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Ballet West's 'Innovations' is true to its name

By Jane Spence

For the Deseret News

Published: Monday, May 19 2014 5:12 p.m. MDT

"INNOVATIONS 2014," Ballet West, Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, 138 W. 300 South, May 21-24, 7:30 p.m., and May 24, 2 p.m., $45 (801-355-2787 or balletwest.org)

A secret dream of dancing with Ballet West can come true for audience members during Ballet West's "Innovations 2014."

About 15 volunteers from the audience excelled in the world premiere of Christopher Anderson’s brilliant "Paths" on Friday night. People of all shapes and sizes were welcomed and added to the creative choreography. A white-haired gentleman in a brown suit coat was a standout. This inventive piece had everyone guessing: Who were the Ballet West dancers, and who were the volunteers?

It is difficult to describe 3-D modern ballet choreography in this 2-D format, especially when describing extraordinary dancers enhanced by Nicholas Cavallaro's amazing lighting design. Words are not adequate to convey the visual buffet that was experienced; it must be seen to be comprehended.

The world premiere of "The Sixth Beauty," choreographed by guest artist Matthew Neenan, Philadelphia-based BalletX’s co-founder, portrayed a variety of emotions with dancers sliding on pointe and inverting sur le cou-de-pied. This personal piece about the loss of a child was sorrowful yet joyous. Christiana Bennett and Rex Tilton were perfect conduits of emotion in their technically excellent pas de deux.

Ballet West dancer Tyler Gum not only choreographed "Inverted Affect" but also composed the music. The music was a perfect companion to the movement that went on in front of a mirror — not a standard mirror, but a strategically placed mirror that reflected for an unusual, unique effect. Gum's inspiration for this piece came from poems by his grandfather Jim Gum. Truth is always art, and Gum’s work is evidence of it.

"Mixed Signals," choreographed by Ballet West dancer Emily Adams, showcased creative partnering on shoulders and partnering upside-down. Soloist Beckanne Sisk, whose spine must have been made by the people behind Slinky toys, was superb in costume and technique.

Beethoven’s Sonata in C Minor was a peerless partner for "Great Souls," which was choreographed by Ballet West principal artist Christopher Ruud. Ruud's thoughtful piece presented two groups of dancers who mixed and separated like the black and white keys of a piano played well. One group danced more classically while the other group’s movement had a modern edge. Allison DeBona's and Tilton’s expression in a loving pas de deux was palpable.

Partnering is a difficult skill that requires immense strength, balance and control by both parties. The partnering in this performance was masterful, and the dancers made it look as simple as walking.

Microscopically speaking, there were a few shoulders too high and an extra hop once or twice, but the refreshment of seeing thoughtful, intelligent choreography at a high technical level was a privilege. The "Innovations" series is ingenious, and Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute is deserving of thanks for producing it.

Jane J. Spence graduated with a B.A. in dance from BYU and taught dance for 20 years. She is currently a full-time realtor and real estate investor with Equity. Email: realtorjane@utahjane.com

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