Filed under: Reviews | Tags: A Midsummer Night's Dream, Adam Flatt, Alexei Tyukov, Asuka Sasaki, Catherine Sailer, Chandra Kuykendall, Dana Benton, Dmitry Trubchanov, Domenico Luciano, Dracula, Emily Dixon, Emily Speed, Francisco Estevez, Gil Boggs, Lorita Travaglia, Luis Valdes, Maria Mosina, Melissa Zoebisch, Morgan Buchanan, Sandra Brown, Sean Omandam, Sharon Wehner, Shelby Dyer, Tracy Jones, Viacheslav Buchkovskiy
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.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adam Flatt, Ben Stevenson, Catherine Sailer, Christopher Moulton, Cinderella, Colorado Ballet, Dmitry Trubchanov, Francisco Estevez, Gil Boggs, Janie Parker, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Klara Houdet, Lorita Travaglia, Maria Mosina, Michelle Orman, Morgan Buchanan, Sandra Brown, Sergei Prokofiev, Sharon Wehner, Shelby Dyer, Tracy Jones, Viacheslav Buchkovskiy
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.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adam Flatt, Adam Still, Adolphe Adam, Alexi Tyukov, Asuka Sasaki, Caitlin Valentine-Ellis, Chandra Kuykendall, Colorado Ballet, Dana Benton, Dmitry Trubchanov, Gil Boggs, Hector Berlioz, Jean Coralli, Jesse Marks, Jules Perrot, Lorita Travaglia, Maria Mosina, Marius Petipa, Sharon Wehner, Shelby Dyer, Théodore Gouvy, Viacheslav Buchkovskiy
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.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Christopher McCollum, Gil Boggs, Marie Belew Wheatley, Stephen Mills, The Colorado Ballet
Friday evening, March 29, I attended the opening night of the Colorado Ballet’s production of Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project. This was the first time this ballet was performed in Denver. In the program, I also read that “This ballet is inspired by the poignant journey of one Holocaust survivor and serves as a timely reminder of the importance of the protection of human rights.” The italics on the word poignant are mine. I italicized it because it is such an incredible understatement. The ballet was remarkably artistic because of its expression, dancing, acting, and because of its absolutely new approach to choreography. However, it wasn’t just poignant, it was devastating and heartrending, but that’s what the Holocaust was.
This ballet is in one large movement with five very distinct segments and no intermission. It begins with the Tree of Life/Family; then Segregation and Marginalization; Humanity as property/Control through terror; Coping inside the box; and finally, Survival. There are five outstanding composers used for the music in this ballet: Steve Reich (Tehillim); Evelyn Glennie (Rhythm Song); Michael Gordon (Weather); Arvo Pärt (Tabula Rasa); and Philip Glass (Tirol Concerto).
The Choreographer was Stephen Mills of Ballet Austin in Austin, Texas. I will quote from the program notes:
“Known for his innovative and collaborative choreographic projects, Stephen Mills has works in the repertories of companies across the US and around the world. From his inaugural season as Artistic Director in 2000, Mills attracted attention from around the United States with his world-premiere production of Hamlet, hailed by Dance Magazine as ‘…sleek and sophisticated.’ The Washington Post recognized Ballet Austin as ‘one of the nation’s best-kept secrets’ in 2004 after Ballet Austin performed Mills’ world premiere of The Taming of the Shrew, commissioned by and performed at The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The Company was first invited to perform at Kennedy Center in January of 2002 with the Mills production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and at The Joyce Theater (NYC) in 2004. In 2005 after two years of extensive research, Mills led 13 organizations through a community-wide human rights collaboration that culminated in the world premiere work Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project. In 2006 Light / The Holocaust & Humanity Project was awarded the Audrey & Raymond Maislin Humanitarian Award by
The Anti-Defamation League.
“In 1998 Mills was the choreographer chosen to represent the U.S. through his work, Ashes, at the Rencontres Chorégraphiques Internationales de Seine-Saint-Denis in Paris. Most recently, Mr. Mills was awarded the Steinberg Award, the top honor at the Festival des Arts de Saint-Sauveur International Choreographic Competition for One/The Body’s Grace.
