Sunset District, by Salt Lake City’s newest dance group, Municipal Ballet Co., debuted at Sugar Space Thursday evening. Formed by Sugar Space artist in residence Sarah Longoria, a graduate student in ballet at the University of Utah, Municipal Ballet Co. hopes to provide an outlet for ballet artists to create and perform their own work for a more diverse audience. The company also hopes to transcend the stereotype of ballet being old-fashioned, elitist and boring.
Sunset District accomplishes both goals beautifully, with ten live dances and two dance films, more than can be reviewed here. From the first piece, “Adrift,” which introduces all nine of the company’s members, it’s obvious that this is not traditional ballet. Dressed in modern dance attire and soft shoes, the dancers gently guide the audience into the performance with a strongly balletic opener by Longoria that still manages to signal that this is something new, and provides an opportunity to get a feel for each dancer. This segues seamlessly into Longoria’s sparkling duet, featuring dancers David Riskin and Stacie Riskin.
Kaya Wolsey’s “She was not alone,” which follows, ventures further into contemporary dance, with dancers clad in black shorts and socks, and features a much more contemporary movement vocabulary and more physical interaction among the dancers.
The remainder of the program flows gracefully through a wide variety of approaches to ballet, including solos, storytelling, intensely emotional work, and lighthearted, jazzy fun. Of particular note are “The Crowd,” choreographed by Sarah Judd and featuring Saena Fukui, Eve Allen’s “Psychotic Girl”, and Ellie Hanagarne’s heartbreaking and heartbreakingly beautiful “Inverted Out” featuring the remarkable Eri Nishihara, the only dancer to appear in toe shoes.
Interspersed with the live dances are two films by Ben Estabrook. His “Rebirth” is a lovely minimalist short, choreographed by Holly Martin and featuring the impressive Jessica Liu, accompanied only by the sounds of her shoes scraping the floor and her own breathing.
Many of the dancers also serve as choreographers, and every dance succeeds in holding the audience’s attention and offering a new take on what ballet has to offer. The dancers are technically accomplished and the music selection is diverse and as close to perfect as one could hope.
Municipal Ballet Co. fills a much-needed niche in the Salt Lake dance scene offering a high-quality, accessible complement to the more traditional Ballet West, as well as to the city’s thriving contemporary dance companies.
Also this weekend, the Ririe-Woodbury Dance Company will be performing at the Cathedral of the Madeleine on Sunday, April 14 at 8 pm, as part of The Madeleine Festival of the Arts and Humanities. The company will present excerpts of five recent pieces including a preview of Johannes Wieland’s “one hundred thousand” premiering later this month, and excerpts from Artistic Director Charlotte Boye-Christensen, architect Nathan Webster and Cathedral of the Madeleine award-winner and writer David Kranes’s widely acclaimed “Touching Fire.” All pieces have been adapted for the smaller space, feature smaller casts and will be accompanied by classical guitarist Jon Yerby. Boye-Christensen says the combination of dance, the beautiful setting and acoustics of the cathedral and live music should make this a very special event.
Mudson, the “works in progress” contemporary dance series will hold its April performance on Monday, April 15 at 7:30 pm at the Masonic Temple (see our blog post on last month’s event here).
And RDT is performing its Women of Valor this weekend at the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center (look for a review in these pages later today).
Sarah Thompson is a retired physician and psychiatrist, as well as a writer and a fan of the arts. Her writing has been published in a variety of magazines and textbooks and she is currently working on a short story and a novel.