Ballet West
Capitol Theatre
Salt Lake City, UT

April 18, 2024
“Love and War” Program: Blake Works 1, Red Angels, The Green Table

Dean Speer

How wonderful it is to be in a city that not only boasts a pair of very large crocodiles named Hillary and Bill at its Hogle Zoo – whom I got to visit on an afternoon off, and whom I was told were, yes, acquired during the Clinton Administration, but that also boasts three professional dance companies, a nationally respected dance department at the University of Utah, the Leonardo Art Museum, and many other unique attractions.

Francis, my spousal unit, and I would often ask ourselves – as a litmus test measure, what would compel us to fly or go across the country to see a program or show? What company might curate and program something so special that we, and presumably the general public, just had to go see it?

Adrian Fry in Kurt Jooss’s “The Green Table”
Photo by Beau Pearson

Ballet West’s “Love and War” mixed bill April program was just such a program. I was drawn particularly to see Kurt Joost’s famous 1932 anti-war work The Green Table, a Dance of Death in Eight Scenes, a work that I had only seen bits of on television years ago by the Joffrey Ballet but had not seen in-person. To a duo-piano score by Frederick Cohen and played by Jared Oaks and Nicholas Maughan, this iconic work was first done by Ballet West in 2017 and was revived and staged (taught to the dancers) by Jeanette Vondersaar, Claudio Schellino and Freek Damen. While incorporating ballet steps, I’d categorize it as modern dance, as it has the kind of palette and choreographic elements that remind me of its era and how modern dance was constructed and presented at that time. I loved it.

It famously begins (and ends) with The Gentlemen in Black, who, through engaging in a series of gestural poses over the titular green table, evoke a board or war room and start a war (by shooting blank pistols). This scene is somewhat euphemistically described in the program as “a conference.” Over the course of the scenes we see mobilization, combat, war profiteering, and refugees, with the character of Death hovering or actively involved. Death’s movement motif of his left foot making small passés and stamps in second position and of a lifted parallel retiré with angles arts and face and body in profile is one of its most iconic and haunting moments.

Ballet West in Kurt Jooss’s “The Green Table”
Photo by Beau Pearson

The cast gave 100 percent of their artistic worth, so well-deserved kudos to them all:  Adrian Fry (Death); David Huffmire (Profiteer – this character is costumed like a French mime); the Standard Bearer of Tyler Gum; Chelsea Keefer’s Young Girl; Graham-like motifs for the Woman of Kathlyn Addison; Kazlyn Nielsen (Old Mother); Brian Waldrep’s Old Soldier; principal dancer Jordan Viet’s Young Soldier: the Soldiers of Anderson Duhan, Joseph Lynch, Vinicius Lima; and the weighted and memorable Refugees of Stella Birkinsha, Kye Cooley, Isabella Corridon, Anisa Sinteral, and Tatiana Stevenson.

It was with great joy that I, serendipitously, visited with Veit’s mother (whom I’ve long known from Open Class at Seattle’s PNB School) and father – and I commented just how proud they must be. Veit is glorious not only in classical works but strong, too, in the dramatic, such as The Green Table. I’m sure each dancer’s respective cheer squads must be equally proud. The Green Table is a major dance work and one that I hope to see again in the not-too-distant future.

Amy Potter and Jordan Veit
in William Forsythe’s “Blake Works 1”
Photo by Beau Pearson

One of my best ever ballet buddies and long-time colleague, Erika, upon her first viewing of a William Forsythe ballet (at PNB in Seattle, his Artifact 1, I believe) strongly stated, “If Balanchine were still around today, that’s​ what he’d be doing!” I mentioned Erika’s observation to a couple of Ballet West Academy student whom I ran into at intermission, one of whom I got to see earlier that afternoon in Men’s Class, taught by Jeffrey Edwards, and they agreed and commented that performing Forsythe is like Mr. B’s Serenade but extended (“…on steroids”). So true, as I think of his 2016 Blake Works I, a dance made for the Paris Opera Ballet and premiered by Ballet West during this program’s run. It opened the program and was such a cheerful and step-packed morceau of a ballet – the perfect and strong lead-in to the evening’s ballets.

I have to publicly confess to not having heard of either James Blake or his music (have I been living under a rock?), but I was soon smitten. Blake Works I, using 7 of Blake’s songs, is a contemporary group ballet that dares to conclude with a pas de duet (Emily Adams and Adrian Fry) rather than what I think of as a big tutti Balanchine finale, which I imagine he could have easily done but chose a different path. Forsythe has the dancers do things that are, as Erika would say, “unreal” – fast, fast, turning assemblés with small beats (OMG!), etc., and during the second song, “Put That Away,” Jenna Rae Herrera made the quickest piqué backward​ into dégagé front that I’ve seen, really attacking each one with energy and clarity.

Emily Adams and Dominic Ballard
in Ulysses Dove’s “Red Angels”
Photo by Beau Pearson

The middle work, Red Angels, I was most pleased to learn had been staged by Pacific Northwest Ballet’s very own Peter Boal, its artistic head now for nearly 20 years (I cannot believe how quickly that time has passed). He gave the dancers much with his staging of what’s probably choreographer Ulysses Dove’s best and most well-known work. It’s done to a unique score by Richard Einhorn and played (every time that I’ve seen it) on an electric violin, by Mary Rowell. This ballet features two couples wearing matching red unitards. I like to interpret the word “angels” in the title as Martha Graham did, when she declared that dancers were the “acrobats of God,” which is how she titled one of her most wonderful, expressive, and iconic group pieces, Diversion of Angels. As I’ve said, I’ve seen this work several times, but I think, if it’s even possible, the Ballet West cast gave it even more punch, clarity, and passion than PNB’s rendition. I was sitting fairly close in the orchestra section of the Capitol Theatre, and so I was up front to relish and enjoy these dancers who were so strong, heroic even, in their stances and control. Bravo to Emily Adams and Hadriel Diniz and Amy Potter and Veit for pulling off and giving tribute to, by their sheer committed dancing, a dance work from a choreographic voice that left us all too soon.