George Balanchine’s ballet “Who Cares?” will be the highlight of Tucson Ballet’s Spring concert this weekend.
“We are very excited about that!” says Margaret Mullin, associate artistic director. The jazzy dance, inspired by Balanchine’s love affair with New York City, “is the fifth Balanchine piece in our repertory.”
In the last few years, the company has performed a cavalcade of favorite Balanchines: “Serenade” from 1935; “Donizetti Variations,” 1960; and “Walpurgisnacht,” 1975. The 1941 gem, “Concerto Barocco,” was planned for March 2020, but was shut down by Covid. Ballet Tucson gave it a a triumphant return last fall.
Permission to dance Balanchine’s work is hard to come by. To dance all these treasures, companies “have to be approved by the Balanchine Trust,” Mullin explains. “We have had a relation with them the past few years so we’re on their radar and have an annual conversation with them.”
It’s easy to see why the famously strict Trust has been giving the nod to Ballet Tucson: the 36-year-old company is getting better and better every year.
This weekend’s concert will show their stuff in spades. Balanchine’s “Who Cares?” opens the show.
“‘Who Cares?’ is a really exciting one for the dancers,” Mullin says. “It’s dazzling, very challenging. It really pushes the dancers. They will be on their game dancewise.”
Sometimes the piece deploys a huge number of dancers, but more often it is a “concert version with a more condensed cast,” she says. This performance will have six dancers performing to a medley of American jazz. Mullin notes, “Balanchine was a big fan of Ginger Rogers and Fred Astaire. The piece really is his love letter to music (and choreography) of that period of time.”
The costumes will be “ballet friendly—no long dresses,” she laughs. The men will be in jazz pants and button-up shirts and “the ladies will wear short dresses with lots of jewels.” Each dress is a different color, and as Mullin says, “flirting fun with a 1920s feel.” The lucky performers are Danielle Cesanek, Vasily Boldin, Francesca Poznanski, Eric Trope, Madeleine Kuebler, and Skyler Burson.
Next up, guest choreographer Kiyon C. Ross will bring out his “No Holds Barre’d,” an electrifying 14 minutes of dance. The work will be performed by the company for the first time. Seven women and one man do the dancing, with Sarah Wilkerson and Casey Johnson in featured roles. The women are wearing navy blue, long-sleeved velvet tops, with fluorescent tutus, each one a different color. Mullin describes them as, “very bright, very fun, and actually pretty beautiful.”
“No Holds Barre’d” is “definitely a piece Ross made to have fun.”
For the grand finale, the Bill Ganz Western Band provides classic cowboy tunes for “Saddle Up.” Mark Schneider created this fun dance that turns some 27 ballerinas and gentleman dancers into rootin’ tootin’ rompers and prancers, partnering around the stage. Last danced in 2018 with the band live, alas this time their music is recorded.
“It’s a really charming piece, and Mark’s another one who really wants the audience to have fun,” says Mullin. “It’s a nice way to close the season, and, after such a challenging time, it’s wonderful to have something that celebrates
Tucson and the Southwest.”