Every weekend in Salt Lake City has at least one, if not several, outstanding programs for the performing arts enthusiast. The Utah Review continues its roundup of arts organizations returning to live performances after the pandemic hiatus of more than 18 months.
REPERTORY DANCE THEATRE (RDT) LINK SERIES: SANDBOX, AN EVENING OF DANCE BY DAN HIGGINS & AND ARTISTS
Atychiphobia is the fear of failure. In the arts, the subject of failure is rarely discussed, much less embraced, in the creative process. Going broadly, in Utah, where perfectionism shadows the social culture, the fear of failure can induce anxiety, rising to a paralyzing state. Unrealistic expectations seem impossible to meet. The memories of failure in one’s youth carry over to adulthood, where the fear of making mistakes that could lead to failure prevents individuals from taking risks even when they have the potential of gratifying success.
Fourteen Failures, presented by And Artists as the first of two premieres at the recent Sandbox concert, which was part of the Repertory Dance Theatre’s Link Series, was a critical success. Directed by Rebecca Aneloski, one of six creators for this work, Fourteen Failures comprises short vignettes representing the common failures familiar to many of us in our lives and relationships. The five other collaborators also performed the work, including Rachel Andes, Laura Baumeister, Haleigh Larmer, Kellie St. Pierre and Melissa Younker.
The And Artists collective took risks that others might have hesitated about confronting. While many choreographers have used silence in varying portions of a larger multi-section work, the group performed the entire work, which lasted approximately 40 minutes, without music. In the silence, broken occasionally by the sounds of the dancers feet in movement, their breathing, a brief laugh and other incidental sounds of the performing space, the focus turned entirely to the movement, gestures and nonverbal cues among the dancers. Each vignette was introduced with a short title card.
The risk-taking worked. There is no hiding for either the performers or the audience. Through all of the possible physiological and emotional manifestations of failure, the epiphany becomes clear: one can gain control over a fear of failure even if mistakes are made along the way. The work incorporates this realization effectively. In no instance do any of the dance artists break from this formidable commitment to make this unconventional artistic venture work. The And Artists collective demonstrates plainly how counterintuitive the fear of failure is. Aneloski and Younker were credited with costumes and lighting design was made possible by Pilar Davis and Aneloski.
Gourmet, the second premiere came from Dan Higgins, an RDT dance artist. The cast included Bashaun Williams, Kayla Hansen, Cameron Mertz, Joey Anderson and Lexi Hauck.
With each new work he has choreographed within the last five years, Higgins is expanding what has become a compelling, intellectually stimulating language in movement. This latest work, set in four short sections which flow from one to another, includes an original score by local composer Michael Wall, who is widely recognized for creating a musical library for dancers and choreographers to use.
While Higgins has set works based on text and narratives, Gourmet is a composition emphasizing signature elements of his choreographic development. Some of these elements would surely delight mathematicians and enthusiasts of plane geometry, such as complex series of counts that shift in length continuously, along with crisp, sharp lines, diagonals and angles that magnify the counterpoint feel of his work. The ensemble steps marvelously in unison but then segments off into solos, duets and smaller groupings. Another prominent feature of Higgins’ work is how the movement is conceived as gender-neutral. There are no binary distinctions per se. The outer sections presented all five dancers while the inner sections featured gripping highlights in a solo by Mertz and a duet by Williams and Hansen.
Indeed, both works epitomized the ideal artistic democracy to which many contemporary choreographers aspire. The ‘Sandbox’ is especially large enough in Salt Lake City to invite all sorts of dance philosophies, aesthetic choices and movement languages for playing. This is why dance in Utah wears the imperial crown in the performing arts. This form of creative expression excels in its capacity to invite risk-takers and producers who are astutely conscientious to social enlightenment and community empowerment.
GINA BACHAUER INTERNATIONAL PIANO FOUNDATION: SERGEY BELYAVSKY
The first half of Gina Bachauer International Piano Foundation’s current season of concerts already has produced exceptional moments and the most recent performance by Sergey Belyavsky, the bronze medalist of the 2018 Bachauer international artist competition, was just as exciting.
Three encores underscored Belyavsky’s status as a beast on the keyboard. With works by Schubert and Liszt, the Russian pianist verified the current trajectory of a career pointing toward a status as one of the international community’s foremost pianists.
Belyavsky crafted a program theme of The Wanderer, starting with Schubert’s Fantasy in C Major, D. 760, also known as The Wanderer. The work’s innate lyricism emanated from Belyavsky’s interpretation, as it did from the second set of pieces on the program – three Schubert song transcriptions by Liszt including Das Wandern, which features cycles of broken triads flowing along with bass octaves to emulate the movement of a stream; Wohin?, which builds on the harmonic movement of the first song, and Der Muller und der Bach, highlighted by its barcarolle character and its Neapolitan harmonic features.
