Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wooing the West.

Once upon a time, Utah was in a bad marriage with Jonas Kage, the Ballet West artistic director. It wasn't that Utah was bad or Kage was bad -- it was just a bad match. Utah liked pretties and tutus and swans, while Kage liked flesh-colored unitards and avant-garde Nazi war ballets. So this was how a typical ballet season looked for years: Sleeping Beauty (condescending pat on head), Nutcracker (condescending pat on head), Echoing of Trumpets (whack 'em up side the head). It got really abusive there at the end. My parents canceled their ballet season tickets.

But finally Utah and Jonas Kage realized they didn't belong together. They parted ways and soon Utah found an artistic director who understood her and was forgiving of her love for pretties and tutus: Adam Sklute, former artistic director of the Joffrey Ballet. He saw that while Utah didn't like watching war crimes en pointe, that didn't mean that she wanted to see the same three classical ballets over and over.* She wanted to be stretched a bit -- she just didn't want to be stretched too far too quickly (which of course is a concept any dancer dude should understand).

So he gave Utah her adored Nutcracker, but with a tricksy Christmas Eve twist. He gave her ballets she'd never seen before that were classically beautiful but stylistically different. He gave her some masterly faux-drunk Sinatra dancing. He may well have loved avant-garde Nazi war ballets, but he realized that he couldn't force Utah from Giselle to genocide in a couple of seasons, or maybe ever. He had to love Utah for who she was and kindly open her to new possibilities. And he did.

And they lived happily ever after. Or at least until the 2008/2009 Ballet Season.


Come to the Utah premiere of Madame Butterfly, opening this month! Mom and I got to watch one of the studio rehearsals today and it looks like it's going to be fantastic, beautiful, moving. With an invisible strongman lifting delicate butterfly geishas up through stage fog. And if you want to attend upcoming studio rehearsals, contact Ballet West to sign up for their email newsletter. I've been to a handful of the studio rehearsals over the past few years and they're always fun to watch (even when they're rehearsing avant-garde Nazi war ballets!)

*and over and over and over and over and over


Carvel said...

Aha! Finally, for the first time I'm the first to comment on a Mariepost!
Was the "Nazi/genocide/war" ballet titled "Echoing of Trumpets"?

I was idly wondering how Jonas' surname is pronounced: Kah-gay? Cayj? Kah-jay?

This post is a fine combination of humor, criticism (of Jonas), useful information, etcetera, etcetera, etcetera (I bet there are some folks who can't spell etcetera!).

Almost every time I type a comment for a Mariepost, I begin, without thinking, to type a personal note to you, which is unrelated to your post, & which should be communicated by e-mail or phone, etc.
If the rehearsals last a shorter time than a regular performance, I might make an earnest effort to gain admission to rehearsals, inasmuch as my attitude about ballet is, "The shorter the better."
Well, guten nacht. Thanks for this splendid, too-brief amusement.

Carvel said...

Again, I forgot to click on the link which describes the topic in question ("An Echoing of Trumpets").

Anon MEH (which are indeed my true initials) said...

I wish I could have seen that version of Nutcracker on the Starship Enterprise.
I guess that leaves out any Edouard Locke, maybe not his Amelia. Just one number or two? Slipped in with numbers from Swan Lake and Romeo and Juliet?
I will have to check out Madame Butterfly.

lenalou said...

What a fabulous post, and a great summary of the complexities of Utah culture. I think Madame Butterfly may be a little winter gift to myself.

wynne said...

Y'know, Marie, I can't THINK of the last time I've been to the ballet. Or...the only time I've been to the ballet...yeah, I'm pretty sure I've never been.

If I ever get myself to Utah again, perhaps you'll go to one with me?

wynne said...

By the way, Sister Johnson and Eunice say "Helllooooo."

cluckyducky said...

I'm going to Swan Lake in a few weeks and am very excited. I like more modern ballets too (e.g., Balanchine) but I have my limits. When I was in Boston, RJ and I went to see "In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated". The thing that was in the middle and elevated was a couple of cherries hanging from the ceiling of the stage. Very bizarre. How's house shopping? I'm very jealous.

Sharon said...

Cool! I wish I was there to go. I loved that rehearsal that we went to (even though it was war crimes on pointe).

Anna Maria Junus said...

Nazi war ballets? I didn't know such a thing existed.

It reminds me of The Producers and their Springtime for Hitler.

Marie said...

Dad -- I don't know how to say his name. I'm glad you liked the post and I'm glad you have both the skills and the stamina to type out etcetera repeatedly :)

Anon MEH -- That was a great clip. I think Utah audiences like seeing dance virtuosity for its own sake (which is how I characterize this bit, maybe incorrectly), and they would love seeing something like this worked into a night of other short ballets that were more of the traditional ballet aesthetic and lines. They have an "Innovations" production since Sklute arrived that allows for a potpourri of more experimental stuff. Well-received. (I hate the word potpourri, but mental thesaurus is broke.)

Lena -- Glad you were able to go. You deserve a winter gift after the doozy of a winter you've had!

Wynne -- Come! Or maybe next time I'm in WA we could go to the Pacific Northwest Ballet. Supposed to be very good. As for Eunice and Sis Johnson, I hope they won't run off before next Halloween.

Marie said...

Clucky -- Swan Lake's worth the price of admission, if only for the black swan fouett├ęs. One of Ballet West's principal male dancers is the son of Thom Ruud, who apparently was a principal with the San Francisco Ballet. I'm with you on the cherries -- if ballet wants to be modern, it should tend toward emphasizing the simple human form rather than distracting you with dangling cherries. :)

Sharon -- Unfortunately that girl with the gorgeous arabesque is no longer there. I wish you could have come with us to this one, though -- a lot better balanced on the male/female ratio (No, I'm not a lesbian! But ballets that employ all the company's men and only one woman are BORING no matter which way you swing).

Anna -- I know! Only not even the tiniest bit funny (intentionally OR unintentionally). They were stringing people up by their feet with leather straps! You lose your audience and destroy a dancer's ankles, all in one miserable night.