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Artistic versatility will be on full display as Ballet West stages its "Journeys and Reflections" triple bill of works ranging from neoclassicism to German expressionism.
The "Journeys and Reflections" program playing Friday through April 15 highlights the diverse and adventurous talents of the Ballet West dancers and adds bold and important revivals to the company's repertoire.
It takes just the right mix of strengths and personalities to sustain a performance encompassing Balanchine 's ethereal "Chaconne," Utah native Garrett Smith's esoteric "Façades" and Kurt Jooss' timeless 1932 statement on war, "The Green Table."
Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute said he has waited and fine-tuned this distinctive group of dancers and the time has arrived to present such foundational works as "The Green Table."
"My dancers are great storytellers," he said. "But Jooss' choreography is very stylized and he takes a unique approach to dance storytelling, one that these dancers are not used to, so it is a wonderful expansion of their horizons and allows the audience to experience this monumental and intimate work at the same time."
Sklute danced in "The Green Table" for many years while performing with Chicago's Joffrey Ballet. Jooss' daughter Anna Markard, who staged her father's ballets all over the world, requested Sklute come out of retirement several years ago to perform his part as the Old Soldier for a special television filming of the ballet.
"I feel very close and connected to this ballet," Sklute said. "The overwhelming power of the subject matter of war hits you onstage and it stays with you, and it stays with you forever."
The ballet is subdivided into six sections, each describing the futility of war as witnessed by the archetypal characters: Death; The Young Soldier and The Young Girl he leaves behind; an Old Mother; a female Partisan; a Profiteer; and the diplomats whose identities are hidden by grotesque cartoonlike masks.
The conclusion is that there are no winners, no right or wrong, and the only characters to escape in the end are Death and the Profiteer. Sklute said the role of Death (which Jooss originally created for himself) is so demanding that the dancer cast in the part performs in no other work on the program.
Sharing the role of Death in Ballet West's production are Beau Pearson and Ron Tilton.
Pearson is known for breathing new life into stock characters. A particularly memorable example is his Doctor Drosselmeyer in "The Nutcracker," portrayed more like a strung-out Keith Richards than the kindly uncle.
"Yeah old Dross, I can get a little too wrapped up in him," Pearson said in his characteristic cowboy drawl, which is always a little surprising since he grew up in San Francisco.
"Acting is sort of my wheelhouse; before I started ballet at 18, I grew up performing through high school at the American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco, which is a method-acting school," Pearson said. "So for me getting to do character roles is about energy and trying to exude the energy of whomever I am being."
Onstage and in literature, Death is often personified as something powerful to be feared. But Pearson said in this ballet Death has many facets and interacts with other characters in specific ways.
"When he takes them, he takes each person differently and sometimes even gently. The old Mother, he invites to dance with him. So he dances with her and when it is almost time for her to go he is very stern about it, but in the moment Death is compassionate. Although in the battles with soldiers he is much more violent."
Death is present onstage throughout the entire ballet as the overseer and commentator on the plot. Pearson said he doesn't look at the ending the way many people do: "I don't interpret that Death has won because I don't see it as a competition. Life is not a competition, either."
After 10 years with Ballet West, Pearson has the usual dance-related wear and tear on his body, exacerbated by chronic injuries that he worries might limit his time onstage over the next few years. His wife, Emily Adams, is a Ballet West principal at the top of her form, and they support each other in their artistic endeavors. Pearson compares Ballet West to a family and feels confident there will be a niche in the organization for his vast ballet knowledge and experience as a professional photographer.
"Adam is working with me and is very cool about supporting me through surgeries and recoveries," Pearson said. "I feel lucky to be in this company. And yeah, I'm looking forward to putting everything I've got into this performance sounds funny, but I'm having a blast as Death."
Journeys and Reflections
Ballet West dances three works: George Balanchine's "Chaconne," Utah native choreographer Garrett Smith's "Façades" and the company premiere of Kurt Jooss' "The Green Table." The program is the company's last of the season at the Capitol Theatre, before closing this year with its latest foray into innovation and collaboration for the National Choreographic Festival (May 19-27) in the new Eccles Theater on Main Street.
When • April 7-15; 7:30 p.m., April 7-8, 13-15; 7 p.m., April 12; and 2 p.m., April 15
Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $19-$87; Art Tix outlets and artsaltlake.org
More information • https://balletwest.org/events/journeys-and-reflections