The Brilliance of Ballet West and Balanchine’s America

May 11, 2010

Ballet_West_Dancers_Balanchines_Serenade_2.jpgTchaikovsky: Serenade for Strings[excerpt]

As the curtain raised for Ballet West’s Serenade, the first sound I heard was my own; I caught my breath. And I wasn’t the only one; In unison, the audience inhaled a silent ‘ahh’, which was immediately followed by applause. The combination of Maestro Terence Kern and the Utah Chamber Orchestra’s Serenade for Strings (Tchaikovsky) and the ethereal Ballet West dancers bathed in blue was simply breathtaking.  Such serenity, such beauty. It was my favorite ballet moment ever.

These are the moments we live for.  As little girls, we’ve had images in our minds of  beautiful and graceful ballerinas.  They are, for us (as) children, our dream; they are our princesses; they are the epitome of grace, and every little girl wants to have a ballerina in her doll collection, wants to dress up and pretend she is the star of the stage, and wants to keep her ballerina’s image in her mind and heart for eternity.

Ballet_West_Dancers_Balanchine's_SerenadeAs my ballerinas posed, swayed and reached, I was overcome with emotion and I sat enchanted.  Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings evokes such passion, and in synchronicity our ballerinas come to life, dancing and playing out our childhood dreams right before us.

The Ballet West dancers’ costumes for George Balanchine’s Serenade were not elaborate, but they were dreamy; beautiful blues with nearly-full length Romantic tutus.  The dancers’ bodies were long, slender and ever so graceful.  The ballet was peaceful, romantic and beautiful, and it was the first time I’d ever seen a ballerina come out with her hair let down. It was a ballet to embrace and a moment to never forget.

Ballet West presented three works by George BalanchineBalanchine’s America included Serenade, Agon and Stars & Stripes, each unique from each other and each a wonderful presentation and representation of George Balanchine and the music of Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and Sousa.

Ballet_West_Balanchine's_Agon_Christiana_Bennett_Beau_PearsonThe second piece performed was Agon. Ballet West actually included Agon in their 2009 Gala, which I quite enjoyed, so I had looked forward to seeing this ballet.  It was different from the Gala presentation, but again it was very simplistic in design; very 60s looking, black leotards for the women, and white shirts paired with long black pants and white sox for the men.

I enjoyed this ballet and it included more dancers for this extended version.  Stravinsky’s music was perfectly written, or more accurately, the ballet was perfectly choreographed to Stravinsky’s complex work.

Typically, you could imagine enjoying accompanying ballet music on its own, but not with this Stravinsky piece.  I always try to listen to the orchestra and watch the dancers, together and separately, learning from each.  And what I learned about Stravinsky’s Agon is that I don’t know if anyone could really sit down and enjoy this work without watching it in conjunction with the dance.  The music was written specifically for Agon, and that’s where it belongs – with the dancers.  On the other hand, if someone were to feel inclined to challenge themselves to a very interesting piece of music, this might just be the one!

The third Ballet West presentation was Stars & Stripes.  Ballet West also included a pas de deux from Stars & Stripes in their Gala presentation, but this was vastly different.  Stars & Stripes included five ‘campaigns’ and had some of the most rich and colorful costumes I’ve seen thus far at Ballet West.

Balanchine's_Stars_and_Stripes_Christopher_Sellers_Ballet_West_DancersThe vibrancy of the costumes paired perfectly with the joy and energy of John Philip Sousa’s marches [adaptation by Hershy Kay], and the dancers looked like they were having a lot of fun!

I have to call out one of my favorite dancers, Christopher Sellars; mostly because I love to see him dance and to see his smiling face every time he’s on the stage.  And dancing the male lead in this lively and fun Stars and Stripes, his smile was apropos!

Though I’ve now seen about 5 of Ballet West’s productions, I haven’t been able to easily recognize the different female dancers yet.  I recognize 2 or 3 of them, but sometimes it’s hard because they look so similar to me.  It’s easier with the male dancers, and it seems that when I attend, the principal artists are not always dancing that evening.  I guess that just means I’ll have to keep attending the ballet until I recognize them all!

One of the things that I do love about Ballet West is that not every principal artist or soloist dances the same role.  The leads are shared throughout the many performances, which I think is great.  It gives the dancers the opportunity to dance different roles, and it gives the audience the opportunity to see a variety of dancers from production to production.  Which is of course why it’s hard for me to recognize and identify everyone!

Balanchine's_Stars_and_Stripes_Ballet_West_Dancers I have to say that I just love Ballet West and the Utah Chamber Orchestra. They produce beautiful ballets and not only make me want to come back to the next production, they make me think about what ballet I might want them to produce in the future.  I’m so new to the ballet, and I learn so many things during each performance.

I try to take it all in – everything from costuming to choreography to music to lighting.  Producing these beautiful ballets is no easy task and this is an economic climate that has hurt the performing arts industry very hard.  Far too many companies have shut down these past two years, much to the detriment of every community.

I truly appreciate the effort and sacrifices that the artists, musicians and staff have made and am grateful that at this moment I, personally, am still able to see Ballet West, the Utah Symphony | Utah Opera, The Boston Pops and Boston Symphony Orchestra continuing to bring their artistry to our communities and into my home.

Boston Pops Conductor Keith Lockhart recently told me that the performing arts industry is going through very difficult times, and it’s greatly affecting even the strongest, most ‘once-thought’ secure endowments and organizations around the country. In our electronic world where we can now download symphonies and watch ballets on YouTube, getting patrons, especially younger patrons,  into the performing arts halls and theatres is a challenge unlike any they’ve encountered.

Balanchine's_Stars_and_Stripes_Ballet_West_DancersI am fortunate to be able to live in a community where the Arts do currently exist and where people consider the Arts essential to our cultural enrichment and growth.  Without the generous donations and support of the performing arts patrons, more theatres and halls would close their doors permanently.

So to those of you who have helped to support and who plan to support our local performing artists, I thank and salute you, and I hope to see you at the ballet, the symphony, the opera or at a local artist’s concert soon!

View more gorgeous photos of Balanchine’s America via: Luke Isley Photo, Ryan Galbraith Photography and Mark Goldweber and Ballet West.

Photo credit: Luke Isley

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