Photo credit: Luke Isley / Ballet West

Ballet West Showcases Its Versatility in Performance at the Winspear

The company demonstrates why it deserves its own reality TV show.

The weekend’s TITAS performance at the Winspear Opera House by Utah’s Ballet West showcased this reality TV (The CW: Breaking Pointe) company’s versatility as it took the audience “from Balanchine’s neo-classical Divertimento No. 15 to Forsyth’s contemporary ballet In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated, staged by Jodi Gates, who also choreographed the final piece in the program, Mercurial Landscapes.

Mozart’s music, with its fineness of structure and clarity of expression, has always been a fountain of inspiration for contemporary ballet choreographers. Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15, like most music-driven ballets, is pure dance without narrative. Each part has its intrinsic value. The costumes designed by David Heuvel included a cast of eight ballerinas wearing beautiful soft blue and white tutus, 5 female soloists in yellow tutus adorned with blue bows, and three elegant men in pale blue tights and tunics. The visual effect of classical majesty worked well with Mozart’s Divertimento No. 15 in B-flat major, K.287. The lighting, designed by Nicholas Cavallaro, perfectly illuminated the jewels in the ballerinas’ hair and on their costumes.

After a lively first movement with the entire cast, choreographer George Balanchine takes us on a seamless fusion of multiple exquisite dance variations entering and exiting the stage: solos, pas de deuxs and a finale that brings the entire cast back with a bright and lively energy. The dancing, for the most part, was technically solid, but could have been improved by more ensemble precision and more attention by the women to overuse of flapping wrists and some awkward facial expressions.

The second masterwork on the program, In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated, with its high-octane, turbo-driven score, successfully alienates most discerning ears. The arbitrary title does nothing to help guide understanding between cognition and involuntary reaction — such as blocking your ears or fleeing the theater. In addition, the lighting by Ron Vodicka was so dark, at times the music was the only medium of expression available to our senses. Danced to a percussive electronic score by long-time Forsythe collaborator Thom Willems, with a cast of six female and three male dancers, this contemporary ballet lexicon offered each dancer occasion to put on a show, and the entire cast delivered with stand out performance by Sayaka Ohtaki, whose strength and flexibility are unmatched.

Mercurial Landscapes, choreographed by Jodi Gates, had the same technical prowess as the Forsyth work, but with a noticeable feminine touch. The same exaggerated use of flexibility, line and body contortion in her choreography seemed less angular and volatile. Instead it was like observing portions of fluid mercury amalgamating into one another, her segmented phrases infused with more curvilinear movement and use of sustained breathing as compared to Forsyth’s In The Middle, Somewhat Elevated.

The overall talent and technical ability of Ballet West is quite remarkable. It is clear what drives the selection of artistic staff under Artistic Director Adam Sklute’s reign, with strong classical technique and versatility obviously a primary focus.