”Mr. Mills has created more than 40 works for companies in the United States and abroad. His ballets are in the repertories of such companies as The Hong Kong Ballet, American Ballet Theatre Studio Company, The Atlanta Ballet, The Milwaukee Ballet, Washington Ballet, Cuballet in Havana, Cuba, BalletMet Columbus, The Dayton Ballet, The Sarasota Ballet of Florida, Ballet Pacifica, Dallas Black Dance Theater, The Louisville Ballet, The Nashville Ballet, Fort Worth/Dallas Ballet, The Sacramento Ballet and Dance Kaleidoscope. He has worked in collaboration with such luminaries as the eight-time Grammy Award-winning band, Asleep at the Wheel, Shawn Colvin and internationally renowned flamenco artist José Greco II.
”In addition to his work as a choreographer, Mr. Mills is a master teacher committed to developing dancers. He has been invited as guest faculty at many pre-professional academies including Jacob’s Pillow, Goucher College; Booker T. Washington High School for the Performing Arts in Dallas; The Virginia School of the Arts; The New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts; Stephens College and Point Park College in Pittsburgh. Mr. Mills is a member of the national dance service organization Dance/USA and has served both in leadership roles and on the Board of Trustees for the organization.”
Notice how extensively I quoted from Mills’ biography. I truly believe that Mills will be recognized as one of the great choreographers along with Balanchine, Ailey, Graham, Cunningham, Taylor, and deMille. In this ballet, his choreography was fast-paced, and required great energy and strength on the part of the dancers. It struck me as being incredibly difficult because of the physical demands. I am also sure that it took a great deal of mental strength, because there were none of the “traditional” ballet movements that so many dancers must learn when they are being trained. Above all, the choreography was enormously expressive, and every dancer in the Colorado Ballet responded to that quite easily: it is emotional and dramatic expression that makes this ballet company one of the best in the United States.
The ballet begins with a nineteen-year-old girl having a conversation with the woman she is to become. The Girl was danced by Caitlin Valentine-Ellis, and the Woman by Lorita Travaglia. What a pleasant surprise it was to see Travaglia on stage, even if she did not dance. The fact that she did not dance, and was therefore “silent,” made her appearance more dramatic. On rare occasions, I have seen her at rehearsals work with the other dancers, and as Ballet Mistress, she is one of the hard-working members of the staff. The above-mentioned “Girl” and “Woman” are the same person in the ballet’s first segment, and the Woman shows the young Girl what she will become, as she will be a survivor of the Holocaust. The music for the first segment was by Steve Reich, and was a cacophony of human voices, which, to me, seemed to demonstrate the sameness of all humanity.
Notice the different segments that I mention in the second paragraph of this article. The second segment, Segregation and Marginalization, demonstrates the process of deeming individuals as members of “The Other.” I was absolutely amazed at how every single dancer onstage reflected the anguished puzzlement and disbelief in that process. And in the third segment, Humanity as property/Control through terror, “The Others” were taken away on railroad boxcars to be delivered to the camps, and it was heartrending to see some of the dancers simply rolled off the boxcars because they did not survive the trip. The music of the third segment was composed of perhaps eight or nine warning sirens (air raid sirens?) and a low pedal point from an organ or synthesizer. The warning sirens were actually part of the composition entitled Weather by Michael Gordon.
Segment IV showed the humaneness and survival instincts of those in the camps. Segment V represented a glimmer of hope shown by those who did survive and The Woman who had a productive life, family, and a successful relationship.
While this ballet was, of course, definitively choreographed, it was remarkable to me that Stephen Mills somehow allowed each dancer to show individual expression, and how that expression was personalized and demonstrated by all of the dancers onstage.
I have often remarked in my articles concerning the Colorado Ballet about its depth of ability, and my sincere belief that the individuals who go out on stage could dance any solo they choose. That depth of artistic ability was clearly in evidence Friday evening. Lesley Allred, Dana Benton, Morgan Buchanan, Cara Cooper, Klara Houdet, Tracy Jones, Asoka Sasaki, Christina Schifano, Megan Swisher, Sally Turkel, Sharon Wehner, Gregory DeSantis, Francisco Estevez, Jesse Marks, Christopher Moulton, Sean Omandam, Adam Still, Jeremy Studinski, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Dmitry Trubchanov, Luis Valdes, and Ben Winegar all deserve the highest praise. Their dramatic ability is as powerful as their dancing.
