Review: Indianapolis City Ballet’s ‘Evening with the Stars’

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As has now become the tradition, I’ve woken up the second Sunday of September with a dance hangover.

That’s because, last night, Indianapolis City Ballet staged its annual “Evening with the Stars” benefit, bringing a who’s who of top dancers from around the world to the Murat Theatre. 

The moments of greatness? Yes, I could tell you those, but that would pretty much mean reprinting the entire program.

Some highlights among the highlights then?

Well, there was “Liturgy,” from choreographer Christopher Wheeldon (whose “After the Rain” was a knockout at last year’s event) This time, he began with the energy of his dancers (Wendy Whalen and Craig Hall of the New York City Ballet) entirely focused on their arms and hands. The feet, in fact, seemed almost secondary throughout, as Whalen and Hall’s wrapped bodies—separated more often in the piece’s mid-section but reunited at the end—play out an abstract interconnectedness both strong and vulnerable.

There was Herman Cornejo of the American Ballet Theatre, partnering with his hat in the stylistic “Tango Y Yo.” There was Brooklyn Mack of the Washington Ballet tearing into a pair of solos, including the self-choreographed “Lost in Time,” with a regal intensity only matched by the intensity of his bows. And the Royal Ballet’s Aaron Smyth reprising a highlight from last year, the Nina Simone-fueled “Feeling Good.”

But those weren’t the half of it. ABT’s Alexandre Hammoudi and student Veronkia Verterich danced the U.S. premiere of Demis Volpi’s “Little Monsters,” showing that new choreographic life can still be breathed into familiar Elvis Presley songs. Margo Sappington expanded her previously seen “Night and Day” pas de deux into a suite of five smartly energetic Cole Porter pieces, beautifully woven together. And, yes, there was even more.

A great evening. But there was a downside. Well, the same-day news that the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra cancelled its first two weeks of concerts for the season did seem to dampen some of the big-picture spirit of the evening. While the Indianapolis City Ballet has established itself with great benefit concerts and a strong series of master classes, one of its stated goals is to develop a full-time professionally ballet company here in Indy. Can we sustain a professional ballet company in Indy if we can’t figure out how to sustain a full-time orchestra?

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