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.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adam Flatt, Catherine Sailer, Gil Boggs, Lorita Travaglia, Sandra Brown, The Colorado Ballet
There are times in any performing organization when, as a result of all the hard work and artistic skill, things align in just the right way so that it would seem the performance cannot be improved upon. Most certainly, it is not the result of luck or good fortune. One has to develop the ability to see what needs to be accomplished, and then possess the ability to make everything involved a very special case. That is precisely what the Colorado Ballet did, and clearly has done at all of their rehearsals, leading to Saturday night’s performance on November 24.
Truly, I don’t think I have ever heard the Colorado Ballet Orchestra perform as well as they did Saturday evening. They were absolutely superb: they were, beat for beat with the danseurs and coryphées, and the dancers were with them. That, in itself, is extremely difficult to carry off as perfectly as it occurred at the opening performance. Maestro Adam Flatt, when conducting a ballet, not only has to conduct the orchestra, but must also conduct the dancers while allowing them their own artistic freedom. He has to be able to anticipate the dancer’s moves while supplying them with the rhythmic and melodic background to which they perform. Of course, that sounds obvious, but that does not mean that it is easy or should be taken for granted. As I said above, I simply have not heard the Colorado Ballet Orchestra perform at such a level. Maestro Flatt and Maestra Catherine Sailer have truly had a profound impact on this orchestra.
The Colorado Ballet is, of course, deeply indebted to the inspiration and guidance of its Artistic Director, Gil Boggs. The kind of performance that was given Saturday evening would not be possible without the forward thinking leadership and enthusiasm that Boggs has been able to spread throughout the company. There certainly seems to be solid leadership on the board of directors as well as in the studio.
The reason I address this before I even begin to write about the dancers in the company is that I don’t think I have ever seen the entire company reflect such joy in dancing as they did Saturday evening. Of course, they like what they do, or they wouldn’t be doing it, but their enthusiasm on the opening night of The Nutcracker was something to behold, and virtually everyone on stage revealed it. That revelation made this performance outstanding.
I have always admired Dana Benton, who danced Clara Saturday evening, and Sean Omandam who danced Fritz: both of them excelled Saturday, and absolutely sparkled in their roles. In addition, the contribution that Gregory K. Gonzales makes to this production, as Drosselmeyer, and to the Colorado Ballet as a whole, cannot be understated. He was excellent. As Drosselmeyer works his magic, it was apparent, in this production, that the Christmas tree was not growing, but that everyone was shrinking down to the size of the Nutcracker and mice. And the outsized toys under the tree emphasize that fact. That event was quite clear in Saturday’s performance, even though in the past it has been the same. E. T. A. Hoffman would have loved it.
The connection between scenes in Saturday’s performance was considerably more seamless than in previous productions. The entire First Act flowed together so that when the intermission arrived, it seemed as though only ten minutes had passed. Casey Dalton, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Cara Cooper, Shelby Dyer, Morgan Buchanan, and Caitlin Valentine-Ellis were all superb.
Act II, as all of you must surely know by now, presents the trip that the (Nutcracker) Prince and Clara take to enchanted lands, where they are entertained by many dancers. The Spanish, Arabian, Chinese, March and, Russian, Dew Drop, and the Flowers were all exceptional, but there were three that stood out, at least to my way of thinking. This ballet seems to have more lifting required, where the male dancer raises his female partner over his head. In Saturday’s production, Luis Valdes and Shelby Dyer danced the Arabian. Valdes accomplished this with such grace and ease and lack of hesitation that I was awestruck. I’ve seen this ballet many times, but never have I seen it accomplished with such seeming lack of effort. I point out that Shelby Dyer must have enough confidence in Valdes that she can allow and trust him to do this without flinching. And, of course, it must all be done under Maestro Flatt’s, Martin Fredmann’s (the choreographer), Sandra Brown’s and Tchaikovsky’s direction.
