Ballet West stuns with a new triple bill production of “The Shakespeare Suite” with “Return to a Strange Land” and “Summerspace.” This production is unique in the lineup of Ballet West as it commemorates CEO and Artistic Director, Adam Sklute’s, tenth anniversary with the company. Picking works that have shaped his career and love of ballet, Sklute has successfully selected a lineup that showcases the immense talent and range of Ballet West.
“This program is really a ‘Director’s Choice,’” said Sklute. “The three works I am presenting are unexpected favorites that are theatrically and artistically brilliant in unique ways. A little gem, ‘Return to a Strange Land’ was one of my favorite ballets to dance; ‘Summerspace’ is a supreme collaboration of art, music, and dance; and ‘The Shakespeare Suite’ delighted me from the moment I first saw it performed in England.”
The production features three unconnected pieces with new lighting, staging, music and costumes for each work. They are separated by two twenty minute intermissions.
Opening with arguably the strongest piece of the whole night, “Return to a Strange Land,” immerses you in a world of supreme strength, total control and grace. This piece is a reflection on life and death choreographed by Jiří Kylián and creates an emotional power.
Katherine Lawrence, Christopher Sellars, Alexander MacFarlan, Allison Debona, Adrian Fry and Tyler Gum made up the phenomenal six-dancer cast. Minimal staging and lighting spotlights help emphasize this raw journey. Making their way through different vignettes featuring duos and trios, “Return to a Strange Land” is filled with passionate, yet measured control and a series of incredible lifts, emphasizing the ever-present athleticism Ballet West is well known for. The work is made all the more potent by the accompaniment of a single pianist, Jed Moss, tracing the dances with the artistic composition written by Czech composer Leoš Janáček.
Following Kylián’s masterpiece, Ballet West dons a slightly less regal role as the dissonance of “Summerspace” fills the stage. Composed by Merce Cunningham with costume and set by Robert Rauschenberg and music by Morton Feldman, “Summerspace” debuted in the most authentic way in 1958 as all four aspects: choreography, staging, costume and music were meshed together opening night.
Dressed in painted leotards behind a fantastically large painted backdrop, the dancers seemingly galloped and pranced around the stage oscillating between company union and unique solidary movements. The music likewise depicted the strangeness of this piece representing everything from bubbling water to rumbling thunder. Kimberly Ballard, Emily Neale, Oliver Oguma, Gabrielle Salvatto, Kristina Weimer and Joshua Whitehead made up the six-dancer cast for this unique piece and all expressed appropriately bizarre characters.
Closing with the brilliant headline of “The Shakespeare Suite,” Ballet West ended the night with hilarity and finesse. David Bintley’s brilliant and comedic piece features well-known characters and couples from some of the Bard’s famous playwrights: Hamlet (Rex Tilton), Petruchio and Kate (Hadriel Diniz and Chelsea Keefer), Richard III and Lady Anne (Trevor Naumann and Katlyn Addison), Lady MacBeth and MacBeth (Gabrielle Salvatto and Christopher Rudd), Bottom and Titania (Joshua Whitehead and Jenna Rae Herrera), Othello and Desdemona (Lucas Horns and Emily Neale) and Romeo and Juliet (Jordan Veit and Sayaka Otaki). The energetic choreography is set to an exuberant jazz score by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn, a lovely spin on a classic culture.
“The Shakespeare Suite” is upbeat and delightful as pop twists are enmeshed within Shakespeare’s classic stories. Of particular note is the deeply strong chorus featured in most vignettes, as well as Hamlet’s wonderful soliloquy filled with pomp and attitude and the crushingly serious, yet lightly comedic jealous rampage of Othello with Desdemona.
This performance is undoubtedly a must see. Ballet West successfully weaves three seemingly independent stories into a finely executed production that highlights not only their strength and skill but their versatility.
“The Shakespeare Suite” will run April 13-21 at the Capitol Theatre. Single tickets, priced from $20 to $88 are available online at www.balletwest.org or by calling (801) 869-6900.
It should be noted roles are performed by different artists per different productions. A complete list featuring each performance and their accompanying artists and roles can be found online.