Ballet West’s Multi-Faceted Iconic Classics

Ballet West’s 52nd season opens with Iconic Classics, a triple bill addressing milestones in 20th-century ballet, from its shifts towards two opposing directions — musical theatre and modern dance — to its classical apotheosis in George Balanchine’s “Symphony in C.“

Opening with Jerome Robbins’ “Fancy Free,” the company explores not only narrative fare which typically interests a broad public but also the resurgence of ballet crossing over into musical theater. With New York City Ballet dancers Robert and Megan Fairchild (who, by the way, are Utah natives) taking on Broadway roles, the resurgence of Robbins’ work seems relevant on a local and national scale.

Known most widely for choreographing “West Side Story,” Robbins had a knack for choreographing theatrical scenarios with clarity: dancers move deftly and musically between complex phrase-work and simply walking across the stage. In solos exploring male bravado, Chase O’Connell in particular demonstrates a unique blend of character and precision, his long limbs at times held in perfect control and, at others, sent across the space with abandon.

After a recent performance in Minnesota, one blogger raised questions about the relevance of “Fancy Free’s” story-telling. She saw the premise of the piece as problematic, that three sailors on 24 hour leave in the 40s would not successfully vie for a woman’s attention by stealing her handbag. Although it’s true that some of the content seems out of sync with current sociopolitical conversations, it’s undeniable that Robbins had a gift for choreographing a narrative, if not supplying it.

Jiří Kylián’s “Overgrown Path,” is a significant shift in tone. Premiering in 1980, the choreography is based on a piano cycle by Czech composer Leos Janácek that considers the loss of his daughter. A series of lush vignettes spill out of the score and Jenna Rae Herrera and Arolyn Williams capture the combination of strain and frailty that the narrative suggests, with its titles like “A blown away leaf,” “Unutterable anguish,” and “In tears.” Throughout, mournful women clutch skirts to their chest, contract their bodies and fall back into the arms of their male partners.

The structure of “Overgrown Path” is unquestionably ballet, beginning with an ensemble, meandering through small groups and returning to an ensemble. But Kylián’s moving material calls to mind many women of modern dance. In a program of icons who all happen to be male choreographers, this reminder of works by Helen Tamiris or Martha Graham seem as topical as the work’s original dedication to Anthony Tudor.

Kylián’s work served as a touchstone into idioms popular in contemporary ballet, but the program concludes with Balanchine’s “Symphony in C,” a crown jewel of classical ballet. Ballet West has previously performed excerpts but this concert shows the full work and utilizes so many dancers that advanced students are also included to round out the corps de ballet.

Opening night featured a few technical missteps, but if anything, this highlighted the soloists commitment to Balanchine’s aesthetic of fully moving off the leg and manipulating their torso to elongate the body. The women, in white tutus and tiaras, are the embodiment of the ballerina in the jewelry box if her spring was loosened a bit. Unfortunately no such metaphor exists for the men so that the musicality and depth of performances by Adrian Fry and Rex Tilton lack appropriate description.

Ashley Anderson is the director of loveDANCEmore community events as part of her non-profit, ashley anderson dances. See more of her work on  This piece was written for the November edition of 15 BYTES and can be found here.

Photo by Will Thompson of Ballet West principal artists Beckanne Sisk & Christopher Ruud in “Symphony in C” by George Balanchine (C) The George Balanchine Trust


7&1 at Art 270

Alexandra Bradshaw & Jon Yerby’s 7&1: A Guitar and Dance Performance Eventtook place this past Friday at Art 270, a gallery in downtown SLC run by artist Terence Stephens. Bradshaw performs with Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company and Yerby is an established performer and teacher of classical guitar. This performance was the first time the husband-and-wife duo have combined their crafts.

