Opus Colorado

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: A demonstration of depth in excellence

Friday evening, October 4, was the Colorado Ballet’s 53rd season opener. There was so much that seemed new Friday evening: there were new faces on the stage, there are new names on the board, the Colorado Ballet has a new home which they will move into next year, and there was a brand-new enthusiasm displayed by the dancers onstage. As everyone knows, Gil Boggs was made artistic director of the Colorado Ballet during the 2006 – 2007 season. He has changed the Colorado Ballet very dramatically every year since he has held that position, and there is absolutely no question that the Colorado Ballet is one of the best ballet companies in the United States. It is certainly time for an organization of this caliber to have a new home, and not only do they deserve our congratulations, they deserve our continued support.

They opened this year’s season with Giselle written by Adolphe Adam (1803 – 1856). He was a prolific composer of ballets, incidental music, comic operas, and even vaudeville. This seems most unusual considering the fact that his father was a pianist and teacher; however, his father encouraged him only to become a musician if he learned that music was only amusement (!) not an art, and certainly not suitable for a career. His father finally changed his mind and permitted Adolphe to enter the Paris Conservatory. Keep in mind, that at this time, in France, musical plays, trite operas, and music written for the entertainment of the masses was extremely popular, and remained so for a number of years, much to the consternation of composers such as Hector Berlioz (who wrote much about French music in the Journal des Débats), Georges Bizet, and Théodore Gouvy. To find seriously composed concert music, one had to go mainly to Germany and Austria, for that is where symphonies and chamber music were being written, and that, for example, is why Théodore Gouvy spent his early years in Germany surrounded by friends such as Liszt, Friedrich Förster, Ferdinand Möhring, Ferdinand Hiller, and Carl Reinecke. Nonetheless, Adolphe Adam became a very well-known composer in France, but it is two of his ballets, Giselle and Le Corsaire, that have assured his place in the history of music.

To quote from the Colorado Ballet press release: “[Giselle] tells the story of a count [Albrecht] in disguise who falls in love with Giselle, a beautiful peasant girl with a fragile heart. When she discovers the count’s true identity, and that he is engaged to another woman, she dies broken-hearted. She becomes a member of The Wilis – vengeful spirits who suffered unrequited love in life, and are destined to roam the earth each night, trapping men and dancing them to their deaths. When the count enters the domain of the Wilis, only Giselle’s love can save him.” The original choreography for this ballet was done by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, and was later revised by Marius Petipa. The staging for the performance was done by Gil Boggs, Sandra Brown, and Lorita Travaglia.

The minute the curtain rose there was a gasp from the audience because of the scenery which came to the Colorado Ballet through the courtesy of the American Ballet Theatre. It was absolutely wonderful, with branches and leaves individually cut out with a cottage on each side of the stage. In the background, on a high hilltop, was the castle of the Duke of Courtland. The costumes were also terrific, and they were also from the American Ballet Theater.

Friday evening, Giselle was danced by Maria Mosina. I have seen Maria Mosina dance many times, but I must say that this was the best performance I have ever seen her give. There is absolutely no doubt that she was immensely comfortable on stage, which led me to believe that she has danced Giselle many times before. What sets her apart from other principal dancers around the country is her acting ability as well as her true artistic ability as a supreme ballerina. She is, simply put, incredible. And, what is more incredible is the fact that the other principal dancers in the Colorado Ballet, Viacheslav Buchkovskiy, Chandra Kuykendall, Dmitry Trubchanov, Alexi Tyukov and Sharon Wehner are all equal in ability. I have written in the past about the depth of artistry that the Colorado Ballet has, and you readers must understand that there is no clear-cut division in artistic ability between principles soloists and members of the Corps. Asuka Sasaki, Shelby Dyer, Dana Benton, Jesse Marks, Adam Still, and Caitlin Valentine-Ellis are all incredibly fine artists. I have watched other ballet companies, and have often thought that, perhaps next year, so-and-so will be elevated to the rank of Soloist from the rank of Corps de Ballet. The division line was clear. With the Colorado Ballet, that division line is very hard to see indeed, and it was particularly hard to see Friday evening. There was a new precision from everyone on stage: movements were absolutely together, and they were precisely with the beat provided by the orchestra. In fact, it was difficult to tell if they were following Maestro Adam Flatt, or if Maestro Flatt was following them, because there was such precision. And I point out that everyone seemed to be at perfect ease.

