A Review of the Gala by Betsy Hijazi www.betsysview.com

Utah’s Ballet West Gala 2009 Dazzles in Sixty…

Posted by Betsy Hijazi • 

Polovtsian_Dances_2009_Artists_of_Ballet_West_Photo_Ryan_Galbraith

When I think about their hours spent creating, rehearsing and preparing for Ballet West’s 2009 Gala performance, I am simply amazed that more than 130 Ballet West dancers came together to present a showcase of seven works in a mere 60 minutes.

Ballet West could easily have presented only three larger works for their 2009 Gala, but, instead, the artists took on the daunting task of selecting seven varied pieces and showed Ballet West patrons that the stage belongs to all who dream to dance, whether they are 4 years old or 40.  Ballet West not only Dares Us To Dream, it clearly encourages bringing every would-be dancer’s dream to life.

The opening program for Ballet West’s Gala was Peter Christie’s Défilé, performed by the Ballet West Academy.  Students from nine class levels, including Ballet Foundations, Elementary, Intermediate, Advanced and Trainee, came to the stage and danced according to their level of experience.  There were more than 100 students on the stage, some perhaps as young as 3 or 4 years old, up to age 20.  Group after group they came to the stage, each more experienced than the prior, and at the end they came together as a whole.

It was a lovely display of the love of dance and how little boys and girls turn into experienced and professional dancers after years of dedication to their craft.

Principal_Artist_Sara_Webb_and_Christopher_Sellars_Flames_of_Paris_Photo_Mark_GoldweberPrincipal Guest Artist Sarah Webb and Demi-Soloist Christopher Sellars danced Vasily Vainonen’s light and lively Flames of Paris Pas de Deux. I enjoyed watching Webb and Sellars dance to this French Revolution-themed duet as it was filled with smiles and leaps! I recently saw Sellars as Puck in The Dream, and I fell in love with his spirit on stage!

Where Flames of Paris was upbeat and joyful, George Balanchine’s Agon was subdued and intimate.  In the program notes, Ballet West Artistic Director Adam Sklute said, “The terse angularity of (Igor) Stravinsky’s genius score, which mixes medieval and jazz sounds paired with Balanchine’s chic neoclassical choreography, is a perfect showcase for the elusive glamour and powerful control of Principal Ballerina Christiana Bennett and Artist Beau Pearson.”

I liked Agon because it seemed more like modern dance belonging in the 60s. I felt as if I was watching an ‘artsy’ performance that spoke of strength and form.  It was ballet stripped of frills and fancy costumes.

This must be my year for Beethoven’s 7th because from Boston to Salt Lake it keeps popping up!  It was a wonderful surprise to find that Beethoven’s 4th Movement of Symphony No. 7 was the score for the world premiere of  Ballet West’s own Pamela Robinson-Harris’ O.N. Ballet West II performed O.N., and I really enjoyed seeing this symphonic work that I love so much, paired with dance.  TheUtah Chamber Orchestra, who accompanies Ballet West, performed this very spirited Beethoven movement with gusto, or Allegro con brio!

Romi_Beppu_and_Michael_Bearden_Lady_of_the_Camillias_Photo_Mark_Goldweber

The performance I most looked forward to was Val Caniparoli’s The Lady of the Camellias, Act I Pas de Deux. During this ballet, Pianist Jed Moss performedFrederic Chopin’s 2nd Movement from Piano Concerto No. 1.

Portraying Marguerite, Principal Dancer Romi Beppu dances with her true love Armand, Principal Dancer Michael Bearden. Armand, not her husband, embraces Marguerite in her boudoir, longing to be with her as she slowly begins to show signs of a terminal illness.  Bearden and Beppu portray the couple with intimacy and love and you can’t help but lose yourself in their passion.

The  Lady of the Camellias pas de deux was beautiful.  Chopin’s Piano Concerto is so pretty, light and romantic.  Beppu and Bearden were lovely and Moss’ piano performance was exquisite. The nearly 10-minute piece passed quickly, but time seemed to stand still as I closed my eyes and embraced the sublimity of the moment.

I do hope that Ballet West adds The Lady of the Camellias to an upcoming season.  I imagine there will be a lot of sighs, heartfelt smiles and tears…

George Balanchine’s Stars & Stripes Pas de Deux was danced by Soloist Katherine Lawrence and Principal Dancer Christopher Ruud. Written to music by John Philip Sousa, the ballet celebrates 4th of July marches and parades.  It’s patriotic and fun and being able to recognize the music the orchestra plays doubles the enjoyment!  I’ve seen Ruud in a few performances now and he’s wonderful!

The final program of the Gala was Michel Fokine’s Polovtsian Dances from Prince Igor.  This ballet provided me with the biggest revelation of the night in that while I had no idea whatsoever whatPolovtsian Dances was, or even how to pronounce it, as the orchestra began to play, I discovered that I immediately recognized the music!

I’m neither familiar with the opera Prince Igor nor the composer Alexander Borodin, yet some how, some where, I have heard this beautiful score, and enough times to be familiar with its melody.

This Ballet is a feast for the eyes and ears.  There are more than 30 dancers on stage for much of the performance, and it is easy to follow the story of maidens, warriors and wives! The costumes are full of vibrant colors, the women wearing flowing silks and gold.  The men’s bold patterns of red, black, orange and gold velvet are eye catching and beautiful, adding to the charm of the story.

After comparing some of the costumes with other ballets on YouTube, I found Ballet West’s choice of costumes (courtesy of Houston Ballet) impressive.  The beautiful pastels, the vibrant reds and golds, and the uncomplicated patterns create an elegance that is pleasing and not distracting.

Not to be overlooked, the Utah Chamber Orchestra sounded particularly beautiful during this Borodin piece.

Christiana_Bennett_and_Beau_Pearson_Agon_Pas_de_Deux_Photo_Mark_GoldweberThe hour long 2009 Gala was a celebration of dance and music.  It was a celebration of the Arts in a city rich with talent.  Salt Lake City is not a large city on the “big-city scale”, but it has one of the most vibrant and active Performing Arts communities I’ve seen.  I’ve attended 4 different Ballet West programs over the past 2 years (The NutcrackerMadame Butterfly with GongThe Dreamthe 2009 Gala), and each gives me a reason to come back for the next.

The “artistic talent” is far reaching, stretching from the artistic director to choreographers to set designers to orchestra conductors to musicians. A single ballet can have 30 performers on stage and 60 musicians in the pit, and they are just the faces we actually see!  To say that any given performance is a “production” truly doesn’t describe all that is involved in bringing such an event to the stage.

How lucky we are to have such dedicated artists encouraging us to “let go” and be enchanted for an evening.

To learn more about Ballet West and the 2009-2010 season performances, visit www.BalletWest.org.

Romi_Beppu_and_Michael_Bearden_Lady_of_the_Camillias_Photo_Mark_Goldweber

Sara_Webb_Flames_of_Paris_Photo_Mark_Goldweber

Christiana_Bennett_and_Beau_Pearson_Agon_Pas_de_Deux_Photo_Mark_GoldweberLindsay_Duerfeldt_Polovtsian_Dances_Photo_Mark_Goldweber
Photos courtesy of Ballet West and Mark Goldweber, Ballet West.

-Mark

2 thoughts on “A Review of the Gala by Betsy Hijazi www.betsysview.com”

  1. I loved the Gala! There was so much packed into the hour and it was really wonderful to see the opening piece with all the students! Thanks so much for the performance!

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