“ICONIC CLASSICS,” Ballet West, through Nov. 14, Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South (801-355-2787 or balletwest.org)
SALT LAKE CITY — From the crowd-pleasing “Fancy Free” to the gut-wrenching “Overgrown Path” to the eye-dazzling “Symphony in C,” Ballet West’s opening, three-course program showcases the many faces of ballet.
Aptly titled “Iconic Classics,” the program celebrates a trio of choreographic legends responsible for adding diverse new textures to ballet during the past century. The program opened Nov. 6 and will continue its run at the Capitol Theatre through Nov. 14.
The delightful opening number, “Fancy Free,” left some in the audience bewildered as to why they've never seen it before. Jerome Robbins’ classic 1944 ballet — which set the wheels in motion for not just his celebrity but also that of composer Leonard Bernstein — hasn’t been included in Ballet West’s repertoire even once in the company’s 50-plus-year history, yet it was easily the crowd favorite. Although artistic director Adam Sklute insisted the piece would whet the appetite for the meaty meal ahead, it felt a great deal more like a beeline for the dessert cart.
When three ’40s-era sailors (Chase O’Connell, Joshua Whitehead and Adrian Fry during the opening night performance) are let loose on the streets of Manhattan, their evening is filled with good-natured tomfoolery and the wooing of passers-by (Gabrielle Salvatto, Allison Debona and Anisa Scott).
“Fancy Free” is vintage in a good way. It’s like dusting off a long-forgotten gown in grandma’s trunk to find it fits like a glove and is infinitely more chic than something off the rack. The ballet charmingly captures big-city Americana and its social dance idioms and combines it with ballet’s grace and lushness.
O’Connell, Whitehead and Fry treat their characters with a peppy, humorous touch. Landing in the sailors’ trajectory, Scott keeps them panting with an almost cartoonish Betty Boop flair, and Salvatto is all business even when the sailors attempt to flirt by tossing her purse around. DeBona’s character divines something more genuine, earning her a gentle and feeling — albeit fleeting — pas de deux with O’Connell.
All to the accompaniment of Bernstein’s toe-tapping and generous score, the ballet is fun and humorous, filled with Robbins’ signature lighthearted sense of spontaneity.
As ballet is sometimes poisoned with the thinking that only familiar, full-length works will sell, a piece such as Jiri Kylian’s “Overgrown Path,” which followed next, is best described as the antidote.
Changing directions completely from “Fancy Free,” this piece was Sklute’s intended “entree” of sorts. Several of the company’s finest dancers took its 12 roles, which bounded between contemplatively soulful and slightly depressing. Either way, Kylian’s choreography is — as always — strangely hypnotic. This can be attributed to his astounding musicality and grasp of the human psyche. The emotional choreography and the music in his pieces are in a deep conversation with one another. One may wonder if Kylian is a closet composer and psychoanalyst.
“Overgrown Path” speaks to grief in the clearest terms without betraying itself with spoken language’s distortions. It answers two questions with astonishing clarity: What would grief “look” like? And what would Leos Janacek’s music “look” like if it were seen and not just heard?
Janacek’s highly autobiographical score “On an Overgrown Path” searched for answers after the death of his daughter, Olga. Dancers overtly explore grief in a perfect marriage with the gentle softness of the piano cycle, played masterfully by Jed Moss. Although the women express raw emotion by holding their faces in their hands from time to time, the overall language of the piece has a weightless quality suggesting hope, not simply despair.
Of special note opening night were Jacqueline Straughan and Christopher Ruud, whose execution of an elaborate pas de deux was nearly undoing. Beckanne Sisk and Rex Tilton were also mesmerizing. The simpler moment when Tilton supported Sisk from behind while her leg unraveled in a slow, melting developpe, was unspeakably beautiful.
Finally, after a second intermission, dozens of dancers in bright white tutus introduced George Balanchine’s “Symphony in C” by taking center stage with a clear, exuberant drive and sharpness. To see these dancers move from Kylian’s contemporary, free-flowing work to the formal lines and classic idiom of Balanchine is a sheer wonder.
Though Christiana Bennett, who retired last season, was missed, all four female leads (Emily Adams, Sisk, Katherine Lawrence and Arolyn Williams) establish high standards, each bringing something unique and exciting to the movement they led throughout the glittering spectacle.
DeBona and Katlyn Addison, as the first movement’s lieutenants, were earnest but slightly ragged in their attempts to stay together opening night. The massive corps also experienced some off moments.
One may wonder how 50 people can move about onstage at all, let alone in perfect unison. The piece is massive, and dancers from all ranks — from principal to apprentice — are pulled in. It’s just as well, as it gives the audience a fine introduction to the breadth and technical scope of the company.