The second dance that I found spectacular was Marzipan, which was danced by Casey Dalton, Caitlin Valentine-Ellis, and Jesse Marks. The characterization and humorous drama that this pas de trois provided to the audience was delightful. The members of the Colorado Ballet have always surprised me with their acting ability as well as their dancing ability. I don’t recall seeing this depth in other dance companies, except very rarely.
The third dance was the Dance of the Flowers. At the very beginning, the orchestra and the dancers wrought an incredible rubato that was absolutely and precisely together. They did it more than once. Rubato means “dwell on” where the rhythm is used to prolong prominent melodic tones (or chords). This requires an equivalent acceleration of the less prominent tones, so that the time value is robbed. It is one thing for a soloist to accomplish this because a soloist does not have to rely on anyone else to stay with him. But when an orchestra does it together with a group of dancers onstage, and does it repeatedly with no errors, it is something of which to take notice. It is the result of incredible work and skill, and an exchange of artistic thought between dancer and conductor. For that reason, I came away from this performance thinking that the Dance of the Flowers must be one of the most subtly difficult in this entire ballet. It was mesmerizing.
Of course, another highlight of this remarkable performance was the pas de deux between the Sugar Plum Fairy, danced by Maria Mosina, and the Cavalier, danced by Alexei Tyukov. Both of these Principals are so full of grace, beauty, and strength that it absolutely boggles the mind. Their pas de deux requires many jeté entrelacés and grand jetés, but they never seem to get tired, and in addition they communicated this pervasive sense of joy in what they were doing that it was infectious. It was palpable.
I have said this before, but it bears repeating. It is extremely rare to attend a performance of a ballet company that has such remarkable depth of artistic ability. It is rare to see performances by a ballet company where virtually all of the dancers so easily demonstrate the love for what they do. That makes an incredible difference. The staging, done by Lorita Travaglia and Sandra Brown, was excellent. The Colorado Ballet is fortunate beyond compare to have Gil Boggs, Maestro Adam Flatt, and Maestra Catherine Sailer, Sandra Brown, and Lorita Travaglia as the Artistic Staff. For any organization to succeed as the Colorado Ballet has succeeded, it is clear that they must support one another and share a mutual artistic respect. Everything this entire company produces is art.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Alexei Tyukov, Asuka Sasaki, Casey Dalton, Colorado Ballet, Gil Boggs, Lorita Travaglia, Mary Belew Wheatlley, Sandra Brown, Sean Omandam, Sharon Wehner
It is safe to say that The Sleeping Beauty is Tchaikovsky’s most perfect ballet score. As a piece of music, it ranks with his Fourth Symphony, and it certainly established Tchaikovsky’s reputation as a composer of ballet music which was far more than merely functional. You must understand that ballet music before Tchaikovsky, was truly functional, and served no purpose outside of ballet performances. Indeed, it was not composed to be used outside of a ballet performance. But, Tchaikovsky infused his ballet scores with such emotion and melodic beauty that the music heightened the drama of the plot, thus, the music became popular on the concert stage.
The story of The Sleeping Beauty is from a book entitled, Tales of Mother Goose by Charles Perrault, who was the comptroller–general of all the buildings that belonged to King Louis XIV. Included in the book were two other famous stories, Little Red Riding Hood, and Puss in Boots. This book became Perrault’s most famous work, and earned for him the title of “the father of the French fairytale.”
The Colorado Ballet’s production of this ballet uses the original choreography by Marius Petipa (1818-1910) and was staged by Artistic Director Gil Boggs; Sandra Brown, Ballet Mistress; and Ballet Mistress, Lorita Travaglia. The scene and costume design was done by Peter Cazelet and were rented from Ballet West. The scenery was some of the best use of scrim that I have seen for a long time, and I think that the Colorado Ballet made a wise choice when they rented this particular scenery.
