Opus Colorado


The Colorado Ballet: Enthusiasm, Joy and Artistry

Colorado Ballet opened its season this Saturday, August 22, with its usual performance entitled An Evening Under The Stars at the Arvada Center. It is always an exciting performance because it is so obvious that the dancers have been looking forward to the new season, and their enthusiasm for their art is supremely in evidence. There seems to be no question that they missed dancing in front of a Denver audience during the summer break. The performance at the Arvada Center is always a preview usually comprised of several short works and perhaps a movement or two from larger ballets.

The Saturday performance opened with a work entitled Pirates of the Caribbean which was choreographed by Colorado Ballet’s own Ballet Mistress, Sandra Brown. The choreography in this work was absolutely superb, and it seemed very difficult because of the energy required to perform it. It was a pas de deux which was danced by Asuka Sasaki and Francisco Estevez. It was fast-paced, and the rhythms were very difficult, but Sasaki and Estevez certainly used it to demonstrate their incredible dancing ability. It may be my enthusiasm for the opening season, but it seemed that everyone in the Colorado Ballet, no matter whether they were Principles, Soloists, or members of the Corps, just keep getting better and better. And believe me, by making that comment, I do not mean to say that they needed the improvement. Artistic Director Gil Boggs has wrought so many changes in this organization since he has been in his present position that it is astounding, and one of his accomplishments can certainly be codified as inspiring the already excellent dancers to new heights. He has made sure that the dancers hired are of the ilk that constantly work on self-improvement, and it is astounding to me to have such a fine ballet company in Colorado.

One of the performances Saturday evening that literally took my breath away was the pas de deux from La Sylphide which will be the official season opener of the Colorado Ballet at the Ellie Caulkins Theater from October 2 to October 11. The pas de deux was danced by Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov, and again, the choreography, which was done by August Bournonville was remarkably difficult. It required that Maria Mosina dance using a step known as the bourée. This is where the dancer is on her toes and takes a “stuttering” step across the stage. To me, this has always been one of the most difficult steps that a solo dancer can do because it is incredibly rapid. In this instance, Mosina had to make use of this step for a great length of time, and I was totally convinced that if the choreographer had asked her, she could dance that step for at least six hours without a break. Mosina and Tyukov danced incredibly well together, and they are such artists, and possessed of such great skill, that their grace as a duo is absolutely enthralling.

Another performance Saturday evening that must be mentioned was an excerpt from the ballet Don Quixote. The music is by Ludwig Minkus, and the choreography was composed by Marius Petipa. There was a pas de deux which was danced by the ever graceful Sharon Wehner, and a new face in Colorado Ballet, Yosvani Ramos. In addition to Wehner and Ramos, Shelby Dyer and Asuka Sasaki danced the roles of flower girls. All four of these individuals are absolutely superb artists, and Yosvani Ramos will certainly be an exciting addition to Colorado Ballet. His agility and strength were something to behold, and even though he is new to the organization, it was obvious that Sharon Wehner felt extremely comfortable because she was able to rely on his ability and artistry as a partner. They made incredible partners on the stage. And, of course, Shelby Dyer and Asuka Sasaki were beautiful to watch.

Before the excerpt from Don Quixote, there was a three-part “suite” entitled Piazzolla, after the Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla (1921-1992). It was Piazzolla who helped to establish the tango as a major artistic dance in the 20th century. This marvelous work was choreographed by another of Colorado Ballet’s marvelous Ballet Mistresses, Lorita Travaglia. There were three sections to this sweet: Friendship, Love, and Passion. The dancers in this suite were Emily Speed and Kevin Gaël Thomas, Morgan Buchanan and Francisco Estevez, and another new face, Mackenzie Dessens and Kevin Wilson, and Sean Omandam was linked with Sarah Tryon who is yet another new face. I might add that Francisco Estevez has been elevated to the rank of Soloist. In this performance of the first portion of the three-part Suite, these “new faces” clearly demonstrated why Gil Boggs added them to the company. They are remarkable dancers, and another factor that is most important, at least to my observation, these new dancers fit so well in the company because they easily demonstrated their artistry. Tracy Jones and Kevin Hale danced together in Love and Dana Benton and Christopher Moulton were paired in the third part of the suite, Passion. The choreography by Lorita Travaglia seemed to me to be incredibly difficult, however, keep in mind that she is closely connected with all the dancers in the company because she is a Ballet Mistress. Therefore, she knows their abilities and the abilities of ballet artists in general. This knowledge, and her closeness with the dancers on stage allowed her to create an incredibly appealing dance suite. In addition, it was clear that those who danced Piazzolla were reveling in its inherent artistic choreography.

