Ballet West's "Innovations" lived up to its name for the third consecutive year with three well-crafted pieces by Ballet West dancer-choreographers, framed between two stunning world premieres by professional choreographers Charlotte Boye-Christensen and Helen Pickett.
Each year, Ballet West leaves its home at the Capitol Theater to perform in the intimate 500-seat JeannÃ© Wagner Theatre, where one can hear the breath and see the sweat glisten on these classical dancers who typically conceal their effort when in tutus on more formal stages. In this personal setting, the audience cheered for the younger choreographers, and found themselves immersed in the seasoned work of Pickett and Boye-Christensen.
Fortunately, Boye-Christensen and Pickett have diametrically divergent choreographic instincts, so while their exploration of emotions is equally complex, each is viewed through a completely different lens. And although Pickett's technique seemed more familiar to the classical dancers than Boye-Christensen's richly minimalist vocabulary, Pickett makes every movement count from a small touch to the ribs to a defended reach toward the face.
Dancers Romi Beppu and Christopher Ruud performed the opening pas de deux in Pickett's "But Never Doubt I Love," with controlled abandon, projecting truths about the push and pull of desire. An ending duet performed by Christopher Anderson and Christiana Bennett also communicated the detailed layers of emotions in relationships, transitioning nondance movements such as the shake of a head into an amazingly technical lift. The middle section with dancers Jacqueline Straughan, Aidan DeYoung and Thomas Mattingly set up a playful competition which not only allowed for some virtuosic dancing but also an interesting structural integration of bodies coming and going on stage.
Boye-Christensen's "Row" was darkly intense without ever becoming self-indulgent. This is a piece that should be kept by Ballet West to challenge the dancers stylistically and challenge audiences' ideas about neoclassical repertory. The men were sexy and dynamic, and the women strong and feminine a wildly unique contrast of qualities.
Of the three dancer-choreographers, Michael Bearden's "Descent," was the most successful, although each choreographer had moments of brilliance. Bearden's ghoulish context of a night in the life of a graveyard ringmaster begins so strangely that when it effectively pulls you in emotionally, it is quite surprising.
Aidan DeYoung's "Outward" contained some visually intriguing moments as he moved groups across stage in a structured yet organic form. It does remind me of what I like best about Bob Fosse's choreography: the ability to create clean lines within a naturalized glob of dancers.
Megan Furse's "Selsoutheries" felt like the audience came in on the middle of a larger piece. Simply expanding the pas de deux with Arolyn Williams and Ruud would have been enough for this dance to be successful. And because all the rest were group pieces, the duet as a form would have been interesting to explore.
It is gratifying to see dance that challenges both dancers and audiences, and takes us to a different place than any other performance we see all year in Salt Lake City. The risk-taking alone is worth the price of admission.
Ballet West's 'Innovations'
R A fantastic performance with varied styles and subject matter. A great way to introduce yourself to neoclassical ballet.
When • Reviewed Friday; continues Wed.-Sat. at 7:30 p.m., with 2 p.m. matinee Saturday
Where • Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center's JeannÃ© Wagner Theatre, 138 W. 300 South, SLC
Tickets • $45 (plus service fees); 801-355-2787; http://www.arttix.org
Running time • Two hours with a 15-minute intermission and two shorter pauses