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Photographer: Jesse Coss, Copyright: 2010 Jesse Coss Photography
Ballet West Demi-Soloists Allison DeBona and Rex Tilton in Nicolo Fonte’s “Bolero.” Photo by Jesse Coss.

A good ballet should make you want to dance — and a handful of long-time Ballet West devotees got the green light to do just that on Saturday night.

Ballet West’s annual gala is its largest fundraiser of the year, with a performance at the Capitol Theatre that showcases the company’s capacity from promising young trainee through principal dancer, followed immediately by a festive dinner. It was there that the company turned the tables on 10 aficionados by hosting a ballroom-style dance-off inspired by the hit TV show “Dancing With the Stars.”

In front of a panel of judges and a voting audience that included the dancers of Ballet West, five men and five women were paired with professionals to fox trot, tango, swing or cha-cha.

“I’ve never done anything like this before in my life,” said 74-year-old Roger Hancock, who danced a matador-inspired number with veteran dancer Chelsea Erickson.

When asked how it felt to be the one dancing at a Ballet West event, Hancock said with a wry laugh, “I had to block that thought out until I was finished — but it was a lot of fun.”

Such fundraising events help keep Ballet West at the top of its game — with resources to draw big talent to our city. And although the dance competition was loads of fun, it was the company’s mixed-bag performance earlier that evening that truly stole the show.

The Ballet West Academy kicked off the evening with Peter Christie’s “Défilé” showcasing a strong trainee program with a concrete sense for the poetry and precision of the art form. Ballet West II, the company’s apprentice-level dancers, performed the premiere of principal artist Christopher Ruud’s “Without Fall.” The piece mixed pedestrian movement with classical technique, matching Vivaldi’s musical upsurges and descents with bravado and invention.

Next on the bill was the second movement of Jiří Kylián’s gorgeous “Petite Mort” which won me over (and everyone else, it seems) when the company performed it last spring during its Utah premiere. Mozart’s Piano Concerto (C maj.: KV 467) is the subtle backdrop upon which power, strength and control are distilled into breathtaking choreography, which is equal parts exquisite and astounding.

Next up were two dazzling, traditional pas de deuxs: “La Esmeralda” by Marius Petipa and George Balanchine’s “Diamonds” — just one section of the Jewels tryptich which will be performed in its entirely next spring.

Beckanne Sisk and Tom Mattingly made a fitting pair in Petitpa’s “La Esmeralda.” Both are true performers who create an instant audience connection. Mattingly’s unending leaps sliced the air with ease; his spot-on turns were punctuated by dramatic shows of control. Sisk’s sky-high extension, expressiveness and restraint were on full display, proving that her recent acceptance of the prestigious Princess Grace Fellowship Award was well deserved.

Christiana Bennett and Beau Pearson then performed Balanchine’s “Diamonds” to the music of Tchaikovsky. The piece is more traditional than most of Balanchine’s works — Bennett’s gauzy white tutu encrusted with sparkling gems was just one testament to that.

A stickler for detail, Bennett showed a thoughtful quality, even with a slight turn of hand or change in facial expression. Her arabesque, though comparatively simple to the many feats she has undertaken throughout her shining career, proves that flash doesn’t always triumph over the simplicity of a beautiful line. Balanchine teaches us the role of a well-executed arabesque in this piece, repeating with persistence the lesson throughout.

Finally, the company performed Nicolo Fonte’s evocative “Bolero” to Ravel’s famous score. Katherine Lawrence began on a silent stage, her lithe musculature lengthening and retracting against stark sidelights. Michael Bearden joined her in a breathtaking partnership as more dancers appeared from behind several metal sheets hung vertically.

Various pairings elicited audible gasps from the audience as bodies interlocked, then dissipated into separate sequences, folding and unfolding, crouching, turning and extending with astonishing length.

Especially jaw-dropping was the brief pas de trois between Jacqueline Straughan, Adrian Fry and Christopher Anderson where Straughan is propped over the heads of the men, her long legs turning with measure like the slow ripple of a pinwheel being blown into motion.

Those in attendance not competing later in the dance-off may well have felt compelled to dance — be it in the privacy of their own homes. Either way, the inspiration was palpable.