SALT LAKE CITY — The creative evolution of classical ballet to contemporary ballet, through the "radical" work of four pioneering choreographers, was reviewed in a lecture-demonstration by Adam Sklute, Ballet West artistic director.
Speaking at the 4th Annual Regional Undergraduate Student Philosophical Conference at Salt Lake Community College, Sklute said these innovators — Vaslav Nijinsky, George Balanchine, William Forsythe and Jiri Kylian — "not only redefined ballet but they reinvented the language of ballet. And they did it in the context of great social upheavals that were happening throughout the 20th century."
Titled "The Radical in 20th Century Ballet," the lecture included film clips, both archival and from Ballet West performances, which Sklute introduced, to show how these dance masters invigorated ballet by their creative developments. The artistic director also showed the contrasting styles through short excerpts of dances performed by Deanna Karlheim and Lucas Horns, members of the Ballet West Academy.
The lecture, part of the Nov. 11 conference, "The Integration of Philosophy and Art," was presented at the Grand Theatre on the SLCC campus.
The premiere of Nijinsky's "The Rite of Spring" in 1913 "would become the seminal turning point in how ballet defined itself and how the world defined ballet.
"All of a sudden boundaries were broken that were so extreme and dancers were so distorted from what people were used to seeing on the ballet stage," Sklute explained. "And these distortions suddenly said that there were no rules. And ballet was built on rules."
Sklute was involved with the re-creation of this significant work at the Joffrey Ballet, where he began his dancing career.
Balanchine wanted to create American classical dance, Sklute said, before presenting a clip of "The Four Temperaments." The choreographer's first major success, in 1946, was an abstract ballet with angular and very unique sets of movements.
"He liked mixing high art and popular entertainment," he said. "Balanchine was creating a whole new way of moving that was clean, fast and exciting."
Forsythe had a much darker vision, Sklute explained, that is seen in "Love Songs." The dance, created for the Stuttgart Ballet in 1979, is set to the music of Aretha Franklin and Dionne Warwick that is contrasted by the brutal emotion and bruising action of the dancers.
The Joffrey Ballet staged the U.S. premiere of this Forsythe work while Sklute served as the company's associate artistic director.
"People stood up and walked out. They were so appalled by what they were seeing on the stage," he said. "But by 1992, people were standing and cheering for it. It was no longer appalling. It was exciting for audiences to watch.
"What we see with Kylian's work is a perfect and seamless melding of classical ballet and modern dance," he said.
There is a "freedom and sensuality" that Kylian first developed in "Sinfonietta," which premiered in 1978.
Next season Ballet West will stage Kylian's "Petite Mort," which was composed for the 1991 Salzburg Festival on the second centenary of Mozart's death.
"Each one of these choreographers and many more throughout the 20th century did radical things that we no longer see as radical," Sklute said. "We have not yet seen in the 21st century these kinds of radical innovations, but the century is still young."
Sklute explained that Jennifer Homan, author of "Apollo's Angels: a History of Ballet," wrote that "ballet is dead. That is no longer a developing art form."
"I disagree," Sklute said. "I believe that ballet is cyclical like so many other things. We will go through periods of time when we will be seeing things in the same way and then someone will come forward and re-create what we're used to looking at. And that will become the norm until the next person comes forward and re-creates it again and again."