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Ballet West gets moody during 'Journeys and Reflections'

"JOURNEYS AND REFLECTIONS," through April 15, Ballet West, Capitol Theatre, 50 W. 200 South (801-869-6900 or balletwest.org); running time 2 hours, 12 minutes with two intermissions.

Perhaps its most diverse mixed repertory program to date, Ballet West kicked off its wide-ranging “Journeys and Reflections” over the weekend featuring three distinct ballets. The treatment of the art form both for the sake of beauty and for commentary, for visual impact and for expression was done within a sumptuous and thought-provoking bill.

Friday evening’s program opened with the dynamic pairing of First Soloist Adrian Fry and Principle Dancer Emily Adams leading the massive “Chaconne.” Choreographer George Balanchine used the finale of Gluck’s 18th century opera “Orfeo ed Euridice” as the setting for his lyrical steps, blending the baroque era's musical tradition with a 20th century modernity.

The role highlights Fry’s combination of musicality and athleticism, giving him a chance to display his willowy port de bras, airy leaps and precise turns.

Adams’ strength and extension is tempered with her fluidity and grace — a rare combination found only in the most skilled ballerina.

The ballet abounded in beautiful, picturesque scenes, none more so than the opening section, reminiscent of the opera’s Elysian fields. Women with flowing hair and simple skirted costumes fluttered and swayed, creating a gorgeous tableau.

Next was the return of Utah native choreographer Garret Smith’s “Facades,” a ballet that cleverly examines social convention by employing all things Baroque — dress, dance, manners and music.

After a flouncing number by two male dancers, buffoonish in powered wigs, cupid lips and other court attire, a giant gilded frame was lowered onto the stage to resemble a mirror.

Lead dancers Allison DeBona and Emily Adams faced each other as if reflections, their perfectly synchronized movement at first captivating, but overuse soon relegates it to a parlor trick. Smith, still early in his choreographic career, seemed to be aiming foremost for a visually appealing ballet — bringing a kaleidoscope of color and synchronized movement whose focus seemed less on technique and more on eye-pleasing, sometimes eye-popping freeze frames.

A particularly striking moment occurred when the corps, wearing bold red tutus, zigzagged into patterns with the straight-faced emotion of machine cogs before lowering onto the floor, the stiff tulle of their tutus spiking upward while their pointe shoes struck the air. The sight was visually arresting and unexpected.

Smith employed the music of Vivaldi and Molto for his traditional baroque sections and Philip Glass’ Concerto for Harpsichord for the reflective, drama-driven moments. It was a perfect pairing of old and new. The ancient strains of the harpsichord within a modern idiom created an ideal match for Smith’s subject matter.

The program finished with German choreographer Kurt Jooss’ ”The Green Table,” subtitled “A Dance of Death in Eight Scenes.” The tour-de-force ballet has earned almost legendary status as an antiwar piece. Friday evening marked its Utah premier — a long-awaited moment for Ballet West artistic director Adam Sklute.

Created in 1932 between the two world wars, the German expressionist piece aims to portray the futility of war and study the effects of failed diplomacy. The ballet centers, quite cleverly, on the diplomats that drive the world into conflict as they cavort and jockey around a green table. The vignettes that follow focus on the collateral damage of those decisions and indecisions: the soldiers, wives, mothers and profiteers.

First Soloist Beau Pearson’s commanding presence in the role of Death was ideal for the part. With a skull-painted face, he wore the weighted movement and angularity well and with chilling effect.

Scenes of soldiers dying, profiteers scheming and women weeping or being exploited are bookended by cartoonish-masked but dapperly dressed diplomats preening and positioning in this theatrical, intense and stirring commentary on war.