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‘One last hurrah’: IU Ballet presented spring production ‘A Look Back’ on April 1-2

<p>Dancers perform as Odette and Prince Siegfried in &quot;Swan Lake&quot; Act Two on March 30, 2022. The excerpt was performed as part of the IU Jacobs School of Music Ballet Theater&#x27;s spring ballet &quot;A Look Back.&quot;</p>

Dancers perform as Odette and Prince Siegfried in "Swan Lake" Act Two on March 30, 2022. The excerpt was performed as part of the IU Jacobs School of Music Ballet Theater's spring ballet "A Look Back."

The IU Jacobs School of Music Ballet Theater presented their spring ballet, “A Look Back,” on April 1-2 at the Musical Arts Center. The show brought together three pieces from ballets by famous choreographers, including Balanchine and Bournonville.

“We’re about performance education here at the Jacobs School of Music,” Sarah Wroth, chair of the Ballet department, said. “These three works — if you were designing a plate of food, these are nourishing elements of dancer training.” 

The first excerpt of the production, “Swan Lake” Act Two, tells the story of Swan Queen Odette, who was cursed to become a swan during the day and a woman at night, and Prince Siegfried, whose love for her will eventually break this curse. 

On the MAC stage, audiences watched as Odette dodged the prince’s grasp with quick, birdlike movements before eventually coming together to dance a pas de deux, or duet. As the act progressed, the iconic swan corps, made up of a full stage of dancers in identical white tutus, came onstage to highlight the soloists and to dance themselves, both in smaller groups and as a whole. 

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IU senior Jack Grohmann danced the role of the prince on opening night. He said that, with a historic piece like this, the nuances and details of the choreography were important to get right. For him, the most challenging part was building the character through the choreography.

“It was challenging, but it was fun, trying to figure out who I was inside of the character and how to bring that out through my movement,” Grohmann said. “Not necessarily just through choreography, but how I did the choreography and how I told the story.”

The second piece, a pas de trois trio from choreographer George Balanchine's “Agon,” was set to the complex and challenging music of renowned composer Igor Stravinsky. When the piece was first performed in 1957, it partnered Black dancer Arthur Mitchell and white dancer Diana Adams, which the Jacobs event’s program calls a “huge step forward for inclusivity in ballet.” 

During IU’s performance, two female dancers and one male dancer combined classical ballet steps with modern movement styles and unpredictable rhythm to draw in audiences.

The final piece was a suite by August Bournonville, a celebrated choreographer who established the Danish style of ballet. It featured five excerpts, ranging from a pas de deux to a pas de sept, made up of seven dancers, to a near-full cast piece from Bournonville’s “Napoli.” The suite ended with characters from each variation coming to dance together.

The Bournonville style is notably distinct. Dancer and IU junior Sarah Pfeiffer noted there are specific modifications to the usual Balanchine-based style, such as the way dancers hold their arms and turn their heads, and it includes different jumps.

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Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, “A Look Back” is the first spring ballet for the freshman, sophomores and juniors. For the seniors, it’s their last.

“You see them getting emotional after these performances, after they culminate,” Wroth said. “That’s when all those feelings come out, as they’re taking their bow, as they’re feeling the warmth of the lights on the stage hit their skin.”

As a junior, Pfeiffer said she loves watching the seniors dance together because they’re so comfortable with each other. She’s happy the seniors get to share their last ballet with each other and with the rest of the students.

Grohmann is a senior, and he said knowing the spring ballet is his last with IU has made it more sentimental for him. But he says that even now, he’s still discovering things about his dancing, particularly through his role as Prince Siegfried. While there’s more pressure with this show, he said he wanted to end with a bang. 

“It’s nice to share this experience with seniors. We’re all kind of doing it together as one last hurrah,” Grohmann said. “That’s what I’m trying to take with me: my memories with them.”

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