When was the last time

by francine Hardaway on June 6, 2005

When was the last time you went to the ballet? (Ballet is the place where men of uncommon strength lift women of uncommon grace and carry them about in the air and then launch themselves with graceful leaps from one end of the stage to the other. Very physically demanding. Very graceful. Like tennis or golf, it looks easier than it is.)

For me, the ballet era was about twenty years ago, when my kids were still young enough for the annual Christmas performance of “The Nutcracker.” I can still remember going out to ASU�s Gammage Auditorium to see a traveling company from somewhere like Salt Lake City that hired a few local “extras” to play the children in the production. You can never judge a ballet company on its production of that old chestnut, but I remember thinking it wasn’t very exciting. After all, I grew up in New York, looking at the New York City Ballet and the Joffrey.

I lost track of dance (except disco) when my kids became teenagers, and all I remember was that Duke Tully, then publisher of the Arizona Republic, tapped Alan Rosenberg, a local bank president, to start a statewide ballet company. Shortly after, there was a succession of publicity around fundraising shortfalls and the usual hand-wringing about how people in Phoenix don�t support the arts in town, even though they give generously to the organizations in cities they came here from.

Over the past two decades, it seems we “saved” the ballet almost as often as we saved the symphony or the opera, all three of which were forever in danger of disappearing..

Fast forward to the 21st century, and Richard Florida(www.creativeclass.org) and Joel Kotkin (www.joelkotkin.com – urban legends) are wrangling about what makes cities attract the “creative class” — that elusive group of young, educated, enlightened people who presumably vote with their feet about where they want to live. Florida believes cities have to be hip and gay, with vibrant downtowns and thriving high rise communities. Kotkin believes that cities need to attack fundamental problems, like job creation for immigrant populations.

But there’s no argument from either side against the prime place of the arts in a successful city. The arts go under “quality of life,” that elusive combination of lattes, museums, winning pro ball teams, and star-quality chefs that give cities panache. Never mind New York and San Francisco, we�re in a global competition. Think London.

Everybody expects the arts to be vibrant in a big city. When I first moved to Phoenix in 1968, some arts were missing entirely, and some were pathetic. However, Phoenix is now the fifth largest city in the country. The theatre is vibrant here; we have built the Herberger Theatre and the Dodge Theatre, and we have dozens of really excellent theatrical companies, from dinner and mystery theatres, to Black Theatre Troupe and the Jewish Theatre, to Arizona Theatre Company and Childsplay.

The visual arts are also excellent. There are gallery “scenes,” with established Art Walks in both downtown Phoenix and downtown Scottsdale. The Heard Museum is known around the world.

And on Saturday night, at the opening of the Surrealism exhibit at the Phoenix Art Museum, I stood face to face with many of the familiar paintings of my childhood that had travelled west from the Museum of Modern Art in New York. It was really cool to see Tchelitchev’s “Hide and Seek” in the neighborhood.

So what happened to the ballet? Well, Alan’s son Bob asked me to attend the season’s final performance, titled “Innovations,” and I have to say I was stunned.

Not only is the ballet alive and well, it is renowned outside the city, although most of us don�t know that. The performance I saw was phenomenal.

Ballet Arizona�s artistic director, Ib Andersen, was lured here from the New York City ballet where he was a principal dancer for a decade. The ballet has been invited to perform in Russia this summer — Russia, the home of ballet. And it played to sold out performances at the Guggenheim Museum in New York, another home of ballet.

To me, Ballet Arizona is like this year�s Phoenix Suns. It�s a team with great chemistry and extraordinary physical talents. Watching �Innovations� was like watching Amare Stoudemire, John Nash and Sean Marion in the playoffs�I wondered how they could do what they did with human bodies.

Too bad ballet doesn�t have instant replay. Too bad ballet highlights aren�t featured on the six o�clock news. Too bad ballet isn�t presented in an arena. Wait for next year.

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