Opus Colorado


The Colorado Ballet should be listed as a National Treasure

Every season, the Colorado Ballet has always performed an unrelated trilogy of one act ballets that, for the last several years, have represented some of the finest dancing of which the company is capable. Sometimes there are fewer people in the audience because these ballets do not necessarily represent a kingpin in the season, such as The Nutcracker does. However, I have noticed that those who attend this “trilogy” seem to be those who really love dance, and are dedicated to the Colorado Ballet. Therefore, these three ballets have always struck me as representing a “kingpin” performance.

Friday evening, February 22, the Colorado Ballet presented such an evening entitled Ballet MasterWorks. The three ballets that made up this splendid evening were Theme and Variations, with music by Tchaikovsky and choreography by Balanchine; In Pieces with music by Poul Ruders and choreography by Val Caniparoli; and the third ballet of the evening was The Rite of Spring, with music by Igor Stravinsky and choreography by Glen Tetley.

The Colorado Ballet opened the program with Theme and Variations by Tchaikovsky and Balanchine. This was an important performance because this was the first time that the Colorado Ballet has performed a work by George Balanchine in the last ten years. Many of you who read this article will know that George Balanchine, (1904-1983), was the most influential choreographer of classical ballet in the United States in the 20th century. He was the founder of the New York City Ballet, and he also pioneered the use of choreography for film and musical theater. In 1947, he choreographed the music from Tchaikovsky’s Orchestral Suite Nr. 3 in G, Opus 55. It has no plot or storyline, and is therefore an example of classical ballet technique that is so extraordinary that it has become an indispensable portion of ballet repertoire.

Friday evening, the principles in this ballet were the incomparable Maria Mosina and the likewise incomparable, Alexei Tyukov. The Demi-Soloist ladies were Dana Benton, Shelby Dyer, Asuka Sasaki, and Caitlin Valentine-Ellis. The Demi-Soloist men were Christopher Ellis, Jesse Marks, and Adam Still.

The only set decoration on stage for this ballet were chandeliers hanging from the stage ceiling, because the original production indicated that it was to be done in a “warmly lit ballroom.” The women wore tutus, and the men wore quasi-military costumes of the nineteenth century. Two things struck me immediately: the first was that I could not recall seeing a classical ballet that required such incredible strength on the part of the dancers; and, in addition, the orchestra sounded better than it ever has, and it has always been excellent. I am constantly mystified at how seemingly easy it is for all of the dancers in this company to exude such incredible grace along with such incredible strength and control over what they do. Of course, that control takes strength, and it takes incredible mental strength to do so many things at once: keep the beat, smile, watch the conductor, worry about the conductor watching you, and learning to rely on those who are around you on stage. But one of the pleasures in watching Mosina and Tyukov is their remarkable reliability. Their solos were startling because of their difficulty, and in watching these two dance, they reflected the joy of their profession. I think that in ballet, that joy is easier to perceive than it is in watching orchestra members or solo musicians perform. A dancer has to perform with their entire body. Musicians have to perform by holding instruments or touching an instrument, and I think that makes a difference. It is often difficult for me to write a review of a ballet simply because there are so many on stage that I can’t just list every individual. But, the Colorado Ballet has such depth of artistic ability, that all of the dancers should be named.

The pas de deux by Mosina and Tyukov was sensational, not only because they are so skilled, but because they have such incredible trust and knowledge of each other’s reliability. Mosina knows exactly how she will be caught by Tyukov, and she knows he has the ability to hold her over his head. Tyukov can rely upon Mosina to make a leap in exactly the right moment so that he can catch her with great ease. All of this seems so obvious, that it hardly seems worth mentioning. But, I do mention it because the choreography in this opening work was incredibly difficult, and the reliability that I have mentioned in the preceding sentences is what separates the Colorado Ballet from other dance companies around the country. I heard an individual comment on a photograph of the composer Carlisle Floyd, who was hard at work at his desk. This individual said, “Look at the expression on his face! He is really concentrating hard, and it looks as if composing is hard. Is writing an opera really difficult?” So, you see, that’s why I sometimes feel compelled to mention the obvious.

The orchestra was superb in Theme and Variations. There is a marvelous violin solo in Tchaikovsky’s work and it was beautifully done by Lydia Sviatlovskaya.

Another reason that the house should have been full Friday evening was the World Premiere of the second ballet of the evening, In Pieces, choreographed by Val Caniparoli, who is the choreographer for the San Francisco Ballet. The music which Caniparoli used for this ballet is by Poul Ruders: his Concerto in Pieces “Purcell Variations” (1994-95).

I will quote briefly from the websites of Caniparoli and Ruders:

“Born in Renton, Washington, Mr. Caniparoli opted for a professional dance career after studying music and theatre at Washington State University. In 1972, he received a Ford Foundation Scholarship to attend San Francisco Ballet School. He performed with San Francisco Opera Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet in 1973. He continues to perform with the Company as a principal character dancer.

“He has contributed to the repertories of more than thirty-five dance companies, including Pacific Northwest Ballet, Boston Ballet, Northern Ballet Theatre, Pennsylvania Ballet, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Ballet West (Resident Choreographer 1993-97), Washington Ballet, Israel Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, Singapore Dance Theatre, Atlanta Ballet, State Theatre Ballet of South Africa, Louisville Ballet and Tulsa Ballet, where he has been resident choreographer since 2001. When Boston Ballet danced the company premiere of Mr. Caniparoli’s full-length Lady of the Camellias in 2004, the critic for the Boston Herald wrote, ‘Why have we had to wait so long to see a ballet by this gifted choreographer?’”

