Artistic directors are prone to didacticism surrounding their chosen passion. But Ballet West's spring production so concisely articulates the progression of ballet during the past 100 years, through the positioning of three decisive works, that even the most educated of audiences will re-experience them in ah-ha moments.
The program chronologically presents the ballets of Marius Petipa, the father of classical ballet; George Balanchine, who established the modern style of classical American ballet; and the archetype of contemporary ballet choreography, Jiri Kylián. But it is not just the sequence of choreographers that provides insight into the art form's development during the past century, but rather the juxtaposition of these specific ballets that reveal the profound intentions of the geniuses of our time.
The evening opens with Petipa's technically challenging and spectacular "Grand Pas from Paquita." This is a ballet with the most classical of constructs, filled with opportunities to showcase the skill, performance and personalities of the Ballet West dancers. Originally (in 1881), it was a glamorous series of excerpts pulled together to show off the abilities, jewelry and wealth of the socialites of the time.
But now it serves as a reference for the next piece on the program in which Balanchine deconstructs the ballet blueprint, in his subtle yet profound "Emeralds." Although "Emeralds" is part of Balanchine's evening-length triptych, "Jewels" which BW performs next April it clearly stands on its own. And in this production, principal dancer Christiana Bennett's solo is absolutely spellbinding. Her red hair cleanly done up in a French bun, costumed (by Madame Karinska) in the opaline greens that softly defuse into the bold green backdrop, she exudes an air of mystery and intrigue.
Her partner soloist Beau Pearson is the perfect Balanchine man completely self-possessed yet imperceptible. Bennett and Pearson weave her upper body in and out of oddly beautiful positions. Where classical ballet is about the legs, "Emeralds" is all upper body. Often the dancers are walking just walking as the torso maneuvers in fascinating detail. The two exit off stage walking backward, divulging that contrary to the courtly costumes and pointed feet, "Emeralds" deconstructs the traditional form and movement constructs we saw in "Paquita."
The trio performed by Katie Critchlow, Jacqueline Straughan and Thomas Mattingly subtly questions the threesome's relationship, as if Balanchine wanted to evoke a feeling or atmosphere but never wanted to tell. Throughout the season, Mattingly has shown himself to be a gifted partner. He is like the scientific principle of magnetic energy in which his partners are in his field but held there willingly. And throughout this evening's performance Critchlow's delicate interpretations bravely stood out.
The final piece of the evening, "Petite Mort," is the sensual work of the genius contemporary choreographer Kylián, set to two of Mozart's most beautiful and popular piano concertos. First created in 1991 for the Salzburg Festival in commemoration of the 200th anniversary of Mozart's death, its theme is the sexual innuendo and intrigue that defined the Victorian era. The piece describes the restraint on the surface and the heat of passion that lies beneath. Kylián further deconstructs the ballet form using minimalist costumes, props and stage effects.
Kylián continues to produce groundbreaking work. It's a signal to us all that ballet is not done evolving as an art form.
Review: Ballet West's 'Emeralds'
This is the most smartly programmed, emotionally gripping and well-performed production of the season. Do not miss it.
When • Reviewed April 13; continues April 18-21 at 7:30 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinee April 21.
Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $19-$75; at 801-355-ARTS or www.arttix.org
Running time • One hour and 45 minutes, with one intermission.
Also • Ballet West II performs "Little Mermaid," April 14, 11 a.m. and 2 p.m; and April 16, 7 p.m.
Tickets • $15-$30; 801-355-ARTS or www.arttix.org