By Kevin Albrechtsen and Yvette Albrechtsen
Over the past ten years, Artistic Director Adam Sklute has brought a wide repertoire of performances and choreographers to Ballet West at the Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre in Salt Lake City, Utah. For this performance, we have to the opportunity to experience a few of his favorite works. In the Spring program, he brings together Jiří Kylián’s Return to a Strange Land, Merce Cunningham’s Summerspace, and the headliner, David Bintley’s The Shakespeare Suite. As Sklute said, “This program is really a ‘Director’s Choice’. 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.” These diverse pieces are all brought together for an enjoyable evening at the majestic Capitol Theatre in downtown Salt Lake City.
The first piece, choreographed by Jiří Kylián of Czechoslovakia, is Return to a Strange Land. Over the past few years, one of my favorites has been his production of Petite Mort. I have loved the simple piano, minimalist staging, and athletic choreography, so I was really looking forward to Return. As it turns out, Return is a simpler, more contemplative piece set to the piano of Leoš Janáček, a Czech composer. The ballet alternates between six artists, appearing in groups of two or three. Principals Beckanne Sisk, Rex Tilton, and artist Hadriel Diniz make up the first trio, where principals Emily Adams, Chase O’Connell, and artist Lucas Horns round out the second. The movement, a tribute to Kylián’s friend and teacher who passed away in a plane crash, flows smoothly. The piece focuses on life and death, and a return to the Strange Land from whence we were born. The performance was almost meditative as they presented Kylián’s tribute to his mentor. However, belying its minimalist staging and music, there was a great amount of athleticism in the choreography as the artists performed a number of lifts and carries. Several times throughout each movement, the dancers came together in a type of body sculpture, highlighting the oneness between the troupe. And in the end, it is the talents of each individual that bring this ballet together, into what was for me, the most enjoyable piece of the evening.
The second production, Summerspace, choreographed by one of the leading avant-garde artists in America, Merce Cunningham, was a treat for the senses. The backdrop and costumes were a Pointillist creation of pop artist Robert Rauschenberg, the accompaniment, an atonal mix from composer Morton Feldman, and the choreography of Cunningham. It was neither joyful, nor melancholy, but it progressed beautifully. The piece emphasized the individual strength and skill of the dancers, randomly coming together only occasionally in brief interaction. As detailed in the liner notes, the dancers of Ballet West actually did not hear the score until the final stage rehearsals, thus creating the spontaneity that Sklute and Cunningham were hoping for. Each artist appeared to interpret the melody differently as they offered their product to the audience. Yet, occasionally, another dancer would have a similar impression, and the two would combine. Although warned not to by Sklute, I tried to create a story in my mind to explain the somewhat individualistic, and non-thematic dance. To me, it expressed the individual creativity in each dancer, or human, as they progressed, meeting only briefly to combine with another, and then alone, again. But in the end, I found it was better to allow the dance to happen, to be in the moment with each dancer and what they were presenting, and to enjoy the art without judging and projecting. And in the end, it works. Wonderfully.
The third and final ballet of the evening was the most fun of the three, The Shakespeare Suite. Set to the mesmerizing jazz strains of jazz virtuoso Duke Ellington and fellow composer Billy Strayhorn, choreographer Bintley had the patrons laughing, intently watching, and finally standing in applause as they witnessed Ballet West’s talented cast present his work. Drawing from the timeless plays of William Shakespeare, Bintley utilized jazz music to bring these themes into the twentieth century. Using costumes from the Jazz era, seven of the Bard’s plays were set to dance, including Hamlet, The Taming of the Shrew, Richard III, MacBeth, A Midsummer’s Night Dream, Othello, and of course, Romeo and Juliet. Each vignette moved quickly, highlighting a number of performers from the ensemble, each bringing their particular talents to the production. The dances ranged from the hilarity of the Shrew, through the bawdiness of Midsummer Night, culminating in the tragedy of Hamlet. Although the entire cast appeared to be having great fun at this year-end production, some key contributions were the gravity of soloist Alexander McFarlan as Hamlet, the energy of Tyler Gum and Arolyn Williams in Midsummer Night, and the beauty and grace of Sisk and O’Connell in Romeo and Juliet. An Ellington jazz score, set to the skillful prose of Shakespeare, and utilizing the immense talent of Ballet West – What a way to end the season!
Ballet West presents The Shakespeare Suite with Return to a Strange Land and Summerspace
The Janet Quinney Lawson Capitol Theatre, 50 W 200 South, Salt lake City, Utah 84101
Contact: 385-468-1010, firstname.lastname@example.org
Tickets: $15-$87 Reserved https://artsaltlake.org/production/shakespeare-suite
April 13-21, 2018 Wednesday-Saturday 7:00 PM, Saturdays 2:00 PM
The performance lasts approximately two hours with two intermissions
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The Shakespeare Suite with Return to a Strange Land and Summerspace Facebook Event