Opus Colorado


The Colorado Ballet leaves no doubt: They are one of the best in the United States

Friday evening, February 20, the Colorado Ballet gave one of its most brilliant performances. It was brilliant not only because the dancers are so good and the orchestra so fine, but because the Ballet Masterworks series is always just that: usually three short ballets – roughly 20 to 25 minutes each – are very carefully chosen by Artistic Director Gil Boggs. They are truly masterworks. They can carry that label because the choreography is excellent and because the music is magnificent as well.

The opening work was Concerto Barocco choreographed by George Balanchine with music by Johann Sebastian Bach. Balanchine was an excellent musician as well as a choreographer and dancer, and he had the reputation of being a remarkable pianist. He had extensive courses in music when he was in school. When he conceived this work, which uses the music from Bach’s Concerto in D minor for Two Violins, he was quoted as saying, “if the dance designer sees in the development of classical dancing a counterpart in the development of music and has studied them both, he will derive continual inspiration from great scores.” I came away from the performance Friday evening secure in my realization that Gil Boggs is also an accomplished musician, and agrees with the ethos expressed by Balanchine. For those of you who are surprised by the use of Bach’s music for a ballet, realize this: the one feature of every single piece that Bach wrote that stands out above all else is an underlying rhythmic pulse. And, it is that pulse that Balanchine took advantage of. Certainly, there is much in Bach’s music to take advantage of: the counterpoint, incredible grace, and continual forward movement. I also hasten to point out that Gil Boggs is aware of the fact that Maestro Adam Flatt, who conducts the ballet orchestra, has had a profound effect on the quality of this orchestra. Lydia Sviatlovskaya and Leslie Sawyer where the violin soloists for this double concerto. They were superb.

I was astounded by the very opening of this work, because the minute the curtain was up the orchestra and the dancers began their work; there was no hesitation. It was absolutely together as the curtain reached its zenith. It truly seemed to me as if Maestro Flatt was watching the curtain, and, of course, all of the dancers on stage had their eyes glued to Maestro Flatt. It had a profound effect on the audience. It was immediately obvious that Balanchine felt a remarkable kinship with the music, and the dancers on stage seem to take particular joy in dancing to his choreography. The most astounding feature of their dancing came in the last movement, where Bach wrote many 16th note passages. The dancers were required to use a step which seemed to me to be a combination of a frappé and a bourée. I have never seen that step before, and I’m quite sure that it has a name, but it was incredibly difficult and every dancer on stage was precisely together with the orchestra and with each other. It was a breathtaking demonstration of the ability of these dancers. However, truly, the most amazing aspect of the performance of this work was the fact that Balanchine’s choreography, and the skill of the dancers on stage, made Bach’s wonderful double concerto truly fit ballet. It was as if Bach had written this work as a ballet. I am sure that he would be amazed if he could have seen this performance.

Sharon Wehner, Maria Mosina, and Alexei Tyukov, were truly sensational. The dancers in the core, Morgan Buchanan, Casey Dalton, Emily Dixon, Tracy Jones, Fernanda Oliveira, Alexandra Pullen, Emily Speed, and Melissa Zoebisch were marvelous. All of these dancers “fit” the choreography to the extent that I cannot imagine a performance using any other dancers.

The second ballet on this program of three was a work entitled In Pieces, which was given the world premiere by the Colorado Ballet on February 22, 2013. The title comes from a work entitled Concerto in Pieces by Danish composer, Poul Ruders (b. 1949). The work was commissioned by the BBC for the 300th year of the death of English composer Henry Purcell, and the 50th anniversary of Benjamin Britten’s Young Persons’ Guide to the Orchestra. The choreographer of this ballet is Val Caniparoli who, in an interview that is still available on the Colorado Ballet’s website, states that he specifically wanted the dancers in the Colorado Ballet to give the world premiere of this work. That should say something about the skill and artistic ability of these dancers, as well as the entire organization. Caniparoli, in the interview, states that he was very excited by the ability of these dancers, as well as having a live ballet orchestra at his disposal. He admired the versatility of these dancers because they are always “willing to try something new and they love challenges.” He also had a great affection for the orchestra’s ability.

From the outset, it was very clear that this is an incredibly difficult ballet. The rhythm is very complicated, and quite often the tempos, at least to me, seemed to be extreme. Asuka Sasaki, Domenico Luciano, Chandra Kuykendall, Jesse Marks, Sharon Wehner, and Christopher Moulton, were the soloists in this ballet, and I was left speechless (again) by their remarkable ability. The music itself has many instances wherein I was reminded of John Cage. There was what I can only describe as thorough use of percussion instruments in this ballet, which is one of the reasons I was drawn to the comparison with Cage. Douglas Walter, Scott Higgins, Mark Foster, Paul Milliken, and Carl Dixon are the percussionists in the Colorado Ballet Orchestra, and they are excellent. In addition, there was a marvelous tuba solo, and Michael Allen came wonderfully close to making the tuba sound like a cello.

The music and the choreography in this work were incredibly dramatic. The movements and steps that the dancers were required to make were quite new to me, and I am quite sure that Caniparoli invented them out of necessity in order to fulfill his spectacular concept of the music. And, there again, I have mentioned a choreographers concept of movement that the music requires. Many audience members who are not totally familiar with ballet and all of its artistic intricacies are under the impression that a choreographer somehow separates movement from the music, and only picks the music once he or she has the choreography in mind. I hasten to point out that in the mind of a choreographer, the movement and the music cannot be separated: they are conceived simultaneously. I encourage all of you to go to the Colorado Ballet website and listen to the interview with Caniparoli. It will shed much light on the process of such a complicated procedure. It also shows how much respect Val Caniparoli has for the Colorado Ballet.

