Utah Ballet merges contemporary and classic, has something for everyone


[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]— Chris Samuels
The word “ballet” brings to mind graceful dancers on the tips of their toes, wearing colorful tutus that stick out from their hips. The Utah Ballet fall show, which opened last night, proves that the art form is much more than that.
The first performance doesn’t look like the ballet most people know. The Character Dance Ensemble, a separate program within the Department of Ballet, opens the show with five different pieces. Character dance is usually seen in story ballets such as “Swan Lake” and stems from ethnic and folk dances from around the world. The dancers wear low-heeled black shoes and perform with precise and coordinated footwork. For this show, CDE presents dances from Moldova, Russia, Georgia, Hungary and Spain. The choreography for the Russian and for the Spanish piece is the product of research CDE has undertaken during international tours. To add to the multicultural experience, the performers wear costumes inspired by traditional dress in the countries they represent.
Utah Ballet, the premier performance company in the U’s Department of Ballet, takes the other three portions of the program. Dancers are chosen from among the members of the department. Students perform traditional choreography along with works by faculty and guest choreographers.
“Grand pas des Fiancées” is the first piece on the program from Utah Ballet. Unlike the other performances in the show, “Fiancées” is purely classical ballet. The piece has its origins in the popular Tchaikovsky score for “Swan Lake.” Jack Carter, a British choreographer, chose music from the ballet and created a “divertissement” featuring five princesses and Odile, the black swan. The six women are dancing to win the hand of Prince Siegfried. The dancers perform together before each dances an individual variation. The dancers create a beautiful picture with their rainbow array of sparkling tutus and colorfully plumed headdresses.
Following the traditional splendor of “Grand pas des Fiancées” (and an intermission) comes a contemporary piece by Mexican choreographer Eloy Barragán. Although the dancers wear pointe shoes, little about the piece suggests the classical. Barragán, a guest professor in the department for the semester, is a veteran dancer and choreographer, presenting choreography and performing in companies all over the world. The piece, which the program notes call “a dynamic expression of modern relationships,” opens with a dark stage — all the audience sees is the bright glow of the cell phone screens in the dancers’ hands. The phones appear for the rest of the piece, whether in the dancers’ hands as they text or strapped to their arms. Throughout the entire performance, a screen on one side of the stage features video of the dancers taken weeks earlier at the Bonneville salt flats. The live dancers interact with their fellows in the video in surprising and entertaining ways.
The final piece on the program features choreography by Charlotte Boyle-Christensen. Hailing from Copenhagen, Denmark, Boyle-Christensen joined Salt Lake’s Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company in 2002. She has since formed her own company, NOW-ID, a contemporary, site-specific performance group. “Waves,” Boyle-Christensen’s piece for the show, uses the sounds of running water and rain as well as creative lighting to create an ambience of fluid grace for the dancers. At this point, the idea of the classical is completely gone, as the dancers wear flat shoes and long red pants while performing the heavily contemporary choreography.
Whether it’s the international flavor of character dance, the traditional elegance of classical ballet or the challenging and dynamic world of contemporary ballet, the Utah Ballet show has something for all viewers. Performances run Nov. 14 to 15 and 20 to 22. Shows start at 5:30 p.m. on Thursdays and 7:30 p.m. on Fridays and Saturdays, with an additional 2 p.m. matinee on both Nov. 15 and Nov. 22. Tickets are free with a UCard.
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