A CHRISTENSEN TRIBUTE, Marriott Center for Dance, University of Utah, Saturday, April 27, and Thursday-Saturday, May 2-4, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets: 581-6961.

The evening was one of levity, drama and gentility. Thursday night the Utah Ballet opened its spring season, "A Christensen Tribute," at the Marriott Center for Dance on the University of Utah campus. Three ballets by Willam and Lew Christensen comprised the program, which featured two revivals and one world premiere. The program celebrated the profound legacy the Christensens have imparted to the development of American ballet. The dances performed as part of "A Christensen Tribute" were lighthearted and very entertaining.The premiere on the program was "Cotillion," choreographed by Willam Christensen to the music of Josef and Johann Strauss. A count and countess, performed by Joe Dewey and Jennie Creer, welcome their guests to a cotillion they are giving in honor of the Grand Duke and Duchess.

The couples engaged in refined yet energetic waltzes, polkas and mazurkas, entertwined with gentle lifts and pirouettes. Patterns emerged and dissolved graciously as the couples maintained an as

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sured carriage. Guest performers Mark Borchelt and Dianna Cuatto made a fine duke and duchess. Four dancers from the Opera Ballet also arrived to spice up the proceedings.

The costumes designed by David Heuval were particularly stunning in their muted "antique" colors, exquisite detail and flowing dresses. They enhanced the ballet's finale as the six couples moved counterclockwise in a circle, the women carried along by their partners in a series of rhythmic spiraling, drop lifts.

The program opened with Willam's "Nothin' Doin' Bar." Choreographed in 1950, it takes a look at a speakeasy of the 1920s and the characters who frequent its environs. These included a slightly tottering Rich Couple, a hyperactive boxer named Punchy and seductive Shadi Sadie, among others. Joe Dewey was hilarious as Punchy with his lumbering walk, "What, me worry?" expression and lightning-fast hooks and jabs. Bridget Unice as Shadi Sadie was quite captivating.

"Nothin' Doin' Bar" is evocative of the time in which it was created. The characters are broadly depicted, their expressions obvious and their interactions somewhat predictable. But the ballet is fast-paced and was danced with such conviction that one didn't feel the work's age. It was fun and looked well on the company.

Lew Christensen's "Con Amore" turned to affairs of the heart. In the first scene, a contingent of Amazons, lead by their captain, deal with a pirate in their midst. The second scene features a young mistress and a succession of admirers and in the third part love, or amore, conquers all conflicts.

The chief of the women warriors, Dianna Cuatto, is a spectacular spinner. Her soldiers were well-trained, making effective dance "maneuvers." Guest artist Kristopher Payne was also an impressive pirate, and Jennie Creer performed the Mistress with appropriate effusiveness.

The choreography also demanded fleet feet and the company rose to the occasion.

Like the other ballets on the program, "Con Amore" was about drama as much as it was about dancing. In all three of the Christensen works, an ability to convey comedy or present a convincing character mattered as a technical proficiency. Willam Christensen declares himself a "theater man," and that credo was in delightful evidence.