To understand the reputation of dancer/choreographer Helen Pickett, you should know that she spent her formative years, from age 19 to 31, dancing with William Forsythe, one of the most respected choreographers of the 20th century.
She learned her craft at Forsythe's Frankfurt Ballet, from a mentor who helped redefine ballet by considering new possibilities within the classical structure. While her work is sometimes compared to Forsythe's, she says her choreography is different in that it's based on stories, inspired by real-life situations.
Pickett came to Utah last fall to set her piece "But Never Doubt I Love" on Ballet West dancers before returning last week to finish and polish it. The piece was inspired by Shakespeare's "Hamlet,""but I want to bring those relationships into this century," she said.
She praises Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute for promoting the creation of new work. "Directors like Adam who support living choreographers are valuable beyond compare," Pickett said.
Pickett also commends Sklute for selecting a work by Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company's artistic director, Charlotte Boye-Christensen, a contemporary choreographer, to be performed by Ballet West's classically trained dancers. "Bringing Boye-Christensen's artistic voice to the table is a clear acknowledgment of talent within your own grasp," Pickett said, comparing such local support to the Italian Renaissance, when artists such as Michelangelo and Leonardo da Vinci depended on influential arts patrons.
Boye-Christensen, a native of Denmark, came to Salt Lake in 2002 to join the artistic staff of RW, becoming artistic director in 2008, while continuing to accept commissions around the world. She's trained in classical and contemporary dance, and her new work, "Row," revisits classical technique "with a sense of deconstruction."
For example, instead of a female dancer balancing on pointe, the dancer might push off pointe at the very height of the balance and drop to the floor. That kind of release movement "creates a sense of fragility and vulnerability," Boye-Christensen said, physically underscoring the work's themes.
Also on the program are works by three company dancers, each exploring new territory, as it's rare that new choreographers have the opportunity to create work on such skilled dancers with the advantage of free studio space.
"It's magical to have these wonderful bodies to work with and bring your ideas to life," said Aidan DeYoung. His work "Outward" was influenced by choreographers Jiri Kylian and Hans van Manen, "and I've even thrown a little Fosse in there."
Megan Furse is the only returning dancer-choreographer, and in rehearsal her work, "Selcoutheries," looks markedly different from the strictly classical piece she created two years ago. "The images are very otherworldly, about creatures and movement," said Furse, who joined Ballet West II in 2004 and is leaving the company to raise a family. "I told the dancers I'm afraid my pregnancy and subconscious have influenced my movement choice."
Michael Bearden underscored the creative freedom offered by the "Innovations" program, which inspired him to create "Descent." "In my case, it allows me to use inspiration that has come in order to tell a story."
To apply for "Innovations," Ballet West dancers are invited to submit a written proposal, including music and number of dancers. Sklute selects six to set on dancers and perform at the company's fall preview showcase. Potential choreographers hold auditions, choose their dancers and begin rehearsals. Only half of those will be selected for the season-ending program. Along the way, choreographers receive feedback and suggestions from Sklute and the company's artistic staff, Pamela Robinson-Harris, Mark Goldweber and Bruce Caldwell.
The program is aimed at helping dancers and audience members know what is happening currently in the dance world, just as tasting menus introduce food lovers to new flavors. After all, "if you only eat the same foods every day, you don't develop a taste for all the flavors, styles and cooking techniques that are available to you," Sklute said.
Ballet West presents "Innovations," a showcase of new choreography by company dancers and guest choreographers.
When » May 21-22 and 26-29 at 7:30 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinees May 22 and 29
Wherer » Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets » $50 at www.arttix.org or 801-355-2787