Reviewing a conservatory performance may be a little unusual, but then Ballet West Conservatory has developed into something quite unusual. Indeed, Saturday's excellent performance gave the impression of a tight ship well run, an organization that is offering young students what they need.
The concept of a conservatory to feed Ballet West has been a much-battered ideal over the years. Many have been the abortive starts, the reorganizations, the cessations, the stormy backstage clashes between strong egos. Meanwhile the needs of Utah Ballet West aspirants went unmet - needs not necessarily for high-powered, virtuosic training, but everyday, consistent, good lessons in proper technique, showmanship and building self-confidence in a secure and pleasant atmosphere.What a pleasure, then, to see dozens of girls, ages 12 to 17, being trained so beautifully. From the opening of the curtain on "Bach to Bach," a charming choreography by Peter Christie in the Balanchine tradition, it was evident that these girls have three laudable aims: to do the steps correctly, to move gracefully to the spirit of the music, and to present themselves engagingly to the audience.
That's all there is to it. Every ballerina who succeeds outstandingly had learned how to be more correct, more graceful, musical -and/-or engaging than her peers.
Some girls were smoother on Saturday than others. There were a few stiff bodies, some spun with more facility than others, and some had sunnier smiles. But every girl looked groomed and ready for this performance.
Christie showed a nice flair for choreography, deploying as many as 15 girls at once and moving them about in interesting combinations. "Bach to Bach" had a feeling of ease and relaxation despite the effort involved, of dancers who gave themselves over to the rhythm and melody of the music without reservation. Especially was this true of the Adagio in a graceful, imaginative treatment.
Working with the youngest dancers, Dianna Cuatto staged "I've Got Rhythm Variations" by Gershwin - a pert, jazzy, action-packed dance that gave everyone (including Mr. Cool George) a chance to bloom and vent their theatrical talents.
In "Blitzentanzen," Raymond Van Mason of Ballet West showed his inspiration and talent in a classical setting. Using vibrant piano music of Fanny Mendelssohn and Clara Wieck Schumann to form a dance suite, Van Mason put his 15 or 20 dancers through an uncompromising series of taxing maneuvers. Their corps work was well synchronized, their musicality outstanding, as was their dedication to stepping out confidently and on time.
Especially lovely was the Toccatina for soloist and trio, stylishly danced by Anna Fitzgerald, Angela Rogers, Andrea Shaw and Heather Thackeray. Vivacity, confidence and charm marked this dance right down to the final shower of metallic confetti, and tutus from Ballet West added professionalism.
"Mendelssohn Capriccio" by Hidemi Masushita was in the Bournonville tradition of gamboling shepherdesses - a pretty enough work, though on the trite side.