Arizona ArtBeat: Ballet Arizona’s TOPIA

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The Ballet Arizona’s TOPIA is back for the season. It’s a night of dining and ballet under the desert sky at the Desert Botanical Garden. Ballet Arizona Director Ib Andersen’s ballet was created specifically for the Garden and is performed on a giant 80-foot stage. Andersen will discuss the performance on Arizona Horizon.

Richard Ruelas: Tonight in our ArtBeat segment, we tell you about a unique way to experience the ballet. The Ballet Arizona's "Topia" is back this season, a night dining and ballet under the desert skies at the Desert Botanical Garden. Ib Anderson's ballet was created specifically for the garden. He joins me mow to discuss the performance which runs to June 1st. Thanks for joining us this evening.

Ib Anderson: Thank you.

Richard Ruelas: You created this thing out of whole cloth. How unique is that to have a director create a new ballet?

Ib Anderson: Well, I'm a coreographer, so I've been doing ballets for more than years. It's not so unique. What's unique is that it's a site-specific place. And it's unique that it's an 80-foot stage. Normally a stage is like 40 feet. And then we are out in the desert, which is, as you know, very unusual. It's also staged every night, specifically when the sun goes down. It's right after the sun goes down. The sun goes down between those two buttes in the middle of it. The show actually starts, I would say, with the sunset. And in some ways you can say that's maybe the most spectacular of the show. But it sets off the mood of what comes next. Which is dancing and it's Beethoven's 6th symphony, the pastoral symphony. On a stage that is 32 inches high. If you sit a little bit elevated, it'll look like you're dancing, you as the dancers dancing in the desert. So I think all the combination together makes for more than it would be if it was just a ballet in a symphony hall.

Richard Ruelas: A symphony hall directs the audience's eyes to a single point or even a single dancer it seems like. On an 80-foot stage, it seems hard to take in everything presented.

Ib Anderson: It's meant to be like that. It's more how your eye looks when you look at landscape. This place here and this place there, and then we are also able to do with lighting, we are able to lift the path of the buttes, which is like over a mile away. We lit up the landscape, certain parts, so you see trees that are literally like a mile away. That is amazing, I must say.

Richard Ruelas: When you were there last year, especially as it was presenting, did you watch the audience watch the ballet? Did you see how they --

Ib Anderson: Well, I saw all the shows. But I'm sitting usually all the way in the back. I see the backs of the audience. I think, you know, when you are out there in nature, and especially at sunset, it does something to you. In the sense that it quiets you down, and you sort of -- it's a little bit like meditation. You have on top of that, when the sun sets down, you have the birds flying around. And this time there's a lot of birds flying aren't at night. There wasn't last year. I don't know what kind of birds they are, but obviously night birds.

Richard Ruelas: They heard how good the show is.

Ib Anderson: Well, they are attracted to the lights. You have them flying in over. All those things become part of the experience. The moon looks different each night and the stars are different, and sometimes we have a helicopter flying over, you know, so -- but it becomes part of the show. Yeah.

Richard Ruelas: As you were conceiving of the choreography did you place yourself mentally in the desert, or did you physically walk through where you thought it might be staged?

Ib Anderson: No. The problem is our studios are only 40 feet wide. When we choreographed it we were out in the parking lot to see if it was possible what I was doing, you know? -- because we couldn't fit it in the studios. So -- and for the most part it was maybe like three or four things on each part. What was the question again?

Richard Ruelas: Just saying how much the desert inspired you, if you had to be in a mental place to think what this would look like.

Ib Anderson: Well, it is about nature. But then the music is about nature. But it's also inspired by -- I mean, "Topia" means in Roman time, meant landscape painting and also landscaping, architecture and landscape. That's sort of what I'm after is painting the landscape, and also architecture in the landscape.

Richard Ruelas: And the piece of music too, Beethoven seems like it would be difficult to write or to choreograph to.

Ib Anderson: Well, I mean, I wouldn't ever dare choreograph to this music if it wasn't because it's out here. Because of the vastness of the nature, somehow the music seems right. The music is one of the greatest pieces of music ever written. And it's huge in scope. But somehow being out there it gives a good balance.

Richard Ruelas: I know in a story in the Sunday "Republic" you told my colleague you think the show could travel, not just be in the desert.

Ib Anderson: I would love to see it in Greece.

Richard Ruelas: And you mention it would travel pretty easily, as far as packing.

Ib Anderson: The costumes could be in the Safeway plastic bags. They basically don't wear anything, both out of practicality and also what I wanted to do. Last night it was close to 100.

Richard Ruelas: You don't want them to faint on stage. They need some natural air-conditioning.

Ib Andersen:Director, Ballet Arizona;

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