BWW Review: BALLET WEST Returns to the Joyce in NYC for a Five-Day Run
As I noted in my 2015 review of Ballet West's debut at the Joyce Theater in NYC, this company based in Salt Lake City has an "admirable command of contemporary ballet". That fact was in evidence once again on October 11th 2017, opening night of Ballet West's five-day run. However, the troupe also proved itself to be more than capable of dancing Balanchine's neo-classic choreography with all the requisite speed and style. As Artistic Director Adam Sklute noted in an interview with BWW Danceworld's Barnett Serchuk, "For obvious reasons, I thought long and hard about bringing a Balanchine work to New York." In doing so, Sklute definitely made the right decision. The third offering of the evening's mixed bill, the central pas de deux and variations from Mr. B's Chaconne with Emily Adams and Adrian Fry was a balletomane's delight. Sklute gratefully credits coaching by none other than Merrill Ashley for giving his dancers the precision and polish to pull off a creditable performance of the Chaconne excerpt. Two more casts will also dance the excerpt in succeeding performances during this run: Beckanne Sisk and Chase O'Connell, and Katherine Lawrence and Rex Tilton.
As for the rest of offerings I saw, I was impressed by the truly world-class dancing on the part of every one of the very large number of performers who had made the trek to NYC. The opener was Dances for Lou, choreographed by Val Caniparoli to a score by Lou Henderson in honor of the 100th anniversary of the composer's birth. The featured instrument along with a string orchestra in this work is the p'i-p'a, a four or five stringed Chinese lute. I had never heard the sound of that instrument before, and I was transported by it to some other realm. What a wonderful surprise! In eight sections, beginning with the ensemble in "Movement 1" and ending with the ensemble in "Estampie", Caniparoli created fluid intertwinings of bodies and daringly innovative lifts. The gentlemen were bare-chested and wearing beige or tan tights while the ladies, on pointe, wore short dresses in the same shades as the men's tights. These costumes, designed by Susan Roemer, created a bland effect that wore thin for me, and that effect was exacerbated by Jim French's lighting with follow spots adjacent to nearly blacked out areas of the stage.
The bare-chested-men-in-tights look cropped up again in two other ballets. I yearned for a bit of visual variety. In addition, several of the contemporary pieces - one danced in bare feet for both ladies and gentlemen -- featured pedestrian running and walking. To me, those once-innovative devices have lost their luster by now. Even so, I was excited to witness what was billed as a "Special Joyce Theater Preview" of an excerpt from Africa Guzman's Sweet and Bitter that will make its World Premiere when the entire piece is danced on May 18th 2018 as part of Ballet West's National Choreographic Festival in Salt Lake City. I was also delighted to see Gerald Arpino's Ruth: Ricordi Per Due to the music of Tomasso Albinnoni, and I was moved by the evening's closer, Nicolo Fonte's powerful "Fox on the Doorstep" to the music of Olafur Arnolds, Harry Escott, and Johan Johannsson.
In sum the company remains, as I said in 2015, a "marvel". I highly recommend catching the rest of the run if you possibly can. Visit https://www.joyce.org/performances/ballet-west for details and to purchase tickets.
Photo: Artists of Ballet West in Nicolo Fonte's "Fox on the Doorstep." Photo by Beau Pearson © 2017