Following In Pieces, the Colorado Ballet performed Fancy Free, choreographed by Jerome Robbins to the music of Leonard Bernstein. The set design for this work was absolutely terrific. One could easily tell that it was in the heart of New York City, for that is where this short ballet takes place: on a hot summer evening in 1944, with three sailors looking for relief from their military duty. As a matter of fact, this work was premiered on April 18, 1944. It concerns three sailors who find themselves in a pickle because they meet only two girls. There is a marvelous pas de deux which was danced by Dana Benton and Francisco Estevez. But when I mention them, you must realize that Kevin Gaël Thomas, Jesse Marks, and Shelby Dyer were excellent as well. It is that fact that sets this ballet company so far above many others that I have seen. I have stated many times, and it is my sincere belief, that every member of this ballet company is a truly fine artist. In the plot of this ballet. Each of the sailors performs a solo dance to attract one of the two girls they have met. The girls can’t decide who they wish to pair up with, so the three sailors promptly engage in a fight. While they are fighting the two girls disappear. The three sailors eventually noticed this, renew their friendship with another drink, and leave the bar for the sidewalk. There, they promptly meet another beautiful girl, danced by Tracy Jones, and they follow her with great enthusiasm.

Estevez, Thomas, Marks, Dyer, and Benton, are not only truly fine ballet artists, they are skilled actors as well, and they injected this ballet with humor as well as a certain amount of pathos. That fact always seems to surprise many individuals who are not familiar with ballet, as they seem to be unaware that a ballet can express so many different emotions.

This ballet company approaches every single production as if it were a theatrical play set to music with incredibly thought out and descriptive movement. Gil Boggs, Adam Flatt, Catherine Sailer, along with Sandra Brown and Lorita Travaglia, have changed this Colorado Ballet into a remarkable artistic organization by demonstrating to the dancers and the musicians that artistry and dedication are rewarded. It is clear that all of the dancers are artists just as all of the orchestra member are artists, and they have the support of the leadership and the Board.

There was a standing ovation Friday night by an audience that was too small. Certainly, many people stayed home in fear of the weather, but those who stayed home are the ones who lost the advantage of seeing three honest Masterworks of Ballet.



Colorado Ballet: The most wonderful “Nutcracker” I have seen.

Saturday evening, November 29, I attended the Colorado Ballet’s production of Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. The many times that I have seen it previously includes productions by ballet companies at different universities and professional ballet companies in the Midwest and East Coast. Honestly, I do not recall how many times I have seen this ballet, but I can tell you that the performance I saw Saturday evening was absolutely the best I have ever seen performed. You readers who have not seen this ballet must understand that the reason for its popularity is the fact that it is one of Tchaikovsky’s best ballets, and one of the best ballets ever written. The orchestra score is sensational. Also, realize that Tchaikovsky was one of the greatest ballet composers, and there are many moments in his symphonies where it seems as if he had ballet in mind. Its popularity does not diminish his art, and when it is performed by such an outstanding ballet company, Tchaikovsky’s art is ensured.

Colorado Ballet has always done a superb job with this seasonal offering, but it truly seems to be getting better and better over the years. Saturday evening’s performance clearly gave the impression that this was the first time they had ever done it. Why? Because everyone on stage and in the orchestra pit seemed to be thoroughly excited, and in the grasp of the music and the choreography, which was written by Martin Fredmann and Colorado Ballet’s own Sandra Brown. In addition, the staging, which is so incredibly significant, was completed by Lorita Travaglia and Sandra Brown.

It is wonderful to see this ballet every year because Maestro Gil Boggs, the Artistic Director of the Colorado Ballet, re-casts the performance from year-to-year. Each dancer has his or her own specific take on the personality of the characters that they are depicting in E.T.A. Hoffman’s story. In Saturday evening’s performance, Dana Benton danced the role of Clara, and Jesse Marks danced the role of the Nutcracker Prince. Both of them were superb. I might add with all sincerity that Gregory K. Gonzales was absolutely perfect in every way in his role of Drosselmeyer, the mysterious, but kind, owner of the toyshop who gives Clara the Nutcracker for a Christmas present at the Christmas party.

After the Christmas party, Clara seems to fall asleep, but she is under the spell of Herr Drosselmeyer, who makes the Christmas tree grow to tremendous size along with all the presents beneath it (In the original E.T.A. Hoffman story, it is Clara who shrinks so that she becomes the same size as the Nutcracker.). The Nutcracker, now life-size, comes to life with his contingent of soldiers. They do battle with the mice, and Clara saves the day when she distracts the Mouse King long enough for the Nutcracker to win the battle. The Nutcracker then becomes a handsome prince who takes Clara on a fabulous journey. The pas de deux which Dana Benton and Jesse Marks performed at the end of the Act I was stunning, as were the Snowflakes with whom they danced.

Throughout the entire ballet, the Colorado Ballet Orchestra reflected the same excitement and wonderful precision as the dancers on stage. The orchestral part has always struck me as being incredibly difficult, but you must understand that in Maestro Adam Flatt and Associate Conductor Maestra Catherine Sailer the orchestra has leadership that they willingly respond to in every way because of their leaders’ artistry. Saturday night, they gave Maestro Flatt everything he asked for. Most notable was the incredible dynamic range. There were many times when the orchestra was so soft that one had to be intent to listen, and I guarantee you that added to the expressiveness of the performance on stage as well as in the pit.

Act II takes place in the Kingdom of the Sugarplum Fairy where Clara and her Prince are entertained by dancers from throughout the kingdom. Spanish dancers, Arabian dancers, a Chinese dancer with his Dragon, Marzipan, Russian, Dew Drop, Flowers, and, of course, Mother Ginger.

For those of you who have not seen this ballet, Act II contains some of the most difficult dancing in the ballet. Tracy Jones and Kevin Wilson as the Spanish dancers were remarkable in their sensuality. Chandra Kuykendall and Domenico Luciano, the Arabians, were absolutely superb. And I am still stunned at the physical strength that both of these dancers have. Francisco Estevez seemed to really be enjoying himself in his role of the Chinese Dancer, and, even though his role was one of humor, he exhibited an abundance of grace. Sean Omandam, Kevin Gaël Thomas, and Ryan Lee were spectacular as the Russian dancers who dance the Trepak. I began to wonder at the length of practice time their performance took. This has to be one of the most difficult dances in the ballet, if not the most popular. Asuka Sasaki was grace personified as Dew Drop.

Notice that I used the word grace. That word is seldom used in combination with the word precision, but that is what personified the entire performance. Even the humorous Mother Ginger had grace, and, of course, all of the Flowers, Sugarplum Attendants, Angels, and the Polichinelles.

Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov performed some of the most beautiful dancing I have ever seen them accomplish. Their pas de deux was so remarkably sensitive emotionally that it took my breath away. In addition, it demonstrated remarkable trust (which all ballet dancers must have) in each other’s ability and strength. For example, when Mosina stood in the palms of Tyukov’s hands, which he was holding at his waist, there was never a hesitation or waiver on either dancer’s part. They simply did it with remarkable grace and aplomb. Yes, I know that’s what ballet dancers are supposed to do, and, that is another aspect that makes ballet dancing so remarkably difficult. But the audience was left breathless. And please include me.

I have seen many reviews of The Nutcracker in which it is described as “family entertainment” rather than an adult ballet or a ballet for children. Describing The Nutcracker in that manner seems, to me, at least, to cheapen its value as a work of art. It also denigrates its difficulty in performance. There is absolutely nothing easy in this ballet for the dancers, or for the orchestra, or for the conductor who must constantly be vigilant to make sure that he is taking the proper tempo as discussed with the dancers during rehearsal. Maestro Adam Flatt must follow their every move with his baton, and he must never let the smallest amount of ego interrupt his collaboration with the dancers on stage. Saturday evening the collaboration between the orchestra and the dancers was absolutely seamless. I hasten to point out that this seamlessness did not surprise me at all. Everyone involved is a consummate artist.

That is what makes The Nutcracker, especially performed by the Colorado Ballet, such a wonderful artistic experience.

Please take a look at all of the remaining performances of this great ballet. Surely, you can attend one.

Saturday, November 29, 2014 at 1 p.m.
Saturday, November 29, 2014 at 6:30 p.m.
Sunday, November 30, 2014 at 1 p.m.
Saturday, December 6, 2014 at 1 p.m.
Sunday, December 7, 2014 at 1 p.m.
Thursday, December 11, 2014 at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, December 12, 2014 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, December 13, 2014 at 1 p.m.
Saturday, December 13, 2014 at 6:30 p.m.
Sunday, December 14, 2014 at 1 p.m.
Sunday, December 14, 2014 at 6:30 p.m.
Thursday, December 18, 2014 at 7:30 p.m.
Friday, December 19, 2014 at 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, December 20, 2014 at 1 p.m.
Saturday, December 20, 2014 at 6:30 p.m.
Sunday, December 21, 2014 at 1 p.m.
Sunday, December 21, 2014 at 6:30 p.m.
Monday, December 22, 2014 at 6:30 p.m.
Tuesday, December 23, 2014 at 1 p.m.
Wednesday, December 24, 2014 at 1 p.m.
Friday, December 26, 2014 at 1 p.m.



Terrifying evil and sublime artistry: Colorado Ballet’s Dracula

Halloween night, Friday, I attended the opening performance of the Colorado Ballet production of Dracula. As artistic director, Gil Boggs, states in the program, this is one of the most “theatrical ballets ever performed by the Colorado Ballet.” It certainly is, and you readers must understand that this is not a ballet for young children. The reason for that is that the dancers are so expressive in their presentation of fear, mystery, loathing, and gruesome characterizations that it would give them nightmares for months. This is not just a fun, scary night. It is an adult ballet done in all seriousness, and presented in a very serious way.

I have seen this ballet performed by this fine organization previously to this performance, but this was, by far, the best performance of Dracula that the Colorado Ballet has given. It was completely driven by energy: not just the dancing, but the musical score as well. The Colorado Ballet Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Adam Flatt, was just as driven as were the dancers.

The choreography for this ballet was done by Michael Pink who certainly has to be one of the finest choreographers today. I will quote briefly from the bio statement on his website:

“Michael Pink is an internationally acclaimed Choreographer and Artistic Director.

“Michael began his tenure as Artistic Director of Milwaukee Ballet Company in December of 2002. Since that time, he has established himself as a prominent member of the Milwaukee arts community, demonstrating his commitment to the future of dance through new work, education and collaboration. He is perhaps best known for his creation of full-length narrative dance works Dracula, The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, Giselle 1943, Don Quixote, The Sleeping Beauty, Coppelia, Cinderella, Romeo & Juliet, Peter Pan and La Bohème. His love of the theatre and music is evident in all his work, he believes in exploring the theatrical values of his work through all elements of the production. His work has a wide audience appeal and helps foster a greater understanding and appreciation of dance.

“His talent for choreography was first noted and encouraged by Dame Ninette de Valois and Sir Frederick Ashton. His early choreographic work won him first place in the inaugural Ursula Moreton Choreographic Competition He was invited by Sir Frederick Ashton to assist in choreographing the Anacat Fashion Show for HRH Princess Margaret. He left the Royal Ballet School in 1975 after being invited to attend the first Gulbenkian Choreographic Summer Program as one of eight choreographers and composers, lead by Glen Tetley, Mary Hicks and Dame Peggy van Praggh.

“Michael has established himself as an International Teacher with, amongst other companies the Norwegian National Ballet, Aterballetto, Balleto di Toscanna Italy, The Hartford Ballet U.S.A. Rozas Dance Company, London Contemporary Dance Company, Ballet Rambert, The White Oaks Dance Project, English National Ballet, Phoenix Dance Company and London City Ballet.”

The program notes state that Michael Pink often relies upon the English composer, Philip Feeney, to provide the musical score for his ballets. The production of Dracula certainly makes that clear simply because the choreography and the music fit so closely together that they seem to be inseparable. It is difficult to imagine which came first: the energy of the choreography, or the energy of the musical score.

I will quote briefly from Feeney’s biography:

“Composer and Pianist, Philip Feeney (b.1954), studied composition at the University of Cambridge with Robin Holloway and Hugh Wood, and later with Franco Donatoni in Rome at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia. He is best known for his work in dance, which he first encountered in Italy and has since worked with many companies, including Northern Ballet Theatre, Rambert Dance Company, the White Oak Project and the Martha Graham Company. He has collaborated with many choreographers including Michael Pink, Didy Veldman, Michael Keegan-Dolan, Derek Williams, David Nixon, Adam Cooper and Sara Matthews, and his works have been performed by dance companies as diverse as Northern Ballet Theatre, Rambert Dance Company, Cullberg Ballet, Boston Ballet, Fabulous Beast, Scottish Dance Theatre, in addition to more than forty works for Ballet Central.

