Ballet West National Choreographic Festival celebrates women

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Cody Beaton and Trevor Davis of Richmond Ballet. All rights reserved. Photo by Sarah Ferguson.

Debuting last year, Ballet West’s National Choreographic Festival introduces audiences to new works from around the country by inviting guest companies from around the nation to join Ballet West dancers. Spread over two weekends, the performances are divided into two individual programs allowing audiences to view a full six works if desired.

Included in this year’s festival are two performances by Ballet West—Jabula during the first weekend and Sweet and Bitter on the final weekend. Utah dancers are joined by artists from the Richmond Ballet, The Washington Ballet, the Cincinnati Ballet and the Charlotte Ballet.

“For this year’s festival, all the companies we have invited are directed by women and all the works on both programs have been choreographed by women,” explains Ballet West Artistic Director Adam Sklute. His reasoning behind this decision is rooted in the irony that although ballet celebrates and focuses primarily on women, many of the leadership roles (directors and choreographers) and not held by women. “I felt strongly that there was a need to promote the strength of female leadership in the ballet world.”

Opening weekend began with Akwarium, performed by the Richmond Ballet and created by Katarzyna Skarpetowska, a dancer and choreographer from Poland. Premiering in Richmond earlier this month, dancers Lauren Archer, Cody Beaton, Elana Bello, Marty Davis, Trevor Davis, Matthew Frain, Sabrina Holland, Anthony Oates, Melissa Robinson, Fernando Sabino, Maggie Small and Mate Szentes effortlessly flow across the stage in this underwater themed arrangement. Stark lighting, designed by MK Stewart, set the stage for a performance filled with costumes reflecting the cool blues and greens of the ocean and creative, rhythmic movements of the artists.

The Washington Ballet presented MYRIAD, choreographed by American Ballet Theatre Corps Artist Gemma Bond. The most classic of the three works, Victoria Arrea, Sona Kharatian, Stephanie Sorota, Sarah Steele, Brittany Stone, Venus Villa and Corey Landolt danced elegantly although the costumes featured long flowing skirts that somewhat concealed the visual artistry Bond designed. The music is composed of three selections from Ten Sonatas in Four Parts and four additional songs.

Sklute commissioned Australian choreographer Natalie Weir to rework her popular Jabula exclusively for Ballet West on opening weekend. The music for the piece comes from the movie The Power of One and features driving, tribal drums as a baseline for Ballet West artists Dominic Ballard, Katie Critchlow, Jenna Rae Herrera, Lucas Horns, Chelsea Keefer, Katherine Lawrence, Alexander MacFarlan, Emily Neale, Chase O’Connell, Oliver Oguma, Gabrielle Salvatto, Christopher Sellars, Beckanne Sisk, Rex Tilton, Joshua Whitehead, and Arolyn Williams to joyously perform the tribal-inspired movements to. In fact, Jabula is a Zulu word meaning joy and Ballet West’s dancers seemed to derive much joy from the work—performed with high energy and dramatic movements specific to each individual artist. Weir explains, “For Ballet West I have made several alterations to handcraft the work for the individuality of the dancers, as well as reworking the central pas de deux to be en pointe. The work celebrates the individuality of the dancers and the power of both the masculine and feminine. It has no story, but it has a strong sense of drama, the male and female dancers almost challenging each other.”

Performances for the National Choreographic Festival continue May 24-26 with both evening and matinee shows. The second weekend features works from the Cincinnati Ballet, Charlotte Ballet and once again Ballet West.

Soloist Katlyn Addison and Artist Hadriel Diniz in in Africa Guzmán’s Sweet and Bitter. Photo by Beau Pearson

The Cincinnati Ballet will present Resident Choreographer Jennifer Archibald’s signature soulful movement that “investigates human behavior” in Myoho. Cincinnati’s artistic director Victoria Morgan will also experience a homecoming of sorts as she is a Utah native and former principal dancer of Ballet West under the direction of Willam Christensen. From the Charlotte Ballet, Hope Muir and her company will bring the exciting, award-winning choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams’ To Clear with an original commissioned score by Robert F. Haynes and Tony Lazzara. And finally Ballet West stages the world premiere of Sweet and Bitter by Spanish choreographer Africa Guzman, which received high praise from New York media.

To purchase tickets to the National Choreographic Festival, visit here.

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