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Treasures of the Ballet Russes


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A press release from Ballet West:

SALT LAKE CITY – Ballet West will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the famed Ballets Russes with Treasures of the Ballets Russes, March 27, 28 and April 1-4 at the Capitol Theatre. Performances will also take place on April 7 and 8 at the Val A. Browning Center on the Weber State University Campus in Ogden, Utah.

Established in 1909, Ballets Russes created a sensation in Western Europe, encompassing an amazing collection of some of history’s greatest choreographers, composers, artists, and dancers. This landmark artistic collaboration set in motion an influence that, in one form or another, has lasted to this day.

“The Ballets Russes redefined the art of ballet,” said Ballet West Artistic Director Adam Sklute. “Through Serge Diaghilev's vision of dance, some of the greatest composers, artists, choreographers and librettists of all time were assembled, creating a new form of ballet that was complete theater. From that point on, ballets were no longer looked upon purely as vehicles for dance but as works of art.”

For Treasures of The Ballets Russes, Ballet West will showcase the glamour, drama and dynamism of the Diaghilev vision with a program that features three unique works by a sampling of larger-than-life choreographers, designers and composers. In the September 7th edition of The New York Times, Dance Critic Alastair Macaulay called Ballet West’s “Treasures of the Ballets Russes” ‘an adventurous triple bill.’

This must-see program opens with the Ballet West premiere of Les Biches, Bronislava Nijinska’s chic and funny (and slightly scandalous) look at the 1920’s flapper scene. Set to a commissioned score by Francis Poulenc, with costumes and sets by Marie Laurencin, it is an early collaboration between women artists and considered by many to be the first feminist ballet.

Les Biches is a miracle of early 20th Century choreography,” said Sklute. “It poses huge technical demands on the artists, but the real challenge is to present it with absolute nonchalance and a sense of humor and chic.”

Next is the Ballet West premiere of George Balanchine’s The Prodigal Son, a startling early work by one of the world’s greatest choreographers. In 1929, this exciting and moving tale danced to the music of Sergei Prokofiev, and with sets and costumes by the expressionist artist Georges Roualt, opened what was to be the last Paris season of Diaghilev’s Les Ballets Russes. The piece is a narrative ballet telling the Biblical parable of the prodigal son who snubs his father, is exploited and abandoned by his insincere friends, and then, left destitute, must return to his father in shame only to be embraced and welcomed home.

“It is remarkable to think that Balanchine was only 24 when he created The Prodigal Son.” Sklute noted. “And already the choreographic invention just pours from him. The last scene is perhaps one of the most moving in all of ballet.”

Finally, the revival of the ballet that “set Paris on fire” in 1909 – the fabulous Polovetsian Dances from Alexandre Borodin’s opera “Prince Igor” will end this spectacular program. Michel Fokine, one of Ballets Russes’ most innovative choreographers, incorporated the vigorous and athletic style of the Russian folk dance tradition into this work. With an emphasis on powerful male dancing and dramatic expression, Polovetsian Dances features highly recognizable music, including the tune that was later used in the musical “Kismet” for the song “Stranger in Paradise.”

“It’s no wonder that Polovetsian Dances excited the cool Parisian audiences as it did in 1909,” said Sklute. “The build of the score is tremendous and there is almost animalistic abandon that builds to the finale of this dance.”

Treasures of the Ballets Russes will be accompanied by the Utah Chamber Orchestra, conducted by Terence Kern. Evening performances begin at 7:30 p.m. March 27, 28 and April 1-4, with a matinee performance at 2:00 p.m. on April 4.

In conjunction with the performances of Treasures of the Ballets Russes, Ballet West offers Warm Ups. These fun and informative discussions are free of charge to ticket holders and will begin promptly one hour prior to each presentation of The Tempest. Get the inside scoop on the evening’s program including background on the ballet, information on the choreographer and other interesting behind-the-scenes facts. At Warm Ups, members of the Ballet West artistic staff are available to answer any questions that the audience may have.

Tickets range from $18 - $72 and are available through ArtTix by calling 355-ARTS (2787 or 1-888-451-2787, at www.arttix.org, or at the Capitol Theatre ticket office.

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A press release from Ballet West:

Further to Helene's post, Alistair MaCaulay has written an enthusiatic review of the production in the New York Times. http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/07/arts/dan...1&ref=dance

Mr MaCaulay says, "Triple or quadruple bills of ballets created between 1909 and 1929 for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes are not uncommon. All the more remarkable then that Ballet West’s current “Treasures of the Ballets Russes” triple bill proves the most stimulating Diaghilev anthology I have seen in more than 30 years. "

I am sure he is right about the quality of the productions and performances, but then he never saw the great productions that still survived in the 1960's.

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Macaulay is a wonderful critic, but he has not lived in the USA very long, and he doesn't seem to know that Oakland Ballet and the Joffrey Ballet (from which both Howard Sayette and Mark Goldweber come) presented LOTS of the Diaghilev rep here in from the 70s on. Oakland did Polovtsian Dances very well indeed, along with Sylphides and Petroushka, Sheherezade, Nijinska's Les Biches, Les Noces, Chopin Concerto, AND Le Train Bleu (which they resurrected; nobody had seen it for 40 years).. the list goes on and on. Afternoon of a Faun, Parade --lots of Massine, from Boutique Fantasque to some of the abstract-expressionist symphonies, They even revived the Hand of Fate pdd from Cotillon (Moscelyne Larkin restaged it, to intoxicating effect)....

Macaulay knows Biches and Noces well because Ashton loved them and owed Nijinska a great debt for recognizing and encourtaging him early, and in his era the Royal Ballet danced them very very well (I saw Biches with Monica Mason as the Hostess in 1970, and it was wonderful -- but I also saw it in Oakland with Summer Lee Rhatigan as the Hostess, and SHE was wonderful, and with Lara Deans Lowe as the Hostess, and SHE was wonderful; Julie Lowe and Abra Rudisill were the lesbians, and they were adorable....)

The Joffrey's history of similar restagings is better known to New Yorkers.... Goldweber, who was once a star dancer at the Joffrey and is balletmaster there now (and has been known to look in on BT occasionally) is a devoted scholar of these works and a fine restager....

And Ballet West, founded by Willam Christensen, is another well-known repository of the Ballets Russes repertoire. It is wonderful that they should have done these ballets well, but it should be no surprise.

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Little do many know that Goldweber danced Thomas Armour's staging of "Prince Igor" many years ago, with the old Miami Ballet. Fitting Armour's background, it was a somewhat Nijinskafied Fokine, but real Ballet Russe material. That was a little before I arrived there; he must have been about 11, and made a very youthful youth.

He's balletmaster at Ballet West now, and brings his capacious memory, attention to detail and high standards with him. A good move for both him and Ballet West, I think.

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