I was able to attend the Saturday evening performance, and it was absolutely one of the best productions I have seen the Colorado Ballet present. The curtain opened to the christening of Princess Aurora who is showered with the character traits of Serenity, Vitality, Generosity, Happiness, and Temperament. I capitalized those traits because each one is a fairy, and each one made a lasting impression because of her acting ability, as well as her dancing ability. In the order that I listed them were Dana Benton, Klara Houdet, Caitlin Valentine-Ellis, Casey Dalton, and Asuka Sasaki. Right away it was obvious that these dancers were excellent actors, and all of equal ability. But I must tell you that it was Casey Dalton, as the Happiness Fairy who captured my heart because of her bubbly and effervescent acting. The christening ceremony is interrupted by the evil fairy, Carabosse, who was portrayed by Gregory K. Gonzales. Gonzales was superb in portraying the evil fairy who places a curse on Princess Aurora because the King and Queen did not invite her to the christening party. As all of you who are familiar with the story of The Sleeping Beauty know, the curse causes the Princess to prick her finger on a spindle and die. But the curse is thwarted by the good Lilac Fairy, danced so wonderfully by Shelby Dyer, so that the Princess will only fall asleep for 100 years.
The evil Carabosse was accompanied by four henchmen, danced by Sean Omandam, Rylan Schwab, Jeremy Studinski, and Kevin Wilson. These four dancers were absolutely marvelous, and their chaotic and rude behavior was so convincing and so skilled that I found myself wondering if it was harder to portray evil rowdies, or to portray beneficent fairies.
In the second scene of Act I, Princess Aurora is 16 years of age and is pursued by four suitors. There was an incredible scene where the Princess, danced by the outstanding Principal, Sharon Wehner, greets her suitors, and as they pass by, she performs an arabesque, en pointe, as she touches each suitor lightly on the hand. You must understand that there is a period of some seconds while she is standing only on the toes of one foot with no other support. She left the vivid impression that she could stand en pointe on one foot for the whole day if it was required of her. That takes incredible endurance, balance, and strength.
Carabosse returns with a spindle, presents it to the Princess, and by pricking her finger the curse comes true. Everyone at Aurora’s 16th birthday celebration falls asleep for one hundred years. Sharon Wehner’s acting in this scene was brilliant, projecting the fright of what was happening to her as the curse began to take effect. She has an incredibly malleable face, and she is able to change her expression and make it visible to everyone in the audience. Throughout this entire performance, the Colorado Ballet Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Adam Flatt, was magnificent. The woodwind section in this orchestra is superior, and the oboe, played by Kathryn Dupuy, was outstanding. Flatt has to follow the dancers in the manner that a conductor has to follow a soloist performing a concerto: there must be the same give and take between dancer and conductor and the dancer’s feet must touch the stage at specific rhythmic points.
Act II opens in an enchanted forest. The scrim was, again, very magically done with a statue on a pedestal cleverly painted so that it was almost invisible. And, likewise, there was the face peering out of a hollow tree. Prince Desiré is leading a hunting party. Seeking a moment’s rest, he sends his hunting companions on without him. The Lilac Fairy appears, and creates the image of the sleeping Princess before his eyes. He falls in love, and asks the Lilac Fairy to show him where she is. The Prince kisses the sleeping Princess, awakening her, and he kneels before her, asking for her hand in marriage. Alexei Tyukov was sensational as Prince Desiré. Every step that he took displayed great strength and great ease. I must say that everyone in this dance company displays great strength, and, mind you, that also applies to Sharon Wehner, Shelby Dyer, and all of the women in the cast. They are all in superb physical shape, or they simply could not do what Marius Petipa demands. All of the ballerinas in the company can do a Pas de bourée couru with ease and alacrity and, to my eyes, that has to be one of the most difficult steps to dance. In this particular ballet, Petipa seems to have been obsessed with this particular step, because it occurs over and over.
Act III is the wedding of the Prince and Princess, and all of Perrault’s characters make their appearance –Red Riding Hood, the Wolf, the Bluebird, and Puss-in-Boots.
