In the world of dance, “the classics” are loved and hated in equal measure. Detractors say they nick stage time from new works, while supporters point to the value of staging historic treasures.
Ballet West’s production of Frederick Ashton’s “Cinderella” (1948) puts me on the side of the supporters.
Here are five reasons it’s important to preserve and produce the classics, and why you’ll want to see Ballet West’s production of the timeless fairytale running through Feb. 25 at the Capitol Theatre.
Each production is a foundation for the next • Ballet West last produced “Cinderella” in 2013 and a lot has changed, not so much for the campy Stepsisters or Prokofiev’s despairing score as for the essential ingredient of Ballet West’s storytelling: the dancers. Take principal dancer Arolyn Williams, for example. Since her 2013 opening-night debut as Cinderella, Williams has grown more expressive and through her artistry reveals the character’s emotional range. The mastery of Williams and the company of interpreting Ashton’s understated choreographic style has us nodding in agreement rather than questioning Ashton’s seemingly awkward style. Where else but in the reviewing of the classics can audiences enjoy growing with an artist as she matures onstage and develops before our eyes?
Time-tested repertoire lays the groundwork for dancers • “Cinderella” is a big production and offers necessary stage time for company dancers, Ballet West II and trainees to grow. Witnessing developing dancers onstage is physical proof of the strength and future of a company. And it’s an impressive group. First company member Sayaka Ohtaki is meticulous and deliciously fluid in her Spring Fairy variation. Artist Kyle Davis, a corps de ballet member who came up through the ranks from Ballet West II, is a crackerjack performer. And corps dancer Hadriel Diniz’s commanding partnering with the imposing Beckanne Sisk seems far beyond his three years of experience at Ballet West.
Defining roles are like training for the Olympics • At the risk of getting bogged down in semantics, the 19th-century story ballets are officially “the classics,” but 20th-century ballets by Balanchine, Ashton and Kenneth MacMillan have acquired classic status. Performing any of these ballets requires a physical knowledge and strength that can be gained only through rigorous training. Without the payoff of being cast as Cinderella, Giselle, Prince Siegfried or Kitri and Basilio from “Don Quixote,” what would be the point? It’s like training for a gold medal without an Olympics. These parts define a classical dancer’s position in the world. The classics are where dancers gain their chops as actors and experienced dancers transition into character parts. The longest-held dancer at Ballet West, Christopher Ruud, for example, lent tonality and brilliant comic timing to his interpretation on opening night of the less cruel of the two Stepsisters.
The classics present opportunity for viewers to become experts • Ashton developed an English style of ballet that is subtle in contrast to the Russian virtuosity seen in “Swan Lake,” for example. This production of “Cinderella” invites viewers to examine their artistic values — sure you like classical ballet, but do you like THIS style of ballet? Did you prefer British choreographer Ben Stevenson’s version of “Cinderella” that Ballet West performed through the 1990s until 2010?
A good season mixes new works and classics • Honestly, if given the choice between seeing the latest work by Justin Peck, the hottest young choreographer in ballet, and a classic, I’d opt for Peck (because I’ve seen his work at San Francisco Ballet and loved it, not because I’m distracted by shiny things). But it doesn’t need to be an either/or question. Next season Ballet West is presenting its wonderful version of “Swan Lake” in February, and in April 2019 will premiere John Cranko’s “Onegin,” which melted my heart when I saw it performed by the Royal Ballet in London. The company also is encouraging artistic diversity by continuing its annual Choreographic Festival this season and next. What’s not to love about that?
Ballet West’s “Cinderella”
If you saw Ballet West’s production of “Cinderella” in 2013, you owe yourself a trip back to the theater. The dancers have grabbed hold of the style, and the production overall feels heightened. Act One is low-key, but renowned choreographer Frederick Ashton wastes no time on pantomime, preferring to build story through images. Ashton’s group choreography is architectural in its use of structure and space.
When • Reviewed Feb. 9; plays Wednesday through Saturday and Feb. 23-24, 7:30 p.m.; with 2 p.m. matinees Saturday and Feb. 24-25
Where • Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South, Salt Lake City
Tickets • $20 - $88; ArtTix, balletwest.org or 801-869-6900
Running time • Approximately 2 hours with two 20 minute intermissions
Warm-ups • As part of the production, Ballet West will offer “Warm Ups,” a free discussion that begins one hour before each show and includes background on the ballet, information on the choreographer and other behind-the-scenes facts. Members of the Ballet West artistic staff also are available to answer questions.
Ballet West’s 55th-anniversary season
There will be a mix of Utah favorites and works new to the Capitol Theatre stage for Ballet West’s 2018-19 season, part of Artistic Director Adam Sklute’s continuing emphasis on versatility.
“Jewels” • The new season opens with George Balanchine’s only plotless full-length ballet inspired by his relationship with jeweler Claude Arpels.
“The Nutcracker” • The holiday favorite, with all new costumes and sets that earned critical acclaim and had record-breaking tickets sales in December, is in its 63rd year, making it the longest-running “Nutcracker” in the United States and possibly the world.
“Swan Lake” • In February 2019, Ballet West returns with Sklute’s critically acclaimed production of “Swan Lake.”
“Onegin” • A Utah premiere will highlight the spring with the staging of John Cranko’s internationally renowned telling of Alexander Pushkin’s “Onegin.” The dance-theater piece premiered at the Stuttgart Ballet in 1965, and the choreography includes a wide range of styles, including folk, modern and ballroom.
Choreographic Festival • The Ballet West World Choreographic Festival closes the 2018-19 season in May, with performances by Ballet West and four international ballet companies.
Family series • In addition to the regular season, Ballet West II dancers and students from the Ballet West Academy will bring back its production of ”Beauty and the Beast,” which has traveled the country after making its premiere two years ago.
Tickets • Three-show subscription packages begin at $64; for information on season membership and other subscription packages, call 801-869-6900 or visit balletwest.org. Single tickets go on sale in September.