When Alexi Tyukov lifted Maria Mosina over his head, Mosina was perfectly horizontal, and it was one of the most graceful moves I have seen from these two dancers. The Peasant Pas de deux, which was danced by Dana Benton and Adam Still, was simply perfect. Truthfully, I do not remember ever seeing a performance the Colorado Ballet where everyone on stage made all of their movements look so effortless. And again, I must mention their dramatic ability, as well. Berthe, Giselle’s mother, was performed by Lorita Travaglia who is one of the Ballet Mistresses with the company. This role is not a dancing role, but she performed it so well that one simply did not have to read the program notes in order to understand what she was telling her daughter.

In Act II, Giselle has died because Albrecht’s deception aggravated her frail heart, and the character, Hilarion, danced by Dmitry Trubchanov, is attending her grave. It is nighttime, and the Queen of the Wilis, Myrtha, danced by Asuka Sasaki, made her appearance on stage. She performed a bourée step across the stage, and I do not think I have ever seen a bourée done so well. Nothing moved accept Sasaki’s feet. Her head did not bobble and her arms did not move, but you must understand that she did not appear to be rigid either. She simply floated across the stage in the most graceful manner, simply by moving her feet inches at a time. That has to be one of the most difficult steps in ballet, or at least, it seems so to me.

All of the Wilis danced precisely together, and their movements were highlighted by the perfect costumes that they wore: dressed entirely in white, they seemed entirely the antithesis of evil, but that is what made them so effective. They quickly dispatched Hilarion by dancing him to death.

Even in death, Giselle resolves to protect Albrecht, and it is here that Mosina and Tyukov do some of their finest dancing together. It was artistic and it was poignant. Maria Mosina was able to demonstrate through her remarkable skill and artistry that she was a spirit trying to protect the man she loved while she was alive. And, Alexi Tyukov was clearly able to play the role of a man still in love with the spirit, and yet, frightened by being surrounded by the Wilis and not knowing what to expect from the woman he loved while she was alive.

The Colorado Ballet is also very fortunate that they have Maestro Adam Flatt to conduct the Ballet Orchestra. In some ways, conducting a ballet can be considered to be not too much different from conducting a soloist who is performing a concerto. I make that statement only because audiences sometimes find it more difficult to hear a soloist who is unable to stay with an orchestra than it is to watch a dancer who is unable to stay with the orchestra. Maestro Flatt’s conducting is flawless, because he is able to anticipate what the dancers need in the way of support rhythmically, while making sure that the orchestra responded to those needs. Needless to say, he has transformed this orchestra so that its quality matches that of the ballet company. It is a wonderful thing to have the dancers and the orchestra so evenly matched.

Looking back over the years since Gil Boggs has been the Artistic Director; it is easy to watch the rapid improvement in this organization. And to phrase it in those terms makes it sound very trite. He has inspired the dancers with a newfound enthusiasm and he has inspired them with his own love for the art of ballet. He has proven time after time that he can raise this ballet company to new heights, and that here in Denver, there is a place for such an artistic organization to exist. It is high time that the community realizes that they do need their own building, and it is a very happy occasion when the community recognizes that need and supports the ballet to the extent that they have realized a long-held dream. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could have their own set design crew? They need that as well. This company, through the hard work by everyone on the staff, is one of the best in the United States. I can say that because I have seen other ballet companies and the Colorado Ballet is an equal.

Thank you, Colorado Ballet, for making my Friday evening a memorable one.

The Colorado Ballet performs a World Class Sleeping Beauty

It is safe to say that The Sleeping Beauty is Tchaikovsky’s most perfect ballet score. As a piece of music, it ranks with his Fourth Symphony, and it certainly established Tchaikovsky’s reputation as a composer of ballet music which was far more than merely functional. You must understand that ballet music before Tchaikovsky, was truly functional, and served no purpose outside of ballet performances. Indeed, it was not composed to be used outside of a ballet performance. But, Tchaikovsky infused his ballet scores with such emotion and melodic beauty that the music heightened the drama of the plot, thus, the music became popular on the concert stage.

The story of The Sleeping Beauty is from a book entitled, Tales of Mother Goose by Charles Perrault, who was the comptroller–general of all the buildings that belonged to King Louis XIV. Included in the book were two other famous stories, Little Red Riding Hood, and Puss in Boots. This book became Perrault’s most famous work, and earned for him the title of “the father of the French fairytale.”

The Colorado Ballet’s production of this ballet uses the original choreography by Marius Petipa (1818-1910) and was staged by Artistic Director Gil Boggs; Sandra Brown, Ballet Mistress; and Ballet Mistress, Lorita Travaglia. The scene and costume design was done by Peter Cazelet and were rented from Ballet West. The scenery was some of the best use of scrim that I have seen for a long time, and I think that the Colorado Ballet made a wise choice when they rented this particular scenery.