The performance of this ballet was absolutely world class. All of the dancers of the Colorado Ballet have demonstrated that they belong on stage, and the Colorado Ballet is remarkable for its depth of artistry. This Ballet Company seems to be thriving: they have a truly outstanding orchestra led by Maestro Adam Flatt and Maestra Catherine Sailer, a truly outstanding Artistic Director in the person of Gil Boggs, and they have a truly outstanding board chaired by Marie Belew Wheatley.
In the last few years, I have come to expect a good performance from the Colorado Ballet. At every performance, my expectations have always been surpassed. They are consistently world-class. The quality of The Sleeping Beauty performance made me realize how much I missed seeing performances such as this during the off-season. The thought occurred to me that it would be truly wonderful if the funders of the Colorado Ballet, foundations and individuals alike, could support the ballet to the extent that they could perform major ballets the year-round. I suppose that on the surface that seems unreasonable, because there would almost have to be a summer company as well as a regular season company.
After all, there are many cities throughout the United States that have summer orchestra festivals – some are here in Colorado. I truly believe the Colorado Ballet has the ability to draw an audience from all over the United States for a summer ballet festival.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Amy Seiwert, Christine Darch, Colorado Ballet, Gil Boggs, Jodie Gates, Max Richter, Sandra Kerr, Terry Riley
Every time I attend a performance by the Colorado Ballet, I am left with the feeling that it is such a privilege.
Thursday evening, March 29, I attended the opening of Tribute. The Colorado Ballet gave the performance this title because it was a tribute to Lillian Covillo and Freidann Parker, the founders of the Colorado Ballet. I felt that I was privileged because the performance was so absolutely marvelous. The program was comprised of three separate ballets of approximately twenty minutes each. All three ballets were World Premieres. Each ballet was very different in character, and each was choreographed by different choreographers: Emery LeCrone, Amy Seiwert, and the Jodie Gates.
All three ballets were done without scenery on the Gates Hall stage at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts. The lack of scenery was, in truth, rather refreshing because that allowed me, at least, to concentrate on the dancing and the music, and certainly, the size of the Gates Hall stage certainly seemed quite adequate.
The opening ballet of this three-part performance was choreographed by Emery LeCrone. Ms. LeCrone, who attended the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, is a very prolific choreographer, and she is the Choreographer in Residence of the New Chamber Ballet and the Columbia Ballet Collaborative. The title of this first ballet of the evening is Archetypes, and was written for ten women and eight men. The principal dancers were Maria Mosina, Chandra Kuykendall, and Dmitry Trubchanov. There were also two soloists: Dana Benton and Caitlin Valentine-Ellis. The other dancers came from the Corps.
From the outset, it was apparent that this was going to be a very intense performance. I was unable to find out anything concerning a suggested plot for this ballet, and indeed, there may not be a plot. But it seemed to me that it centered around two women – Mosina and Kuykendall – who were polar opposites in their approach to life and men. Ms. LeCrone chose music composed by Terry Riley, and its intensity certainly provided the motivation for the dancers. Terry Riley has been strongly influenced by John Cage, and, in 1964, he moved into the realm of minimalist music. It is amazing to me how Mosina and Kuykendall can add tension, intensity, and such fluid grace all in one short ballet. It seems to me that both of them were intent upon portraying characters that were extremely comfortable in their own life, but extremely uncomfortable in facing each other. Such are the gifts of these two ballerinas, that they can convey so many facets of mood through movement. Yes, I know there are many of you who will say that is what dancers do, but these two are truly exceptional. Everyone in this company is exceptional, and that is one of the reasons why I think the Colorado ballet is one of the best ballet companies in the United States. I also noticed that in the last year, the artistic abilities of Greg DeSantis and Morgan Buchanan have just exploded in grandness. They showed absolutely marvelous confidence on stage, and that is what it takes to match everybody else they were performing with. It is my hope that everyone who was in the audience this evening could realize that the performance of ballet takes intense (there’s that word again) mental effort as well as the noticeable physical strength and endurance. The choreography of Archetypes was quite remarkable because it had so many new movements that I have not seen without destroying the emotional impact of what the dancers conveyed. I have seen some avant-garde ballets where, in spite of the good music (and Terry Riley is a very good composer) the choreography did not seem to match. This was most certainly not the case Thursday evening. It was a wonderful amalgam of music and dance and emotion.
