"JEWELS" through Nov.10, Capitol Theater, 50 W 200 S, Salt Lake City, (801-355-ARTS or www.balletwest.org); running time: two hours (two intermissions)
SALT LAKE CITY — Some of the most sought-after roles in Ballet West’s dazzling, season-opening program, “Jewels,” were snagged by the company's fresh faces over the weekend.
Ballet West, performing George Balanchine’s pioneering 1967 full-length abstract ballet, showcased the exquisite virtuosity of many newly promoted dancers such as Katlyn Addison and Hadriel Diniz; as well as the scope of newly appointed musical director Jared Oaks in the pit.
With seven shows from Nov. 2-10, Ballet West is — remarkably — fielding three and sometimes four casts for each of "Jewel's" three movements: “Emeralds,” “Rubies” and “Diamonds.”
Ontario, Canada native Addison, a familiar face after seven years with the company, rose to the rank of first soloist earlier this year and won a coveted role in “Rubies,” performing the powerhouse, siren-like female lead in the Friday cast. With a piercing stare as she took on the men of the corps de ballet, her hungry attack and spellbinding strength coupled with a new glow of confidence made her performance intoxicating.
“Rubies” is actually the middle movement in the triptych and maintains a racing, high-energy pace that similarly showcased newly promoted demi-soloist Hadriel Diniz. Joining the company from Minas Gerais, Brazil, in 2015, Diniz exhibited deft musicality, strength and adeptness as a partner to dazzling principal dancer Beckanne Sisk on Friday night, although he’s still searching for that James Dean cool factor the role requires.
The work’s lightning-fast technique mimicked the sauciness of the accompanying jazz-infused Stravinsky's “Capriccio," as 15 dancers in ruby red jewel-encrusted costumes (after the designs of former New York City Ballet costumer Barbara Karinska) displayed bent knees, jaunty angles, high kicks, smirks, kaleidoscope patterns and sprinkles of pedestrian movement.
By contrast, the first movement, “Emeralds,” featured a much more tempered, floating ambiance, with emerald-hued medieval French costumes. Creating a sense of mystery and yearning is vital to this piece, but too often this enigmatic and introspective sentiment gets lost in translation.
Fortunately, Ballet West spoke Balanchine’s language. With 17 total dancers including two lead couples, the artists displayed classical technique with a suppleness that aptly underscored the floating texture of Gabriel Fauré’s romantic incidental music for two plays, “Shylock” and “Pelléas et Mélisande."
On Friday night, principal dancer Sayaka Ohtaki took over one of the lead roles although she wasn’t slated to perform it until Wednesday, filling in as a last-minute replacement for another recently promoted newcomer, Emily Neale, who, according to Artistic Director Adam Sklute, had suffered an ankle injury.
Despite being called upon at the last-minute, Ohtaki looked at ease, masking her fierce athleticism with the kind of unhurried delicacy and innocence that “Emeralds” demands. It will be interesting to see if Neale can replicate Ohtaki’s poetic performance in the role while still finding ways to put her own stamp on it.
The evening ended on a high note in a spectacle of imperial Russian grandeur complete with a massive, zigzagging corps, Peter Tchaikovsky’s Third Symphony, glittering ivory costumes and a romantic pas de deux with Emily Adams and Adrian Fry (Friday cast) as the central ballerina and her cavalier in "Diamonds."
Although I prefer Fry in more interpretive contemporary works, it was inspiring to observe his versatility, showcased in "Diamonds" as a doting, mesmerized cavalier.
Adams was ever regal, statuesque and strong with four demi-soloist couples trailing and 24 additional dancers creating diamond patterns and glinting around the lead couple’s centripetal force.
Affirming his new appointment with the panache of a seasoned maestro, Music Director Jared Oaks too, seems to have found his footing. Having been the assistant conductor for nearly a decade before his recent appointment, he’s conducted almost every note of this music before, but only as a patchwork, never in its entirety.
He successfully used all the powers within his conductor’s arsenal to enhance the evening’s different moods through the Ballet West orchestra, from the mesmerizing pace and languidness of Fauré to Stravinsky’s lightning-fast, jazz-inflected “Capriccio,” (which featured the fast fingers of pianist George Shevtsov), to the regality and pomp of Tchaikovsky’s Third Symphony for the Russian-inspired “Diamonds.”
“Jewels” required much from its enormous cast: endurance, unwavering technique and intense musicality. In the program notes, Sklute acknowledged that for the program to be successful, there must be a profound commitment from every dancer on the stage. It is hard to imagine a more single-minded cast than the one that danced before us opening night.