When George Balanchine's "Serenade" premiered at New York's Adelphi Theatre in March 1935, it was, for some, a dizzying hall of mirrors. It revealed the clockwork that underpins all ballet, without stripping the medium of elegance or sophistication. But, perhaps, its most lasting contribution to dance was exposing it to the creative horizons of self-referentiality.
The performance of "Serenade" as the opening act of Ballet Idaho's The American Program Nov. 1 at the Morrison Center was a premonition of what was to come later in the evening. With a lineup that included the psychologically rich "Qualia" and the gutsy and visceral "Akimbo" followed by "Footage"--and a late-evening nod to Fred Astaire--Ballet Idaho set out to show ballet's topical and conceptual breadth.
"Serenade" began with a full cast of dancers assuming the First Position, in which the dancers' feet point outwards, touching at the heel. The dance is a walkthrough of ballet from the most elementary positions, to sophisticated group maneuvers, to an homage to narrative at the end. Unlike many classical ballets, "Serenade" is not driven by plot but by its faithful and moving account of choreography and dancing in a ballet. It builds on itself just as an experienced dancer builds on his or her training and experience to assume a role.
Dancers Phyllis Affrunti and Jake Lowenstein gave gutsy performances, lending this side of the ballet its beating heart.
Seemingly making up for "Serenade's" scarcity of plot, "Qualia," an original choreography by Ballet Idaho dancer Daniel Ojeda, stressed the human psyche. In it, a man (James Brougham) stands by a radio, and, stirred by a song he hears, sinks into reverie over a romantic affair. Behind him, his memory plays out: A young man (Graham Gobeille) is torn between his girlfriend (Elizabeth Herrmann-Barreto) and a new lover (Kathleen Martin). As the ballet concludes, the movements of Brougham and Gobeille begin to synch, bringing the story to a dismal, almost Tolstoyan climax, in which the totality of the older man's tragedy is revealed.
"Akimbo," by Charles Anderson, is just what its name implies. It's a set of contortions with overtones of danger and sexuality. For the modern ballet-goer, it's about as racy as dance gets, with heavy, riveting music performed by Kronos Quartet. Originally developed for former New York City Ballet principal dancer Albert Evans, Ballet Idaho's take stars duos by Lauren Menger and Andrew Taft, Phyllis Affrunti and John Frazer, and Megan Hearn and Jake Casey as they commune and reject, give chase and combat each other.
The evening ended with "Footage," a collection of dances invoking a golden age of mid-century entertainment. Like Fred Astaire, whom Ballet Idaho Artistic Director Peter Anastos referenced in his pre-performance spiel, its time on stage was a bit overlong, but contained many brief, humorous performances like "Music, Maestro, Please" and "Tango."