I was able to attend the Saturday evening performance, and it was absolutely one of the best productions I have seen the Colorado Ballet present. The curtain opened to the christening of Princess Aurora who is showered with the character traits of Serenity, Vitality, Generosity, Happiness, and Temperament. I capitalized those traits because each one is a fairy, and each one made a lasting impression because of her acting ability, as well as her dancing ability. In the order that I listed them were Dana Benton, Klara Houdet, Caitlin Valentine-Ellis, Casey Dalton, and Asuka Sasaki. Right away it was obvious that these dancers were excellent actors, and all of equal ability. But I must tell you that it was Casey Dalton, as the Happiness Fairy who captured my heart because of her bubbly and effervescent acting. The christening ceremony is interrupted by the evil fairy, Carabosse, who was portrayed by Gregory K. Gonzales. Gonzales was superb in portraying the evil fairy who places a curse on Princess Aurora because the King and Queen did not invite her to the christening party. As all of you who are familiar with the story of The Sleeping Beauty know, the curse causes the Princess to prick her finger on a spindle and die. But the curse is thwarted by the good Lilac Fairy, danced so wonderfully by Shelby Dyer, so that the Princess will only fall asleep for 100 years.

The evil Carabosse was accompanied by four henchmen, danced by Sean Omandam, Rylan Schwab, Jeremy Studinski, and Kevin Wilson. These four dancers were absolutely marvelous, and their chaotic and rude behavior was so convincing and so skilled that I found myself wondering if it was harder to portray evil rowdies, or to portray beneficent fairies.

In the second scene of Act I, Princess Aurora is 16 years of age and is pursued by four suitors. There was an incredible scene where the Princess, danced by the outstanding Principal, Sharon Wehner, greets her suitors, and as they pass by, she performs an arabesque, en pointe, as she touches each suitor lightly on the hand. You must understand that there is a period of some seconds while she is standing only on the toes of one foot with no other support. She left the vivid impression that she could stand en pointe on one foot for the whole day if it was required of her. That takes incredible endurance, balance, and strength.

Carabosse returns with a spindle, presents it to the Princess, and by pricking her finger the curse comes true. Everyone at Aurora’s 16th birthday celebration falls asleep for one hundred years. Sharon Wehner’s acting in this scene was brilliant, projecting the fright of what was happening to her as the curse began to take effect. She has an incredibly malleable face, and she is able to change her expression and make it visible to everyone in the audience.   Throughout this entire performance, the Colorado Ballet Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Adam Flatt, was magnificent. The woodwind section in this orchestra is superior, and the oboe, played by Kathryn Dupuy, was outstanding. Flatt has to follow the dancers in the manner that a conductor has to follow a soloist performing a concerto: there must be the same give and take between dancer and conductor and the dancer’s feet must touch the stage at specific rhythmic points.

Act II opens in an enchanted forest. The scrim was, again, very magically done with a statue on a pedestal cleverly painted so that it was almost invisible. And, likewise, there was the face peering out of a hollow tree. Prince Desiré is leading a hunting party. Seeking a moment’s rest, he sends his hunting companions on without him. The Lilac Fairy appears, and creates the image of the sleeping Princess before his eyes. He falls in love, and asks the Lilac Fairy to show him where she is. The Prince kisses the sleeping Princess, awakening her, and he kneels before her, asking for her hand in marriage. Alexei Tyukov was sensational as Prince Desiré. Every step that he took displayed great strength and great ease. I must say that everyone in this dance company displays great strength, and, mind you, that also applies to Sharon Wehner, Shelby Dyer, and all of the women in the cast. They are all in superb physical shape, or they simply could not do what Marius Petipa demands. All of the ballerinas in the company can do a Pas de bourée couru with ease and alacrity and, to my eyes, that has to be one of the most difficult steps to dance. In this particular ballet, Petipa seems to have been obsessed with this particular step, because it occurs over and over.

Act III is the wedding of the Prince and Princess, and all of Perrault’s characters make their appearance –Red Riding Hood, the Wolf, the Bluebird, and Puss-in-Boots.

The performance of this ballet was absolutely world class. All of the dancers of the Colorado Ballet have demonstrated that they belong on stage, and the Colorado Ballet is remarkable for its depth of artistry. This Ballet Company seems to be thriving: they have a truly outstanding orchestra led by Maestro Adam Flatt and Maestra Catherine Sailer, a truly outstanding Artistic Director in the person of Gil Boggs, and they have a truly outstanding board chaired by Marie Belew Wheatley.

