I get season tickets to Ballet West every year. A few weeks ago Matt and I attended their performance of "Treasures of the Ballet Russe" and we enjoyed it. My favorite was Balanchine's "Prodigal Son" (of course, with my background), but the other two pieces were interesting and enthusiastically done. I was very relieved to tell you the truth, because I had gone the entire season this year feeling rather non-plused after every performance ("The Tempest" and "Madame Butterfly" were unremarkable at best and melodramatic crap at worst). "Treasures of the Ballet Russe" was recently reviewed in the NYTimes, and I agreed with Alastair Macauley's assessment. Here is an excerpt from his review found here:
These three ballets feature men of virile force rather than poetic elegance; and each makes a differently striking division of gender. “Polovetsian Dances,” gorgeously picturesque, is Romantic primitivism. Men are seen at two levels: warriors and youths. And there are two opposite kinds of women: the energetic, trouser-wearing slaves, who initiate the revels with head-shaking and brisk (nonballet) spinning on the spot, and the more glamorous but passive wives, robed in flowing veils, criss-crossing the stage to the most sumptuous of Borodin’s many superb melodies (including the one known, from “Kismet,” as “A Stranger in Paradise”). “Les Biches” is a comedy about gender, sex and sexuality as seen within a 1920s house party. Diaghilev had been presenting men as sex objects since 1909, but only now did this become a joke: the men, stripped to their beach attire, are dumb hunks, the corps de ballet members are preening gossips, the androgynous page is brusquely inscrutable, and the hostess, wielding a cigarette holder and pearl ropes, is elegantly rapacious (as she picks up the two athletes not already taken by the page). In “Prodigal,” very lively here in Elyse Borne’s staging, the meeting of the cold, commandingly erotic Siren and the ardent, impulsive and ingenuous Prodigal feels archetypal. When their intensely sexual duet ends, their legs are conjoined in a swastika shape on the floor. His head is buried in her breast as if in Oedipal desire, and she raises a hand like a cobra’s head (her motif).
All three works excel just as dance constructions and as vivid musical theater. Each features unforgettable steps that recur nowhere else in the ballet repertory, like the Polovetsian slaves’ rapid toe-tapping spins, the Page’s unprepared and abrupt pirouettes ending on point, and the Siren’s turns with one leg extended (knee bent) sideways.
The female corps executes dances in which spruce jazz syncopations make the academic-ballet vocabulary look new and keeps moving in differently numbered subsections. (At one point seven women dance facing front while five perform with their backs to us.) The three “Biches” athletes keep doing double air turns (one of them does 17) to both right and left; and these men, like most of the women, also do prodigious numbers of jumps in which the feet cross and beat, open and close, in the air.
This program is also evidence of the enlivening effect that Adam Sklute, who became Ballet West’s artistic director in 2007, is having on this troupe. All three of his male principals are currently injured, yet it’s his male contingent that looks particularly strong, not least three men who joined only in 2008. They are Thomas Mattingly (Saturday afternoon’s Prodigal and at the two evening performances the “Biches” athlete who knocked off all 17 double air turns), Owen Gaj (who did the same “Biches” role at the matinee and was impressive as one of the Prodigal’s companions) and Rex Tilton (whose big thighs and handsome cartoon-simple features might have been made for the central “Biches” athlete, which he danced both evenings).
Mr. Mattingly brought an unusual and exciting degree of force to the Prodigal; and the fetal positions through which he passed in his scenes of collapse — a man so powerfully built reverting to such vulnerability — were startling. Technically even brighter than any of these is Christopher Sellars, who was the Prodigal at the evening performances and the lead “Biches” athlete at the matinee. He has a most appealing innocence too. Though his spontaneous acting of the Prodigal is sometimes too naturalistic and his “Biches” athlete a tad too eager, he is a dancer I would like to see in many roles. Aaron Orlowski was an impressively severe, vaulting, lead Polovetsian Warrior Chieftain.
Every dancer in every role looked motivated. This is the Diaghilev effect: the company as true ensemble. The performers were caught up in something beyond themselves, something stylistically different in each ballet.
Bravo! Adam Sklute for expanding Ballet West's stale repetoire to include such exciting choreography.
I found a copy of this dance review of me in the NY Times when I was in the School of American Ballet Spring Workshop. You can check it out here. Of course, at the time I was disappointed by the review, but in retrospect, I was just a kid and to be reviewed in general was quite an honor. Interesting how time puts this in perspective.