The next two weekends open a new season of concert dance.
Ballet Tucson holds its gala on Friday, Oct. 6, introducing “Balanchine & More,” with performances continuing Saturday and Sunday.
On Oct. 12, Artifact Dance Project presents the world premiere of its feature-length “Judith.” The contemporary ballet draws from the apocryphal Book of Judith, depicting a strong-minded widow in the second century BC who saves her Israelite village from its captor, General Holofernes, by cutting off his head.
“We are strong and we are growing,” said Ballet Tucson’s founding artistic director Mary Beth Cabana. “This year our company is 35 dancers. The most ever.”
To celebrate, the company has challenged itself with performing George Balanchine’s “Walpurgisnacht Ballet,” presented with special permission by the Balanchine Trust, set to musical excerpts from Charles Gounod’s “Faust.”
“Our cast for the piece is a sea of 24 women,” Cabana said, laughing a little. “With one man, Connolly Strombeck.”
But presenting a Balanchine ballet, with strict standards set by the Trust, is no laughing matter.
“There are so many technical details, because of Balanchine’s specific style that we must learn,” Cabana explained. “Details like turning the legs and feet out in a more exaggerated way, and also some arm movements that are specifically his.
“And he always has what I call a quality of ‘controlled abandon’ or ‘precise abandon.’ Some of it is very fast. Plus, in the beginning it took a lot of rehearsals just to get everyone on the same page, as the dancers have come to us from so many different companies, and six different countries.”
Cabana has danced a number of Balanchine ballets during her career. This is BT’s second time to meet the master’s exacting demands. Their first was “Serenade” in 2016. She promises more Balanchine .
Completing the program are two favorites from the company’s repertoire — “Phantom of the Opera” and “Paquita — Grand Pas Classique.”
Artifact Dance Project
“There are several famous classical paintings of Judith beheading General Holofernes,” said Ashley Bowman, choreographer and co-founder of Artifact. “My favorites are by Caravaggio and Gentileschi.
“The story lends itself to the stage. I believe it has been produced before as an opera, but never as a dance.”
“It happened that several things came together at once, like this dance was meant to be,” said Bowman. “The first was when Ilaria Guerra asked to dance with us.”
The striking presence of statuesque and San Francisco-trained Guerra had Bowman immediately thinking of the Judith story. Bowman asked musician and art historian Kevin Justus to collaborate.
In this cast of 12, Marquez Johnson will dance the part of Holofernes.
“Much of the music is by British composer Michael Nyman,” said Bowman. “Some by Sergei Prokofiev.”
Joining the company are 11 musicians with Justus as music director. Also part of the collaboration is mezzzo-soprano Korby Myrick.