Ballet West makes classics

It’s always a treat to see an accomplished classical ballet company you’ve never seen before. Ballet West, based in Salt Lake City, Utah, rises to the occasion in the program presented by Dance Victoria at the Royal Theatre, which concludes tonight.

As an opener, Sweet and Bitter, by Spanish choreographer África Guzmán, makes a good showcase for the technical abilities of eight Ballet West dancers: Emily Adams, Rex Tilton, Katlyn Addison, Jenna Rae Herrera, Chelsea Keefer, Alexander MacFarlan, Joshua Shutkind and Jordan Veit. The Friday performance, to Ezio Bosso’s alternately solemn and allegro string and piano composition, was curiously bloodless, as if the dancers had not yet engaged with their audience.  Perhaps it was the canned music, or maybe they were just warming up. But their fluid lifts, graceful entrances and exits, and classical lines were clearly evident.

Founded in 1963 by artistic director William Christensen and Utah arts patron Glenn Walker Wallace, Ballet West established a classical repertoire under Christensen, also co-founder of the San Francisco Ballet. He created the first full-length American productions of Coppélia, Swan Lake and The Nutcracker, all of which Ballet West still performs.

Current artistic director Adam Sklute, former associate director of The Joffrey Ballet, conceived and produced a new Swan Lake, which opens Ballet West’s home season next week, and is very much a tribute to the Marius Petipa original. Katherine Lawrence and Christopher Rudd, performing in his farewell season, dance the White Swan Pas de Deux on the Victoria program, followed by Beckanne Sisk and Chase O’Connell performing the Black Swan Pas de Deux. Sisk was the standout here, eyes flashing, dancing with wonderful attack, strength and defiance and executing the familiar steps and fouettés as if she really had something to tell us.

Nicolo Fonte, Ballet West’s resident choreographer, created Fox on the Doorstep in memory of his late father Lorenzo Fonte. Apparently Fonte opened the door one morning and found a small white fox on his doorstep. The choreographer later learned that at the moment of the fox’s appearance, his father had died. Fonte set Fox on the Doorstep principally to the wonderfully evocative, mostly piano music by Ólafur Arnalds (who plays Roy Thomson Hall in Toronto next Friday). Arnalds’ music, along with that of Harry Escott and Jóhan Jóhannson, makes a tapestry against which dancers Adams, Keefer, Katherine Lawrence, Gabrielle Salvatto, Sisk, Arolyn Williams, Adrian Fry, Tyler Gum, MacFarlan, O’Connell, Tilton and Veit perform duets, pas de trois, quartets and ensemble arrangements, often against the loud ticking of a clock. Lawrence, is a dynamo here as is O’Connell, rising shirtless near the end of the piece like the spirit of the missing loved one.  Fox on the Doorstep is a powerful contemporary ballet – a frisson of danger is inherent in the mens’ vests resembling shoulder holsters — that one longs to see again.

Ballet West

Presented by Dance Victoria

At the Royal Theatre, Victoria, February 1 and 2, 2019

Photo of Arolyn Williams and Chase O’Connell in Fox on the Doorstep by Beau Pearson

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