“Are you looking for the Municipal Ballet performance too?”
A bunch of us wandered around the Storm Mountain camping and picnic area, criss-crossing each other on winding paths, following different hunches about where we might find the show we had driven up Big Cottonwood Canyon to see: Municipal Ballet Co.’s Wilder. There was a sign for the Storm Mountain Amphitheater at the parking lot, but no further signs after that, and no signage at all from the ballet company.
Audience members trickled into the amphitheater continually throughout the 45-minute performance. The amphitheater is surrounded by dramatic rock faces and trees with gently wavering leaves, and the graduated seating made for perfect views of the stage for everyone.
In this beautiful setting, costumes with flowing hi-lo skirts in shades of pink and purple added to the visual impact, enhancing movement and bringing softness to the color scheme, a perfect choice to match the music and choreography. Kudos to the multi-talented director, Sarah Longoria, who dyed and sewed each costume.
Municipal Ballet Co. performs on their own stage, made of two layers of plywood, and taped-down marley floor, laid out over the concrete surface, set up and taken down for each performance. This transportable stage is what they practice on as well, and creating that predictability and familiarity seems like an excellent way to reduce dancer stress.
There was no backstage, but it appeared that some of the dancers forgot this, slouching and adjusting their costumes as soon as they stepped off their custom dance surface. I love the idea of being casual about the backstage, and I think the concept read best when the dancers kept their serene and beautiful presentation by simply holding still while sitting or standing beside the stage. An alternative way to go about this casual backstage would be to have all the dancers be very casual when ‘off stage’ - and this would have created an interesting contrast. As it was, the sometimes-casualness was distracting at times.
For the most part, the dancers moved gracefully, with gorgeous softness, and nice unity in the unified parts of the choreography. One dancer’s inarticulate feet and trouble finding balance stuck out disappointingly.
Live music was played from directly beyond the portable stage surface: a cello and a piano attached to a bicycle (which the pianist rode up Big Cottonwood Canyon to get to the venue). Though there were two talented musicians creating lovely and peaceful sounds, the accompaniment was credited only to Eric Rich. The music was loud enough to be heard and enjoyed, but quiet enough that audience members, who had been encouraged to bring picnics to the event, felt somewhat uncomfortable eating, not wanting to ruin the auditory part of the experience by adding wrapper-rustling or chip-crunching sounds.
The choreography was much more strongly rooted in classical ballet, as opposed to contemporary styles, than other recent performances by Municipal, which made sense based on the more classical accompaniment. It was also a great example of choreographing to the strengths of the dancers, who all have strong backgrounds in ballet. The inclusion of difficult turns and grand allegro moves was minimal, which I imagine allowed the dancers to be less stressed about executing challenging moves, and more focused on matching each other’s lines and enjoying dancing.
The performance was free to watch, which supports Municipal Ballet’s mission of making ballet more accessible. They accepted donations, to be split 50-50 between MBCo. and Save Our Canyons, which seemed appropriate for the setting.
Overall, Wilder was a wonderful show that combined live music, graceful dance, custom costuming, and a unique venue beautifully. I love that Municipal Ballet Co. can always be counted on to check those boxes and I also love that they are always mixing things up, as they are inspired by their different local musician collaborators. In Wilder, Municipal created a refreshingly beautiful and pleasant work to experience. I look forward to seeing what’s next for them.
Kendall Fischer is the Artistic Director of Myriad Dance Company, and a regular contributor to the blog. She has performed with SBDance, Municipal Ballet Co., La Rouge Entertainment, and Voodoo Productions, among others. She teaches pole dance at Onyx Pole and Aerial Fitness and ballet-inspired workouts at Pure Barre Draper. She also judges dance competitions.