Stephen Mills’ choreography of this ballet demonstrated completely that choreography is to ballet what composition is to music. I am as amazed by his concept of movement as I am by Bach’s counterpoint, a Haydn quartet, or a Beethoven Symphony. And, I must mention the set and costume design by Christopher McCollum. It went hand-in-hand with the choreography.
Gil Boggs, Marie Belew Wheatley, and the Board of the Colorado Ballet deserve much praise for presenting a ballet that is so strong and uncompromising in its presentation. The artistry of this ballet performance was also strong and uncompromising. We must remember its message.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adam Still, Alexei Tyukov, Art Bouton, Asuka Sasaki, Caitlin Valentine-Ellis, Chandra Kuykendall, Chrstipher Ellis, Dana Benton, Dimitry Trubchanov, George Balanchine, Gil Boggs, Glen Tetley, Jesse Marks, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Lydia Sviatlovskaya, Maria Mosina, Michael Allen, Sharon Wehner, Shelby Dyer, The Colorado Ballet
Every season, the Colorado Ballet has always performed an unrelated trilogy of one act ballets that, for the last several years, have represented some of the finest dancing of which the company is capable. Sometimes there are fewer people in the audience because these ballets do not necessarily represent a kingpin in the season, such as The Nutcracker does. However, I have noticed that those who attend this “trilogy” seem to be those who really love dance, and are dedicated to the Colorado Ballet. Therefore, these three ballets have always struck me as representing a “kingpin” performance.
Friday evening, February 22, the Colorado Ballet presented such an evening entitled Ballet MasterWorks. The three ballets that made up this splendid evening were Theme and Variations, with music by Tchaikovsky and choreography by Balanchine; In Pieces with music by Poul Ruders and choreography by Val Caniparoli; and the third ballet of the evening was The Rite of Spring, with music by Igor Stravinsky and choreography by Glen Tetley.
The Colorado Ballet opened the program with Theme and Variations by Tchaikovsky and Balanchine. This was an important performance because this was the first time that the Colorado Ballet has performed a work by George Balanchine in the last ten years. Many of you who read this article will know that George Balanchine, (1904-1983), was the most influential choreographer of classical ballet in the United States in the 20th century. He was the founder of the New York City Ballet, and he also pioneered the use of choreography for film and musical theater. In 1947, he choreographed the music from Tchaikovsky’s Orchestral Suite Nr. 3 in G, Opus 55. It has no plot or storyline, and is therefore an example of classical ballet technique that is so extraordinary that it has become an indispensable portion of ballet repertoire.
Friday evening, the principles in this ballet were the incomparable Maria Mosina and the likewise incomparable, Alexei Tyukov. The Demi-Soloist ladies were Dana Benton, Shelby Dyer, Asuka Sasaki, and Caitlin Valentine-Ellis. The Demi-Soloist men were Christopher Ellis, Jesse Marks, and Adam Still.
The only set decoration on stage for this ballet were chandeliers hanging from the stage ceiling, because the original production indicated that it was to be done in a “warmly lit ballroom.” The women wore tutus, and the men wore quasi-military costumes of the nineteenth century. Two things struck me immediately: the first was that I could not recall seeing a classical ballet that required such incredible strength on the part of the dancers; and, in addition, the orchestra sounded better than it ever has, and it has always been excellent. I am constantly mystified at how seemingly easy it is for all of the dancers in this company to exude such incredible grace along with such incredible strength and control over what they do. Of course, that control takes strength, and it takes incredible mental strength to do so many things at once: keep the beat, smile, watch the conductor, worry about the conductor watching you, and learning to rely on those who are around you on stage. But one of the pleasures in watching Mosina and Tyukov is their remarkable reliability. Their solos were startling because of their difficulty, and in watching these two dance, they reflected the joy of their profession. I think that in ballet, that joy is easier to perceive than it is in watching orchestra members or solo musicians perform. A dancer has to perform with their entire body. Musicians have to perform by holding instruments or touching an instrument, and I think that makes a difference. It is often difficult for me to write a review of a ballet simply because there are so many on stage that I can’t just list every individual. But, the Colorado Ballet has such depth of artistic ability, that all of the dancers should be named.