In this article, I have mentioned the word “artistry” several times. That is only easy to do when those involved possess so much of it as evidenced by their performances. Another example of excellent choreography comes, again, from within the organization, and that was demonstrated Saturday evening by the work entitled Lost in Dreamland, with choreography by Kevin Gaël Thomas. The music by William Hill seemed to be a slow tango which was complicated and distorted by the self-same slowness of the tempo. It was danced by Dana Benton and Kevin Gaël Thomas and it was absolutely thrilling to watch. The costumes were done by Colorado Ballet’s own Shirin Lankarani. This was a very forceful piece because of its difficult choreography. It left me wondering how dancers can memorize the incredibly complicated movements that they must complete. Musicians have notes in front of them that they can rely upon and which they learn. They play – or sing – those notes on their instrument. But those in ballet, while they have charts sketching out the choreography, must then translate the charts into movements in the air. That has always seemed immensely difficult to me. Benton and Thomas are enormously skilled artists, and they are breathtaking when they dance together.

The last work on the program was premiered by the Colorado Ballet on February 22, 2013. The music was by Poul Ruders who is a Danish composer (born in 1949) who wrote a concerto for several instruments, so that one can almost sectional-ize his Concerto in Pieces by the instruments that are playing in each section. The choreography was done by Val Caniparoli. I have written about this ballet in the past, and I stated that not only was the rhythm incredibly complicated, but the tempo seemed very fast. Two of the dancers that appeared Saturday night, Asuka Sasaki and Domenico Luciano, have danced this before. New to me in this ballet on Saturday were Morgan Buchanan, Luis Valdes, Shelby Dyer, and Kevin Hale. It requires great ability from the dancers, and I was left wondering who recorded the music by Ruders. The choreography by Caniparoli was specifically done for the Colorado Ballet, so I don’t know if the Colorado Ballet Orchestra recorded the music for the Saturday performance or not, but it was exceedingly well done.

All of the use of the word “artistry” in the above paragraphs lead to one conclusion: the Colorado Ballet – and by that, I mean the entire organization – is an exceptional congregation of artists and staff. The enthusiasm and the dedication displayed in this amalgam of sections from ballets at Saturday’s preview concert simply made one look forward to their coming season with excitement. To you readers who have never attended the Colorado Ballet, I promise you that my use of the word “artistry” was not flippant or used in exaggeration. To those of you who have attended at least one of their performances, you know that I do not aggrandize the standing of this organization.



Art attained: Colorado Ballet

Every time I leave a performance by the Colorado Ballet, I am convinced that I have seen them at their best. Then comes the next performance, and I am amazed once more. Friday night, March 27, their performance at the Gates Concert Hall at the Lamont School of Music was a clear demonstration of the artistry that is inherent in all of their performances. There were two short ballets performed, one of which was quite serious and displayed the love for their art by everyone on stage, and one, which was extremely humorous, was performed for all the children that were in the audience.

The program opened with Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto in G minor, Opus 26. The first performance of this concerto was given with Joseph Joachim as soloist on January 7, 1868, and Bruch quickly achieved worldwide recognition for this marvelous work.

While the idea of a ballet done to a violin concerto may startle some of you, I can assure you that the choreography by Clark Tippett perfectly matched the music. Clark Tippett was born in 1954 in Kansas, and was made a soloist at the American Ballet Theater in 1975. He was promoted to principal in 1976. He choreographed many ballets for companies in the United States, and his choreography for the Bruch’s Violin Concerto which was premiered in 1987, attracted a great deal of attention. He died at the young age of 37 in 1992. His death, was attributed to circumstances surrounding his battle with drugs.

For those of you who did not see this performance, I can assure you that Tippett’s choreography was wonderfully full of imagination, and its relationship to the music of Bruch seemed like a true friendship, rather than an “accompaniment,” because of its artistic merit, and the obvious elation that all of the dancers on stage exhibited. I can assure you that the choreography was difficult indeed. I have seen many performances by the Colorado Ballet where in the dancers seemed to take absolute delight in their profession. At Friday night’s performance that delight metamorphosed into absolute joy. It seemed quite obvious that all of the dancers were quite moved by the beauty of Bruch’s concerto, as well as the beauty of the choreography. That seems like an obvious thing to say: certainly they appreciate their own art or they would not be involved in it. In the past, I have seen some companies where that was not communicated to the audience.

In the First Movement, after every pas de deux by Jesse Marks and Chandra Kuykendall, Asuka Sasaki and Domenico Luciano, the audience responded with great enthusiasm to their artistry and astonishing grace. The audience was truly becoming infected with the same enthusiasm that the dancers exhibited, and it was an absolutely magical thing to see. All of the dancers on stage, Morgan Buchanan, Casey Dalton, Emily Dixon, Tracy Jones, Fernanda Oliveira, Alexandra Pullen, Emily Speed, Melissa Zoebisch, Ariel Breitman, Kevin Hale, Christopher Moulton, Sean Omandam, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Luis Valdes, Kevin Wilson, and Ben Winegar, deserve mention because they were so sensational in matching the emotions and skill of the principals and soloists. That spontaneity of emotions can make a performance truly exceptional rather than excellent, and it was inherent in the performances Friday night.

