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Springing with Youthful Imagination
Imagine Ballet's Spring Gala
By Karen Anne Webb

Dance Review:
Imagine Ballet's Spring Gala
Peery's Egyptian Theater (2515 Washington Blvd., Ogden) on Friday and Saturday, April 21 and 22 at 7:30 p.m. and April 22 at 2 p.m.
Tickets cost $9 to $20.
Buy tickets via (801) 395-3227 or

Where exactly does a dance company of young talents go after a successful evening-length story ballet? Well, it goes on to an equally successful rep bill with intricate choreography for the main company and spectacular guest artists dancing pieces by two choreographic luminaries of the last century.

Following up its charming dance interpretation of The Secret Garden, Imagine Ballet Theatre welcomes spring with an evening of extraordinary range. The company’s Spring Gala plays April 21 and 22 at Peery’s Egyptian Theater in Ogden.

The program opens with “Requiem,” a reworking of a piece artistic director Raymond Van Mason originally did for a trio of dancers from Ballet West and a corps of youth from Ballet West’s academy. In this new incarnation, it has been reworked for the proscenium stage (the original venue was the Cathedral of the Madeleine). The central trio—Heaven, Earth, and Death—might as easily be two parents mourning for the death of their daughter. Durufle’s music is beautiful, haunting and evocative. Kara Nielsen as Heaven (Mason portrays Earth) is eminently watchable—poised and gracious with feet that you just want to watch articulate and articulate.

I think the reason I saw a mother/daughter relationship between her and Jennifer Jackson (Death) was the sense when the two danced together of a doe-like quality in Nielsen and a fawn-like or coltish quality in Jackson. Jackson is a wonderful dramatic dancer, though, with a tremendously expressive face and upper body. And—hooray!—two young men, Joshua Millsap and Darren Smith, now share partnering duty with Mason. Handling both Jackson and two side ladies, they demonstrate true potential.

“Requiem” is an extremely complex piece for a youth ballet to tackle. Mason shows his usual mastery of moving dancers around the stage with perfect, beautiful, artistic intelligence. Floor patterns are stunning; entrances, exits, and patternings are sophisticated. The work is both moving and inspiring and shows the company at its best.

Guesting on the bill are Molly Smolen and husband Tiit Helimets, two dancers who have achieved international success (Helimets is currently a principal with San Francisco Ballet; as a couple, they have danced as principals with the Estonian National Ballet and Birmingham Royal Ballet). They have the interesting distinction of having received the approval of the Trusts of both Sir Frederick Ashton and Sir Kenneth MacMillan to dance certain of those great choreographers’ pieces when they tour.

And it is two of these pieces that they bring to this program.

Every choreographer who has ever tackled Romeo and Juliet has handled the balcony scene a little differently, but MacMillan’s treatment is widely regarded as one of the finest ballet interpretations, both musically and in terms of Shakespeare’s text. (If you saw Ballet West’s recent presentation of the complete ballet, you will see the influence of MacMillan’s choreography.) And Smolen and Helimets interpret Macmillan beautifully. Even at the dress tech when they were working out the nuances of lighting, the sense of tenderness and passion leapt off the stage and grabbed you.

The pair are a well-matched couple and as strong dramatically as they are technically. Smolen’s feet are to die for—strong, supple, magnificently arched, perfectly articulated when in motion. If there was one area in which the company dancers could as a whole could use a little brushing up, it is in the clarity of their footwork. Smolen’s feet are the sort you want to point (pointe?) to and say, “Yes! This is what you want your feet to look like!”

Though young—both became principals with largish companies while they were still in their teens—both are very complete dancers. In addition to technical finesse and dramatic ability, they both convey that sense of water rippling and flowing when they move so one step melts seamlessly into the next; as partners, they work in complete, harmonious unison. And Macmillan’s balcony scene is so lovely. He builds in some pyrotechnics for Romeo and some very showy lifts, but they never overshadow the dramatic subtext. This scene is truly a masterpiece interpreted by a master and mistress of their art.

Smolen solos in an Ashton masterpiece, “Five Brahms Waltzes in the Manner of Isadora Duncan.” Lynn Seymour, on whom Ashton created the ballet, hand-picked Smolen to learn it when she and Helimets were dancing with BRB. This piece may be hard to “get” if you love ballet but know little about modern, but it is a very accurate rendering of the style of one of the pioneers of modern dance. Movement is simple and fluid, and highly expressive of the music, which is played live onstage by pianist Sarah Tu. Smolen’s attack is likewise highly expressive. More than that, she creates an ambience: she draws you in till you feel like you are actually sitting in a salon somewhere in Europe 90 years ago watching Duncan dance her heart out, thereby breaking the restraints which she felt were miring classical ballet.

Two new kids on the block had pieces on the bill. Weber State alum Aki Sato used the movement palette of her “Mushi” to create “Tribal Instincts,” a women’s trio. “Mushi,” which was shown as part of both an Orchesis Dance Theatre concert and WSU’s Holocaust Commemoration program, looked at the Nanjing Massacre and its continuing effect on both the Chinese and Japanese people. Although much shorter, “Tribal Instincts” conveys the same sense of tortured tension. Alicia Glasmann, Kaitlin Poulter, Geneva Thompson, and Natalie Willes (there are two casts) demonstrated a fine grasp of the nuances of modern dance movement. The piece calls for both the “into the earth” sense of modern dance and a sense of the grotesque—there are spots where, for instance, hands contort into claws—and all four dancers hit every dramatic and technical challenge the piece called for.

And we may have a new Ashton or Macmillan in the offing in Millsap. His “Twisted Infatuation” came about as a result of a choreographic exercise in IBT’s summer intensive workshop last year. The quartet bowed publicly at Salt Lake City’s most recent First Night celebration. The dance for two couples has a dark emotional sub-text (according to Mason, it wasn’t until someone translated singer Isabelle Faes’ French lyrics that anyone knew the music Millsap used spoke about death).

Millsap avoided the trap many young choreographers fall into while working with two couples. Where many just have both couples dance the same steps, Millsap generated completely different movement phrases for both. Even when they are both doing a lift simultaneously, the shape is different. The piece is pure partnering; as in “Requiem,” there is a good deal of complexity to the movement, and the dancers (Millsap and Smith with Chelsea Keefer and Sarah Guyon) carried off even the quirkiest hand-and-body maneuvers with aplomb.

“Masquerade,” a piece for the entire company and friends choreographed by Mason, closed the show. Although light-hearted, the piece features some difficult solo variations. Millsap as the Satan character has astonishing ballon; a little better use of his feet and he would soar. He is partnered intermittently with Nielsen as Satanella. I have to admit I was looking for this to develop along the lines of the short boy/tall girl duet from another MacMillan piece, “Elite Syncopations,” but the two don’t connect quite enough for that to happen. Keefer as Columbine was a sparkling presence with a strong big jump; the piece itself proved an uplifting counterpoint to the heavier drama of the other pieces on the bill.


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