How do you pay tribute to a 100-year-old masterwork while keeping it fresh? Ballet West will attempt it by premiering a new “The Rite of Spring” to Igor Stravinsky’s iconic score. As part of the triple-bill program that will run April 11-17 at the Capitol Theatre, the company will also perform works by George Balanchine and Jiří Kylián.
“ 'The Rite of Spring’ is very special to me,” said Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute. “I was fortunate as a dancer to be cast in the Joffrey Ballet’s groundbreaking reconstruction in 1987 and tour the world.”
The original choreography by Vaslav Nijinsky for “The Rite of Spring” (“Le Sacre du Printemps”), which premiered in 1913, was lost and thought to be beyond recall while collaborator Stravinsky’s score remained in the forefront. A barrage of offenders, including controversy, mental illness and two world wars, were to blame.
The sensation it caused a century ago was due to its dramatic departure from expectations. As observer and dance writer Cyril Beaumont put it, parts of the dancing were “in complete opposition to the traditions of classical ballet."
The ballet has a scandalous lore, but it wasn’t based on carnality. It was actually quite innocent, with long, loose-fitting unisex frocks and jerking, stamping, weighted steps. Nijinsky’s choreography had an organic relationship with Stravinsky’s hammering, dissonant score.
After a decade-long effort that began in the late 1970s by choreographers and historians to piece together the lost treasure, Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet unveiled it for the world in 1987.
“I knew I wanted to commemorate its centennial but go in a very different direction from the Nijinksy choreography,” said Sklute, citing his desire for a contemporary take. He looked to Brooklyn native Nicolo Fonte, who has a reputation in the dance world for breathing new life into masterworks. Ballet West performed Fonte’s “Bolero” to the famous Ravel score in 2011.
“Nicolo (Fonte) has his own style. It is at once linear, athletic and powerful but also evocative and poetic,” Sklute said. “He has the special ability to bring out new and inventive angles to well-known pieces of music, to illuminate them in unique ways.”
Fonte does align himself with Nijinsky in some aspects, however, such as by evoking the idea of a ritual sacrifice for the good of a community.
“There is, in almost every section, a single outcast or ‘chosen one’ separate from the group," Sklute said. "He also addresses the theme of birth and rebirth by including a child in the ballet whose presence can represent anything from humanity to fertility.”
Also on the docket is George Balanchine’s “Divertimento No. 15,” named for the Mozart divertimento that accompanies it. Sandwiched between two intense ballets, it is meant to be a breath of fresh air.
“This work poses so many challenges to the dancers, however,” he said. “It requires absolute control of technique, speed and precision, all with a gentle style of presentation.”
The ballet was choreographed in 1956 for eight principal dancers, five women and three men, with an eight-woman ensemble. It is considered to have one of the great male variations in ballet repertoire and a climactic allegro variation for the fifth ballerina, whose dancing must match the musical virtuosity of the first violist.
Rounding out the evening is Kylián’s “Forgotten Land” set to Benjamin Britten’s “Sinfonia da Requiem.” Kylián is best known by Ballet West fans for his “Petite Mort,” which is one of the most requested works in the company’s repertoire.
Threading a theme of love and loss, Kylián attributed many sources of inspiration when premiering “Forgotten Land” in 1981. His visit to the composer’s disappearing coastline birthplace made a deep impression, as did paintings by Edvard Munch that depict three women in various stages of life.
The haunting, cerebral ballet boasts expressive duets and elongated movements that are both pleasing to the eye and thought-provoking.
Visit balletwest.org for more information.
If you go
What: Ballet West’s “The Rite of Spring”Comment on this story
When: April 11, 12 and 16-19 at 7:30 p.m. and April 19 at 2 p.m.
Where: Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
How Much: $29-$79
Tickets: 801-355-2787 or arttix.org