The performance of "Firebird" - as in the mythical phoenix - speaks to a quality of dramatic transformation, a theme that Ballet Tucson will trace this upcoming season.


Change is in the air for Ballet Tucson's new season, dubbed "Season of Transformation." Optimism is the active ingredient.

On Friday, the company will launch the season with its "Opening Night Gala 2011," which will be followed by three more concert performances Saturday and Sunday.

"Transformation is the word that links together, not just the dances in this concert, but the various programs we have all year," said Mary Beth Cabana, BT's founding artistic director.

"Ascending" and "Firebird" (as in the mythical phoenix) are two pieces in this weekend's performances that imply evolving feelings. Christmas always brings the familiar transformations of Clara and the Prince in "The Nutcracker." Later in the season at Dance & Dessert comes a revival presentation of the dynamic revelations in "Masquerade," and in May a full-length production of the ultimate transformation, "Cinderella."

An unfortunate transformation in this weekend's performances occurred when the announced special guest artists, Margaret Mullin and Kiyon Gaines of Pacific Northwest Ballet, were both forced to withdraw because of injuries. Stepping in will be PNB dancers Lindsi Dec and Karel Cruz to present the classic pas de deux from "Esmeralda," as choreographed by Ben Stevenson after Marius Petipa.

The cover story in the current issue of Pointe Magazine describes Dec as a statuesque neoclassical "powerhouse soloist." PNB's artistic director, Peter Boal, added that Cruz is "a perfect partner for her." The two are also husband and wife, which puts genuine feeling into their romantic duets.

"When we were in the (PNB) corps, Karel and I used to practice pas de deux just for fun, to practice partnering. This gives us a chance to add a new one to our repertoire," Dec said on the phone from Seattle.

"Ascending" is a new piece co-choreographed by Cabana and Assistant Artistic Director Chieko Imada. Cabana says the 20-minute dance is divided into three sections and set on the entire company, following through life the relationship between a mother and her daughter.

"There is an element of separation and loss, but also a spirituality and celebration of the resilience of the human spirit," Cabana explained. "We still feel the effects of past relationships that continue to affect us as we move forward into the future."

Another voice from the kingdom of classical ballet comes to us through John Gardner and Amanda McKerrow, BT artistic associates, choreographing their "Don Quixote Suite." They describe this 30-minute dance set in a Spanish courtyard as a compressed version of the full ballet, adapting the original score composed by Ludwig Minkus.

The wedding of Kitri and Basilio begins the dance, McKerrow said. Then other familiar characters from the novel by Miguel de Cervantes are introduced, including Don Quixote and Sancho Panza.

"There's also a second romance - a passionate, fiery romance - between the street dancer Mercedes and Espada, a matador," McKerrow added. "Though I'm against bullfighting, personally, I love matadors."

Leaping into a dystopian future is Mark Schneider's more abstract ballet "Firebird," using the Igor Stravinsky score, which imagines "the final consequential holocaust between mankind and machine, with six dancers on each side," Cabana said. "It is very contemporary, with a smoky stage set of giant girders.

"There is a nuclear explosion and nuclear winter, represented by falling snow. Then a new species emerges from the desolation."


Ballet Tucson in performance

• When: Opening Gala, 6:30 p.m. Friday, with wine and hors d'oeuvres; performance at 8 p.m., dessert reception to follow. Remaining performances are at 2 and 7:30 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday

• Where: Stevie Eller Dance Theatre on the University of Arizona campus.

• Tickets: Friday night Gala and performance, $100; $75 Gala only. Remaining shows are $27

• Information and reservations: 903-1445, or

Chuck Graham has written about Tucson arts for more than 36 years. Read more of his articles at "Let the Show Begin,"