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Ballet West's swashbuckler is a rousing blend of tension, comedy

Published November 6, 2007 12:00 am

This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2007, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

If cheering, whistling, and multiple curtain calls are a sign of success, then Ballet West's season opener is clearly a hit.

Andre Prokovsky's regional premiere of "The Three Musketeers," based on the Alexandre Dumas story of the same name, is a fast-paced, witty take on the personal failings of 15th century French royalty.

The score is a mixture of Verdi operas, and is a precision fit for the quick pace of this swashbuckling story. The set and lighting creatively provide different physical levels and overlapping scrims for interesting composition, and glimpses into the past and future.

But what makes this ballet compelling is that the choreography expertly propels the story forward, and it also has some real meat to it.

The entertaining dance is only part of this Ballet West success story, the rest of course, being the transfer of leadership to new artistic director Adam Sklute and his impact on the company. In the lobby before the performance, Sklute's excitement was palpable as he extended a welcome to anyone who made eye contact with him. And afterward, executive director Johann Jacobs' wore a happy, confident expression.

But most telling was the performers themselves, who apparently have been working extra hard in rehearsal and in ballet class. There's nothing like a little insecurity over a new director's preferences to get dancers to work at the top of their game. Technically, the company was precise, their comedic timing was accurate, the storyline was clear, and some very challenging, atypical classical choreography was conquered.

The narrative, a caper of Queen Anne's stolen diamonds, laundered through several hands and recovered by the Three Musketeers, provides the basis for some lovely, often funny, performances and one that is exceptionally sweet. The swordfighting scenes are a masterful blend of tension and comedy. Ballet West artist John Frazer is seriously funny in the role of the Cardinal's guard as he was impaled on multiple swords, flailing and doubling over in comic-relief pain.

A pas de deux can be many things, but it is not often sweet. The dance between Constance (Katherine Lawrence) and D'Artagnan (Christopher Ruud) was as tender as I have ever seen. That is partly due to sweeping movement and exact musical timing. Some of the credit should go to Ruud's amazing ability to shift between tender, comic, and sensuous roles all in the same ballet, because he is an extraordinary actor and partner. Lawrence deserves equal praise for her lilting interpretation of a young girl in love.

But there are so many exceptional performances in this ballet. Soloist Annie Breneman has never been so expressive as in her role as Queen Anne. Jeff Herbrig brought down the house as the effete King Louis XIII. Michael Bearden continues to prove himself the "prince" through his presence and performance. And principal dancer Christiana Bennett widened her range, as the calculating yet hilarious countess, Milady. Peering at her reflection in the knife blade she has just used to stab the English Ambassador, Bennett impatiently smooths a loose hair back into place, waiting for him to die.

This season, Ballet West has brought back its fall performance, added an innovative showcase at the Rose Wagner, and updated its repertoire to include ballets by Twyla Tharp and Val Caniparoli. These are all good signs for the company's future. What's the next step? Possibly a commissioned piece by a Trey MacIntyre or an Alan Hineline for next year's Evening of Contemporary Ballets?

'The Three Musketeers'

* WHERE: Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City.

* WHEN: reviewed Friday; continues Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday at 2 and 7:30 p.m.

* RUNNING TIME: Two hours, with one 10-minute intermission.

* TICKETS: $18 to $65 at 801-355-ARTS, the venue box office or http://www.arttix.org.

* BOTTOM LINE: This hilarious, fast-paced ballet is sure to be enjoyed by the whole family.