First at the Royal Danish Ballet, then for a decade at New York City Ballet, Ib Andersen was celebrated for his elfin charm – and here it was again, in the company he has helmed since 2000.
Play – a medley of diverse short works marking Ballet Arizona’s New York debut (at the Joyce until Sunday) – begins with that trademark sprightliness. To Mozart’s variations on “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star”, Andersen – the troupe’s principal choreographer – spins out solos that combine Bournonville’s fleet-footed buoyancy with the surprises that Balanchine would tuck into the hollows of supposedly four-square music. The dancers executed these pleasingly textured patterns with speed and grace and open chests. The women’s powerful thighs lent the unfurling of their legs the velvetiness of an earlier era, before the greyhound look took over.
Ballet Arizona lists its three dozen dancers not by rank but alphabetically, and Andersen cast them with admirable even-handedness, setting veterans beside the coltish young so you appreciated both more. It was a relief, for example, that the lass with whom five lads dallied in a pastoral to Schubert’s Octet was the seasoned ballerina Paola Hartley: she would not land on her head no matter how inexpertly they tossed her around. On the other end, the newbie Myles Lavallee brought a rough wonder to his steps. Between the two, the lovely Tzu-Chia Huang bathed her dancing in a joy softened but not varnished by experience.
An old-fashioned love of ballet – its orderly rules and the nifty ways you can rearrange them – is the company’s strength and also, it turns out, its weakness. Whenever Andersen went comic or casual, whenever a move required dramatic shading or pedestrian plainness, the dancers fell short. Any movement language other than ballet-for-its-own-sake seemed gibberish to them. Or perhaps the lapses in sense arose from the choreography. In any case, I could not tell whether the pastoral’s five men were friends or rivals. And in an all-female ode to Balanchine’s modernist “leotard” ballets, problems of tone – to titter or not? – marred the striking configurations of bodies and limbs.
But whether the fault lay principally with the choreographer or with the dancers, the sparks of delight that Ballet Arizona ignited sufficed to carry the night.