“Clearly inspired by image and movement, Feeney’s output is remarkable, apart from anything else, for its range and scope. Extending from full-length orchestral ballet scores to electro-acoustic soundscapes, even to jazz and hip hop scores, his works exhibit a capacity for making style work for him, by reinventing past styles in a post-modern way. For him, the crucial thing is that music for dance needs to make sense as pure music at all times. It needs to have that kinetic musicality and parallel logic that makes one feel that the music is right, and that it is the only possible music that could work for that particular choreography.

“From 1991-95 he lectured in composition at Reading University. He is currently composer in residence for Ballet Central and has been a longstanding accompanist at the London Contemporary Dance School.”

The momentum that is provided by Feeney’s musical score simply must be heard to be believed. It is extremely difficult for the orchestra, and that difficulty never goes away. The orchestra successfully conveys the impression that they are consumed by the energy of the choreography, and it is remarkable to watch the mutual support that the dancers and orchestra share. This kind of interchange is only possible if both the dancers and the orchestra share a common artistic goal, and that is possible only if everyone concerned is an artist. And, that is but one of the features that places this dance company at such a very high level.

Friday evening, Domenico Luciano danced Dracula. In this role, he was icy and cold and so dreadfully menacing that one never knew what was coming next. He toyed with his victims in the ballet, pretending to give them freedom, but always pulling them back into the hell that he created. He was very convincing as he slithered through the railing of a staircase and across the stage. He provided a palpable conflict between his own evil world, and the world of Harker and Mina which was one of purity and innocence.

Chandra Kuykendall, one of his victims, generated one of her finest roles as Lucy, and her dancing Friday evening was one of the finest performances I have seen her give. Anguished and lost to Dracula’s power, eternally doomed because of Dracula’s bite, she was constantly torn between wishing to escape from him and always being pulled back to him by his magnetic force. In a terrifying scene, she is covered with blood as she lures a small child to her death.

Jesse Marks danced the role of Renfield, a character whose complete insanity drives him to lick blood from the floor and consume flies and spiders. As long as he maintains his allegiance to Dracula, Dracula will keep him fed with the insects he constantly devours. Marks was incredibly and horrifyingly convincing in this role. He danced a beautiful pas de deux with Maria Mosina, while he was in a straitjacket, rolling Mina off his back and around his body without the use of his arms. He tries so desperately hard to warn Mina of the evils of Dracula, and yet he is tied by Dracula’s spell.

Maria Mosina danced the role of Mina, and her dramatic skill and acting ability gave this character a wonderful sympathetic and compassionate persona, which emphasized the evilness of Domenico Luciano’s portrayal of Dracula. Luciano and Mosina both displayed an incredible strength as well as grace in their performance. Viacheslav Buchkovskiy, as Harker, created the same persona of innocence in the role of Mina’s husband.

I have described these characters in this way, because the dancers in this company were so skilled in portraying the essence of each of them. It was terrifying to see Chandra Kuykendall crawling backwards on the stage to hide under rocks with smoke billowing from them. It was terrifying to see how Dracula toyed constantly with his victims. And the remarkable acting ability of Gregory K. Gonzales made it appear that he was the only clearheaded individual on the stage. He knew, without a doubt, how to defeat Dracula, and that knowledge kept him from being consumed by Dracula’s power.

In Act III, there is a terrifying scene in which the doors of the burial vaults of the Undead open at the sound of Dracula’s beating heart, and they crawl from their crypts, covered with the blood of Renfield who has been sacrificed by Dracula. I might add, that during the curtain call at the end of the ballet, the Undead adhered to their persona.

Lorita Travaglia directed this production and David Grill provided the lighting. It is clear that both of these individuals shared an obvious agreement as to how this production should be done. And I must say that Gil Boggs, the Artistic Director of the Colorado Ballet, has expanded (demanded?) the dancers dramatic and theatrical ability which has resulted in a ballet company whose dancers are the most expressive I have seen. And again, I feel stymied by the fact that there is simply not room enough to list every dancer by name. But the Villagers, both male and female, were absolutely astounding in the first act as they danced their sacrificial dance that would protect them from the dangers of All Souls Night. It always astounds me that many of the dancers in this ballet company can dance more than one role in one performance, for example Morgan Buchanan dances the role of a Female Villager, a Distraught Woman, a Well-To-Do Lady, and one of the Female Undead. To me, that seems like running from section to section in an orchestra, and playing a different instrument in each movement of, for example, a Mozart Symphony.

As I mentioned above, the Colorado Ballet Orchestra was sensational. Adam Flatt demands such perfection from the orchestra, and the orchestra seems to be so eager to provide that for the dancers. Of course, that’s what a ballet orchestra supposed do, but, in this case, it seems to be done so unhesitatingly and so thoroughly that in the performance, I have never been overly conscious of orchestral entrances: the support is always there for the dancers; it is never misplaced, and it is supremely expressive.

I might add that the sets in this ballet were extremely well done. I could not find in the program if the sets were owned by the Colorado Ballet or not, but I hope they are, for this ballet company now has the room in their new building to store and maintain sets.

Dracula will be performed tonight, Saturday, and tomorrow on Sunday. You must to go see this performance. You will be amazed at how expressive a ballet can be, and how your attention will be held by these wonderful dancers who possess such incredible acting ability.



Artistry and hilarity: The Colorado Ballet’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Friday evening, September 26, I attended the opening night of the Colorado Ballet’s performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the music of Felix Mendelssohn. This is a marvelous ballet that combines humor, love, and magic spells, in one of the most appealing ballet’s ever created. The choreography is by Christopher Wheeldon (George Balanchine also choreographed this ballet), and it is important to note that the Colorado Ballet gave the World Premiere of Wheeldon’s choreography when they performed this in 1997. Christopher Wheeldon (b. 1973) is an English choreographer who began his career with the Royal Ballet in London in 1991. In 1993 he joined the New York City Ballet and was named a soloist in 1998, all the while writing choreography. Notice the dates involved. Wheeldon was only 24 when he choreographed this ballet. Also, consider that when Felix Mendelssohn wrote his famous overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which became one of the most famous overtures ever written, he was only 17 years of age.