In the last few years, I have come to expect a good performance from the Colorado Ballet. At every performance, my expectations have always been surpassed. They are consistently world-class. The quality of The Sleeping Beauty performance made me realize how much I missed seeing performances such as this during the off-season. The thought occurred to me that it would be truly wonderful if the funders of the Colorado Ballet, foundations and individuals alike, could support the ballet to the extent that they could perform major ballets the year-round. I suppose that on the surface that seems unreasonable, because there would almost have to be a summer company as well as a regular season company.

After all, there are many cities throughout the United States that have summer orchestra festivals – some are here in Colorado. I truly believe the Colorado Ballet has the ability to draw an audience from all over the United States for a summer ballet festival.

Everyone in Colorado owes the Colorado Ballet a Tribute

Every time I attend a performance by the Colorado Ballet, I am left with the feeling that it is such a privilege.

Thursday evening, March 29, I attended the opening of Tribute. The Colorado Ballet gave the performance this title because it was a tribute to Lillian Covillo and Freidann Parker, the founders of the Colorado Ballet. I felt that I was privileged because the performance was so absolutely marvelous. The program was comprised of three separate ballets of approximately twenty minutes each. All three ballets were World Premieres. Each ballet was very different in character, and each was choreographed by different choreographers: Emery LeCrone, Amy Seiwert, and the Jodie Gates.

All three ballets were done without scenery on the Gates Hall stage at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts. The lack of scenery was, in truth, rather refreshing because that allowed me, at least, to concentrate on the dancing and the music, and certainly, the size of the Gates Hall stage certainly seemed quite adequate.

The opening ballet of this three-part performance was choreographed by Emery LeCrone. Ms. LeCrone, who attended the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, is a very prolific choreographer, and she is the Choreographer in Residence of the New Chamber Ballet and the Columbia Ballet Collaborative. The title of this first ballet of the evening is Archetypes, and was written for ten women and eight men. The principal dancers were Maria Mosina, Chandra Kuykendall, and Dmitry Trubchanov. There were also two soloists: Dana Benton and Caitlin Valentine-Ellis. The other dancers came from the Corps.

From the outset, it was apparent that this was going to be a very intense performance. I was unable to find out anything concerning a suggested plot for this ballet, and indeed, there may not be a plot. But it seemed to me that it centered around two women – Mosina and Kuykendall – who were polar opposites in their approach to life and men. Ms. LeCrone chose music composed by Terry Riley, and its intensity certainly provided the motivation for the dancers. Terry Riley has been strongly influenced by John Cage, and, in 1964, he moved into the realm of minimalist music. It is amazing to me how Mosina and Kuykendall can add tension, intensity, and such fluid grace all in one short ballet. It seems to me that both of them were intent upon portraying characters that were extremely comfortable in their own life, but extremely uncomfortable in facing each other. Such are the gifts of these two ballerinas, that they can convey so many facets of mood through movement. Yes, I know there are many of you who will say that is what dancers do, but these two are truly exceptional. Everyone in this company is exceptional, and that is one of the reasons why I think the Colorado ballet is one of the best ballet companies in the United States. I also noticed that in the last year, the artistic abilities of Greg DeSantis and Morgan Buchanan have just exploded in grandness. They showed absolutely marvelous confidence on stage, and that is what it takes to match everybody else they were performing with. It is my hope that everyone who was in the audience this evening could realize that the performance of ballet takes intense (there’s that word again) mental effort as well as the noticeable physical strength and endurance. The choreography of Archetypes was quite remarkable because it had so many new movements that I have not seen without destroying the emotional impact of what the dancers conveyed. I have seen some avant-garde ballets where, in spite of the good music (and Terry Riley is a very good composer) the choreography did not seem to match. This was most certainly not the case Thursday evening. It was a wonderful amalgam of music and dance and emotion.

The second ballet of the evening was choreographed by Amy Seiwert, and was entitled Traveling Alone. Ms. Seiwert is currently the Choreographer in Residence at the Smuin Ballet. She has won many awards and her creations are part of the repertoire in several ballets in the United States and Canada. She has been lauded in Dance Magazine and has been invited twice to participate in the New York Choreography Institute.

