It’s not clear whether the city of Indianapolis as a whole completely understands or appreciates the magnitude of what it has in its own backyard with an event such as “Evening with the Stars,” which was presented Saturday by Indianapolis City Ballet at the Murat Theatre at Old National Centre in downtown Indianapolis.
But for those fortunate enough to be present, there was absolutely no question that what they were witnessing was near perfect artistry, athleticism and technique. The source of their rarified experience was the world’s most talented dancers representing some of the most renowned companies on the globe participating in a gala that may well be on its way to becoming a treasured annual Indianapolis tradition.
Presented for the fourth year in a row, the gala was produced by ICB executive director Kevin Hesse, with Jolinda Menendez serving as performance director and Laura E. Glover as stage manager and lighting designer. Founders of Indianapolis City Ballet are Robert Hesse and Jane Fortune.
In a program that featured a diverse array of classical, neoclassical and contemporary works, a who’s who of all-star dancers, including Julie Kent, Jose Manuel Carreno, Wendy Whelan, Craig Hall, Herman Cornejo, Brooklyn Mack, Iana Salenko, Irina Dvorovenko, Maxim Beloserkovsky, Aaron Smyth and more, bedazzled a fired-up crowd of ballet lovers whose cheers and whistles made them sound like avid sports fans.
Students from numerous area dance schools that partner with ICB were the source of that heightened enthusiasm. Once again, the excitement of these young people, as in previous years, contributed to the infectious high energy that permeated the atmosphere in the Murat, which was filled with some of the city’s most well-heeled and influential arts patrons.
It is nearly impossible to single out any one performance because every last one was exceptional in its own right — such was the quality of each. Suffice it to say, however, and based on audience response and this writer’s own preferences, there were some favorites.
Act 1 included Julie Kent and Jose Manuel Carreno in an excerpt from “The Merry Widow,” which was exquisitely romantic, with choreography by Ronald Hynd and music by Franz Lehar; “Tango Y Yo,” sensually danced by Argentinian Herman Cornejo (also the choreographer), with music by Astor Piazzolla; and “Little Monsters,” featuring Veronika Verterich and Alexandre Hammoudi in a provocative piece portraying the evolution of a couple’s relationship through music by Elvis Presley, with choreography by Demis Volpi (who was present to introduce it).
A popular attraction from previous galas returning for this year’s event was Paul Ghiselin from Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, who once again tickled the audience dancing en pointe (and in drag) as feathers fell continuously from his/her tutu during “The Dying Swan,” with music by Saint-Saens and choreography after Michel Fokine.
Choreographer Margo Sappington, who was also present for the gala, was responsible for a charming ICB-commissioned tribute to Indiana’s own Cole Porter, which opened Act 2 with a joyous flourish. Lighthearted and celebratory, her colorful piece featured Kristie Latham, Leann Underwood, Veronika Verterich, Thomas Forster, Vitali Krauchenka, Bailey Moon, Aaron Smyth and Roman Zhurbin, who danced to Porter’s “Night and Day,” “You Do Something to Me,” “It’s De-Lovely,” “So in Love” and “What Is This Thing Called Love?”
Stark in its beauty and hypnotic in its effect was “Liturgy,” which was danced by Wendy Whelan and Craig Hall to music by Arvo Pärt (“Fratres, for Violin, Strings and Percussion”), with choreography by Christopher Wheeldon.
During an evening that had its share of extraordinary, exhilarating moments, Brooklyn Mack, one of the country’s most exciting dancers, thrilled the audience with his strength, power, nuanced artistry and control as he danced the famous show-stopping male part of the pas de deux from “Le Corsaire.” On a side note, during Mack’s performance, this writer overheard a nearby audience member say, “I once saw Nureyev dance this [“Le Corsaire”] in New York. He [Mack] reminds me of him so much!” Earlier in Act 1, Mack also displayed virtuosity and originality in “Lost in Time,” which he also choreographed.
Iana Salenko, principal dancer with the Berlin Ballet, had flight delays which prevented her from arriving at her hotel until 2 a.m., the night before the gala. But it did not prevent her from giving a stunning performance with partner Herman Cornejo as they danced the pas de deux from “Diana and Acteon” to music by Agrippina Vaganova, with choreography by Cesare Pugni.
Another dynamic performer, like Mack, representing the future of males in ballet is Australian Aaron Smyth, an artist with The Royal Ballet. Captivating the audience with his fresh exuberance and lively personality, he ended the evening on a veritable high note with his explosive performance in “Feeling Good,” which he choreographed with Dionne Talbot, to music by Nina Simone.
Probably one of the most unique qualities that one can attribute to ICB’s “Evening with the Stars” is its success at making ballet accessible for all those in attendance with varying degrees of exposure to ballet.
Expediting that process was actor Chris Stack, who served as Master of Ceremonies and who, through his affability and sense of humor, provided the event with an air of casualness that no doubt made the gala equally entertaining and memorable for novices and aficionados alike.
For further information about Indianapolis City Ballet and “Evening with the Stars” artist bios, visit www.indianapoliscityballet.org.
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