Art Space: Ballet - March 1993

Art Space: Ballet


What? Ballet dancers in cowboy boots? You’re kidding.

For those who weren’t lucky (or smart) enough to snag tickets to Ballet West‘s February performances of Billy the Kid, Vespri and Equinoxe, you missed out. For instance, you didn’t see the stupid bowhead who walked In about five minutes after the performance started, with her cheap jewelry clanking around her arms and neck like so many keys on a chain. (There should be a law against hair that is higher than the six-foot man sitting behind it.) Whether you viewed her as a plus or minus to the overall show, there was still plenty to enjoy.

The three mini-ballets ran the gamut of interpretive dance, at least in the ballet category.

Vespri, the first of the three, was a more traditional production with the ballerinas dressed in snappy gold and white tutus that jutted out from their hips at stiff right angles, designed new this year by Ballet West costume designer Bill Brewer.

The eight male dancers wore black tights and jackets. They led their partners through graceful leaps and lifts while whirling around the floor, as if suspended in an old-time jewelry box. The music was taken from Giuseppe Verdi‘s opera The Sicilian Vespers, and was choreographed in 1974 by Andre Prokovsky in the style of the old grand opera ballets. How many words can you use to describe ballet? How about stiff, unyielding, brash, murderous, bold? The second performance, Billy the Kid, was all of the above, including cowboy boots. It was everything Vespri was not.

The set for Billy The Kid had Hugs Saguaro cactuses and rolling hills silhouetted against a night sky. The music, written by American composer Aaron Copland, was as western and stars and stripes as you can get without singing the national anthem. Pat Garrett was there, danced by the easy to look at and watch Rob Arbogast. He led the procession of settlers, senoritas, cowboys, thieves and dance hall tarts toward Manifest Destiny.

Billy was danced by J. Kristopher Payne—wow. In white tights with a black hat, boots and chaps with no shirt on. (Now you’re sorry you missed it. Who’s to say you can’t enjoy some good old fashioned reverse sexism when writing a review?) Billy gets killed by Garren you knew that-but not before he dances with his dream sweetie, compellingly danced by Jane Wood. It’s a beautiful, magical pas de deux, but bittersweet because he never looks at her face. (There is something much deeper here, I just know it.) 

But that’s not all! Three, you heard it—three, performances for the low, low price of one! After Billy the Kid, Ballet West told the orchestra to go home and flipped on the canned sound Composer Jean-Michel Jarre‘s ethereal new age piece, Equinoxe.

Where do I start? First, their costumes were blue flame things that were attached in strange places. I hardly saw the first ten minutes of the performance I was so engrossed. In trying to decide what was skin and what was flesh-colored leotard. The set was similarly designed with flickering ultra blue lights behind a translucent white screen. (It looked a lot like a gas burner turned on high.)

The music was eerie and moving and loud. In fact, it was probably the only time during the performance I was completely caught up in what was going on on stage, and not what was coming out of the mouths of the people around me.

This was my favorite piece. It was flowing and lovely and unabashedly sensual. In fact, those things are true of nearly all of ballet. (Remember the pizza and sex theory? Well, it goes for ballet too.)

Check out more from the SLUG Archives:
Miscellaneous: Dance Club Etiquette 
Art Space: Opera