Several years ago, I attended a performance of this ballet with Balanchine’s choreography. I must say that I prefer Wheeldon’s choreography, because it lends itself more easily to the spirit of Shakespeare’s play, even though some aspects of the original play were not used by Wheeldon.

The performance Friday evening certainly made me sit up and take notice – once again – that this ballet company is comprised of some of the most expressive dancers that I have seen. The rampant confusion caused by the character Puck, danced by Sean Omandam, in this ballet was hilarious. It was truly refreshing to hear the audience respond at the humor in this ballet, because many individuals go to the ballet and sit there stone-faced, afraid to laugh at such an artistic event. Watching brave Sean Omandam fly through the air, suspended by wires attached to the flying machine in the ceiling of the stage, was a treat in itself as he dispensed his fairy dust and magic spells to all the creatures below him. Another performance that caught my eye Friday evening was Asuka Sasaki who danced Peaseblossom, an attendant to Queen Titania. She was positively liquid on stage, and very expressive.

There is a remarkable complexity to the plot of this story. Hermia, danced by Dana Benton, is in love with Lysander, who was danced by Viacheslav Buchkovskiy. However, Demetrius, danced by Jesse Marks is in love with Hermia, but, of course, she does not return his feelings. Helena, danced by Sharon Wehner is in love with Demetrius, and she follows him constantly as he tries to chase her away. Hermia and Helena have a rousing fight as they chase each other across the stage. In the end, Puck waits until everyone is asleep, then places a magic flower on the lovers’ eyes. They wake up, and discover that all is well: Demetrius loves only Helena, and Hermia loves only Lysander. The second act of this ballet is primarily the double wedding of Hermia and Lysander, and Demetrius and Helena. There is far more actual dance in this act then there is a dramatic acting.

It was quite something to see the ever-graceful Maria Mosina, who danced Titania, fall in love with Bottom even though he has been turned into a donkey. She displayed such a wonderfully comic nature in her relationship with Bottom, portrayed by Gregory K. Gonzales. Again, Puck has caused this problem, but he comes to the rescue and releases Bottom from his spell, and Queen Titania falls back in love with King Oberon who is danced by Alexei Tyukov. Much of the humor of the story comes from the fact that it is so confusing, and even the dancers as part of their character, portray the confusion amongst themselves. The acting ability of the dancers was absolutely outstanding.

In one scene, Queen Titania, danced by Maria Mosina, is sung to sleep by the fairies, the Colorado Children’s Chorale was augmented by sopranos Amanda Balestrieri, and Ana Spadoni. I must say that these two fine sopranos seemed to be just as excited to perform in the ballet as the youngsters who comprised the Children’s Chorale. The young people from the Colorado Ballet Academy were delightful and charming to watch. Saige Ju, who performed as the Changeling attendant to Queen Titania was absolutely perfect. All of the young people had such remarkable stage presence that they all seem to be headed for a career in ballet.

The dancers in Friday’s performance, Alexei Tyukov, Sharon Wehner, Dana Benton, Jesse Marks, Viacheslav Buchkovskiy, Domenico Luciano, Asuka Sasaki, and Shelby Dyer were all superb. But in listing these names, I have run up against an enormous problem: there is not room in this article to name everyone who appeared on stage. Gil Boggs, Sandra Brown, and Lorita Travaglia have put together a wonderful assemblage of dancers. In Friday’s performance, it was so obvious that a new spirit has taken over the Colorado Ballet.

The costumes were excellent. Many came from the Boston Ballet Company as well as the Orlando Ballet. The set came from Ballet West and was designed by Adam Skulte.

Even the Colorado Ballet Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Adam Flatt, seemed to be inspired by a new spirit. There was a wonderful spontaneity and precision in Friday’s performance, particularly in the dynamic range demonstrated by the musicians. Both Flatt, and Associate Conductor, Catherine Sailer, have had a profound impact on the Colorado Ballet Orchestra. Friday evening there was a new spark from the orchestra which was clearly evident to the audience.

The leadership that Gil Boggs has shown as Artistic Director, and the artistic ability of all of the dancers, has been rewarded by the awareness and support of the Board of Directors. Their new building on Santa Fe Street is a reflection of the fact that the Colorado Ballet’s evolution has been irrevocable in every artistic respect, and that this evolution has resulted in a national standing. The new building has eight studios, two of which are the size of the Ellie Caulkins’ stage. It has facilities for the Academy students to do their school work with tutors available, so that they may be immersed in ballet as they do their studies. There is a Black Box Theater to provide an extra dimension of performance. And, there is also adequate office space for the staff, and much, much more. As I have said before, the Colorado Ballet has become a very robust and artistic organization that can stand with any other ballet company in the United States. We need to support it, and we need to show our appreciation not only to the artistic leadership of the Colorado Ballet, and the musicians, but to the Board of Directors for their recognition of the artistic accomplishments and the needs of this fine ballet company.



Art and the art of communication: The Colorado Ballet

The Colorado Ballet gave their opening performance of the season at the Arvada Center Outdoor Amphitheater on Saturday, August 16. Some of the works that were on the program have been previously performed, but Saturday night they were infused with a new sense of freshness and enthusiasm that truly reflected the excitement of an opening season. Indeed, there has been so much good news from the Colorado Ballet in the last few weeks. The Artistic Director, Gil Boggs, has wisely been offered – and he has signed – a new five-year contract. This is remarkably good news, for it should be obvious to everyone that he has turned the Colorado Ballet into a vital and robust program that has some of the best dancers in the country. The second bit of good news is that Dana Benton and Domenico Luciano have been promoted from Soloists to Principals, and that is most certainly where they belong, for they are stellar artists. The other bit of good news, as most of you ballet aficionados know, is that they are preciously close to moving into their new building in the art district on Santa Fe. Note that it is their building, and they won’t have to pay anybody rent.

