Ballet West: Journeys and Reflections

Artists of Ballet West in Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table, by Kelli Bramble Photography.

For the close of their season, Ballet West presents a program that spans over 80 years of dance making with three astoundingly diverse works. Beginning with George Balanchine’s Chaconne, dancers in softly draped dresses cover the stage as Gluck’s pastoral score drifts through the theater. They gently weave symmetrical patterns and float into statuesque poses as Emily Adams and Adrian Fry impeccably set the tone for the ballet. Chaconne is blissful, regal, pure in its clarity. The ballet’s movements are deceptively simple, creating a peaceful ease for the viewer. Your eyes can relax and take pleasure in the tranquil balance of Balanchine’s masterful organization of dancers. Katherine Lawrence and Christopher Sellars offer a bright break from the calm with a sweetly uninhibited duet flourished with jester-like wrist twirls and mercurial attitudes. Jenna Rae Herrera also stands out with her warm and girlish energy. Another dancer might feel overdone, but Herrera’s bubbling-quality comes across as genuine.

The high point of Chaconne is Adams and Fry’s second pas de deux. Both dancers possess an intriguingly royal quality, luxurious and crystalline without being cold. Fry, with his delicately flicking wrists and sudden drops into deep second, is endlessly gracious in his performance. The brighter yet still regal tone of the pas de deux showcases Adams’ gift for performing Balanchine. She joyfully plays with the music, flirting with timing until you can no longer find the boundaries between her dance and the orchestra. Her movement has an invigorating dignity and feels spectacularly spontaneous.

As heavenly as Chaconne is, Façades offers a more fraught mood. Opening with two baby-blue suited men in white wigs and heavily powdered faces hidden by lace fans, Garrett Smith’s revised ballet uses abstracted Baroque references as a way to address ideas of reflection.  Utilizing the ballet trope of two dancers creating the illusion of a mirror, Smith matches Adams in a red tutu with Allison DeBona in black. At first an impressive feat, the trick devolves into predictability as the relationship between the reflections never develops. Though their costumes are inversions of each other, the pair’s movement remains identical. I wish Smith had heightened DeBona’s mirthful quality against Adams’ timidity.

Façades is satisfyingly fluid and Smith has a gift for crafting transitional moments. One of the more interesting sections found Adams staring into a string of dancers, giving the illusion of an endless hall of mirrors. As Adams moves, they echo and the slight delay of passing motion adds richness to this simple idea. I particularly enjoyed a moment where the two baby-blue Baroque men from the opening conduct the ensemble in a sweep of the stage, each woman lifted with stabbing legs to give the impression that the room has shattered.

However, the clear highlight of the evening is Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table. Created in 1932 on the eve of Hitler’s rise to power, The Green Table is indisputably a masterpiece. Dissonant, foreboding chords resound as the curtain rises to reveal The Gentlemen in Black spread across a green table. To a sarcastic tango, these 10 masked diplomats with cavernous black eyes and white gloves cartoonishly converse. A veneer of politeness diffuses the ever-present violence in their gestures. As one man offers his hand, he raises his other in a fist. One bows to hide another shooting someone in the head. Two fingers point like a pistol across the table. The audience around me began to laugh. The Gentlemen in Black were funny and innocuous until the unexpected shot of a gun. Suddenly, we arrive in Death’s stark world. A glowing skeleton with wide luminous eyes, black boots and a Trojan helmet, Beau Pearson as Death moves with precision and relentlessness. His eyes glow and widen, imbuing his percussive movements with powerful terror.

As Death presides, the patriotic Standard Bearer enthusiastically waves his blank flag and welcomes soldiers past Death’s clockwork arms. The Young Girl says goodbye to her sweetheart and The Woman comforts the Old Mother. The Profiteer slithers through, scanning the ranks for his next goldmine, and each soldier passes under the arm of Death who coolly turns his head to the audience as if asking if we understand yet. The next five scenes enact different atrocities of war. The soldiers grapple over the stained flag as Death circles the stage with unforgiving whips of his arms. The Profiteer slides through the carnage with greedy hands to steal a coin from a corpse. The Young Maiden sways listlessly from soldier to soldier until Death protectively hovers over her limp body. In a heartbreaking solo, Beckanne Sisk as the Old Woman offers herself to Death with small resigned steps and clasped hands. Sisk is transcendent in this role, her pained gaze reaching beyond the audience with a weighted resonance that brought me to tears. Death welcomes her gently and softly carries her passive body off stage. Katlyn Addison as the Woman (a role also called the Partisan) rushes the stage with uncompromising pride. She powerfully challenges the audience as she stands in front of a firing squad of soldiers, refusing to bow to anyone save Death.

Pearson as Death approaches each scene with astounding nuance. He greets the Partisan as an equal, meets the Old Woman with tenderness and is menacing toward the Profiteer. He is efficiently cold with the soldiers. After each new kill, he looks directly at the audience, silently asking us again if we understand. In the last scene, Death bears the flag as each broken sacrifice parades past. Death returns to his earlier solo, even more powerful this time, as if fed by the destruction. A shocking fire of a pistol brings us back to the green table. As the pianos begin the now familiar sarcastic tango, the Gentlemen in Black repeat their polite charade. Witnessing the futility of the diplomats’ twirls and bows, the audience did not laugh this time.

Ballet West’s choice of The Green Table for the last performances of their regular season is unbelievably, even disturbingly, prescient. Jooss’ seminal work, relevant as long as men profit from war, feels even more necessary given that our country, barely a day before opening night, bombed a nation to whose refugees we refuse to offer asylum from a devastating six-year-long conflict. The Green Table, a masterpiece already, becomes more vital. The ballet rises above the rest of the evening. It transcends the concert, unequivocally and eloquently speaking of the futility of war in all circumstances. I cannot imagine a more timely and needed message.

Journey and Reflections is at Ballet West, SLC, April 7 – 15.
This article is published in collaboration with

Categories: Dance

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