BWW Dance Review: Ballet West Celebrates 50 Years
Salt Lake City's Ballet West is 50 years old. And to celebrate this grand occasion, Ballet West opened its 50th season with three very fitting ballets: The Firebird, Petite Mort, and Who Cares?
The Firebird is a very classical ballet, with music by Igor Stravinsky and choreography by founder William F. Christensen. It was first staged by Ballet West in 1967 and is a great tribute to the classical ballet art form. The Firebird tells the story of Ivan Tsarevich, a young prince who stumbles upon a castle under the magic spell of the sinister King Kostchei. King Kostchei holds the princesses of the kingdom hostage and has turned all the knights to stone. Ivan comes upon the Firebird, who is a magical creature with feathers of flame. He captures the Firebird, but sets her free after she gives him one of her feathers and tells him to wave it if ever he needs her help. After she disappears, the thirteen princesses appear, including Tsarevna, the most beautiful princess of all. Ivan and Tsarvena dance together and part with a vow of love. After the princesses return to the castle, Ivan is surrounded by the monsters, wolves and insects of King Kostchei's bidding, but just as he is about to be turned to stone, Ivan waves the Firebird's magic feather and she comes to lull the King and his creatures to sleep. She shows Ivan the magic egg that holds King Kostechi's power. Ivan breaks the egg, the King is destroyed, the princesses are freed, the knights come back to life and Ivan and Tsarevna are married.
Ballet West's staging of The Firebird is beautiful and exciting. The scene where Ivan is attacked by the woodland creatures is especially thrilling to watch. The costumes are lovely and frightening at the same time. The princesses look beautiful and the wolves are ferrous and terrifying. This ballet is truly an excellent example of classical ballet at its best. Although, the happy ending does come rather quickly (the wedding dance seems very short after such a big build up that has come before it), The Firebird's story is very well told and magical to watch.
The second ballet is Petite Mort, which was staged by for Ballet West in 2011 by choreographer Jiri Kylian to Mozart's music. The lines of Petite Mort are much more modern than that of The Firebird. In the beginning, the men appear on stage wielding fencing swords and move slowly to the music, showing off their toned bodies (at one point, a audience member even whistled). The costumes of Petite Mort are nude and skin-tight, creating the illusion of nakedness on the stage, which allows the spectator to be more fully enveloped in the movements. Petite Mort is a good ballet for a person who is just learning to appreciate the beauty of ballet, as the movement is center stage and it shows the athletic abilities of ballet dancers.
The final ballet of the evening was definitely the most light-hearted and fun. Who Cares? features music by George Gershwin and choreography by George Balanchine. Most of Gershwin's classic songs are included and the choreography is so much fun; it's hard to not sing along. The dancers were all clearly enjoying themselves, even though the choreography was extremely difficult, with lots of lifts, turns and pas de deux work.
Ballet West has chosen three very excellent works to open its 50th season. There's the classical ballet of The Firebird, a more modern Petite Mort, and fun and flirty Who Cares? A good example of Ballet 101 and how ballet can be more than just the old classicals; it can be a lot of fun too.