Amid walls of artwork and a full audience, Bradshaw and Yerby took their places opposite each other, lit by just two shin lights. Though the gallery space is fairly small once chairs are set up, Bradshaw’s expansive movement utilized the space to its fullest potential. She cut deep lunges and full contractions with casual bourrees and moments of stillness. Bradshaw has a strong elegance about her, visible even in moments such as when she pushed a chair backwards with her feet while in a handstand.

Yerby accompanied Bradshaw on the guitar from a seat that faced where she danced. Both Bradshaw’s moments of pause (where she would face Yerby directly) and her phrasework yielded a palpable connection to Yerby’s accompaniment and presence in the performing space. Even when she exited for an interlude, it was clear that Yerby’s guitar solo was inextricably linked to the traces of her that still lingered on the dance floor.

Bradshaw and Yerby found a satisfying joint voice in 7&1, carried by their choices as individual artists and in establishing a new relationship as performing partners. Additionally, Art 270  worked incredibly well as an intimate setting for this tandem of music and dance. I look forward to seeing future collaborations from Bradshaw and Yerby, and hope to see more dance presented in this space.

Amy Falls is loveDANCEmore’s program coordinator, as well as a frequent contributor to the blog. She performs and works in other arts admin positions here in SLC.

Photo of Jon Yerby and Alexandra Bradshaw courtesy of loveDANCEmore


Day One at the Warehouse

“Day One” handles choreographic transitions for Breeanne Saxton & Eliza Tappan, two recent graduates from the University of Utah. The self-presenting duo is finding their way in an artistic landscape distinctly different from the infrastructure of a public university. Working in a converted warehouse on Brooklyn Avenue, they make clear any new paths will be on their own terms.

Before the show, a program articulates aims to physically research partnerships and trauma. The idea of sensing your way through a topic is certainly not new but it can be challenging in its presupposition that an audience cares not only your performance but also about your feelings. I frequently find this brand of dance disappointing; as dancers, moving through a difficult moment often feels right but risks leaving visual forms under-explored. In this regard “Day One” proves at times to be both the exception and the rule.

Sitting in kelly green bleachers reminiscent of a state fair, the audience surrounds the duo as they assemble interlocking foam pads. The mats combined with matching Parkside Panthers t-shirts and wrestling shoes offer an indication of what follows. The pair rhythmically warms their bodies in the concrete space while developing hyper-aggressive personae. Petite gestures like handshakes eventually develop into intense and escalating partnering.

Both dancers maintain fierce commitment to each encounter, never giving an impression that they are performing wrestling. They are wrestling, with the cusp of legitimate injury inching closer with each pass. Two children in the audience laughed from start to finish because it’s severe enough to become cartoon-like, a dancing equivalent of characters dropping anvils onto one another’s heads. This isn’t to say it’s brute violence, buried within the hostility there is an underlying sense of support, that this is actually good for one partner or another. Whether that’s troubling, it’s also true. At one point when Breeanne kicks Eliza’s legs it seems awful but if you know what it feels like, is actually an exercise that gives relief to an aching body.

The associated emotional landscape is incidentally one that I am interested in. Unlike a persistent trope of heteronormative dance partnering which echoes domestic violence, “Day One” engages with a much more realistic, if less narrative, depiction of female friendships. Task based posturing effectively bridges feelings of being hopelessly overwhelmed with a way to be in space.

There are a few times that it appears the show will end and that cruelty has subsided. The dance doesn’t end at these times but occasionally the pair tries something new, resuming a handshake or running up and down the steps. As they repeatedly break through the surface tension there emerges the possibility to reveal new, admittedly formal, moving ideas. But at the true end it’s as if they are afraid to begin to dance.

Ashley Anderson directs loveDANCEmore events as part of her non-profit, “ashley anderson dances.” See more of her work here.

Dance reviews on loveDANCEmore are shared with 15 BYTES, Utah’s Visual Art Magazine.  

The Warehouse Theater was donated by Sackerson, a theater group performing Bride of Frankenstein through Halloween. The set photographed is from that production and more info can be found here.