The pas de deux by Mosina and Tyukov was sensational, not only because they are so skilled, but because they have such incredible trust and knowledge of each other’s reliability. Mosina knows exactly how she will be caught by Tyukov, and she knows he has the ability to hold her over his head. Tyukov can rely upon Mosina to make a leap in exactly the right moment so that he can catch her with great ease. All of this seems so obvious, that it hardly seems worth mentioning. But, I do mention it because the choreography in this opening work was incredibly difficult, and the reliability that I have mentioned in the preceding sentences is what separates the Colorado Ballet from other dance companies around the country. I heard an individual comment on a photograph of the composer Carlisle Floyd, who was hard at work at his desk. This individual said, “Look at the expression on his face! He is really concentrating hard, and it looks as if composing is hard. Is writing an opera really difficult?” So, you see, that’s why I sometimes feel compelled to mention the obvious.
The orchestra was superb in Theme and Variations. There is a marvelous violin solo in Tchaikovsky’s work and it was beautifully done by Lydia Sviatlovskaya.
Another reason that the house should have been full Friday evening was the World Premiere of the second ballet of the evening, In Pieces, choreographed by Val Caniparoli, who is the choreographer for the San Francisco Ballet. The music which Caniparoli used for this ballet is by Poul Ruders: his Concerto in Pieces “Purcell Variations” (1994-95).
I will quote briefly from the websites of Caniparoli and Ruders:
“Born in Renton, Washington, Mr. Caniparoli opted for a professional dance career after studying music and theatre at Washington State University. In 1972, he received a Ford Foundation Scholarship to attend San Francisco Ballet School. He performed with San Francisco Opera Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet in 1973. He continues to perform with the Company as a principal character dancer.
“He has contributed to the repertories of more than thirty-five dance companies, including Pacific Northwest Ballet, Boston Ballet, Northern Ballet Theatre, Pennsylvania Ballet, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Ballet West (Resident Choreographer 1993-97), Washington Ballet, Israel Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, Singapore Dance Theatre, Atlanta Ballet, State Theatre Ballet of South Africa, Louisville Ballet and Tulsa Ballet, where he has been resident choreographer since 2001. When Boston Ballet danced the company premiere of Mr. Caniparoli’s full-length Lady of the Camellias in 2004, the critic for the Boston Herald wrote, ‘Why have we had to wait so long to see a ballet by this gifted choreographer?’”
And now, Poul Ruders:
“Poul Ruders was born in Ringsted, Denmark, on March 27, 1949. His early studies in piano and organ led eventually to studies in orchestration with the Danish composer Karl Aage Rasmussen. Ruders’s first compositions date from the mid-60s. Ruders regards his own compositional development as a gradual one, with his true voice emerging with the chamber concerto, Four Compositions, of 1980. Writing about Ruders, the English critic Stephen Johnson states: ‘He can be gloriously, explosively extrovert one minute-withdrawn, haunted, intently inward-looking the next. Super-abundant high spirits alternate with pained, almost expressionistic lyricism; simplicity and directness with astringent irony.’
“Poul Ruders has created a large body of music ranging from opera and orchestral works through chamber, vocal and solo music. In recent years, performances of his work on both sides of the Atlantic and in such distant locals as China, Japan and Russia have taken place with increasing regularity. With the overwhelming success of his second opera, The Handmaid’s Tale (1996-98), produced in Copenhagen (2000), Ruders became even more in demand, with commissions coming in rapid succession from The Berlin Philharmonic, The New York Philharmonic, The BBC Symphony Orchestra, and from The Royal Danish Opera. Recent performances include productions of The Handmaid’s Tale in Toronto and London, and orchestral premieres and performances in Berlin, New York and London.”
