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Paying homage: The New Mexico Ballet Company celebrates 40 years

Suzanne M. Johnston, founder of the New Mexico Ballet Company, is shown as a young dancer.
Suzanne M. Johnston, founder of the New Mexico Ballet Company, is shown as a young dancer.
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The New Mexico Ballet Company is recognizing its past, tipping its hat to the present and acknowledging its future.

That translates to the contents of paired concerts this weekend at Rodey Theatre.

The company is paying tribute to its founder Suzanne M. Johnston. It is celebrating its 40th anniversary. And it is giving a peek into the kind of work it wants to present.

The first half of the concert program pays homage to Johnston with the staging of three ballets she choreographed.

One is “Une Classe Mal Gardee.” It’s a piece danced by 12 young girls, ages 8 to 13, one male ballet master and his assistant.

“It’s classical ballet for young dancers. It’s a sweet and cute piece,” said Jolie Sutton-Simballa, the company’s artistic director.

A second Johnston-choreographed ballet is “Gershwin,” which Sutton-Simballa said does a great job of bringing American music and tastes with classical ballet.

“It’s an enjoyable, all-American, fun-loving piece,” she said.

The third Johnston work is “Rhapsody” with music by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

It presents 12 soloists plus 10 corps de ballet in a neoclassical piece that’s been in the company’s repertoire.

“The last time that Suzanne herself set it was about 20 years ago,” Sutton-Simballa said.

Another work in the first half of the program includes excerpts from Marius Petipa’s “Paquita.”

Sutton-Simballa said she included it because when she was little she saw it performed by the New Mexico Ballet Company.

“The way Suzanne had set it then was very grand,” she said. “I thought it was beautiful.”

Also in the first half is “a surprise” that Sutton-Simballa choreographed as a tribute to Johnston.

The second half looks toward the company’s future.

It includes the “Baseball” section of Peter Pucci’s “Pucci: Sport” and the world premiere of two works.

One premiere is Philip Neal’s “Four by 4,” a contemporary work made for four of the ballet company’s principal dancers and the other is Bailey Moon’s “Dream a Little Dream,” with music performed by Ella Fitzgerald and Louis Armstrong.

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