Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute considers the works of the company’s new dance concert “unexpected gems,” all of which showcase the company’s athletic and theatrical ability.
Just the kind of program to help celebrate his 10th anniversary as artistic director.
The triple-bill, opening Friday, April 13, features a variety of contemporary works: David Bintley’s contemporary reimagining of the Bard’s famous characters; Czech choreographer Jiří Kylián’s “Return to a Strange Land,” a tribute to his late mentor; and American modern-dance pioneer Merce Cunningham’s “Summerspace.“
“Return to a Strange Land” was one of Sklute’s favorite works to perform as a dancer, while he especially appreciates the collaboration of art, music and dance in “Summerspace.” He says experiencing it might feel like viewing modern art. “Don’t try to interpret the work,” he says. “Let yourself get lost in the movement, the visuals and the unique relationship to music.”
The title piece, “The Shakespeare Suite,” is more humorous, made up of vignettes featuring familiar characters such as Othello, Hamlet, Romeo and Juliet. The dance is performed to music by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn.
In an email interview, Sklute detailed why he selected these works to be presented on one program, why dancers didn’t hear the score for “Summerspace” as they were learning the movements, and what interesting casting choices will showcase the dancers’ onstage personalities.
Why are you showcasing these three dances together?
I chose to present them together because they take us on a journey from the deeply emotional into the intellectually stimulating and finally to joyous fun. A complete theatrical experience.
What dancers might seem as if they are cast against expectations in “The Shakespeare Suite”?
The great charm and brilliance of “The Shakespeare Suite” is the wide and varied amount of characters that come together in the ballet. All the dancers have had such fun and are so good at portraying them. Some of the dancers came up to me and jokingly asked if they were typecast. I must confess that some are, but others were a really fun surprise.
It was an immediate natural fit to see a charming Arolyn Williams as a tipsy Titania, drunk from the magic potion, cavorting with a buck-toothed and donkey-eared Tyler Gum as Bottom from “A Midsummer’s Night’s Dream.” Or to see a brooding Rex Tilton as a punked-out Macbeth opposite a dramatic Allison DeBona as Lady Macbeth in an ’80s power suit.
But a couple of less-expected delights are Katherine Lawrence stomping angrily around the stage in a wedding dress and Converse high-top sneakers as Kate from “The Taming of the Shrew” opposite Christopher Sellars’ swain of a Petruchio; and Alexander MacFarlan’s dynamic, strong, troubled, but hip and cool Hamlet. Truly, however, all the dancers in every cast have outdone themselves in their respective roles, bringing out choreographer David Bintley’s hilarious and dramatic take on the Duke Ellington/Shakespeare work.
What is helpful to know about Merce Cunningham’s “Summerspace,” performed by classically trained, versus contemporary dancers? How does the visual patterning of the costumes and scenery also add attention to the dance movements?
Merce Cunningham’s “Summerspace” in my opinion is a work of genius. Cunningham created it in 1958, right when he was at the forefront of the avante garde dance scene. … It brings together the great modern artist Robert Rauchenburg, who swaths the ballet in pointillist multicolored décor and costumes that seem to have life and movement of their own; 20th-century composer Morton Feldman’s hypnotic, dreamlike atonal score; and Cunningham’s own abstract, linear choreography.
But each artist worked separately from the other until the ballet was put together onstage. In the same manner, our Ballet West artists have not heard the music until the final stage rehearsals. While this approach is unorthodox, it creates an atmosphere of discovery and spontaneity that makes the work so intriguing. Every performance stays fresh and explorative.
What is interesting about the range of live music for this concert — from the jazz score for “The Shakespeare Suite” to the solo piano works for “Return to a Strange Land”?
Our musicians need to be as versatile as our dancers. From the intimate and deeply emotional piano music of Leos Janacek for “Return to a Strange Land”; to the intellectually stimulating modern score by Morton Feldman for “Summerspace”; and finally the great 1950s jazz score of Duke Ellington for “The Shakespeare Suite.” It stretches our musicians. This is what is so exciting about this program. In multiple ways it presents, in one evening, something for everyone.
Ballet West’s ‘The Shakespeare Suite‘
When • 7:30 p.m. April 13-14 and 18-21, with 2 p.m. matinee April 21
Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $20, at balletwest.org or 801-869-6900