Municipal Ballet is a collection of dancers and choreographers, organized by Sarah Longoria, that aims to present ballet in unconventional spaces: sidewalks, libraries, bars and historic buildings. In their own words, Municipal Ballet “collaborates with local musicians and artists because it’s a lot of fun and because everyone’s art combined turns into something unpredictable and magical.”
Ballet is obviously an art form seeped in hundred of years of tradition and etiquette. This spring, when I took my husband to see Ballet West’s Romeo and Juliet he wondered why so many women were wearing their bridesmaid dresses, and why I didn’t clue him in to wear something nicer than jeans. At Sunlight Limited, Municipal Ballet’s latest show at The Fallout (a Granary District event space) he would have felt right at home, with this version of ballet married with live rock music, a bar serving local beer and wine, and plenty of patrons in sneakers. Music by Magic Mint (Andrew Shaw) and Color Animal (Felicia Baca, Tyler Ford, Seth Howe, and Andrew Shaw) provided not only beats and lyrics but a banter and easy stage presence to give relief to tightly structured choreography.
In the first dance, Color Animal accompanied choreography inspired by Kendall Fisher, assembled by Sarah Longoria, and created by all the dancers. In simpler terms, the movement was a collaboration. The choreographic structure was clear and often fell into the your turn, my turn formula, but even so the dancers looked strong and fluctuated between a serious and playful stage presence.
There were also more contemporary minded pieces, an on trend duet by Karina Lesko and a quintet by Chase Wise. Both dances had a looser structure, looser torso, and a punctuation of timing that is a contemporary dance trend recognizable a'la SYTYCD. Wise’s piece fully used the space and levels, and ultimately felt investigated and complete.
Hannah Bowcutt soloed Cha Cha by Sara Borazan; Bowcutt is a striking figure (long limbs, flowing white dress) who turns and stretches like a music box ballerina unleashed from her perch. Sarah Longoria performed choreography by Karina Lesko in a section with distinct vocabulary and play with the music. Heal Me, danced by Kaya Wolsey and choreographed by Ellie Hanagarne had the same musical play with repetition that eventually made metaphor and offered a departure from carefully placed technique.
It is in these solos that the show shines perhaps because the choreographer is unable to rely on tried and true balletic structures that can feel stifled when paired with rock music. In yet another solo, powerhouse dancer Cynthia Phillips is grounded, articulate, and gestural in Will you go Why choreographed by Jessica Liu.
The show closes with I Can See It All, an unambitious, yet ultimately moving section. The dancers take turns as soloist, forming a half-circle community around one another. Later, they improvisationally traverse the space, exploring and connecting. Making distinct frontal rows, the dancers perform a progressively building reverence. It is satisfying and touching, a simple structure that pays homage to the tradition of classical ballet, and the communities that are forged through art making.
As a fellow choreographer who is also drawn to choreographing to rock music for its energy and accessibility (thesis piece to Led Zeppelin, recent show with The Weekenders at the State Room) I viscerally understand that where some things are gained others can be lost. Longoria has done this enough times to understand the staples of a successful equation: bar (read: alcohol), engaging yet talented band, and unique venues. What is gained is a fun night out where one, regardless of dance literacy, can enjoy great music alongside the power of the moving body. What is often struggling to surface are choreographic structures powerful and innovative enough to match the immediacy of strong base-lines, guitar riffs, and a pounding drum. As Longoria stated at the welcome, the show “is a bit of an experiment,” and as an audience member that was able to turn a mundane Thursday night into an awesome night with friends and art, it's an experiment that I am willing to be a part of.
Erica Womack is a Salt Lake based choreographer and adjunct professor at SLCC.