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Lindsay M.

Farr-Harper March 26, 2014 Dance 290 Dance Critique Spectrum Since ballets early development, both its dancers and choreographers have needed to adapt and sometimes conform to the changes that continually evolve from this highly technical dance form. Some aspects of ballet have been and always will be central to ballet technique and performance; however, over the past century, ballet has undergone drastic changes that require both experienced and nonexperienced ballet critics to wonder what technical and performance aspects are necessary to label a ballet dance as ballet. Utah Valley Universitys dance program recently collaborated to organize the performance Spectrum; the technique, strengths and weaknesses, and connection of the Utah Regional Ballet and Repertory Ballet Ensembles dancers as well as their use of costuming in their two contemporary ballet pieces addressed this growing question. First, ballet technique will always be of upmost importance when determining whether or not a more contemporary piece is stylistically ballet. Utah Regional Ballet performed an incredibly beautiful contemporary piece entitled Quiet Sense of Something Lost. The piece was so contemporary in nature that upon first observation, I thought it was being performed by the contemporary dance company at UVU; however, as I watched more closely, I recognized very distinct and specific ballet technique weaving the contemporary movements together: the beveling of and shaping of their feet in arabesque, flawless and flexible extensions, and the

occasional perfectly placed pass. The use of gesturing, spiraling of the torso, and successive movement may have appeared more contemporary in nature, but despite the occasional flexed foot or broken movement, technique was never divorced from their movement vocabulary. True ballet is technical in nature, even when it is contemporary in style. Technical aptitude and execution was only one of many strengths present among the Utah Regional Ballet dancers performance. Joni Tuttle McDonald, the choreographer of the piece, is a gifted ballet and contemporary dancer and choreographer. The unique movement vocabulary and choreographic elements of her contemporary ballet piece can be attributed to both her training with Alonzo Kings ballet company, LINES, as well as her time as a professional contemporary dance performer with the Northwest Dance Project. Her choreography, Quiet Sense of Something Lost, was a perfect combination of technicality and artistry, execution and performance. It was unique enough to be refreshing and interesting, yet technical enough to compliment the strength of her dancers. The performance portrayed dedication and commitment to the chosen contemporary dance style from both choreographer and performers. Repertory Ballet Ensembles contemporary ballet piece Just Before The Fall, on the other hand, seemed to lack many of the strengths that were so prominently apparent by the Utah Regional Ballets performance. Although the use of parallel and turned-in foot position, atypical gesturing, and variations of technical elements would have been more than acceptable due to the pieces contemporary style, they were executed in such a way that it was unclear if the dancers were supposed to be

altering technical ballet steps, or if they just had bad technique: foot and leg positioning was unclear, arm movement seemed uncommitted, and the emotional performance aspect of the piece was lacking. The choreography itself also seemed under-developed, although it was unclear whether this was due to the performers or the choreographer. It appeared as if they were trying to play it safe, committing to neither contemporary nor classical ballet; this neutrality made the piece feel superficial, like the choreographer and performers didnt have the tenacity to fully pledge themselves to an abstract contemporary style although attempting to pursue it. The uncertain manner in which they executed movement led their technique to look mediocre and performance to appear average. Sadly, their classical ballet finale en pointe at the end of the show proved that neither of these points were factual; however, their approach to their movement style and choreography made it appear so. The connection of performers with each other as well as with their audience is another important aspect of ballet, or any dance performance for that matter. The Utah Regional Ballet executed this beautifully in their performance. There were moments when the dancers were focused entirely on their emotional connection with each other and other moments when they broke the third wall to connect with their audience; however, one thing remained consistent, they were always connecting, whether that be with each other or with their audience, music, or movement. The Repertory Ballet Ensembles dancers on the other hand, seemed to be in their own world, neither connecting to nor being connected with. As an audience member, I felt separate and distanced from their performance; in fact, the

dancers appeared separated and distanced from each other as well. The addition of eye contact, focus, or emotional investment would have improved their performance greatly. One element of the two performances that was surprisingly not essential in order to be identified as a ballet performance was the costuming. For the past century, ballet dancers have almost always been associated with tutus, tights, and pointe or flat ballet shoes; for many, it would seem almost foreign to picture a ballet performance without what most audience members would consider these essential accessories. However, ballet has changed. In the first piece performed by the Utah Regional Ballet, pants, pedestrian street clothing, and black socks had replaced tights, tutus, and pointe or flat ballet shoes, yet the hair remained in a classic French twist. In the second piece performed by the Repertory Ballet Ensemble, tights and leotards were still worn; however, everyone, including the female ballerinas, were in flat ballet shoes instead of pointe shoes. As exhibited from the previous examples, ballet costuming can no longer be considered a fail-proof method of determining the dance style of a piece as many contemporary ballet and modern contemporary dancers are now wearing the same thing. In conclusion, evidence of strong classical ballet technique, commitment to choreographic style whether contemporary, classical, or a fusion ballet style, and connection to each other and to the audience are three dance and performance related elements that could constitute a ballet performance. Costumes and footwear may vary, particularly among contemporary ballet pieces; however, the skeletal

structure of technical ballet must remain. Thus, changes in ballet styles will continue to morph and evolve, but ballet as a dance style will always remain.