Few would argue the point that the greatest need in the dance world today is for new, exciting, audience-pleasing choreography. Companies of technical expertise exist in considerable numbers, but few of them have much of consequence to dance, beyond the classics.
In recognition of the famine in significant choreography, steps have been taken to encourage new works through grants, commissions and performance opportunities, with some encouraging results.And since most Utahns cannot venture afar to seek out the rising lights on the choreographic horizon, Ballet West's artistic director, John Hart, has assembled a program of new works by three talented American choreographers, plus a Balanchine specialty.
Accordingly, Ballet West presents "An Evening of Premieres," in six performances at the Capitol Theater Nov. 9-14. Works and their choreographers will be "Arcadia" by Peter Anastos, "Equinoxe" by James Canfield, and "Kinetic Impressions" by Val Caniparoli. Balanchine's Tchaikovsky Pas de Deux will complete the program, and musical director Terence Kern will conduct the dancers and the Utah Symphony.
Evening performances daily except Sunday will be at 7:30, with a Saturday matinee at 2 p.m. Tickets, ranging from $6-$36 (students $4), are available at the ballet box office in the theater, 533-5555, or through Smith's Tix.
The choreographers' dance backgrounds are broad and varied. Peter Anastos gained international notoriety as founding director of the send-up Ballets Trocadero, and has gone on to conventional choreography all over the country and in Europe, with frequent stints of late at the American Ballet Theatre, in close association with Mikhail Baryshnikov. He's now artistic director of New Jersey's Garden State Ballet.
James Canfield, choreographer of "Equinoxe," now heads the Portland's Pacific Ballet Theatre, after early training with the Washington Ballet and several years dancing with the Joffrey Ballet.
Val Caniparoli needs little introduction to Utahns, after his very successful "Ophelia" premiere here last spring. A member of and choreographer for the San Francisco Ballet, Val is a westerner born and bred, who came through the breezy tradition of the Christensen Brothers and Michael Smuin into Helgi Thomasson's more restrained classicism. His growing body of works are in the repertories of several American and European companies, as well as SFB.
First danced in Cedar City and Aspen last summer, Val's piece began life as "Concerto in Turquoise and Rust," which describes a little its feeling of interlinking colors and moods that finally blend together. Costume design for this abstract ballet is by Sandra Woodall, and the music is a Poulenc concerto for harpsichord and orchestra, with Ricklen Nobis as soloist.
Reached at his New York office, Anastos was approachable, even loquacious, and very high on Utah and Ballet West. "Once I saw the company and got acquainted with John Hart and the people, and that beautiful city, it was like being in heaven," he said.
"Don't talk about the Trocs, I'm sick of the Trocs, I left 10 years ago," he hastened to declare. "Since then I've done much more and better work, with ABT, Atlanta and Dallas Ballets, and in Europe, Buenos Aires, at smaller companies all over the U.S." Anastos has about 50 pieces in all, and "I don't want them to die, the more people that dance them, the better," he said.
"I came to Utah with a set idea of what `Arcadia' would be, but when I saw what terrific dancers I had to work with, I was mightily impressed. I threw the outline out the window, and the dance is about 80 percent changed.
"I was very, very happy working in the studio with Ballet West, the dancers work at a top professional level that you seldom find in the biggest companies, with a spirit of artistry and cooperation. They were all there to create something wonderful and unique. I am already working on anothEr project for Ballet West next year, a comedy."
Anastos acknowledged that quite a few of his ballets are comic. "People seem to like them (an understatement), God gave me a talent," he said.
"Arcadia" is not comic however, but a period piece set to the music of Handel. "His music is very danceable, and almost never used for ballet, and I have combined secular and religious themes," said Anastos. "I wanted to do something very elevated, lofty; if I could, I would have the dancers fly in on clouds.
"The effect I want is an English garden of the 18th century, the time of Handel - a big, wild English garden, peopled by nobility. The pas de deux might be classical statues come to life. I have worked for an exhilarating, classical feeling; I hope it even smells good, like fresh air and flowers, and takes you right out of the theater. The costumes designed by Judanna Lynn give the effect of Gainsborough paintings, and David Heuvel has constructed them beautifully."
-AFTER A CONSIDERABLE CAREER in national dance, James Canfield finds himself rather unexpectedly the artistic director of his own company. He was born in Corning, N.Y., and had his early training at the Washington School of Ballet, where he danced for several years. Next came the Joffrey II, and advancement to the Joffrey Ballet in 1978, where he remained until 1985.
"I never was really cut out for New York City, but I went because it was the dance capital," he said via telephone from Portland. "I and my partner Patricia Miller guested in Portland a few times, and I began to realize there was great dance outside of New York. We came to Portland as principals of the company here, and used it as a base to guest from. Opportunities started to shape up, I was asked to give directing a try, and I really enjoy it."
Canfield's 24 dancers do five runs each year in Portland, and he tries to program a new ballet each time, but says "any company based on one person's ideas can burn out very quickly."
"Equinoxe" was the first piece he ever choreographed. He's long admired the "new-age" score by Jean-Michel Jarre, who used 14 synthesizers and keyboard components for his layered, electronic sounds. Canfield said his dance is "basically a ballet of underwater culture, aquatic, lyrical, sensuous, calm and cool. I attempt ballets from an emotional point view, not just steps. This ballet is very abstract; the dancers may be plants or creatures, and the costumes, lighting and forms should entice the audience to become involved." Body stockings for this piece are remarkable, made by Heuvel from a custom dyed, marbleized sort of fabric designed by Peggy Skycraft.
Canfield has done 10 ballets since 1985. "Even if they are not successful, I must produce ballets constantly so I don't get stifled," he said. "I must discover my niche, find out what I'm all about. Until I have defined my turf I must keep pushing ahead."
He cited the precedent of Balanchine, who "created and kept creating. He had dancers available, the raw material, and he had hundreds of ideas. Not all of them were great, or even good; but he definitely defined himself."
Canfield finds his antecedents mostly in three choreographers. He admires Gerald Arpino, now director of the Joffrey, for his sense of theatricality, his energy level. "My movement style is very much based on Jiri Kylian, who creates architecture in motion. His design for the body is beautiful. For the exotic side, I look back to Choo San Goh, with whom I worked when he first came to America. Many of his first ballets were created on me at the Washington Ballet."
-BALLET WEST WILL HONOR artistic director John Hart for 50 years of distinguished service to ballet, at a gala reception following the opening night of "An Evening of Premieres." Guests will gather in the First Insterstate Bank lobby, at Main and Second South.
Hart began his career in 1938 with the Vic-Wells Ballet, which became successively Sadler's Well and the Royal Ballet. At first a distinguished principal dancer, Hart became ballet master at the Royal in 1955; and in 1962, assistant director under Sir Frederick Ashton. He retired from the Royal Ballet in 1970, and in 1971 was made a Commander of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth.
Since then his many activities have included artistic director of PACT Ballet in Johannesburg, S.A., head of dance at the U.S. International University School of the Performing Arts in San Diego, artistic administrator at the Royal Ballet, and artistic director of the San Diego Ballet. He came to Ballet West in 1985.