Innovations in review

Last night Ballet West opened its fifth installment of “Innovations,” a program where Ballet West dancers present new choreography alongside one established artist. Principal Artist Michael Bearden, Artist Aiden DeYoung, Soloist Easton Smith and Demi-Soloist Emily Adams showcased their choreographic work alongside a revival of Susan Shields’ “Grand Synthesis.” As a whole I agree with Director Adam Sklute’s assessment that the evening was diverse and creative. “Innovations” expressed a range of artistic interests from traditional narrative ballet to the cool of more contemporary choreographers; at it’s best the show was innovative, as the title promised and all pieces offered an exploration of the effort it takes to craft a ballet.

Michael Bearden’s “Descent” handled a tragic, historical romance which wound its own path around recognizable narrative ballet traditions. It was freeing to follow a story without expected full length features of a Grand Pas or large Corps but the path was not without difficulty. The use of props was sometimes distracting and certain plot elements, namely the Russian revolution, were dealt with too briefly and in ways too comical or melodramatic for the overall tone. Bearden should be applauded for continuing to work on the project since 2010; when you imagine that many ballet stories have been performed endlessly it’s clear that with more growth Bearden’s concluding dance of the dead could become beloved and fixed as other wicked ballet fixtures like the Willies.

Easton Smith dealt with narrative more abstractly in his premiere of “With You”.  The opening scene was evocative with dramatic lights warning of looming tragedy. The dancing that followed might have been linked in the eyes of the choreographer — emotions spilling out of a tragedy resulting in lush partnering — but the resonance of the dancing didn’t match the strength of the opening imagery. In dancing what we feel matters, but in choreography it’s creating the realm for the audience that matters, not just what the dancers are sensing. Much like Bearden’s work the kudos are for diving right into the process and taking risks. I’ll be interested to his how his aesthetic evolves with new projects.

If Michael and Easton posed choreographic problems for which they strive, as young artists, to find solutions, Aiden DeYoung and Emily Adams demonstrated the importance of new voices in the more codified forms of ballet. Aiden’s work “Eenvoudig,” and Emily’s “Forces at Play” were remarkably fresh and complex. “Forces at Play,” benefited from being the only piece to feature live music. Many of the dancers, specifically Tom Mattingly, were able to dance from within the score and highlight the quick, light sections that mark the dance. While it seems there is more to address within the staging, the choreography had come a long way from its preview in the fall and I found the duets among the men were truly unique.

While Aiden’s preview of “Eenvoudig” last fall seemed too derivative of William Forsythe, this revised version moved beyond the shock of ballerinas in black socks and into new territory. Using a choppy selection of music and approaching movement directly and succinctly the choreography offered a sampler of non-narrative vignettes. Aiden seemed apt at choosing dancers for each section, particularly a solo in which Katie Critchlow walked past the wings smacking each one with an open palm. To think of how many dances I’ve watched, or how many times I myself have tried not to touch a wing, and then to see her hand purposefully erase what I thought I knew was important or what I should expect was  magical. This was just one taste in which Aiden explored unconventional choices. Some were obvious (exposing a back wall and lights) and others less so, like the subtle incorporation of alternative movement styles.

The magic continued to the last piece of the evening with “Grand Synthesis” as a reminder that longevity is what makes any choreographic career worthwhile. Susan Shields’ ability to move bodies through space with ease created complicated and surprising patterning from which joyful dancing emerged at every turn. While she could have used a more contemporary look at costuming from her younger counterparts it was a great way to end the evening.

“Innovations” continues at the Rose today at 7:30 and next week (Weds-Sat).

Ashley Anderson runs loveDANCEmore community events as part of her 501c3 “ashley anderson dances” she regularly choreographs and teaches in SLC.