Ballet Idaho's 'NewDance, Up Close' Shows Off Company's Creative Depth

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It was in the middle of What You Wanted for Me, a work of original choreography by Ballet Idaho dancer Nathan Powell, when one of the lights illuminating the Esther Simplot Performing Arts Academy stage broke loose from the ceiling and swung from a cord in a long arc. The audience held its breath: Was this an accident?

When the lone performer, Elizabeth Keller, began to dance with the bulb as it swayed on the otherwise blackened stage, it illuminated a woman whose dance was as tied to a point of light as the light was tied to its source. Without it, she and her dance would have been little more than the sounds of breathing and the pattering of feet on the stage. It was no accident.

Amid an evening of sometimes playful, sometimes intellectual dances by Lydia Sakolsky-Basquill, Daniel Ojeda, John Frazer and Angela Napier-Gibson, it was this moment that became point zero for NewDance, Up Close, the Nov. 15 fall season opener for Ballet Idaho.

It was the first time Ballet Idaho has kicked off its season with a presentation of short new works by dancers, but these intimate gatherings for original dances are a chance to see ballet’s breadth. Frazer’s Daae boiled down The Phantom of the Opera into a charming pas de deux with engrossing costumes and set pieces by B. Benjamin Weigel and Frazer, respectively. On the other end of the spectrum was Sakolsky-Basquill’s Finding Frequency, originally performed by her own local company, Project Flux, which eschewed traditional dance movements and storytelling in favor of exploring motion and synchronicity.

But the dancers themselves are at the core of any show, and in Ojeda’s This Mortal’s Mosaic “Spring 1” scene, Ballet Idaho principal dancer Phyllis Affrunti showed the audience why she’s at the top of the company’s playbills with her onstage gravity and seasoned movements. Her evident discipline and obvious grace have long made her a standout performer, and though her time onstage was brief, she brought out the best in her dance partner, Megan Hearn. It was a hint at the talent that’s in Ballet Idaho’s stable of dancers.

Shows of new works are raw and uneven; some dances—and dancers—are better than others, and it is refreshing to sit for an evening while accomplished choreographers and performers share the stage with comparative newcomers to the craft.