Ballet Is Back! Ballet Tucson happily returns to the stage with a Balanchine dance and more

Ed Flores
Shannon Quirk and Charles Clark dancing in Balachine’s Concerto Barocco.

This weekend, Balanchine aficionados will finally see Ballet Tucson perform his cherished Concerto Barocco.

The 1941 dance, a lovely piece for 10 women and one man, was all set to run three times during the weekend of March 13 –15, 2020. The dancers did perform it once, that Friday night—and I can confirm that it was beautiful. But the next day, just before the show was to go on, University of Arizona security shut the theater down. You know why. 

But Ballet Tucson has soldiered on. Concerto Barocco will be the first dance in the first concert performed since that aborted event a year and a half ago. This time the show will definitely go on, Oct. 22 to Oct. 24, at Leo Rich Theater downtown. Last week, I saw the dancers—young, strong and ready to soar—rehearsing the dance to Bach’s Concerto in D Minor for Two Violins. The movements of the two lead ballerinas cleverly echo Bach’s two violins, reflecting Balanchine’s oft-quoted saying, “See the music, hear the dance.” 

Margaret Mullin, a former student at Ballet Tucson, had a storied career at Pacific Northwest Ballet. She’s now back at the company, working as associate artistic director, and on this day giving instructions to the dancers. Some had learned the piece last year, but some new dancers had to start from scratch. She was pleased with their progress. “This is much better,” she smiles encouragingly. 

During the pandemic, when there was scarcely any dance to be done, a number of the dancers quit, a phenomenon in Tucson and across the country, Mullin said. But Ballet Tucson is back up to 28 dancers, thanks to the hiring of six new dancers and six apprentices. 

The concert includes three more dances. A Piece in P_I_E_C_E_S, choreographed by Kiyon C. Ross of Pacific Northwest Ballet, is a lively—and fast—work for 10. 

Sleeping Beauty Grand Pas de Deux, choreographed after Petipa by Chieko Imada, also an associate artistic director, is a classical pas de deux drawn from the third act of the Sleeping Beauty. The beauty, of course, is Jenna Johnson, the company’s beloved prima ballerina, who partners with Vacily Boldin, another longtime dancer, as the prince. For the finale, Masquerade, a light-hearted work by artistic director Mary Beth Cabana and Imada, welcomes dance back to its rightful place. 

Ballet Tucson has the best COVID protocols I’ve heard of in Tucson. Concertgoers are required to show proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID test taken within 72 hours and supported by a valid photo ID. Every dancer, staff member and usher must be fully vaccinated. All parties must wear a mask throughout the concert, except for the dancers when they are on stage. And a compliance officer will be at every performance. 

“I know it’s a lot,” Muller says, “but we don’t want anyone to get sick.” 

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