Archive for May 18th, 2011

May 18, 2011

Ballet West Innovations Review

by ashleyandersondances

I attended Ballet West’s Innovations last Saturday night.  The program features choreography by four of Ballet West’s own company members and guest choreographer Avichai Scher.  While I applaud the effort to venture outside the usual repertory, I believe that the program title is a bit of a misnomer.  To me, innovation demands more than bare legs instead of tights, French twists as opposed to buns, and a few idiosyncratic gestures mixed into a largely classically movement vocabulary.  A former bun head turned modern dancer myself, I came to this program hoping for experimentation within the classical aesthetic.  Where was my innovative music choice?  Where was my innovative approach to partnering?  Give me Britney Spears and a woman lifting another woman, or gasp, a man!

The program note from Artistic Director, Adam Sklute, helped demystify some of my disappointment with the show.  He states that the mission of the Innovations program is three-fold:  “presenting you with existing newer and experimental work, creating a platform for some of today’s up-and-coming choreographers, and nurturing and developing the choreographic talents of our Ballet West Artists.”  To their credit, the program is a great success in providing a platform for emerging choreography from the Ballet West ranks.  I was also, of course, dazzled by the sheer beauty and technical virtuosity of the dancers.  In particular, Arolyn Williams and Katherine Lawrence stand out as featured performers in multiple pieces.  Their expressive use of the upper body propels their performances beyond mere technical proficiency to true artistry.
The program opens with the most fully realized piece of the evening, Christopher Rudd’s Trapped.  Featuring Katherine Lawrence as a soloist set against a corps of conformity, the piece also includes an edgy asymmetrical set that confines the stage space and reveals the underbelly of the proscenium.  Despite a hopeful beginning, the piece continues to become more cliché and melodramatic.  At one point the corps of dancers turn to face the set and pound fists against the wall.  This literal gesture robs the piece of its potential to develop deeper metaphors in movement.  I also would have liked to see more of an exploration of movement vocabulary to communicate the idea of individual versus group.  It takes more than a program note or having the soloist wear her hair down to distinguish her from the corps.  At the end of the piece I was left wondering, “Just how much can a cabriole communicate?”  Perhaps it can convey much more than one might imagine if not denied the opportunity by overtly literal gesture.
Fall Into Loving Arms choreographed by Tom Mattingly is a lovely dance for three couples featuring a traditional male-female dynamic.  The content has great potential for emotional connection with the audience, however, this human quality is overshadowed by movements heavily prescribed to the music.  For instance, the accompaniment dictates when the woman is allowed to reach longingly for her partner so many times that I came to feel as if she was more in relationship with the musical notes than with her lover onstage.  Despite a beautiful performance, the choreography became all too apparent and I lost the emotional connection that should have been the strong suit of this piece.

Perhaps the most truly innovative work of the evening, Christopher Anderson’s Intonation is an abstract quartet of women including video projection of larger than life images of the dancers in silence as a prelude to each section of the piece.  Although I would like to have seen a more meaningful connection between the images and the live dancers, this did not bother me too much and I was able to enjoy the abstract nature of the piece—including dramatic and abrupt experimentation with lighting—that seemed befitting to the concert title.

Overall, the program could have benefited with some editing and by the fourth piece I began to lose interest in the technical virtuosity and chiseled legs of the dancers.  Unfortunately, Emily Adams’ Regarding Us was the most traditional and least engaging of the program.  It features five couples executing traditional pas de deux movements while utilizing the stage space in familiar patterns.  However, Adams is an important addition to the program as the sole female choreographer in an evening featuring the work of men.  Perhaps in the future, Innovations will include more of a female perspective on contemporary choreography with interesting results.
The evening concluded with guest artist Avichai Scher’s White Noise.  A large, jazzy ensemble piece full to the brim with movement, it would probably stand out more if included as a contrast to the usual classical repertory.  At the end of an already long program of new works, it lost some of its oomph.

Innovations continues this weekend, May 18-21, at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.  While not my favorite concert, I urge others to attend this fledgling attempt to push the envelope of contemporary ballet. Hopefully with additional support, audiences will be treated to even more innovative works in the future.

Elizabeth Stich holds her MFA from the University of Utah & is part of Aerial Arts of Utah 

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