Dana Benton was remarkable in portraying a young woman all alone. Again, the emotions in this ballet combined apprehension and loneliness with one’s surroundings. I must admit that I am totally unfamiliar with the composer, Max Richter, whose music was used by Amy Seiwert. I do know that he has written several film scores, and he has received a commission for the Royal Ballet in England. The music that Seiwert chose for her ballet is highly effective and Dana Benton and Luis Valdes were superb. As I have written before about the Colorado Ballet: it is one of the most consistent ballet companies in the country. When I say consistent, I mean that they are consistently excellent in their artistic merit, not only as individuals, but as an entire company. They are consistent in their dramatic abilities. I know that all performers, after a performance, always look back and say to themselves, “Oh, I wish I could’ve done this better.”, but I assure you I have never seen any of these dancers commit what I would consider a gross blunder. I have seen that in other ballet companies. It was very interesting for me, as a musician, to be totally unaware of how carefully the choreographers chose their music. I mention that, because none of the music for these ballets was commissioned specifically for these three programs. Obviously, the music was chosen because it suggested something very specific to the choreographers. That seems like a very obvious statement, but it is one more item on the list that made this performance so intimate in an already intimate setting, compared to the Ellie Caulkins Theatre.

The third ballet of this wonderful evening was entitled Embellish. It was choreographed by Jodie Gates who is known the world over for her choreography, as well as her creation of a California-based nonprofit organization called Laguna Dance Festival. She has danced as a Principal Ballerina with ballet companies all over Europe and the United States and she is currently Professor of Dance at the University of California.

I was quite surprised to see (and hear) the music of Mozart used in her ballet. There were arias, there was a movement from a Mozart Violin Sonata, and there was a movement from a Violin Concerto.

Maria Mosina and Dmitry Trubchanov once again took the stage along with Sharon Wehner and Christopher Ellis, Chandra Kuykendall and Alexei Tyukov. They were joined by members of the Corps. The choreography was modern even though the music came from the classical period. If anyone had suggested this to me before I came to Thursday evenings performance, I most likely would have dismissed the two widely varied styles of art. Seeing it made me believe that almost anything can be danced to. And, indeed, that was a view expressed by the late great Merce Cunningham. Mosina and Trubchanov work incredibly well together, and both of them exude remarkable physical and emotional power when they are on stage. And, I promise you that I heard softly murmured expressions to that effect from the audience as these two danced. It is also interesting to note that Sharon Wehner is probably the smallest individual in the company, but when she is on stage her artistic skills truly make her larger than life. She and Christopher Ellis were absolutely superb, as were Chandra Kuykendall and Alexei Tyukov. That opinion makes me feel it necessary to stress again: the Colorado Ballet has such remarkable depth that if it ever became necessary, any of the dancers could substitute for any of the other’s positions. There are not many ballet companies in the country in which that could happen.

The costumes which were done by Christine Darch and Sandra Kerr were excellent. You must understand that I never get tired of using that word when I associate it with the Colorado Ballet.

I might say one thing, however, and that is that I was surprised by Mozart’s name in the program where he was listed as Amadeus Mozart. I wonder why Wolfgang Mozart was not used, because Mozart did not like the name of Amadeus, and on his marriage contract of August 3, 1782, he signed his name Wolfgang Amade Mozart, leaving off the final -us of his middle name, and on the remainder of the documents he signed them Wolfgang Adam Mozart. In a letter of 1787 to his friend Gottfried von Jacquin, Mozart explains how, on a trip to Prague, he and his wife made up names for themselves, their dog, and all of their friends. As I recall, some of those names even ended in the Latin -us, as if Mozart was engaging in a little self-deprecating humor.

Of course none of this has any bearing on the performance Thursday night. The dancers and the music in the evening were superb. They received a very well-deserved standing ovation, and it is my hope that Gil Boggs is as proud as he can be. He, and all of the dancers, deserve that.

