The Essential A&E Picks for May 19-25 

Innovations 2016, Living Traditions Festival, Nancy Rivera and more

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Ballet West: Innovations 2016

While there is no replacing ballet's classic masterworks, there would be something lacking if new pieces that spoke to the modern condition were nowhere to be found. Ballet West—and its artistic director, Adam Sklute—understand that.

Nine years ago, Sklute initiated the annual Innovations program: a full evening of contemporary ballets, some commissioned from Ballet West's own company members. This year, Principal Artist Christopher Ruud premieres In Memorium, his fourth commission for the company. The modern story piece looks at the milestone events in one woman's life. While classical ballet is at times easier to follow than modern dance because the storyline offers a thread to engage with, contemporary ballet often forgoes any sense of story. It is a nice touch that Ruud returns to ballet's storytelling strength, though whether his work can truly be compared with the great composer Jiri Kylian (as suggested in the production's press release) is to be seen.

Three other Ballet West company members present their first works of choreography for this year's Innovations: First Soloist Christopher Sellars with Barre Spot; Corps Artist Oliver Oguma with Fragments of Simplicity; and Demi-Soloist Trevor Naumann with Homer—A Study in Phenomenological Ontology.

And, of course, Innovations is never complete without a short work by an internationally recognized contemporary choreographer. This year, Jessica Lang fills that spot with a work originally created for England's Birmingham Royal Ballet, Lyric Pieces (2012). This piece is made unique by its interactive set design, involving folding screens moved and manipulated by the dancers. (Katherine Pioli)
Ballet West: Innovations 2016 @ Rose Wagner Center, 138 W. 300 South, 801-355-2787, May 20-28, 7:30 p.m.; May 25, 7 p.m.; Saturday matinees, 2 p.m., $49.50-$59.50.


Living Traditions Festival

Kicking off the season of outdoor festivals in Salt Lake City, the annual Living Traditions Festival is a three-day immersion in the diversity of Utah culture. For more than 30 years, this iconic tradition—hosted by the Salt Lake City Arts Council—has offered a one-of-a-kind experience that brings together foods, crafts, dance and music from 50 different cultures, both native and foreign, that have put down roots in the Salt Lake Valley.

The festival provides a platform for cultural activities that have been handed down through the generations, some which are only performed at community celebrations like this. The traditional practices and techniques will take center stage during this multicultural celebration of ethnic heritages that call Utah home. The venue's multiple stages will host 81 performances of dance and musical numbers, each a demonstration of their traditional movement, vocals and instruments.

Come hungry, as the aromas are sure to draw you in. With 20 types of ethnic foods to try—from falafel to Navajo tacos—the dining scene alone is a cultural experience in flavors, technique and presentation. Having such an array of cuisine in one place is one of the festival's most sought-after pleasures.

Booths featuring artistic craftsmanship—like Native American pottery, bone carving and beadwork—are another way to take in the unique cultures, and even take a piece home with you. Times are scheduled throughout the event to meet the artists, with opportunities to hear their stories. (Aimee L. Cook)
Living Traditions Festival @ Washington Square and Library Square, 450 S. 200 East, May 20, 5 p.m.-10 p.m.; May 21, noon-10 p.m.; May 22, noon-7 p.m., free.


Nancy Rivera: Herbarium Obscura: Shadow of Nature

As much as humanity has treated nature as the background for its own activities and enterprises, we have assumed the "nature of nature" as static and unchanging, even as we've adapted it to our own uses. We have, in a sense, remolded nature in our own image, shaping and grooming its flora and fauna to serve our needs. In the process, the fluid, dynamic and in many ways fragile qualities of the natural world have been placed in sharper relief.

In nature, the smallest creatures often contain multitudes—case in point, leaves. Some of the frailest things in nature, subject to the whims of the wind, are at the same time potent powerhouses for creating energy through photosynthesis. They are also highly symbolic in the way they bear the effects of the seasons, and of the symmetry and beauty found in nature.

Nancy Rivera examines leaves in her exhibit Herbarium Obscura: Shadow of Nature, opening at God Hates Robots gallery. English ivy obscures the gallery wall, and her cyanotypes—a photographic process that dates back to the late 19th century—made from a range of different leaf specimens, trace shadows of the leaves' original forms (detail of "Cyanotype #11" is pictured). The ghostly silhouettes are like a fingerprint of nature, an echo of their imprint on the world, as well as a glimpse at our imposition of human will onto the palette of nature. It's an example of one way that nature has increasingly become denatured, yet still has the strength to persist. (Brian Staker)
Nancy Rivera: Herbarium Obscura: Shadow of Nature @ God Hates Robots, 314 W. 300 South, Ste. 250, May 20-June 10.


The Addicts Comedy Tour

No one ever said comedy was a safe profession. John Belushi, Chris Farley, Mitch Hedberg and Greg Giraldo are just some of the famous names lost to drug overdoses that cut their lives short. What could be called an "occupational hazard" has become a sad part of the business.

That makes the Addicts Comedy Tour different from most national touring shows you might see. Mark Lundholm and Kurtis Matthews have roughly six decades of professional comedy experience between them, thousands of miles logged performing across the country, television specials and appearances—and also a history with addiction. The two have been battling their own personal demons separately for years, and now help battle it together onstage by finding humor in pain.

Adhering to the mantra "humor heals all wounds ... eventually," the two men share the funnier side of rehab and recovery with personal tales from their own experiences. The show doesn't just serve to be a funny take on a painful topic; Lundholm and Matthews use their time onstage to get messages across and inform the audience of real problems, both in their own lives and in those who may be at the show. Because until someone brings an issue like this to the forefront, people are usually content to leave it in the dark and overlook it. It's a little harder to miss with two comedians shining their spotlight on it for everyone to see. (Gavin Sheehan)
The Addicts Comedy Tour @ Wiseguys Downtown, 194 S. 400 West, 801-532-5233, May 23, 7-9 p.m., $20.


Fill In the Blank

The work of University of Nevada dance faculty member/feminist choreographer Rosie Trump (absolutely no relation to you-know-who) is made all the more interesting by knowing that she received a Master of Arts degree in "experimental choreography." She describes her own artistic style as an ever-present tension "between the ordinary and the absurd in search of movement that is mutually comedic and political."

Indeed, it appears that, while Trump's work can be serious and often political, the humor is its real strength. The two-years-in-the-making Fill in the Blank is, Trump says, about the "domestic, professional, and political pressure surrounding the contemporary woman." While that idea could easily be filled with angst, Trump instead fills her feminist tale with wordplay that creates a wacky, playful world of irony. It's a real treat to have such a visionary choreographer—whose work has shown at the Toothpaste Duets in Los Angeles and at the Prague Fringe Festival—choose Salt Lake City for her world premiere. (Katherine Pioli)
Rosie Trump: Fill In the Blank @ Sugar Space, 800 W. 132 South, 385-202-5504, May 20-21, 8 p.m., $10-$12.

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