Ballet West usually saves its repertory evening for the end of the season, after audiences have been warmed up to the ballet by Nutcracker and other more familiar fare. Fortunately for those who truly love the art form, Ballet West has burst onto the stage this year with a smart program of three ballets by living, contemporary choreographers.
Ballet West's newly named resident choreographer, Nicolo Fonte, is a choreographer's choreographer and for that matter, a musician's choreographer. Guest choreographer Val Caniparoli's freshly delivered composite of dance and storytelling may save ballet from obscurity. And regrettably for Helen Pickett, the ante has been raised such that her work, first seen in Ballet West's 2010 Innovations program, now pales in comparison.
I have to assume that dancers love performing Fonte's "Bolero," because while the ballet firmly possesses the principals of the music, it imaginatively plays within it. When choreography makes this much sense musically, it slips beyond an intellectual exercise into the exciting realm of creativity. After the group of women dancers perform a large sweeping grande rond de jambe in one direction, the music begs a response, so the men reflect the movement with a subtle difference. Fonte also employs opposition with the body to create natural, internal momentum. At one point, principal dancer Christiana Bennett looked ready to break into a giggle as soloist Easton Smith twirled her over his head and around his body, as if he were a matador and she his cape.
Conversely, Pickett's "But Never Doubt I love," confusingly combines the elements of a Shakespeare quote, a filmy curtain as a prop, and groups of dancers that are hard to make sense of in terms of costuming or relationships. However, the on-stage piano performance by associate conductor Jared Oaks was flawless and served as a reminder of how lucky we are to have the Utah Chamber Orchestra as cities around the country cut budgets for live music. Ballet West also welcomed guest conductor Tara Simoncic, a pleasure both for her leadership and the fact that there are a relatively small number of women conductors in the United States.
The premiere work on the program is Caniparoli's "The Lottery," a ballet narrative that bridges the gap between a full-length story ballet and contemporary works that typically have themes but no plot. It's tempting to make comparisons stylistically to Jerome Robbins' "West Side Story" or mention new efforts by such luminaries as Twyla Tharp and her full-length story ballet, "The Princess and the Goblin," this year for The Atlanta Ballet. But "The Lottery" is different from those in that it develops the range of emotions, follows the plot, and has a distinct ending respecting the literary elements of theater and storytelling. It also fulfills dance-lovers' desire to see good, creative, well-crafted choreography. All of this in 30 minutes, and as much I complain about choreographers needing editors, this is one ballet where economy is not a problem. Each scene contains movement themes that shift without losing the overall vocabulary; individual dancers were placed in partnering roles, which I've never seen before at Ballet West; and the score, costuming, lighting and set design were symbiotic.
I encourage audiences to be on the front line of a genre whose time has come.
A stimulating performance which bridges the gap between ballet genres and could be the wave of the future.
With • World premiere of Val Caniparoli's "The Lottery," with revivals of resident choreographer Nicolo Fonte's "Bolero," and Helen Pickett's "But Never Doubt I Love," commissioned by the company in 2010.
Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
When • Reviewed Nov. 2; continues Nov. 7-10, 7:30 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinee on Saturday, Nov. 10.
Running time • Two hours and five minutes, with two 20-minute intermissions.
Tickets • $19-$75, at 801-355-2787 or www.balletwest.org