The Colorado Ballet will perform at the Newman Center and in New York City

The Colorado Ballet will present Tribute, a mixed-bill production of three contemporary world premieres by three innovative female choreographers March 29 through April 1, 2012 at the Newman Center at the University of Denver.   The choreographers premiering their works in this production include Emery LeCrone, Archetypes; Jodie Gates, Embellish; and Amy Seiwert, Traveling Alone.  Tribute honors Colorado Ballet’s founders, Lillian Covillo and Freidann Parker.   “I am especially proud of this production as it pays homage to Colorado Ballet’s founders, Lillian Covillo and Freidann Parker,” said Colorado Ballet Artistic Director Gil Boggs. “These two women had the imagination and courage to create world-class dance in Denver, and for that we owe them so much. This production is a testament to the vision of Lillian and Freidann and demonstrates the successes of female leaders and artists in ballet.”   At 25, LeCrone has created several prominent works, competed in numerous choreography competitions, and received substantial grants and new commissions for her choreography.  She founded her own performance series, The Young Choreographers Showcase, which promotes the creation of new dance works and provides opportunities for young emerging choreographers to create and present their work in New York City free of charge.   Gates is a 30-year veteran in the professional dance field and has wide-ranging career as a choreographer, director, educator, producer and dancer. She is internationally recognized as a leader in the dance world with her choreographic work for professional companies, the creation of the California-based non-profit organization Laguna Dance Festival, and directing educational programs at the university level.   Dance Magazine named Seiwert one of “25 to Watch” and the San Francisco Chronicle has listed her choreography in the “Top 10” dance events twice.  She worked with dancers from the New York City Ballet twice, participating in the NY Choreography Institute at the invitation of Peter Martins.  She is Artistic Director of Imagery as well as Choreographer in Residence for Smuin Ballet.  This is Seiwert’s second work for Colorado Ballet; her first was Things Left Unsaid.   Performance Schedule and Ticketing Information for Tribute: Thursday, March 29, 2012 @ 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 30, 2012 @ 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 31, 2012 @ 2 p.m. Saturday, March 31, 2012 @ 7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 1, 2012 @ 2 p.m.   Ticket prices range from $22 to $154. To purchase tickets for Tribute visit www.ColoradoBallet.org or call 303-837-8888 ext. 2.

The Colorado Ballet invited to perform at Gotham Dance Festival in New York where they will perform Embellish, a work from the upcoming production Tribute.

The Colorado Ballet will perform at the invitation of choreographer Jodie Gates during the Gotham Dance Festival June 2-3, 2012 at The Joyce Theatre in New York City.  Gates chose two companies to show the span of her work: Colorado Ballet and BalletX from Philadelphia.

Gates spent three weeks in Denver to create her new work Embellish as part of Tribute, an upcoming mixed-bill production featuring three world premieres by innovative female choreographers.  With the generosity of several donors, Colorado Ballet raised the necessary funds for the trip and will travel with a cast of six men and six women to perform Gates’ Embellish at the festival.

According to Gates, she felt Colorado Ballet would best represent her neoclassical work, which embodies her influences of classical ballet training and her work with William Forsythe.  Embellish is a 22-minute neoclassical ballet performed to Mozart arias, Sonata for Violin and Piano, and the 3rd movement of the Violin Concerto No. 1.

For more information, visit www.ColoradoBallet.org.

About Colorado Ballet Under the direction of Artistic Director Gil Boggs, Colorado Ballet’s dancers come from all parts of the world. Established in 1961 by Lillian Covillo and Freidann Parker, Colorado Ballet is a non-profit organization celebrating 51 years of presenting world-class classical ballet and superior dance in Denver. Colorado Ballet presents more than 50 performances annually. Colorado Ballet enhances the cultural life of the Colorado community through performances, training and educational programs.


Colorado Ballet’s The Nutcracker: What a joy!
November 26, 2011, 9:33 pm
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: , , ,

Every time I see a performance by the Colorado Ballet, I think that they cannot get any better, but they always do. The Saturday matinee of The Nutcracker was one of the best performances of the Colorado Ballet, and certainly of The Nutcracker, that I have seen. There are at least two reasons for this: 1) I have never seen every dancer in the Colorado Ballet dance with such obvious joy. That makes a tremendous difference in the performance. Yes, they have exhibited much joy before Saturday afternoon, but Saturday afternoon was truly exceptional. 2) For a variety of reasons, I was unable to see The Nutcracker last year, but I have seen it in the past, and this year, there was so much that seems to be new. This ballet performance could be classified as bright and sunny.

There was a new opening curtain depicting Herr Drosselmeyer’s workshop. This is quite similar to an overture to the ballet, and when this curtain opened to reveal the street outside the Stahlbaum’s house, I am sure that it was a new set. There was also a new set for the living room of the Stahlbaum house, which included a marvelous clock with an owl on top. When the clock chimed the owl flapped its wings and its eyes flashed: spectacular! Some of the costumes seemed new, and some of the wigs seemed new, and I can guarantee you that the spirit was new.

One glance at the program, and it was easy to see the depth of the Colorado Ballet. Some of the dancers, who had secondary roles in the matinee performance, danced lead roles in the evening performance. Dana Benton danced Clara, and Adam Still danced the Nutcracker Prince at the matinee. Sharon Wehner was the Sugarplum, and Viacheslav Buchkovskiy danced the Cavalier. I have long admired these four dancers, but I must tell you that at the matinee, they seemed to demonstrate a newfound energy and pleasure in their dancing ability, and I can guarantee you that it was totally effortless. I will also say that I have never heard the Colorado Ballet Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Adam Flatt, sound better, and I know that had to help motivate the dancers. As I have stated in past reviews, conducting a ballet orchestra is quite difficult, because one has to make sure that the dancers are following the conductor, and that the conductor is taking into consideration the individual dancers slightest differences in interpretation.

