An audience of all ages sat in folding chairs lined in rows for Ballet West's performance Thursday evening. Some sat stunned by the art form; others played games on their phones; many came and went throughout the hour-long sampling of the company’s repertoire. The Festival Stage is flanked by trees that allow filtered sunlight to act as a fixed spotlight on moving tutus. The scene is picturesque, albeit quite different from the normal circumstances when seeing Ballet West.
It’s been 10 years since the company officially performed at the Utah Arts Festival, and the reemergence is exciting and nostalgic for principal artist Christiana Bennett. “It’s kind of a throwback,” she says. “It brings me back to those good old days when I was first starting my career [with Ballet West], back when the Arts Fest was at held at the [Utah State] Fairgrounds.”
While performing again at the festival offers the dance medium to the masses, it is certainly a far cry from Ballet West’s home, the Capitol Theatre, where a dressy crowd sits captivated in silence. On one hand, it’s pleasant to be under the summer evening’s sunshine. “Every time we get to perform outside, well, that’s just wonderful. It’s really freeing,” Bennett says.
But performing to a festival audience can be challenging. “You have to focus a little harder and really lose yourself in the steps and the music. You have to really be present,” Bennett says. “We have to roll with the punches and not focus on someone at the beer tent ordering a little too loudly, and you always have the screaming kids—whether you are at the Capitol [Theatre] or outside,” she says with a laugh.
Bennett performs the “Grand Pas de Deux” from Chaconne with Beau Pearson. And the same focus applies for performing a climatic excerpt from a full-length piece. Since it is out of context, “being present” really matters, she says.
These excerpts can be as powerful for the dancers as for the audience. “We have to work harder to draw people in, to really try to connect to the audience—giving them that sense that they are on stage with us,” says principal artist Michael Bearden.
Among the evening’s other selections, Bearden performs in the world premiere of Fall Into Loving Arms—a beautifully tragic piece with three consecutive pas de deuxes that all serve as the historical markers of a couple over time—and the pivotal pas de deux from Act II of Swan Lake. The bill is rounded out with the “Wedding Pas de Deux” from Don Quixote (pictured above) and the The Flames of Paris “Pas de Deux.”
“I think what makes the program work is that we have a nice variety of performances—some bravado and showy, others more beautiful—that are all really exciting,” Bearden says.
For more tips on what to do around the Utah Arts Festival, read Dan Nailen's 35 Picks here.