At its very simplest, the kernels of Kantian aesthetic philosophy purport that great art is the combination of taste and genius, the marriage of that which is beautiful to that which is transcendently so. Without genius, however, art may be beautiful but not of the highest caliber; it lacks that enigmatic "je ne sais quoi" that propels the work beyond the plane of mere representation into the realm of sublime.
The new Ballet Idaho took center stage this weekend to present its season's much anticipated inaugural performance and though the trio of works certainly met the qualification of beauty in its execution, what eluded the afternoon's show was that final push into the arena of exceptional.
With an original creation to Mozart's A Little Night Music, artistic director Peter Anastos writes in the program notes that his intention was to create a touchstone work looking into the past as well as the future. A visually stunning piece—complete with what a plebeian observer might describe as quite traditional with gleaming tutus—this first glance at Anastos' work was well within a Boise audience's ballet comfort zone. The initial movements elicited a laugh with the comedic foibles and triumphs of love before the gravity of the art form set in with a solo pas de deux from principal dancers Phyllis Rothwell Affrunti and Benjamin Lester. Impeccable form from the duo shone more noticeably in comparison to the company, which en masse had let slip several errant steps. Those wayward limbs recalled to mind the "synchronicity or energy" debate a New York Times critic mulled over in print earlier this year. When a performance lacks both, an audience is left to file it under forgivable with a generous allowance for the fact that it was, after all, a final lethargic matinee performance.
Closing with Lester dramatically illuminated and alone, Mozart gave way rather prematurely to an intermission just as the dancers were establishing a rapport with the audience. Having barely slipped the bonds of the real world, the crowd was thrust into the surly sunlight without an adequate welcome into the world on the stage. The promise of Debussy lured them back in.
Set to the French impressionist composer's Suite Bergamasque, this second piece was commissioned from Anastos for the American Ballet Theatre in New York City and later reworked into the triple pas de deux Boise saw last weekend. At its worst, this second installment seemed slightly dated and curiously, principal ballerina Heather Hawk and danseur Michael Dennis Dunsmore were a baffling step ahead of the stage's four other dancers. At its best, this second installment delivered a mesmerizing "Claire de Lune" movement. One of Debussy's most famous pieces, "Clair de Lune" simultaneously evokes a self-assured longing and playful contentedness, both of which Anastos and company channeled appropriately and successfully.
Following another spell-breaking intermission, the afternoon's final piece ventured into Hollywood. Paying homage to Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, Footage was perhaps overall the most entertaining piece of the threesome with Hawk and Lester receiving ovations for their separate fouettes en tournant. Such demonstration of strength and skill, however, was overshadowed by Affrunti's and Ryan Nye's spirited performance to Ravel's "Bolero." The exasperated struggle between the two dancers in this pas de deux was the program's solitary palpable connection between audience and stage, ending with Affrunti literally riding Nye offstage and making evident why the ballerina has long been an audience favorite, even before the changing of the guard.
In the nine months since his arrival, Anastos has said again and again that his mission is for Boiseans to love ballet, regardless of any previous experience or knowledge base with the art form. Unequivocally, the new artistic director brings the fresh energy and breadth of experience a Boise audience is seeking from its leaders in dance; now he must prove that he and his company are capable of delivering that final wallop. Truly moving art reaches in, seeking out those intangible connections between the body and soul, electrifying that within us which lays dormant in the workaday world. It envelops, reinvigorates and stirs within us. So, like Anastos' A Little Night Music, we'll look to the future.