"Emeralds," Ballet West, Capitol Theatre, April 18-21, 7:30 p.m. with 2 p.m. matinee on April 21, tickets $19-75, 801-355-ARTS (2787), www.arttix.org
During the opening weekend of Ballet West’s “Emeralds,” audiences were treated to one classical work, one contemporary work and one work that blurred the lines between the two.
Marius Petipa’s “Grand Pas from Paquita” whet the palate, George Balanchine’s “Emeralds” proved the aptly appointed feast and JirÍ Kylian’s “Petit Mort” was the gratifying indulgence for dessert.
The interesting thing about a mixed-bag ballet program is the tendency for audiences to leave less fixed to their preferences than when they came. The furrowed brow reflects the inner conflict: classical or contemporary? Perhaps they always held ballet to the standard of tutu, tiara and tradition. Then they see a work by the likes of KyliÁn and it blows their mind with its sheer force, passion, strength, litheness and fluidity of movement.
Saturday night began innocently enough with Petipa’s classical "Grand Pas From Paquita.” The dance is never performed in its entirety today. What has survived is a small suite of the most beloved dances. Christiana Bennett and Rex Tilton led four strong female soloists and a beautiful corps through the variations, with Bennett once again striking the balance between force and fragility and Tilton a study in refined strength with weightless leaps that defied gravity. The splendid costumes were a true work of art by David Heuvel.
Next up was Balanchine’s “Emeralds” from his “Jewels” triptych, which Ballet West plans to perform in its entirety next season. The evening was a smart study in the evolution of the art form, as this work shook off some of the shackles of the preceding dance with signature Balanchine flair. The introspective, dreamlike choreography (with Gabriel Faure’s mesmerizing score) experimented with an adjusted port de bras and fluid upper body, a seesawing of equilibrium between partners, previously unvisited angles and only a mere hinting of plot.
Pairs Allison DeBona and Michael Bearden along with Emily Adams and Adrian Fry equally realized the strong emotion as well as the subtleties and nuances that colored the work.
With the final opening of the curtain, KyliÁn’s “Petit Mort” seemed poised for prominence. All emotions were on the table as six men, with fencing foils in hand, danced to a version of silence, devoid of even a sniffle or shifting of weight from the audience. The stark overhead lighting magnified their musculature, and an overpowering reverence for the human form was tangible.
With no music for perhaps a full minute, each movement was concise and unified — the dancers' minds undoubtedly screaming each count, their muscles trained to listen. When Mozart’s piano concerto in A major (KV 488) began its simple, melancholic melody, the dancers were already fully immersed in its language.
Six women stepped forward to partner with the men, and a stunning collaboration of limbs began — each pair sweeping before the audience with achingly beautiful lifts and turns, swirling contortions and intricate intertwining.
The women also had their own moment, dancing to another famous piano concerto by Mozart (C major: KV 467). They literally “rolled” in wearing stiff baroque dresses and zigzagged past one another in the smooth fashion reserved for remote-controlled cars and skateboards.
Soon enough, however, they revealed the dresses were merely frames on wheels from which they might step in and out. The effect was comical, but the message involved the intense emotions underneath our “corseted existence,” according to artistic director Adam Sklute’s program note to the audience.
It was the six pas de deuxs of “Petite Mort” that stunned the crowd. The duet for Elizabeth McGrath and Rex Tilton was the triumph.
I was compelled to question the need for anything in a dance performance but dance. Plot: What for? Scenery: Who needs it? It was almost implausible also to picture these same dancers as a Sugar Plum Fairy or Cavalier, so different was the nature of this work and so dramatic was their transformation into the raw.
The aptness of these dancers brought this, and the other works to life. Proof that with versatility, strong and convincing arguments can be made for every shade and hue within ballet, from the grandest of classical drama dances to the most stark and stripped-down of contemporaries.
The good news for the undecided: Having a favorite style is not a prerequisite.