Ballet West held its Choreographic Festival this past week starting on May 8, 2019 with the Salt Lake Premiere of Danseur, a film from Scott Gormley that explores the gender inequality in Ballet. It was a very interesting film and so surprising how these men, known as danseurs, are treated. These danseurs are incredible athletes who train eight hours a day, and go to the gym three to four times a week for weight training. It’s hard to train your body to do the things they have them do. To pick up a ballerina and carry her across the stage requires great skill and strength. They work so hard and yet are judged so harshly. Many danseurs quit because the pressure is just too much.

Following the film was a panel of male Ballet West dancers to discuss what it is like to be a danseur. The discussion was led by dance journalist, Kate Mattingly. It was fascinating to hear the stories of Rex Tilton, Joshua Whitehead, Hadriel Diniz, Lucas Horns and Adam Sklute. Each dancer shared when they decided that dance was the direction they were going to take in life and the struggles then and now. They all agreed that you really must love to dance to make it your profession, of course. But it’s not all grim, the panel discussed the camaradarie among dancers and how that can often make up for the downsides. You can tell these people are not just “co-workers” but friends too. This comes through in their performances.

On display during the entire Festival was an artwork display of dance from Nathan Florence, Karen Horne and Beau Pearson. This was a wonderful addition to the Festival showing the beauty of dance in a different art form.

May 9 saw the the dance portion of the Festival began. For the first time this festival has gone international with a performance by the Scottish Ballet who is celebrating their 50th year. The company present an interesting modern ballet piece called Sibilo which means whistle in Latin. The music by Alex Menzies begins with some classical whistling and then the dancing begins. According to the choreographer, “Sibilo is a series of vignettes, with miniature portraits of personalities within the company, with all their individuality.” The men’s blazers were used as costumes and props in unique ways. There was excellent use of light and shade, great turns with the feet of the partner flat on the ground and sliding and some very unusual lifts. Whistling for me is kind of irritating, but this totally worked for this piece and so very cool that we had the privilege to see the Scottish Ballet perform here in Salt Lake City.

The next piece was by Ballet West’s Principal Artist Emily Adams and called But A Dream. This was a modern ballet with interesting costumes that had a warrior/Alice in Wonderland feel to them. Emily describes this dance “But A Dream explores metaphors we have for life (life is a game, life is a race, life is a mystery, etc.) and how they might interact with each other in a surrealist world.” Emily had unique groupings of dancers, interesting and strong moves and totally fit the feel of the music by Michael Nyman and costumes were futuristic. This number showed the power and strength of the dancers. Life is after all “But A Dream”.

The next piece was by Ballet West’s First Soloist Katlyn Addison called Hidden Voices. Katlyn describes her piece as “Antonin Dvorak’s String Quartet No. 12 American, which has been inspired by African American spiritual music. Repeated humming of spiritual hymns throughout the ballet is an homage to the inspiration of the work.” Great costumes and loved the hair of the female dancers in ponytails, powerful dance moves throughout the piece but especially by the male dancers during the “Humming Section”. It was so great to see Allison DeBona back performing again after maternity leave. She looked great and very impressive that she was back in 4 months after having her baby.

The next number was called disquiet by Ballet West Demi-Soloist Trevor Naumann. This was the world premiere of this piece and it truly made you feel the disquiet that we can feel at times. Music was by Boaz Roberts, very futuristic. Costumes were simple but striking with black leather jackets. Interesting groupings and staging, power moves, lifts and very disquieting music. A bit disturbing but in a good way. We have some incredible dancers at Ballet West and to see their careers expand and grow is great to watch.

Finally, was Constant Light choreographed by Edwaard Liang a former dancer for the New York City Ballet and Nederlands Dans Theater. He has choreographed for many dance companies all around the world and is in very high demand. As an award-winning choreographer Ballet West was very fortunate to have him create this number for them. The costumes, music by Oliver Davis and dancing were perfection!

During the pas de deux with Christopher Rudd and Beckanne Sisk I found myself with tears in my eyes. First, because this would be the last time, I would see Christopher Rudd dance and second, because of the skill of the dancers, the tenderness in how Christopher partnered Beckanne he is one of the best in how he cares and watches his partners so closely. There was one move that was extremely difficult and Beckanne could have been hurt if it wasn’t pulled off without precision. Christopher watched over her and was so careful with her, it struck a chord in my heart.

Emily Adams and Chase O’Connell did a beautiful job in their pas de deux as well. Emily has always been a beautiful dancer with lots of expression, emotional connection to the audience and grace. It is great to see Chase progress and become a stronger dancer with each performance. I found myself holding my breath most of this number as it was like the perfect storm everything came together and made for one of the most beautiful dance pieces I have ever seen. My friend and I discussed this as we were heading home that we could watch that number repeatedly because it was so stunning. All the dancers did an incredible job. This was a perfect way to end the 2018/19 Ballet Season.

The upcoming 2019/20 season looks promising. Season and Individual Tickets are available now at balletwest.org

See all of our dance coverage here.