What can audiences expect from the Balanchine program this year?
A lot of dancing! But in all seriousness, this program is very rich with three very different ballets, all having three very distinct styles.
Theme and Variations is so exciting to watch. Balanchine created this ballet in 1947 for American Ballet Theatre. It was an homage to Marius Petipa and a continuation of his old style of ballet that honors Balachine’s roots. It’s his Petipa ballet. This ballet actually isn’t as difficult as Emeralds or Square Dance but it certainly feels that way. When you are dancing it, you feel naked, like the audience is going to see all of your faults or missteps, it is that exposed. Part of the reason, is because Tchaikovsky’s music is so grand that you feel as if you have to live up to something that you can’t reach – a level of excellence that is so unattainable.
I actually have a very funny story about this ballet. When I first performed in Theme and Variations – I was reviewed. It said something like, “when the curtain went up, Andersen looked like he got the instant flu.” They could see I was so nervous, it was the first time I performed it, and I was completely freaked out. It must have shown all over my face. I will never forget that. It’s one of the few reviews I actually remember. It speaks to the intensity of the ballet because as a dancer, you want to be sure you are doing it justice. After I performed it a few times, I learned it wasn’t that difficult and then I enjoyed it so much more. But it was nerve-wracking.
Emeralds is the most sophisticated and mature ballet of the three and even among Jewels as well. It is one of his most articulated and poetic ballets. And from a dancer’s point of view, this is pure bliss. I am not sure the audience really feels what the dancers feel when they perform this piece. You almost need to be a dancer to understand how truly unbelievable it is. When he choreographed it, all of the dancers thought Emeralds was the best. From an audience perspective, Diamonds and Rubies were the favorites. It is a very difficult ballet because it is so layered and made in the style of Paris Opera. They used to be famous for their articulation and how their bodies could speak, especially through their legs. Emeralds is like reading really good poetry – it is very dense and gorgeous. It requires extraordinary dancers that have complete control of their instrument. I will be curious to see how we do. I never danced Emeralds, but I did Rubies and Diamonds. Balanchine taught me Rubies in this little closet of a studio one week before I was to perform it in Berlin. It was insane.
We are so excited to see Eroica again. How do you feel revisiting this piece?
For me it has not diminished at all since we premiered it last year. In fact, quite the opposite is happening. We have been rehearsing and I was surprised so see how this ballet was in the dancer’s bodies in such a way that it was already a part of them. Because of that I think it should be even better this time around.
This ballet is complicated, complex with many layers and many different meanings. My own interpretation of the meaning is different this year than it was the year before. Each time I see something different and it opens me up to a new interpretation. If you think you have already seen it once, you must come and see it again. There is no way that anyone could be able to really take in the nuance and the complexity in one performance. Please come and experience it again. It will feel like the first time you have seen it.
I love to visit museums time and time again, looking at the same paintings and every time I see something new. It’s same thing with this ballet. A painting is stationary but YOU are different. Moreso with ballet because unlike a static painting a performance will never be the same twice.
Many people have called Eroica a “masterpiece”. How does that make you feel when you hear reviews like that?
Don’t forget that I’m an old man now, so I’m happy to hear it… it better happen before I die. I have been choreographing since I have been 32 but to be quite honest I feel like I am getting better with age. I feel more in control of what I am doing now and trusting my intuition much more than I ever have. And it should be like that – I’m hoping that I don’t peak until I’m 84. I was very dumb when I was younger and it has taken me a long time to figure myself out. That comes from experience, I used to be more critical and I am still my own worst critic, but now I have almost run out of critiques for myself and I just want to enjoy what I’m doing in every aspect and just be! Life is too short to not enjoy what you are doing.
Ib Andersen in rehearsal for “Eroica”with company dancers Jillian Barrell and and Nayon Iovino. Photo by Tzu Chia Huang.