Ok, “Aarrrg! Pirates” is a cheesy name for a ballet. And I have to admit it — along with some pretty over-the-top press photos — predisposed me to under appreciate Ballet Idaho’s title piece for its season open concert series this weekend.
The silly wigs and over done costumes were ditched, and what was left was a fun, clever, delightfully silly, comic ballet by artistic director Peter Anastos.
A band of ballet pirates stumble upon a group of women, who are as skilled as they — perhaps more so — at swordplay. What ensues is a series of ballet variations (a classical form of solo and duet dances that highlight the dancer’s skills) as these two tribes square off. And they show this company very well.
Anastos lifted the ballet music from Verdi's long-lost opera "La Regina Trovatiara" and he makes good use of it, employing the architecture of classical ballet structure, and then turning it on its side, to show the dancers off.
The company, now in its fourth season under Anastos, is getting stronger, especially with nine new dancers. It looks fresh and ready to grow.
Led by Ryan Jolicoeur-Nye and Heather Hawk, the troupe showed themselves well. Dancer Andrew Taft, back after a season away, was dashing and makes up for what he lacks in facility with verve and energy; Adrienne Kerr, as always was lovely, and showed a penchant for humor, as did Graham Gobeille, in his petite allegro solo with a parrot on his shoulder. Jessica Sulikowski and Monique Betty squared off humorously with swords, and spitfire Amanda Murray was a delight, doing double duty as a woman and a pirate. Other nice moments came in James Brougham’s solo athletic solo, he gets better every year, and in Daniel Ojeda’s and Adam Bloodgood’s very funny duet.
A highlight of the evening was Jolicoeur-Nye’s opening piece “City Symphony,” his first full company ballet. Jolicoeur-Nye also dance lead in the other two ballets.
His idea and movement syllabus was interesting and gave the piece a cohesive through line. Some of the contemporary movement was out of the comfort zone for some of this classical company.
The white on white shorty-tard costumes on the women and white pants on the men gave the piece a very clean, contemporary look. Burke Brown’s lighting design offered a few beautiful moments, like at the top of the third movement, the corps comes forward bathed in rich side lighting as they moved forward. The silhouette gave the scene an almost “Close Encounters” otherworldly effect.
They had issues with unity and timing. Over all, it was a dynamic and visceral performance. Lead dancers Phyllis Affrunti and John Frazer gave the energy of the relentless music of Philip Glass focus. They are an attractive and intriguing couple to watch.
“City Symphony” is a very physically demanding piece that pushed the dancers. They appeared tired in spots. It will be exciting to see what Jolicoeur-Nye will produce in the future.
The middle piece was Anastos’ “Clair de Lune,” a piano ballet danced by three couples to accompaniment by pianist Felix Eisenhauer. It’s a beautiful, romantic piece, filled with nice lines and subtle classical references. It was well executed by Jolicoeur-Nye and Hawk, Affrunti and Gobeille and lovely new dancer Ashley Hartigan and Nathan Powell.
Eisenhauer played it with depth and emotion that helped the dancers find their way. The piece suffered a bit for lack of space. It felt crowded on the SPEC stage. There wasn’t room for each of the couple’s work to be seen to its best effect.