Keep in mind that on Saturday there were no complete works performed: this wonderful dance concert was comprised entirely of excerpts which gave the audience a taste of the coming 2014-2015 season. And, in addition, the opening excerpt, a pas de deux from the ballet Flames of Paris, was used simply as an introduction to their entire performance. I’m sure it was chosen because the choreography certainly attracts immediate attention due to its difficulty and its romantic ambiance. It was danced by Dana Benton and Viacheslav Buchkovskiy. The original ballet was premiered in 1932, and it is a fairly typical “French Revolution” ballet which deals with the trials and tribulations of that era. The music was composed by Boris Asafyev (1884-1949) whose music sounds very much like Tchaikovsky. The choreography was done by Vasily Vainonen and it requires a great deal of virtuosity. Benton and Buchkovskiy are, of course, two virtuoso artists and it showed very clearly in this introduction which alternated between solo dances and a pas de deux. As I said above, the entire company seemed to be very excited for the opening performance, and certainly Benton and Buchkovskiy were no exception.

You readers, who are not totally familiar with ballet terminology, must understand that principals are the top-of-the-line. Next, comes soloists, and, after that are members of the corps de ballet. I mention this only to tell you that everyone in the Colorado Ballet is an exceptional dancer, and I have absolutely no doubt that all of them are quite capable of eventually being promoted to a principal. From my point of view, it is only the smallest detail that is separating them now.

Next on the program, Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov danced the Grand Pas de Deux from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The music for this ballet always startles me, because Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) wrote the Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream when he was 17 years old. Dwell on that. He wrote the incidental music (incorporating the Overture) for Shakespeare’s play shortly before his death, and it is that music of Mendelssohn’s which is used in the ballet.

Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov were sensational. They are sensational because they are totally consumed by their art, and there is nothing that detracts from their concentration on that art, which includes their relationship to each other on stage. They are capable of so much communication through their movements and facial expressions, that it surely must attract the attention of those not totally familiar with ballet. Therefore, they are completely able to convert ballet neophytes to ardent supporters. And, as in paragraph one of this article, there is one more bit of good news: everyone in this company is capable of doing exactly that. It’s still astounds me that Gil Boggs has put together such an amazing collection of dancers. Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov are positively electrifying.

The Mendelssohn was followed by a short work entitled Young and Beautiful featuring the choreography of the Colorado Ballet’s own Sandra Brown with music by Lana Del Rey. This was a pas de deux that was stunningly beautiful, and it was danced by Chandra Kuykendall and Domenico Luciano.

Following the remarkable grace of Kuykendall and Luciano was a solid and very expressive depiction of evil. It was the pas de deux from Dracula danced by another incredible pair of dancers, Sharon Wehner and Dmitry Trubchanov. This is the pas de deux wherein Dracula entices Mina from her bed by appearing in her dream, and then flings her around the stage by her emotions, at once enticing her with his supposed love, and repelling her with his overpowering evil. This was another pas de deux where the emotional expression conveyed by the dancers was unmistakable.

Sitting in front of me were some individuals that seemed to me to be unfamiliar with the power of expression of which ballet is capable. When Dracula ripped open his shirt and slashed his chest open, and then thrusts Mina’s face into the blood forcing her to drink, the individuals stared at each other, not believing the horror they had just seen. It was a very powerful moment. If any of you readers have not seen Dracula by the Colorado Ballet, I would encourage you to attend this season. Yes, it is horrifying, but the choreography by Michael Pink, and the music by Philip Feeney, will stay with you for a long time, not only because of the horror, but because of the beauty as well.

The Colorado Ballet then performed the Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This certainly demonstrated the depth of ability of the dancers in the Colorado Ballet. Asuka Sasaki, Sean Omandam, Shelby Dyer, Morgan Buchanan, Luis Valdes, Francisco Estevez, Emily Speed, Tracy Jones, Emily Dixon, and Melissa Zoebisch were truly remarkable. Again, it all comes down to their expression through the movement and the spirit of the music. Some of these are new faces, but they are certainly welcome additions to the Colorado Ballet, and it is an important point to make that the Colorado Ballet can attract, and demand, dancers of this quality.

After the intermission, the second half of Saturday’s performance was taken up by the remarkable (there’s that word again) choreography by Sandra Brown in the performance of a new ballet, The Last Beat, which was given its world premiere in March of this year. The entire company was used on this half of the program. All of the dancers in the Colorado Ballet exemplify what it means to be a member of a Professional company. And, I might add, that this organization keeps getting better and better, and ever since Gil Boggs, Sandra Brown, and Lorita Travaglia have been a part of this organization, their artistic demands have been raised and met with every performance. The choreography for The Last Beat is difficult, and I think there is no mistaking the fact that Sandra Brown took into consideration the dedication and artistic ability of the dancers she was writing for. If you demand a lot, you will receive a lot.

Saturday’s performance was memorable. In addition to all of the good news, there is still more. Even though Saturday’s performance was done to recorded music (there is no room for an orchestra at the Arvada Center Outdoor Amphitheater) Maestro Adam Flatt and Maestra Catherine Sailer will still be in charge of leading the Colorado Ballet Orchestra.

The Colorado Ballet is comprised of individuals who have made a tremendous investment to their art. They have made it very clear that their art comes first. Therefore, let us all make our own investment, and attend their performances so that this outstanding ballet company will understand how much we appreciate them.



The Colorado Ballet’s Cinderella: Artistry and Magic

As I have often said, Artistic Director, Gil Boggs, of the Colorado Ballet, has assembled an organization that is truly superior in the world of dance. This was clearly demonstrated Saturday, February 16th, at their performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s marvelous ballet, Cinderella. The artistic staff of the Colorado Ballet, aside from Gil Boggs, is as follows: Sandra Brown, Ballet Mistress; Lorita Travaglia, Ballet Mistress; Maestro Adam Flatt, Music Director and Principal Conductor; Maestra Catherine Sailer, Associate Conductor; Ben Stevenson, Choreographer; and, Christina Giannelli, Lighting Designer. This season’s performance of Cinderella was staged by Janie Parker.