Once again, in looking at the program, it was terrific to see some dancers added to the Corps de Ballet who have moved up through the ranks of this company. This simply means that their dancing ability is appreciated by Maestro Gil Boggs. He has done wonders for this ballet company, and it has improved every single year, and I am quite sure that the dancers appreciate having their effort rewarded.

I cannot stress how different this production was (was the choreography still the same?), even though the Nutcracker is so very familiar. There were so many changes in the small details, such as the aforementioned clock, and in the snow scene, there truly was a lot of snow, so much that it appeared that the dancers were behind a scrim. It truly added to the mood of the scene.

Gregory K. Gonzales, who once again played Herr Drosselmeyer, portrayed him as much kinder and less menacing this year, but still was able to leave the impression that he was an individual best left in a good mood.

The set for Act II was the same as I have seen in previous years, but the towers of candy with their smiling faces made all of the children sitting around us in the audience smile too.

Dmitry Trubchanov, Chandra Kuykendall, Ariel Ha, Morgan Buchanan, Gregory DeSantis, Sean Omandam, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Luis Valdes, Cara Cooper, Christopher Moulton, Jesse Marx, Shelby Dyer, and last but not least, Asuka Sasaki, are just a few of the incredible dancers in this company. And to all of those whose names I did not mention, please accept my humble apologies.

It was also wonderful to see the Sugarplums and the Polichhinelles, who were excellent, be so alive and obviously thrilled at being on stage.

Virtually all of the dancers in the Colorado Ballet share one attribute that I have never seen in any other ballet company: that is the ability to reach out to the audience, not only with their dancing skill, but with their acting skill, as well. They draw one into the performance, and when one leaves the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, one has the feeling of leaving behind some old friends. Since that is shared by every dancer who appears on stage, it not only reflects their skill, but it also reflects the atmosphere and leadership of Maestro Gil Boggs who is the Artistic Director of this organization.

That aspect is also a reflection on the leadership of Executive Director Marie Belew Wheatley, who, in such a very short time seems to have made this a very strong organization. This was an outstanding performance, and I hope that any of you who think that you will not come to see it simply because The Nutcracker is traditional and done every year, will understand that in spite of its familiarity, this is a production that you have to see. The orchestra is one of the finest ballet orchestras in the country – I know that may be strong, but it is true – and the dancers, so astoundingly equal in ability, comprise one of the best ballet companies in the country. And, in a time, when so many organizations seem to be suffering, not only financially, but artistically as well, here is an organization that is solid in its aesthetic footing and solid in its success in bringing to Colorado a true artistic experience.

Swan Lake: The Colorado Ballet continues its excellence

It is been more than 20 years since I have seen Swan Lake. The opening night performance of the Colorado Ballet production, October 7, was the fifth performance that I have seen. Gil Boggs and the Colorado Ballet, even though they used the traditional choreography of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, have staged a wonderful new production of this ballet. It has been slightly updated by Armanda McKerrow, John Gardner, both of whom were principals in the American Ballet Theater, and Colorado ballet’s Sandra Brown. Even with these updates, which include adding an original waltz during the first act, this was still the Swan Lake that everyone will recognize by its choreography. Do not begin to compare it with “updated” versions that have been done in London and in Sydney, where some critics have compared it, because of its changes, to the arranged marriage between the Prince of Wales and Princess Diana. I can assure you that everyone at the Colorado Ballet is an artist, and would not bend to modernizing one of the great classical ballets of all time. As performed by the Colorado Ballet, Act I contains two scenes. Some programs of other ballet companies label these as Act I and Act II, with the second act as Act III, and act three as Act IV.

