SALT LAKE CITY — On the opening night of "Innovations 2012," Ballet West bared its soul. The five works, each unique and inventive, were infused with the depth and drama born of dancers taking an active part in the creative process.
The program, which continues its run through May 26 at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, allows a handful of promising company dancers an opportunity to choreograph. The smaller setting accommodates devoted fans who relish the up-close-and-personal atmosphere and the newness of the works before them.
The evening begins with principal dancer Michael Bearden's "Descent" — an expanded version of the original he premiered two years ago.
Unlike most new choreographers, Bearden chose to create his own story ballet. A tale of love with a Russian revolution backdrop, the couple faces wartime and familial obstacles that dissolve their happiness.
Before you think "tragic love story," rest assured that Bearden's well-crafted tale is far from predictable. Sometimes devastating, other times comical and often ironic, "Descent" is filled with dark-humored plot twists and a refreshingly unique ending that even pokes fun at itself.
Katherine Lawrence shines as the lead — especially during the dramatic moments. Bearden ‘s pas de deux work is creative, but the maneuvers are sometimes wobbly and awkward. Aside from that, the piece is amazingly fresh and memorable.
Next on the bill are three shorter works by artist Aidan de Young, soloist Easton Smith and demi-soloist Emily Adams.
De Young’s "Eenvoudig" runs the musical gauntlet from choral mass to techno mish-mash, and the choreography follows suit. A study in opposites and extremes with fluidity facing off against weighted movement, the cast of seven bounce from classical technique to jazz and hip-hop in an instant. Artist Katie Critchlow was the model of versatility, instantly slacking from an elegant arabesque into a vertical version of the "snake" without batting an eye.
Smith's "With You" features demi-soloist Christopher Anderson, who dances the part of a man searching for his young wife in the afterlife. Set to a stunning and ghostly version of Rihanna's popular "Umbrella" and Otis Redding's nostalgic "For Your Precious Love," Smith clearly communicates longing and passion, melding a lovers’ slow dance with classical technique.
Adams, who also choreographed last year, let her musicality and quirkiness shine through in "Forces at Play." With three women and four men, Adams experiments with a variety of combinations to the live music of Schumann and Liszt executed impeccably by pianist Isabella Perazzo Campos. Battling an unseen current, the choreography studies point and counterpoint, pedestrian movement embedded in sparkling classicism and twitchy, off-kilter transitions between solid technical tasks. The result is riveting.
Finally, the company presents Susan Shields' brilliant "Grand Synthesis." Like cogs working individually for a collective whole, the dancers are divided into two camps: one bursting with frenetic energy, the other glacial, deliberate, shaping, constructing and charged with setting parameters. The result is a visually stunning masterpiece.
Celebrating its fifth anniversary, "Innovations" is fine-tuned and has comfortably settled into Ballet West's regular repertoire. It’s an important and welcome addition for dancers with or without choreographic aspirations and a treat for audiences.
BALLET WEST "INNOVATIONS", Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center, Friday. Additional performances through May 26. Tickets $50 (801-355-2787)