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Last modified: Wednesday, October 1, 2008

IU Ballet Theater opens season with world-premiere choreography from Michael Vernon

'Ballets of Our Time' also includes choreography by Twyla Tharp, George Balanchine

Oct. 1, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Indiana University Ballet Theater opens its 2008-2009 season Oct. 10 with "Ballets of Our Time," featuring two of the top choreographers of the 20th and 21st centuries as well as IU Ballet Department Chair Michael Vernon. Vernon will present the world premiere of Endless Night, with music by Philip Glass performed by the Kuttner Quartet and pianist Florence Couvrette-Dupuis, and a guest performance by Daniel Ulbricht, principal dancer of the New York City ballet.

In addition to Endless Night, "Ballets of Our Time" will include George Balanchine's The Four Temperaments and Twyla Tharp's Sweet Fields, set to live music for the first time ever. Jacobs faculty member Susan Swaney will conduct the IU Symphonic Choir in Early American music by William Billings, Jeremiah Ingalls, Abraham Wood and William Walker, from the Shape Note and Shaker traditions.

Fall Ballet

Jennifer Sherry and Ben Delony in new choreography by Stephanie Lampe (graduate of IU Ballet Department) for The Choreography Project 2007.

Print-Quality Photo

Sets were designed by Professor and Chair of IU Opera Studies C. David Higgins with lighting by Patrick Mero. Performances will be at 8 p.m. Oct. 10-11 at the Musical Arts Center.

"The evening is called 'Ballets of Our Time,' but maybe it should be called 'Ballets Ahead of Their Time,'" said Vernon. "Balanchine and Twyla put forth very modern concepts."

Vernon said his new ballet was loosely inspired by the following excerpt from "Auguries of Innocence," a poem by William Blake:

"Every night and every morn
Some to misery are born,
Every morn and every night
Some are born to sweet delight.
Some are born to sweet delight,
Some are born to endless night."

Vernon said it took him about six months to come up with the concept for the choreography for Endless Night -- longer than usual -- in part because instead of finding one piece of music for the ballet, he had to compile a score that consists of one whole string quartet, a final movement from another string quartet and a piano piece.

"I wasn't sure what I was going to do with it -- then I found some old notes I had made from the William Blake poem," Vernon said. "My ballet is based on a more modern conception of the sentiment expressed in the poem."

Ulbright, who is considered one of the world's premiere male dancers and was featured in the June 2008 issue of Dance Magazine, will perform a solo in the fifth section of the ballet. "I've known Daniel since he was a student at the School of American Ballet," said Vernon. "I have taught him at Chautauqua in the summer during that period."

The Four Temperaments is one of Balanchine's signature works; this performance will mark only the second time IU Ballet Theater has received permission to perform it. Balanchine originally choreographed The Four Temperaments, composed by Paul Hindemith, for the Ballet Society (the precursor to the New York City Ballet). It was inspired by the four classic elements -- earth, air, water and fire -- that compose the human body and mind. The University Orchestra will be conducted by Jacobs doctoral student Andres Moran.

"It's a very difficult ballet, very complex," said Vernon. "The old concept of the four elements that make up the human psyche is very interesting and very challenging for dancers."

Tharp is known for her modern dance masterpieces and choreography in such Broadway shows as Movin' Out, the story of a group of blue-collar buddies growing up in Long Island in the 1960s, set to the music of Billy Joel. Sweet Fields was created for an ensemble of Tharp's own dancers and presents "geometry as the key to Godliness" as simple, distinct patterns emerge through dancers' bodies clad in white costumes to a score of 18th- and 19th-century hymns.

While Sweet Fields is normally performed to taped music, this performance will mark the first time the ballet has ever been performed with live music. "Sweet Fields is a very important learning experience for the juniors and seniors who are dancing this," Vernon said.

IU Ballet Theater 2008-2009 Season

  • The annual holiday favorite The Nutcracker will be performed Dec. 5-7. This year, there will be two Nutcracker Holiday Teas, one immediately following each matinee performance. The matinee performances on Saturday and Sunday will begin at 2 p.m. Tickets for The Nutcracker go on sale to the public on Monday, Nov. 10.
  • In March, IU Ballet Theater will present Variations on a Russian Theme, which will include a new version of Swan Lake to be staged and choreographed by Vernon and Cynthia Gregory, an internationally renowned former ballerina. As a dancer, Gregory was known as one of the foremost American "Swan Queens" of all time. Completing the program will be a world premiere by Matthew Neenan, resident choreographer of the Pennsylvania Ballet, to music by Shostakovich.
  • In January, IU Ballet Theater will offer two performances of "On the Edge," presenting edgy new choreography from up-and-coming choreographers at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater, including one free, open-to-the public show. Among the choreographers whose work will be presented is a choreographer from BalletMet in Columbus, Ohio, and one from the Louisville Ballet. "One of my thrusts is not just to develop dancers, it's to develop choreographers," Vernon said.

"Ballets of Our Time," this year's fall ballet, will take place at 8 p.m. at the Musical Arts Center (MAC), located on Jordan Avenue between Third and Seventh streets on Friday, Oct. 10, and Saturday, Oct. 11. Purchase tickets by phone at 812-855-7433 (no single tickets available at this number), by phone through Ticketmaster at 812-333-9955, in person at the MAC, Monday through Friday, 11:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., or online at