If you've never been to the ballet, the idea of dressing up, trekking to a large hall and taking in classical dance done in tutus might seem stuffy and intimidating.
Ballet Arizona aims to change that.
The company will whet your appetite for the exotic and the romantic with a series of dance “appetizers” served up for free in local parks this week.
In “Ballet Under the Stars,” the company presents a mix of bold, bright and skin-baring costumes, music from Frank Sinatra and Igor Stravinsky, and top choreography by Twyla Tharp, George Balanchine and the company's own artistic director, Ib Andersen.
And it's all danced in the open air.
“This is so informal — you bring your blanket, you bring your lawn chair, you bring sandwiches, you bring your dogs,” says Paola Hartley, a principal dancer with the company.
“It's a little more relaxed approach to ballet, because I think that people sometimes have misconceptions of going to a performance,” she says. “They think it's an elite thing to do, and it really isn't. Everybody can go to the ballet.”
On the program are four selections from “Sinatra Suite,” a set of dances Tharp choreographed in the early 1980s for Mikhail Baryshnikov and Elaine Kudo.
For the “Sinatra” pieces, Hartley will don a long black dress while her male partner sports a tuxedo, and the two will intermesh in modern, ballroom-style dances exploring love and relationships, to the songs “Strangers in the Night,” “All the Way,” “That's Life” and “My Way.”
“It's a beautiful piece, and it's very hard,” Hartley says. “The physicality of dancing in the heels, the fact that you have a long dress and there's a lot of partnering, and sometimes it gets tangled; and changing from one style to another.”
Another piece, “Ave Maria,” is a sexy, dramatic four-minute duet that Hartley describes as contemporary, with some elements of classical ballet, such as dancing en pointe. Clothing is minimal — the female dancer wears a bra and short skirt, and the male dancer is bare-chested.
“ ‘Ave Maria’ is really about the body, the human form and how it can move,” says Ballet Arizona dancer Joseph Cavanaugh, who will perform the male role.
“What the audience will see is basically a couple — a man and woman intertwined, so that every movement causes another movement. Everything that they do is related to each other.”
Those who like classical ballet can feast on selections from the ballet's Balanchine Festival, with “Theme and Variations,” a tutu ballet danced by 13 pairs, and “Agon,”a “pure ballet” danced to Stravinsky, with the dancers clad in simple leotards and tights, Hartley says.
Andersen's “2B” is a blend of traditional ballet and modern movement, with unusual costumes.
The final highlight of the show will be “Class Act,” a work choreographed and danced by schoolchildren.
“We go into different schools that are in the area of the park that we're performing in, and we work with them for three hours,” says dancer Kendra Mitchell, who is in her 10th season with the ballet.
“They choose their music and create their own choreography, and the dancers are there to help them,” she says.
“Then the day of the show, we'll let them space it onstage and rehearse it . . . so that they can get the gist of what the stage feels like, and they can hear the music.”
Parents of the children in “Class Act” just might be tempted to attend a regular Ballet Arizona performance, Mitchell says.
So might the rest of us.
“Ballet Under the Stars”
When: 7:30 p.m. Friday
Where: Kiwanis Park, 6111 S. All-America Way, Tempe
Info: (602) 381-1096 or www.balletaz.org. Performances are also planned for Sept. 22 at Steele Park in Phoenix, and Sept. 23 at Sahuaro Ranch Park in Glendale.