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Shape and Story

For many, the movement of the human body is something that can be innately understood. The shapes we make with our limbs have the power to share stories. And the meaning we find in these shapes—and in the dances we make when we combine them—is something that so easily speaks to the soul. Ballet West’s season closer triple bill, “The Wedding,” draws out each of these elements of dance’s ethos.

Performance

Ballet West in Bronislava Nijinska’s “Les Noces,” Jerome Robbins’ “In the Night,” and Gerald Arpino’s “Light Rain”

Place

Capitol Theatre, Salt Lake City, Utah, April 20, 2023

Words

Sophie Bress

Artists of Ballet West in Bronislava Nijinska's “Les Noces.” Photograph by Beau Pearson

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As the evening progressed, the dancers seemed to expand on the choreography they’d just performed, each ballet building upon the last. In addition to the common thread of relationships and human romantic connection that permeated the evening, themes of shape, meaning, and story also emerge.

“The Wedding” opened with Bronislava Nijinska’s “Les Noces,” revived by the Salt Lake City-based company for the work’s 100th anniversary. Ballet West’s staging of “Les Noces” was not only the work’s Utah premiere, it was also the first time the one-act story ballet has been performed in the United States since 2011. Despite having a long and prolific career, Nijinska hasn’t been as widely recognized as her brother, the dancer Vaslav Nijinsky, or her other early 20th century contemporaries. (Nijinska created over 60 ballets, though only two besides “Les Noces” were fully preserved.) But, in an era when more focus is being placed on fostering women’s choreographic voices, Nijinska seems to be finally getting her due.

Artists of Ballet West in Bronislava Nijinska's “Les Noces.” Photograph by Beau Pearson

“Les Noces,” which portrays a Russian peasant wedding, opens with a scene of a young bride (Anisa Sinteral) preparing for her impending nuptials. Weighed down by a pair of enormous braids, the bride herself rarely moves. Instead, her friends weave themselves around her, creating intricate patterns as they handle her braids. We see Sinteral manipulated, both physically and mentally, as she grapples with each unknown awaiting her at her wedding.The second movement of the ballet shows the bridegroom’s (Dominic Ballard) preparations, followed by the third scene, which depicts the bride’s departure from her parent’s home.

Throughout the first three movements, very little, if any, joy is shown by the bride, nor her parents. The bride’s mother (Katlyn Addison), in particular, mourns as her daughter leaves the home. The bridegroom is afforded a bit more pleasure, though he too maintains a stoney demeanor throughout the work. The fourth section, which depicts the wedding itself, is also eerily stark, as the newlyweds and their parents sit—with little emotional inflection—on a raised platform as their guests celebrate below. “Les Noces” ends as a pair of doors are opened to reveal a bedroom into which the new couple disappears.

Artists of Ballet West in Bronislava Nijinska's “Les Noces.” Photograph by Beau Pearson 3

Instead of feeling celebratory, “Les Noces” is sparse and obligatory—the audience feels a distinct sense of foreboding throughout the work. In addition to the blunt and unadorned scenery and costuming (designed by Russian artist Natalia Goncharova), this feeling is cultivated by the way Nijinska’s choreography differentiates kinesthetically and visually from what is considered more typical of ballet. The dancers often perform their pointework from parallel, and the recurring motif of fisted hands—as opposed to feather-light fingers—add to the sense of dystopia.

Yet, one cannot help but be in awe of the sheer spectacle of the whole show. With nearly 40 in the cast, the stage is filled to the brim with precisely choreographed patterns and undulating tessellations of dancers. As they weave in and out of each other, it’s understandable why historian Lynn Garafola (who wrote La Nijinska, currently the only biography of the choreographer) and Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute see Nijinska’s style as perhaps an influence on George Balanchine’s neoclassicism.

Emily Adams and Adrian Fry in Jerome Robbins' “In the Night.” Photograph by Beau Pearson

“Les Noces” was deeply contrasted with the next work on the program, Jerome Robbins’ 1970 “In the Night.” Against a backdrop of stars, the cast of six (Amy Potter and Hadriel Diniz, Emily Adams and Adrian Fry, and Katlyn Addison and Brian Waldrep) dance a series of pas de deux, and join together for a final section.

Each couple seemed to showcase a different aspect of romantic love: the young and carefree, the mature and understanding, and the passionate, desperate, sometimes even volatile. Potter seems to float as Diniz lifts her, and time seems to slow as they spin. Adams and Fry’s dance is subtle and more pared back, but their ease with one another depicts a love that is comfortable and well-worn. At times, Addison clings to a somewhat aloof Waldrep, and at others, the two dance together with equal passion and fervor.

Amy Potter and Hadriel Diniz in Jerome Robbins' “In the Night.” Photograph by Beau Pearson

During their respective sections, the couples claim the stage as their own, existing in a world with only enough space for the two of them. As they converge in the final section, each pair remains in this world—until the three women notice each other at once. In this moment, there is something like recognition in their gazes—perhaps they’re looking at past or future versions of themselves? Though, after a brief acknowledgement between couples, each returns to their respective partner and the dance continues into the night.

Adrian Fry in Gerald Arpino's “Light Rain.” Photograph by Beau Pearson

The last piece on the program was Gerald Arpino’s sensual and virtuosic “Light Rain.” Throughout the work, the dancers move with a lithe, serpentine quality, gliding together almost as if they belong to a common organism. Visiting Houston Ballet artists (and former Ballet West principals) Beckanne Sisk and Chase O’Connell’s connection was particularly palpable—in their pas de deux they manage to perfectly balance one another’s strengths to master the complex choreography that all but demands this type of collaboration.

Other sections of the work pull in bits of comedy and camp, as dancers strut across the stage in self-admiration, primping for seen and unseen admirers. Throughout the work, the discoveries and pleasures of young life are on full display—humor, love, and freedom from too much responsibility.

As the crowd floods 200 South after the performance, the feeling in the air is one of good humor and celebration. It’s a far cry from hush in the theater immediately following “Les Noces,” as the meaning of the work took its time to set in. It’s also different from the gasps of awe as the curtain came up on “In the Night.” For many, it might take days to experience all these emotions. We felt them all in one night.

Sophie Bress


Sophie Bress is an arts and culture journalist based in Salt Lake City, Utah. In her writing, she focuses on placing the arts within our cultural conversations and recognizing art makers as essential elements of our societal framework. Sophie holds a Master’s degree from the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism. She has been published in Dance Magazine, L.A. Dance Chronicle, The Argonaut, Festival Advisor, and more.

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