Ballet West's Innovations

Because I’m invested in watching the choreographic process unfold, Innovations has always been one of my favorite Salt Lake City concerts. I find it significant that Ballet West supports the emergence of new methods in dance-making by creating a format for company members to develop new works and it’s a format I wish other companies would take up. Other than “Momentum” a Ririe-Woodbury alumni concert which has been absent for two years, Salt Lake organizations often form clear boundaries between choreographer and performer.

For Ballet West, “Innovations” is a time to break down those distinctions and offer a glimpse into the way each performer is engaged with choreography as well as their ability to propose concepts and a budget to the company. For six years the results have been varied and the past two weeks were no exception. On one immaculate white floor and with complex lighting by Nicholas Cavallaro, patrons could see works by Christopher Ruud, Easton Smith, Christopher Anderson, Adrian Fry and one guest artist, Jodie Gates.

Two highlights were Ruud’s revival of “Trapped” and Easton Smith’s premiere of “Mechanism”. When I first saw “Trapped” in 2011 I felt it was overwhelmed by the score despite an interesting use of space where solos and duets emerged from a confining group structure. This iteration was much more clearly realized but with the same freshness exhibited in the premiere. It was nice to watch him make choices about the work over time and find brevity as well as precision.

Smith’s premiere exceeded his efforts from his last year’s “With You”. Through the two dances his interest in drama was clear but this year the scope of his choreography extended to staging and beyond performance presence. Bringing the lighting structures onto the stage and having the transitions of the dancers take place in the audience space was bold. His choice of costuming was not as clear and much like Adrian Fry’s use of props in “Spun” it revealed that, as with “Trapped” there is work to do beyond these first performances.

While a guest artist, Jodie Gates began her career as most of these choreographers did, while dancing for professional companies. The dancers engage in her rapidly shifting “Mercurial Landscape” with sheer enthusiasm and the dance provides a great cap to the evening with lively partnering, fluid use of space and deep musicality.

Jodie’s work did have me asking where the women of Ballet West were in the choreographic ranks. In past years Emily Adams’ works have been some of the audience favorites but the overarching lack of women’s choreographic ideas speaks to formal traditions of ballet and how there is still much work to do when it comes to modes of representation. Whether it’s coincidence that there were no women in the company interested, it’s worth mentioning that last week at New York’s Danspace Project Katy Pyle tackled these issues and more with her premiere of Ballez, while the BYU Museum of Art showcased women choreographers and Sugar Space prepares their fourth SUITE, a program exclusively for women choreographers.

Ashley Anderson directs loveDANCEmore events as part of her non-profit, ashley anderson dances.