Salt Lake, a New Ballet in 3 Acts
nytheatre.com review by Debbie Hoodiman Beaudin
August 21, 2008
I like watching movement-based theatre. I like watching theatre that is less narrative and more physical, more expressive. I like watching a play and—instead of trying to put it together into a neat, coherent story—enjoying the meaning in a more visceral way. Salt Lake the Ballet, conceived and choreographed by Vicky Virgin, is perfect for having the kind of experience I describe above.
The play is broken into three acts, all centered around a character named Fleur de Sel/Vicky Virgin and her worship of salt. Virgin begins the show by getting the audience involved, surveying them about their use of salt ("Does anyone here put salt on grapefruit? It's delicious.") and begins the first dance to "Whole Lotta Love" by Led Zeppelin. As she pours the salt, rolls in the salt, licks the salt, spills the salt, both she and the stage become covered in the salt. After the Led Zeppelin song ends, an actress, Dawn Timm, pours water between two glasses in front of a mic so that the second "musical" accompaniment is the sound of that water. Timm assists Virgin later in the play as an interrogator, and there, her detached, monotone voice gives the scene an appropriately cold feeling.
Virgin also adds a text in order to transition between acts, a short poem in which she speaks of her love being beyond cure. The piece is pretty abstract, but the text does give the audience a bit of a hint of what it's all "about." She later uses text again in the interrogation mentioned above and in the end of the play in a monologue/poem about being "past cure" and comparing herself to cured meat, olives, cheese, all the foods that are cured by salt.
In Acts Two and Three, Virgin is joined on stage by three Salt Nymphs, three ballet dancers, Sarah Godbehere, Rie Ogura, and Mayuna Shimizu. With the entrance of the dancers, the show becomes more of what I (though not particularly experienced in ballet) expected to see in a ballet. The dancers' movements seem more classical than Virgin's, which seem modern. They dance solo and together, sometimes on the floor, sometimes spilling salt from different containers. By then end of the show, the dancers and Virgin are coated with salt.
Fritz Masten's costumes—corsets, tulle skirts, and white headpieces—create beautiful and creature-like characters for the salt nymphs. His white suit and lavender tie for Timm makes her character seem unemotional (appropriately), and the white sunglasses added humor. Virgin's yellow raincoat and lavender leotard/bathing suit seems appropriately sexy.
In Acts Two and Three, I enjoyed the music by Jelloslave and Jason Crigler, especially the sound of strings, pulling and pulling, changing tempo, complementing the movement of the dancers as they interact with the salt and with one another. It is also worth noting that the salt, when poured in the dim lights, designed by Susan Hamburger, can create a strip of white which looks pretty beautiful.
The show's climax has Virgin completely bathed/baptized in the salt with the three salt nymphs helping. Then—using the effect of video by Trent Harris—she disappears into a lake (Salt Lake, I assume), which has been on the screen the entire show, serving as a backdrop.
The risk of doing a ballet like Salt Lake is that it is so atypical that audience members may not be willing to go on the journey the ballet asks us to take. I do not think the show is for all audiences. (I'm not even sure whether it is "for" me.) I do know that I enjoyed the process of watching it and the challenge of making connections to what I was watching. Maybe that's enough.