Behind The Scenes At Ballet Idaho’s Winter Concert

Feb 9, 2017

Daniel Ojeda, a choreographer for Ballet Idaho, is guiding dancer Liz Keller in rehearsals, spinning along beside her.

It’s an original work of his, called the “Monster and The Gift.” The ballet will have its premiere in the Winter Repertory concert at the Morrison Center in Boise. And there’s not much time left to practice.

“The last time we touched this was a week ago,” Ojeda explains. “It’s just like set a section, record it, hope the dancers and myself remember it. And then move on. So sometimes what ends up happening is that sections don’t get touched for a few weeks in between.”

This large-scale production is about to go live. But not long ago, it was just a concept.

“This is one of the first times ever in my life where I had to create a ballet out of nothing,” Ojeda says. “And I’ve been tossing around this idea for quite a long time about doing a large-scale collaborative ballet, because I think Ballet Idaho has consistently provided me these tremendous opportunities to perform on the Morrison Center stage.”

And Ojeda didn’t take the challenge alone. He brought in original music and original artwork on stage.

“I wanted to share those opportunities with my friends, who are also artists in the community,” says Ojeda.

He’s referring to local composers Jeremy Stewart and Daniel Kerr, as well as local painter Huma Aatifi.

In rehearsal, Ojeda runs through the routine again, this time with recorded music from the Stewart and Kerr score.

Ballet Idaho's Daniel Ojeda works with the company dancers on his newest ballet "The Monster and the Gift."
Credit Katherine Jones / Idaho Statesman

Dancer Liz Keller portrays an artist. She makes painting movements in the air, as if she’s in her studio, at the easel. Ojeda says the “Monster and the Gift” is about the artistic process. The Monster is the artist. The Gift is her talent.

The Boise Baroque Chamber Orchestra will score the ballet live on stage. Conductor Daniel Stern is at the rehearsal, trying to get a handle on its rhythm and pace.

“In a new piece like this, we’re kind of going in new directions, because there has been no previous performance, so we're kind of blazing trails here,” says Stern.

The “Monster and the Gift” is the second of three ballets in the winter program. Stern also conducts music for the first, performing a Bach Concerto for the staging of “Concerto Barocco,” by George Balanchine, which artistic director Peter Anastos calls “the first great American ballet.”

“It’s probably 70 years old now, but you’d never know it,” says Anastos. “It’s so modern and so contemporary that it looks like it was done two weeks ago.” Anastos admires the piece not for its surface looks, but for its patterns and the way it moves.

To Anastos, Balanchine is the greatest choreographer of the 20th century.

“Balanchine came here from Russia,” says Anastos, “and he looked at our people. He looked at Americans. He said, you guys are tall. You’re rangy. You like the outdoors. You’re impatient. You’re full of life and full of energy. That’s the American spirit. That’s who Americans are. And he defined the American ballet dancer and how she or she moves.”

Anastos says a lot of that is just speed—the fast pace of America compared to Old World Europe. For “Concerto Barocco,” Balanchine appropriated a popular American dance of the time.

"People don't know that actually some ballets are funny. And that you can come to the ballet and laugh and have a good time." -Peter Anastos

Of the three ballets, “Concerto Barocco” comes first. Then the “Monster and the Gift” is second. And the third work in Ballet Idaho’s winter repertory is another original production.

“And then we're closing the program with a comedy of mine called ‘Nightcrawlers,’ says Anastos.

Although mainstream audience may watch ballet for its expression and sophistication, what some may not realize it that some ballets are meant to be funny.

“Ballet is so fragile,” Anastos says. “And it’s such a kind of deliberate construct. The minute you change one or two little elements, it becomes very funny. But it's all physical humor—sometimes it’s just a person in just a hapless situation on stage.”

The irony is – compared to the 1941 ballet from Balanchine – the Anastos production of “Nightcrawlers” may be the throwback here, at least in terms of its approach.

“In our world now, physical humor has practically disappeared, says Anastos. “You know when I grew up it was Lucille Ball and Milton Berle and all these kinds of people. And Vaudeville and everything else, it used to be physical comedy. And that’s all but disappeared. Comedy sort of became standup. And standup really took over and kind of almost eliminated physical humor. And now it’s all political humor. So it’s kind of gone another step.”

Back in the rehearsal studio, Daniel Ojeda thinks it’s funny that what’s old is what’s new again. And vice versa.

Ballet Idaho’s Daniel Ojeda creates movement for his new ballet.
Credit Katherine Jones / Idaho Statesman

“The winter repertory is meant to be a sort-of mixed bag,” Ojeda says. “I think it displays the versatility of the company as well as our rep and Peter’s artistic vision: the allowance of three ballets all in relatively stark contrast.”

At age 25, Ojeda is not a young dancer, but he is a young choreographer. And for this big-stage debut of his original work, he’s surrounded by friends.

Ballet Idaho holds its Winter Repertory concert at the Morrison Center starting Friday night.

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