In the Second Movement, Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov danced in several pas de deux. As I have stated before, Mosina’s arm movements are absolutely the most graceful and frond-like that I have seen. It is also very clear that Mosina and Tyukov work extremely well together because the timing and grace of their movements is something to behold. Friday evening, I must say that Tyukov’s physical strength seemed to be greater than ever: I simply could not believe the length of time that he held Mosina above his head. On the other hand, the difficulty of the choreography certainly dictates who will dance what part, and physical strength, as well as rapport and artistic affinity between the dancers is a consideration. That is something that is shared between Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov. They are breathtaking.

In the third movement Dana Benton and Francisco Estevez danced the pas de deux. These two dancers are, in many ways, very similar to Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov because of their shared like-mindedness in their artistic styles. I know that dancers have to create a certain image on stage, and many times that requires – depending on their role – that they maintain a lovely smile. However, Dana Benton is so convincing because her smile always seems to reflect the absolute joy that her art provides to her personally. She and Estevez were absolutely remarkable Friday evening, and their ability to make the most difficult choreography seem effortless never ceases to amaze me.

Following the Bruch, the Colorado Ballet performed Serge Prokofiev’s masterful Peter and the Wolf. There is hardly anyone who would not recognize the music to this ballet, as it is as well-known as Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker. One of the reasons for its popularity truly must be that Prokofiev, in some ways, seems to have been a child in spirit. In this ballet he appears to have had a mysterious insight into what amuses children. But realize that this story offers adults as well, a chance to escape the monotony of caution that being a grown-up dictates. I also point out that when Prokofiev came to Denver in 1938 to perform his first Piano Concerto and conduct his Classical Symphony with the then-named Denver Symphony, one of the board members took him to see Disney’s new movie, Snow White. He liked it so much that he went back to see it the next day.

The choreography for Friday’s performance was by Michael Smuin (1938-2007). He danced with the American Ballet Theatre and the San Francisco Ballet. He choreographed Broadway productions and had several films to his credit, among them, The Fantasticks.

Peter and the Wolf opens with the Narrator, delightfully done by Joey Wishnia. Wishnia is a very experienced actor who was born in South Africa, and educated at Rhodes University and Trinity College in London. He has written scripts for children’s theater and he has appeared in classical and modern plays, musical theater, opera, ballet, cabaret, reviews, and many radio and television dramas. I must say that he was an excellent choice to fulfill the duties as The Narrator.

The Narrator is assisted by a Musician who presents cutouts of musical instruments as the narrator explains, for example, that The Bird will be represented by the flute. The Musician is supposed to walk out on stage holding a flute to show the audience. However, Friday night, the Musician, wonderfully done by Francisco Estevez, comes out holding a French horn. This, of course, results in nimble wits and savage repartee on behalf of the Narrator which are followed by disrespectful looks and antics by the Musician.

Friday evening, Peter was danced by Kevin Gaël Thomas, the Bird was danced by Dana Benton, the Duck by Morgan Buchanan, the Cat was danced by Tracy Jones, the Wolf by Christopher Moulton, and Jesse Marks danced the role of the Grandfather. The hunters were danced by Ariel Breitman, Curtis Irwin, Raul Orozco, Luis Valdes, Kevin Wilson, and Ben Winegar.

I am constantly amazed at how all of the dancers in the Colorado Ballet are able to communicate with the audience, not only through their dancing ability, but through their acting ability as well. For example, all on stage were absolutely superb in their comedic roles as well as their dancing ability. Everyone not only made their dancing an art, they made their comedy and acting an art. I have seen many ballet performances where the dancing was certainly an art, but everything else was secondary. This is not the case with the Colorado Ballet.

On leaving Gates Hall Friday evening, it finally dawned on me that since Artistic Director Gil Boggs has been with the Colorado Ballet, the choice of choreographers for the ballets has steadily improved. Obviously, this has also led to the improvement of the dancers, and I stress that I do not imply the dancers were poor to begin with. I wish that all of the dancers could have heard the comments from the audience as they left the hall. Certainly, the standing ovation that was received after the Bruch and after the Prokofiev demonstrated how appreciated they were.

There is one sad note that I must communicate. Three of the finest dancers from the Colorado Ballet have announced their retirement. Dmitry Trubchanov, Viacheslav Buchkovskiy, and Jesse Marks will no longer dance after this weekend. They have contributed so much to the Colorado Ballet that it will be very difficult to see them go. I can only hope that they will continue to share their art through teaching and coaching, for that is as much an art as was their dancing. They will be sorely missed, and I wish them well. Thank you, gentlemen, for making the performances brighter with your art.



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




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