Sergei Prokofiev (1891- 1953) breathed new life into the symphony, the sonata, concerto, and most certainly, the ballet. Early on, Prokofiev tried to duplicate the success that his older countryman, Sergei Rachmaninoff, had had in the United States. Prokofiev himself was a brilliant pianist, but for some reason he was not met with the same reception. His first ballet that became an international success was Romeo and Juliet, but many of his other works were met with extreme hostility from the cultural ideologues of the Soviet Union. He was called before the Supreme Soviet and told that his music was bourgeoisie, and did not reflect proper Soviet culture. His works were banned from performance. Part of the reason for this was that his music was filled with harmonic deceptive resolutions, the use of modes simultaneously with major and minor, disjunct melodic lines with surprising twists and turns, and, at times, dissonances that were, as he labeled it, used in effort to “tease the geese.” In other words, annoy those who had banned his works.

Cinderella closely adheres to the tail written by Charles Perrault. All of you readers know the story, having heard it many times in your youth. Prokofiev, in his ballet, emphasized comedy, as well as love, compassion for others, and the yearning to do, and be, something different.

The two mean stepsisters are always played by males in this ballet in order to emphasize their ugliness and the obstreperous behavior. Saturday evening, Francisco Estevez and Christopher Moulton danced the two stepsisters to perfection. They were ill-dressed, rowdy malcontents who were abusive to their stepfather and stepsister. Dmitry Trubchanov danced the role of the Father, and Lorita Travaglia danced the role of the Stepmother. Sharon Wehner danced the role of Cinderella, and though I have seen this ballet several times, I have never seen anyone infuse the role of Cinderella with so much emotion, whether it be poignancy or absolute joy. It truly made me think that she and Choreographer Ben Stevenson were absolutely on the same wavelength, with every movement she made. Every movement she danced, she described Cinderella.

Act I is used to introduce the audience to all of the characters, and every dancer onstage accomplished that with aplomb. The fairy godmother appears toward the end of the act, and was danced by the remarkable Maria Mosina, whose graceful arms never stop moving when she dances.

The sets were through the courtesy of the Texas Ballet Company, and I immediately thought that the Colorado Ballet deserves their own sets. Yes, that would be enormously expensive, but this ballet company is of the ilk that they should have them. Cinderella’s coach, which thankfully did not look like an enlarged pumpkin, was a total work of art, and the horses in special costumes, were a stroke of visual genius. In addition, the transformation of the set from Cinderella’s living room to the woods where her Fairy Godmother transforms her into a Princess was absolutely magical.

From the very outset of Saturday evening’s performance I was struck by the Colorado Ballet Orchestra. I don’t think, and I say this without exaggeration, that I have ever heard them perform better. Understand, that Prokofiev’s music, because of his highly individual style, is difficult for an orchestra to play because it is sometimes impossible to anticipate where the melodic line will turn next. But the emotion expressed by the dancers was strongly supported and reflected by the orchestra.

Act II is comprised of The Ball. The Jester, danced Saturday evening by Kevin Gaël Thomas, introduces and welcomes the arriving guests. Their reaction to the ugly stepsisters was priceless. Upon the arrival of Cinderella, she and the Prince are smitten with the immortal love at first sight. Cinderella and the Prince, danced by Viacheslav Buchkovskiy, danced a wonderful and impassioned pas de deux which was one of the highlights of the evening’s performance. These two dancers were totally superb, as is everyone in this company. I have often said, and I mean that sincerely, that every single dancer who appears on stage for the Colorado Ballet could be a soloist. The depth of quality is astounding. When the clock struck twelve, Prokofiev allows the trombones to become powerful and threatening. I’m quite sure, judged by the sound, that Maestro Flatt told the brass to sneer and growl.

Act III concerns the prince’s search for the love of his life, who completely disappeared at the end of Act II. He searches far and wide. He and his servants ask all the cobblers who made the shoe that Cinderella dropped. While he is searching, Cinderella takes the other slipper from her apron pocket, and realizes that her memories of the ball and a handsome Prince were not a dream after all. The Prince arrives at the household, and the two stepsisters try on the shoe to no avail. Cinderella helps her stepmother to try it on, and while she is doing so, the other slipper falls from her apron. The Prince realizes that he has found his princess, and the two live happily ever after.

As I have said, I have seen Prokofiev’s Cinderella several times, but this is the first time where I was so taken with the shared artistry between the orchestra and the dancers. In the forest scene, where the Fairy Godmother transforms Cinderella, the Spring Fairy, danced by Klara Houdet; the Summer Fairy, danced by Tracy Jones; and the Autumn and Winter fairies, danced respectively by Morgan Buchanan and Shelby Dyer, were strongly supported by the excellent clarinet work of Michelle Orman in the orchestra. Small details, such as the transformation of the moon into a midnight clock, added to the magic of the performance. When the guests at the ball were given oranges as special treats, the orchestra seemed to emphasize the theme for the oranges, so that those familiar with Prokofiev’s opera, The Love for Three Oranges, was clearly recognizable.

It was a magical evening in every sense of the word. The adults in the audience sat transfixed, and the youngsters in the audience laughed delightedly with the antics of the stepsisters. Everyone gasped in almost terror and surprise when the clock began to strike twelve. Saturday evening’s performance was a complete artistic amalgamation where dancers, choreographer, and musicians worked together in a convincing artistic union.

There are more performances. You must see this ballet.

Thu 2/20/14 6:30PM: Ellie Caulkins Opera House
2014 Cinderella More Information Purchase
Fri 2/21/14 7:30PM: Ellie Caulkins Opera House
2014 Cinderella More Information Purchase

Sat 2/22/14 2:00PM: Ellie Caulkins Opera House
2014 Cinderella More Information Purchase

Sat 2/22/14 7:30PM: Ellie Caulkins Opera House
2014 Cinderella More Information Purchase

Sun 2/23/14 2:00PM: Ellie Caulkins Opera House
2014 Cinderella More Information Purchase



The Colorado Ballet and The Nutcracker: Ever delightful – always superior

There is very good reason why Piotr Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker is one of the most popular ballets ever written. It contains some of the most beautiful melodies ever composed, and it has an almost endless stream of character dances. As everyone knows, it is based on E. T. A. Hoffman’s story, as translated by Alexandre Dumas, of Clara, whose Christmas gift, the Nutcracker, comes to life. The Nutcracker, now a soldier, defeats the Mouse King with the aid of Clara, but not before the soldier is knocked unconscious. At the defeat of the Mouse King, a spell is broken, and the Nutcracker/Soldier is transformed into a handsome Prince. Intent upon showing his gratitude to Clara for saving his life, he spirits her off to a magical land of toys and candy. There, the Sugar Plum Fairy decrees that a great celebration take place in order to honor Clara. While Clara and the Prince are seated on thrones to witness the celebration in their honor, many dances take place to reward her for her bravery. At the end of the celebration, the Prince carries Clara back to her home, where she awakens with vivid memories of what has just transpired, but is also completely unsure if it was reality or if it was a dream.