What really gave me a very pleasant surprise in this production Friday night were the absolutely splendid sets and costumes. None of the previous Swan Lakes that I have seen had such beautiful sets, and the costumes certainly added a great deal to the story. One of the most spectacular costumes was worn by the character Baron von Rothbart which was performed by Gregory K. Gonzales. Gonzales is a very fine character actor, and his costume, with its huge feathered wings, coupled with his hard, cold stare gave him a remarkable sense of evil. But understand that one of the premier aspects that Gil Boggs, Sandra Brown, and Lorita Travaglia have added to the Colorado Ballet is a remarkable sense of drama and acting, which I have never seen in any other ballet company. And speaking of acting, it was also remarkable to watch the lovely Maria Mosina switch between Odette and the evil von Rothbart’s daughter, Odile. Her acting is always superior, and I will never forget her role in 3 Motions in March of 2010. On Friday, I was absolutely astounded at Mosina’s dancing. When she uses her arms to simulate the flying wings of a Swan, I was stunned. I was not able to get backstage after the performance, but I truly wanted to ask her how many elbows she has on each arm! Her arm motions were so fluid and never angular, that I am convinced she has at least five additional joints between her shoulder and wrist. Likewise, when she collapses to the stage from fourth position, I am convinced she has at least 30 more vertebrae in her back than the rest of us mortals. She was beautiful to watch and beautifully expressive.

I was also pleasantly surprised at all of the familiar faces I saw on stage. In a way it was like greeting old friends. In addition, there are several new faces that have come up through the ranks from the Academy to the Corps. It was easy to recognize Greg DeSantis and Morgan Buchanan. Among the new faces was one dancer that really stood out because of her dancing ability, and her ability hold a position, was Ariel Ha. The Corps was wonderfully sensational in this ballet. I am, as a pianist, always amazed to see them do a boureé because it seems so incredibly difficult. But all of the swans did it together, and did it in such a way that it seemed very easy. And perhaps, to a dancer, it is. But I don’t believe that for a minute. Last year I asked one of the dancers how they could do such difficult steps, and still smile while the exertion must be killing them. She said matter-of-factly, “But that’s what dancers do.”

Alexi Tyukov was wonderful as Prince Siegfried and Viacheslav Buchkovskiy as Benno was outstanding. This ballet company has such incredible depth: Casey Dalton, Shelby Dyer, Caitlin Valentine-Ellis, Olga Prikhodtseva, Dana Benton, Cara Cooper, Asoka Sasaki, Sally Turkel, Alyssa Velázquez (and I know I am leaving out some of the swans and waltz couples, so please, please forgive me) are always beyond compare. And the same phrase belongs to Christopher Ellis, Christopher Moulton, Sean Omandam, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Adam Still, Luis Valdes, Jesse Marks, and Kevin Wilson. Look at all the names that I have mentioned. And, again, I’m afraid that I have left some out. As I have said before, and I sincerely believe this, most of the corps are capable of being soloists.

Lorita Travaglia, one of the Ballet Mistresses with the company, and who has a remarkable history of performance, was perfect as the Queen Mother. Many might think that since this is a rather minor role in the ballet, that its impact would be minor. It isn’t, simply because it speaks to the detail that goes into every production by the Colorado Ballet. Everything associated with Friday night’s Swan Lake was artful, polished, and professional.

Maestro Adam Flatt, who conducts the Colorado Ballet Orchestra, is superb. I think it is worth noting that conducting a ballet is not the same as conducting an orchestra without dancers, or an orchestra that is performing, say, a concerto with a soloist. If a conductor has three performances with a violinist as soloist, he or she can be assured that the soloist will take the same tempos at each performance that have been so carefully worked out at rehearsals. But a ballet conductor has an entire stage full of dancers, and not only that, but the next evenings performance may well be with different lead dancers. Some of those dancers undoubtedly will prefer different tempos. Ballet is strenuous and athletic. It is conceivable that a dancer could suffer an injury. In that case the conductor has to be aware of changes in tempo from the dancer. I have seen Maestro Flatt conduct many times, and he has a sixth sense of empathy with the dancer (as well as solo instrumentalists).

Tchaikovsky wrote a good deal of music in this ballet for violin solo. I could not see into the orchestra pit from where I was sitting, but I would this assume that the solo work was done by the concertmaster, Lydia Sviatlovskaya. She was excellent, as was the entire orchestra.

It is always such a pleasure to see the Colorado Ballet because they are so consistent in every detail throughout the production. Friday night’s performance left no detail lacking. Everyone on the staff of this organization from the Lighting Director, to the dancers and orchestra, are totally concerned with their art. That is one reason that we here in Denver should be so gratified to have them here.

If you are hesitating to see the Colorado Ballet’s production of Swan Lake because you are familiar with it, and anticipate “another performance of the same old thing,” you will be making a big mistake. It is fresh and invigorating. And remember: the Colorado Ballet is one of the best, if not the best, in the United States. If you go to this Swan Lake, you will agree.

I have never seen the Colorado Ballet do anything that was less than excellent.


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