Belyavsky, who seemed just as comfortable with a microphone as he did with the keyboard, introduced each piece and why he selected it to build on his theme of the wanderer. Affable and confident but never overly done, after the first two works, he mentioned that the program would become real challenging. He introduced yet one more Schubert work as transcribed for solo piano by Liszt — Erlkönig, which Schubert wrote at the age of 18 and which was based on the Goethe poem of the same title. His playing confirmed the deep admiration for these works, which he said he discovered as a young student pianist. As the concert was being recorded for future streaming on-demand, it was mesmerizing to watch Belyavsky tackle the rapid-pace march of right-hand octaves effortlessly. Certainly, he is the king of the knuckle buster characteristic frequently associated with Liszt’s works.
Likewise, the two Liszt Transcendental Etudes he performed back to back – No. 5 in B flat major (Feux follets or Wills o’ the Wisp) and No. 8 in C minor (Wilde Jagd or Wild Hunt) – were so deftly executed that one easily forgets that many pianists consider these two examples of the Transcendental Etudes set as the most technically challenging.
Belyavsky rounded out the traveler’s journey with two more stops, courtesy of Liszt: Tarantella from Venezia e Napoli, Années de pèlerinage II and Hungarian Rhapsody No. 9 in E-flat Major (Carnival in Pest). The Italian and Hungarian nature, respectively, came through with convincing results. For more information about the on-demand streaming options and their prices, see the Bachauer website.
NOVA CHAMBER MUSIC SERIES: SONGS OF LIFE
No better way to enjoy a spectacular, mild Sunday afternoon came than in the second subscription concert of the NOVA Chamber Music Series, which presented six short works with the theme of Songs of Life.
As music director for the series, the Fry Street Quartet’s concept of programming the season on dimensions of a Songs of theme is working nicely so far. The latest concert, in fact, stands out as especially superb among recent years. And, the six works, which included pieces by two Utah composers, were incredibly demanding in execution and technique but the results also were immensely pleasing.
Fry Street Quartet cellist Anne Francis Bayless and Utah Symphony flutist Caitlyn Valovick Moore immediately set the bar high with their performance of Hector Villa-Lobos’ Assobio a Játo (Jet Whistle), complete with the much anticipated replication of a jet taking off, as played by the flute in the third movement of the 1950 piece.
Gabriela Lena Frank’s 2010 Milagros (Miracles) received a splendid reading from the Fry Street Quartet. The eight short movements of the work, which signify the composer’s Peruvian heritage, remind of Bela Bartók’s synthesis of folk music into modern classical compositions. Bartók always has been a particular favorite of the Quartet and its members transfer that admiration seamlessly to Frank’s music. The outer edges of the piece feature the moody folk style character in solos, initially by the second violinist and then at the end by the first violinist. In between, Frank’s writing displays her expert use of various stringed instrument effects that remind, among other things, of panpipes, folk dancing and the rustic shimmers of Peruvian lyricism.
The two Utah works added a musical festival flair to the event. Devin Maxwell’s 2014 Git Along Little Dogies used samples from Woody Guthrie’s cover of the classic Roy Rogers song in a perfect ensemble version that encapsulates what it means to envision the Old West in a new light. The ensemble, conducted by Gabriel Gordon, included Katie Porter (who with Maxwell, her husband, are the principals of Red Desert) on clarinet; Moore on flute; University of Utah pianist Viktor Valkov, and colleague Haruhito Myagi on electronic sampler; Utah Symphony musicians, Alex Martin (violin) and Anne Lee (cello). Neil Thornock’s 2012 Blur, performed by Utah Symphony percussionists Eric Hopkins and Keith Carrick, made for a delicious standoff between xylophone and vibraphone, along with a few objects to boot for added effects. Percussion music has popped up more frequently in recent years on NOVA Chamber Music Series programs and this piece validates its enhanced presence.
Porter, Valkov and Hopkins, respectively, returned to the stage joining two others for Alfred Schnittke’s Serenade, a 1968 composition that is genuinely hilarious in the best sense. Utah Symphony musicians Evgenia Zharzhavskaya (violin) and Ted Merrit (bass) completed the ensemble for the work, in which Schnittke stitches together quotations not just from his earlier works but also of Beethoven, Rimsky-Korsakov and Tchaikovsky.
The Serenade defies civility. Porter, who is tailor made for the work’s clarinet part, opens it perfectly with a glissando that speaks of “fuck the establishment.” The musicians execute the veneer of chaos with all of the right nuances, letting the work reveal its damning wit in full bloom.
To switch tone and character immediately was the concert closer – an exquisite rendition of Ravel’s Introduction and Allegro, scored for harp, flute, clarinet and string quartet. When it comes to the most glorious harp part in the literature: it can be a toss-up between Debussy’s Sacred and Profane Dances, and this 1905 gem by Ravel, which was commissioned by the manufacturer of the double-action pedal harp. Matthew Tutsky of the New Mexico Philharmonic made a very convincing case for the Ravel work as the ultimate harp concerto. The music has such a delicious swoon and it evoked the beautiful fall weather of this particular Sunday afternoon. Utah Symphony musicians joined the ensemble, including Mercedes Smith (flute), Erin Svoboda (clarinet) and string players Zharzhavskaya, Martin, Lee and Joel Gibbs.
The next NOVA Chamber Music Series concert will be Songs of Perseverance on Jan. 16, with music by Gideon Klein, Jessie Montgomery, Clara Schumann, and Wang Lu.