Ballet West artists in Oliver Oguma’s 2016 Innovations work “Fragments of Simplicity”. Photo by Dave Brewer, courtesy of Ballet West.
Formerly known as Innovations, Ballet West’s newly titled Works from Within has moved to the Eccles Center in Park City. Works from Within shares choreography from company ranks and 2017’s iteration presented world premieres by Oliver Oguma, Trevor Naumann, Kazlyn Nielsen, and Adrian Fry. While the Eccles Center primarily presents touring groups who may stop in Park City during larger tours of the West (think Jessica Lang), it’s this Salt Lake City-based company who had the best turnout of any dance that I’ve seen in the space.
One choreographer, Kazlyn Nielsen, was new to the Works from Within platform and her work, “Rendering Stillness,” was perhaps the most conventional offering of the evening. But, inarguably, Nielsen achieved her goal of offering a breath in a fast-paced world with her presentation of delicate partnering to the music of Erik Satie. Also traditional in concept and execution was Adrian Fry’s second work for the platform, “Kinesis.” Much like his 2015 work, “Pulse,” the work relies on the propulsion of music to move large groups through the space in a neoclassical tradition. “Kinesis” featured more than just the company dancers in performance, as principal dancer Emily Adams costumed the work.
Two former Works from Within participants offered more specific aesthetic perspectives. Last year, Trevor Naumann premiered a dance about the philosophical views of Homer and I wrote in a review that the work was reminiscent of certain moments in Martha Clarke’s “Garden of Earthly Delights” because of styling but also because of its content. With another score by Boaz Roberts (deliberately driving and equally grating) the dancers in Naumann’s new work, “Grief and Integration,” explore something similar and reminiscent of different portions of the same dance by Clarke. This comparison is not just because of the return of nude unitards but also because of the physical explorations of confusion and pain that are outside the norm of Ballet West’s typical fare.
Some of Naumann’s metaphors in “Grief and Integration” are clear (death comes for you in a black hood and mask) but others are less so (some dancers have human adornment like suspenders and jackets while the rest are clearly dressed for dance). In this mixed bag there is nevertheless an ongoing exploration of the way contemporary ballet might interact with the contemporary moment and address its pain and pleasure. Further, it suggests that Naumann’s ongoing investigations may take place both in and outside of ballet’s own idioms. While this dance won’t remain my favorite piece, it will always be in the trajectory of where Naumann ultimately takes these ideas, which seems to be the purpose of Works from Within.
Oliver Oguma similarly fulfills this purpose as he connects threads from last year’s “Fragments of Simplicity” to the premiere of “Tremor.” In both works, the movement for men is stunning and subtle. Also in both, it appears that women are added because that’s what usually happens in this situation. Clad in androgynous tanks and leotards, I can see the case that the dance includes traditional partnering as a way to break down the common gender stereotypes held within dancing bodies and theatrical structures. But having been at more than one modern dance rodeo I can attest that an androgynous dancing body usually ends up being a male dancing body (see: Nikolai’s repertory with women binding their breasts and men existing ‘androgynously’ in their same dance belts and unitards).
My desire for Oguma to explore a ballet for the male movers he is so adept at carving space for ironically competes with my ongoing desire for the inclusion of more female choreographers both in Works from Within and in the Ballet West season. Last year, after consulting a professor specializing in political statistics, I came up with the figure that in a randomized selection of Ballet West company members there is less than an 8% probability that only one woman would be selected for this platform given the company makeup. That this systemic bias continues to be inadvertently reflected in the programming but corrected in the choreography is an interesting counterpart to the concert itself.
In an ongoing commitment to presenting contemporary ballets, Ballet West soon will be at another Eccles venue: Eccles Theater, in downtown Salt Lake City, with the new National Choreographic Festival. Tickets and information about the program can be found here.
This article is published in collaboration with loveDANCEmore.org