Tchaikovsky followed no new paths or innovations in his compositions, yet his melodic lines are remarkably powerful even though they use traditional harmony, when compared to his contemporaries such as Wagner and Bruckner. His ballets, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker, are the most popular ballets of all time. Many potential audience members seem to avoid the Nutcracker because it is done by every dance company imaginable since it has become a staple of the Christmas season. That is truly unfortunate because the music is remarkable, and the production presented by the Colorado Ballet is superb.

From the opening, the entire company exuded a joy and enthusiasm on their way to the Christmas party that was tangible. When Clara’s godfather, Herr Drosselmeyer, appears, all of the party guests seemed to draw away from him, not from fear as in past productions, but out of a sense of respect. In Saturday evening’s production, Clara was danced by Dana Benton, who was absolutely irresistible in her childlike charm, and effortless dancing. She was truly grace personified. Herr Drosselmeyer was played by the esteemed Gregory K Gonzales who has played this role many times. However, Saturday evening, he truly excelled: he was not only mysterious and magical, but very caring towards Clara as well. Sean Omandam danced the role of Clara’s brother, Fritz, and he too was exceptional in his effortless portrayal of a somewhat bratty sibling. It is Fritz who is responsible for breaking the Nutcracker, but Herr Drosselmeyer assures Clara that all will be well. After all the guests have left the party, and the house darkens with everyone in bed, Herr Drosselmeyer begins to work his magic. In Hoffman’s story, everyone begins to grow smaller. Of course, the only way to do this on stage is to have the Christmas tree grow much taller, and, all of the toys underneath the tree become quite large. Now the Nutcracker, danced by Adam Still, is the size of the mice, as is Clara. She provides the distraction which allows the Nutcracker to slay the Mouse King. I point out that in this year’s production the Soldier Mice, and even the Mouse King, seem to have been portrayed in a more humorous vein than in the past productions, where they seemed positively evil.

The pas de deux between Clara and the Nutcracker turned Prince, was absolutely spectacular. Both Adam Still and Dana Benton are remarkable dancers, but they also possess a great dramatic sense. They not only demonstrated great confidence in their ability to dance these roles, but they demonstrated an excitement which was inherent throughout the entire performance Saturday evening.

The members of the Colorado Ballet have such versatility that they often dance different roles on the same day. For example, at the matinee performance on November 30, Sean Omandam danced the role of the soldier doll, while that evening he danced the role of Clara’s brother, Fritz. No doubt some of the alteration was done in consideration of the physical demands upon the human body. Nonetheless, I think it is remarkable the way the members of the Colorado Ballet can switch roles from day-to-day, or from afternoon to evening. Dana Benton danced Clara Saturday evening, but in the matinee performance on the same day, in Act II, she danced one of the Marzipan candies. That is remarkable concentration.

Toward the end of Act I, the Prince and Clara visit the Land of Snow. It was in this scene that the choreography seemed to be considerably different from last year. That is certainly not a criticism by any stretch of the imagination, as it was certainly beautiful to watch. The program lists additional choreography done by Sandra Brown, though most of the ballet was based on choreography done by Martin Fredmann.

Act II contains some of the most famous dances ever written. Clara and the Prince have traveled to the Kingdom of the Sugar Plum Fairy who was performed by Chandra Kuykendall. The Sugar Plum Fairy’s Cavalier was danced by a new member of the company, Domenico Luciano. As I watched Kuykendall dance Saturday evening, I was struck by the fact that she seemed to be a little careful and without her usual exuberance. In a few instances it seemed as though she might be recovering from a slight injury that may have occurred during rehearsal, but I stress that this is sheer speculation on my part. She certainly was as wonderful to watch as she always is. Her partner, Domenico Luciano was excellent, and I look forward to his performances throughout the season. He exhibited great strength which resulted in an astounding ease of movement as well as grace.

The highlights of the celebratory dances in Act II were the Arabian, danced by Shelby Dyer and Luis Valdes. There are so many lifts in this duet that one wonders how Valdes can stay in shape even though Shelby Dyer is very small. Morgan Buchanan, Cara Cooper, and Christopher Moulton were absolutely superb as the Spanish Chocolate dancers, as were Casey Dalton, Asuka Sasaki, and Jesse Marks as the Marzipan dancers, but I must give special mention to Sean Omandam, Kevin Gaël Thomas, and Lesley Allred who danced the Russian. Omandam and Thomas were so precisely together, and they jumped so high off the stage, that the audience was dazzled. The famed Dance of the Flowers was spectacular.

Grace is a word that might characterize the way the Colorado Ballet Orchestra performed. They were at times emotionally intense, more so than I have heard them before. But, more than any other performance, the orchestra and the dancers seemed to be very comfortable with each other. As I have said before, Maestro Adam Flatt and the Maestra Catherine Sailer have done wonders with the Colorado Ballet Orchestra over the past few years. They have contributed mightily to making the Colorado Ballet the well-rounded organization that it is: it is an organization where everybody contributes their fullest, and the result is wonderfully artistic and a joy to watch and hear.

As I said in the opening paragraph, there is such a good reason why this ballet is so well known. It is also equally important to understand that the Colorado Ballet never treats this performance as a cliché. All of the dancers, all of the orchestra members, and all of those involved in the production backstage, clearly worked very hard to make this the exciting and artistic performance. You must see it.

Follow this link to see the date and times of performances and to purchase tickets: http://www.coloradoballet.org/




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