And now, Poul Ruders:

“Poul Ruders was born in Ringsted, Denmark, on March 27, 1949. His early studies in piano and organ led eventually to studies in orchestration with the Danish composer Karl Aage Rasmussen. Ruders’s first compositions date from the mid-60s. Ruders regards his own compositional development as a gradual one, with his true voice emerging with the chamber concerto, Four Compositions, of 1980. Writing about Ruders, the English critic Stephen Johnson states: ‘He can be gloriously, explosively extrovert one minute-withdrawn, haunted, intently inward-looking the next. Super-abundant high spirits alternate with pained, almost expressionistic lyricism; simplicity and directness with astringent irony.’

“Poul Ruders has created a large body of music ranging from opera and orchestral works through chamber, vocal and solo music. In recent years, performances of his work on both sides of the Atlantic and in such distant locals as China, Japan and Russia have taken place with increasing regularity. With the overwhelming success of his second opera, The Handmaid’s Tale (1996-98), produced in Copenhagen (2000), Ruders became even more in demand, with commissions coming in rapid succession from The Berlin Philharmonic, The New York Philharmonic, The BBC Symphony Orchestra, and from The Royal Danish Opera. Recent performances include productions of The Handmaid’s Tale in Toronto and London, and orchestral premieres and performances in Berlin, New York and London.”

The music that Caniparoli chose is a set of variations on themes of the English composer, Purcell. However, Ruders variations began very exuberantly with a full orchestra performing at a good solid forte. It was instant excitement. It has been a long time since I have seen a ballet choreographed with such vigorous and rapid movements. The dancers in this terrific ballet were Caitlin Valentine-Ellis, Dmitry Trubchanov, Chandra Kuykendall, Jesse Marks, Sharon Wehner, and Christopher Ellis. The costumes were avant-garde: the danseuses wore smoky blue tights with transparent “petals” as skirts. The danseurs wore smoky gray tights with much smaller “petals.” This added to the aspect of being in a totally new world. The choreography was very rapid and incredibly energetic, but it was so imaginative that it almost defies description. And, I might add, that the choreography was absolutely beautiful. So much of that beauty was the result of the grace added to these very energetic movements. In the press release announcing this concert, Artistic Director Gil Boggs said, and I quote, “These three works in one evening with a live orchestra performance will make for a very powerful night of dance and music, and will leave the audience in awe.” Truthfully, that is an understatement. I would classify this style of choreography as abstract expressionist, but to fully fit that definition may be impossible, just as architecture as designated in the abstract expressionist style is impossible, because it could not be used by human beings. But the choreography was so creative and so imaginative, and the music wonderfully chosen by the choreographer and written by the composer, and it seems new, that it was hard to classify. I assure you that this was not “modern dance.” It was ballet in its purest form. The orchestra was sensational, and there was some marvelous saxophone solo and an equally marvelous tuba solo. I am sure that it was Art Bouton performing the saxophone solo and Michael Allen performing on the tuba. Both were incredibly mellifluous.

The third ballet Friday evening was the legendary Le Sacre du Printemps, or The Rite of Spring, by Igor Stravinsky. The choreography was done by Glen Tetley. Everyone, I am sure, is familiar with the legendary story of the near riot that this ballet caused in 1913 at its Paris premiere. The French audience was simply not accustomed to Stravinsky’s music, nor was it accustomed to the “risqué” choreography that Stravinsky required. Even Stravinsky’s good friend, Claude Debussy, seemed to be nonplussed. The musicologist, who was a friend of both, Louis Laloy, wrote of a meeting between Stravinsky and Debussy at Debussy’s house when the two sat down at the piano to play through a forehand arrangement of Stravinsky’s ballet. Debussy played the bass while Stravinsky played the upper register. These two giant composers had greeted each other at the beginning of the afternoon with hugs and handshakes, but after reading through the score, Debussy could do nothing but continually stare at the score, dumbfounded.

This is such an historic work in so many respects, that it is almost embarrassing to admit that I have never seen it before, but this was the first time. I found myself wondering what it would be like to sit there in 1913. The choreography was originally done by Vaslav Nijinsky, and it was long thought to have been lost, but it was recently reconstructed by the Joffrey Ballet. My initial reaction to Glen Tetley’s choreography, and it was sustained throughout the entire ballet, is that this is a beautiful work. Glen Tetley’s choreography was remarkable and very satisfying, and like the ballet before it, In Pieces, very energetic.

In the program notes, there was a quote from Glen Tetley which may be of help to those who are unfamiliar with this ballet. I will quote verbatim:

“Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is earth music of profoundly moving power. It speaks to me not only of pagan Russia, but our ancestral beginnings of Myth and Belief. When seasons changed, when earth seemed to die without a leaf to survive, man heaped the blame on a single person, a chosen victim who was killed and then buried within the earth, ritually mourned and then miraculously reborn, bringing the gift of life to earth. T.S. Eliot in his poem, Gerontion, in one line captures this magic moment, “and in the spring comes ‘Christ the Tiger’.”

The Chosen One was danced by Adam Still; Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov danced the Earth Mother and Earth Father. Casey Dalton and Asoka Sasaki with a female soloists, and Jesse marks and Kevin Gaël Thomas were the male soloists.

I don’t think I have ever seen Adam still dance so well: he was not only sensational in his dancing, but in his expressivity as well. Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov were absolutely perfect. Their pas de deux was overwhelming in its tenderness. And, of course, Dalton, Sasaki, and Marks and Thomas were outstanding.

As I left the Ellie Caulkins Theatre, I was convinced that this was one of the best productions I have ever seen from the Colorado Ballet. Then I remember Echoing of Trumpets, Dracula, Romeo and Juliet, and, you see how many I have mentioned already. This makes obvious that in The Colorado Ballet, we have a treasure that has set the standard for the arts not only in Denver, but for the country as well. The Colorado Ballet is that good, and we must never take them for granted.

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