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"Innovations," Ballet West's freshest programming concept, summoned audiences to a new performance venue and dared them to step outside their ballet comfort zone. Surprisingly, no one seemed to mind - and the evening of contemporary ballets that mixed homegrown choreographers with international dance makers had audiences cheering.

Nurturing creativity is, after all, what art should be about. So more than a year ago, Artistic Director Adams Sklute, encouraged a process for company dancers to learn the craft of choreography and present fully produced work. He also revived a contemporary ballet by James Canfield that had been dormant in the company's repertoire. And he invited emerging choreographer Susan Shields to create a new ballet for Ballet West dancers. After a fourteen-month labor, he appropriately named the project "Innovations."

Shield's "Grand Synthesis" is the first contemporary ballet made for the company's dancers in nine years. It's an intelligent piece where form lays the foundation for relationships.

Costume colors provide visual cues and organization, as dancers clad in ice-blue leotards wear cold, shut-down expressions. They alternately shadowed and exposed their opposites, who were costumed in warm oranges and yellows. In one powerful moment the dancers in blue remained still for 32 counts of music, and then slowly isolated one sustained movement, raising a long straight leg to the back.

Other sections found dancers whirling through space with release and fluidity in complex configurations. Color, attitude and movement coalesced to ingeniously escape a traditional story, while still expressing that opposites sometimes attract and often repel.

James Canfield's "Equinoxe" was equally abstract, reflecting the music as if reading it off the page. Dancer Jacqueline Straughan's supple, strong body was the perfect vehicle to juxtapose endlessly extended lines with melting sequences of movement. In contrast to Shield's work, this 1986 piece shows its age in its lack of an emotional backstory.

Critical analysis can be tricky when discussing work by first-time choreographers. But the compositions on the program were substantive and each articulated a clear idea. I saw these pieces last fall while in their one-minute exploration phase, and witnessed some very complex work that had been developed out of those few minutes.

Christopher Ruud's "One," a duet performed to a live violin solo by Emily Day-Shumway, demonstrated Ruud's inheritance in inventing movement. (As the conservator of his father's works, Ruud travels widely to set Tomm Ruud's ballets on other companies.) Evidently he clearly communicates his ideas, because dancer Michael Bearden was practically channeling Ruud on stage. Outside of creativity, clarity is the most important attribute for a choreographer.

Megan Furse's "Le Chant de la Terre" dealt well with transitions, another tough element in choreography. But the piece lacked a reason for the four couples to engage, although dancer Jennifer Robinson found intention in her role.

Peggy Dolkas' "Yes, but how did you get there?" was wild and fun, though it departed from its original intention, and at times the sound score seemed to dominate the movement.

Ballet West's "Innovations"

* WHERE: Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center's Jeanné Wagner Theatre, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City, 138 W. 300 South, Salt Lake City.

* WHEN: Thursday; plays at 2 and 7:30 p.m. today.

* RUNNING TIME: Running Time: 2 hours with one 10-minute intermission

* TICKETS: $40; 801-355-2787

* BOTTOM LINE: A great idea in programming nurturing creativity and a blast to watch.