The music that Caniparoli chose is a set of variations on themes of the English composer, Purcell. However, Ruders variations began very exuberantly with a full orchestra performing at a good solid forte. It was instant excitement. It has been a long time since I have seen a ballet choreographed with such vigorous and rapid movements. The dancers in this terrific ballet were Caitlin Valentine-Ellis, Dmitry Trubchanov, Chandra Kuykendall, Jesse Marks, Sharon Wehner, and Christopher Ellis. The costumes were avant-garde: the danseuses wore smoky blue tights with transparent “petals” as skirts. The danseurs wore smoky gray tights with much smaller “petals.” This added to the aspect of being in a totally new world. The choreography was very rapid and incredibly energetic, but it was so imaginative that it almost defies description. And, I might add, that the choreography was absolutely beautiful. So much of that beauty was the result of the grace added to these very energetic movements. In the press release announcing this concert, Artistic Director Gil Boggs said, and I quote, “These three works in one evening with a live orchestra performance will make for a very powerful night of dance and music, and will leave the audience in awe.” Truthfully, that is an understatement. I would classify this style of choreography as abstract expressionist, but to fully fit that definition may be impossible, just as architecture as designated in the abstract expressionist style is impossible, because it could not be used by human beings. But the choreography was so creative and so imaginative, and the music wonderfully chosen by the choreographer and written by the composer, and it seems new, that it was hard to classify. I assure you that this was not “modern dance.” It was ballet in its purest form. The orchestra was sensational, and there was some marvelous saxophone solo and an equally marvelous tuba solo. I am sure that it was Art Bouton performing the saxophone solo and Michael Allen performing on the tuba. Both were incredibly mellifluous.
The third ballet Friday evening was the legendary Le Sacre du Printemps, or The Rite of Spring, by Igor Stravinsky. The choreography was done by Glen Tetley. Everyone, I am sure, is familiar with the legendary story of the near riot that this ballet caused in 1913 at its Paris premiere. The French audience was simply not accustomed to Stravinsky’s music, nor was it accustomed to the “risqué” choreography that Stravinsky required. Even Stravinsky’s good friend, Claude Debussy, seemed to be nonplussed. The musicologist, who was a friend of both, Louis Laloy, wrote of a meeting between Stravinsky and Debussy at Debussy’s house when the two sat down at the piano to play through a forehand arrangement of Stravinsky’s ballet. Debussy played the bass while Stravinsky played the upper register. These two giant composers had greeted each other at the beginning of the afternoon with hugs and handshakes, but after reading through the score, Debussy could do nothing but continually stare at the score, dumbfounded.
This is such an historic work in so many respects, that it is almost embarrassing to admit that I have never seen it before, but this was the first time. I found myself wondering what it would be like to sit there in 1913. The choreography was originally done by Vaslav Nijinsky, and it was long thought to have been lost, but it was recently reconstructed by the Joffrey Ballet. My initial reaction to Glen Tetley’s choreography, and it was sustained throughout the entire ballet, is that this is a beautiful work. Glen Tetley’s choreography was remarkable and very satisfying, and like the ballet before it, In Pieces, very energetic.
In the program notes, there was a quote from Glen Tetley which may be of help to those who are unfamiliar with this ballet. I will quote verbatim:
“Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is earth music of profoundly moving power. It speaks to me not only of pagan Russia, but our ancestral beginnings of Myth and Belief. When seasons changed, when earth seemed to die without a leaf to survive, man heaped the blame on a single person, a chosen victim who was killed and then buried within the earth, ritually mourned and then miraculously reborn, bringing the gift of life to earth. T.S. Eliot in his poem, Gerontion, in one line captures this magic moment, “and in the spring comes ‘Christ the Tiger’.”
The Chosen One was danced by Adam Still; Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov danced the Earth Mother and Earth Father. Casey Dalton and Asoka Sasaki with a female soloists, and Jesse marks and Kevin Gaël Thomas were the male soloists.
I don’t think I have ever seen Adam still dance so well: he was not only sensational in his dancing, but in his expressivity as well. Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov were absolutely perfect. Their pas de deux was overwhelming in its tenderness. And, of course, Dalton, Sasaki, and Marks and Thomas were outstanding.
As I left the Ellie Caulkins Theatre, I was convinced that this was one of the best productions I have ever seen from the Colorado Ballet. Then I remember Echoing of Trumpets, Dracula, Romeo and Juliet, and, you see how many I have mentioned already. This makes obvious that in The Colorado Ballet, we have a treasure that has set the standard for the arts not only in Denver, but for the country as well. The Colorado Ballet is that good, and we must never take them for granted.