesn’t see the experience as a complete loss.


“When I was forced to take a step back and reevaluate my techniques, it was actually a blessing,” she said. “It’s kind of a good thing to break down the basics again.”

“East by Northeast” is Whitby’s first major production since her injury.

“It’s definitely trying,” she said. “I’m just excited to be able to be on stage again.”

Getting there required a lot of practice. Learning the choreography took only a few days, Whitby said, and the rest of the time was dedicated to perfecting the technique and movement.

“Classical ballet is so precise and so difficult,” Whitby said. “You’re in this white tutu with pink tights and you can’t hide anything.”

The ballet is split into three different parts, titled “La Bayadère Act II”, “Airs” and “Donizetti Variations.”

Each part is a separate ballet performed by a different set of dancers.

Preparation began two weeks after the beginning of January, and since then, the ballet dancers have been working on technique and stamina exercises, coaching and rehearsals.

Whitby is part of the first act, which is actually the second act of the production “La Bayadère”. IU Opera and Ballet Theater opted to only perform the second act, which is about a warrior from India who smokes opium and has a hypnotic dream about reuniting with a dancer from The Kingdom of Shades.

Junior Matthew Rusk portrays the warrior, which he said he found to be the hardest part of the production.

“In a ballet like this there is so much in terms of detail and you have to be portraying a character on top of that,” he said. “It’s an uncomfortable process, but it’s also very rewarding and fun.”

“East by Northeast” is Rusk’s ninth major production at IU. He said he has been a part of every ballet since his freshman year.

“I started ballet when I was about 6 years old,” he said. “I saw the Nutcracker and started lessons a month later and never stopped.”

Rusk said that he was most attracted to the athleticism of ballet dancing.

“Ballet is a very hard physical activity,” said principal coach Violette Verdy. “We are most definitely athletes.”

Verdy is the main coach for the ballet dancers, meaning that she helps the dancers refine their technique and work with the style of this particular Russian ballet.

Verdy teaches a class throughout the week and coaches the dancers for each ballet.

She’s been working at IU since the end of 1996.

“It’s like working with Shakespeare, you really have to know your text,” she said.
“Because it’s classical dancing, you are showing discipline over the body and
yourself.”

That discipline is hard to achieve and has taken a lot of patience and work to get the show ready for the premiere.

“It’s absolutely about control and purity,” Verdy said. “You have to be something other than yourself. That is what we try to teach the dancers.”

The second part of the production is called “Airs” and was choreographed by Paul Taylor.

“Airs” is a more contemporary ballet with classical music. The ballet is characterized as being high-energy with big movements and will include dancers Justin Barbour,
Bella Calafiura and Rachel Duvall.

The third and final piece of the ballet is “Donizetti Variations,” which was choreographed by 20th century Russian choreographer George Balanchine.

Balanchine actually worked with Verdy on this ballet when she performed for him and
she coached the dancers for the performance, including Aaron Anker and Carly Hammond.

A live orchestra will accompany each part of the ballet, providing music with a beautiful, ethereal quality, Whitby said.

“It’s like opening a very good bottle of champagne and all of the little bubbles go right into your nose,” Verdy said. “Ballet is never a negative experience, it’s always an elevating one.” 

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