The second ballet of the evening was choreographed by Amy Seiwert, and was entitled Traveling Alone. Ms. Seiwert is currently the Choreographer in Residence at the Smuin Ballet. She has won many awards and her creations are part of the repertoire in several ballets in the United States and Canada. She has been lauded in Dance Magazine and has been invited twice to participate in the New York Choreography Institute.
Dana Benton was remarkable in portraying a young woman all alone. Again, the emotions in this ballet combined apprehension and loneliness with one’s surroundings. I must admit that I am totally unfamiliar with the composer, Max Richter, whose music was used by Amy Seiwert. I do know that he has written several film scores, and he has received a commission for the Royal Ballet in England. The music that Seiwert chose for her ballet is highly effective and Dana Benton and Luis Valdes were superb. As I have written before about the Colorado Ballet: it is one of the most consistent ballet companies in the country. When I say consistent, I mean that they are consistently excellent in their artistic merit, not only as individuals, but as an entire company. They are consistent in their dramatic abilities. I know that all performers, after a performance, always look back and say to themselves, “Oh, I wish I could’ve done this better.”, but I assure you I have never seen any of these dancers commit what I would consider a gross blunder. I have seen that in other ballet companies. It was very interesting for me, as a musician, to be totally unaware of how carefully the choreographers chose their music. I mention that, because none of the music for these ballets was commissioned specifically for these three programs. Obviously, the music was chosen because it suggested something very specific to the choreographers. That seems like a very obvious statement, but it is one more item on the list that made this performance so intimate in an already intimate setting, compared to the Ellie Caulkins Theatre.
The third ballet of this wonderful evening was entitled Embellish. It was choreographed by Jodie Gates who is known the world over for her choreography, as well as her creation of a California-based nonprofit organization called Laguna Dance Festival. She has danced as a Principal Ballerina with ballet companies all over Europe and the United States and she is currently Professor of Dance at the University of California.
I was quite surprised to see (and hear) the music of Mozart used in her ballet. There were arias, there was a movement from a Mozart Violin Sonata, and there was a movement from a Violin Concerto.
Maria Mosina and Dmitry Trubchanov once again took the stage along with Sharon Wehner and Christopher Ellis, Chandra Kuykendall and Alexei Tyukov. They were joined by members of the Corps. The choreography was modern even though the music came from the classical period. If anyone had suggested this to me before I came to Thursday evenings performance, I most likely would have dismissed the two widely varied styles of art. Seeing it made me believe that almost anything can be danced to. And, indeed, that was a view expressed by the late great Merce Cunningham. Mosina and Trubchanov work incredibly well together, and both of them exude remarkable physical and emotional power when they are on stage. And, I promise you that I heard softly murmured expressions to that effect from the audience as these two danced. It is also interesting to note that Sharon Wehner is probably the smallest individual in the company, but when she is on stage her artistic skills truly make her larger than life. She and Christopher Ellis were absolutely superb, as were Chandra Kuykendall and Alexei Tyukov. That opinion makes me feel it necessary to stress again: the Colorado Ballet has such remarkable depth that if it ever became necessary, any of the dancers could substitute for any of the other’s positions. There are not many ballet companies in the country in which that could happen.
The costumes which were done by Christine Darch and Sandra Kerr were excellent. You must understand that I never get tired of using that word when I associate it with the Colorado Ballet.
I might say one thing, however, and that is that I was surprised by Mozart’s name in the program where he was listed as Amadeus Mozart. I wonder why Wolfgang Mozart was not used, because Mozart did not like the name of Amadeus, and on his marriage contract of August 3, 1782, he signed his name Wolfgang Amade Mozart, leaving off the final -us of his middle name, and on the remainder of the documents he signed them Wolfgang Adam Mozart. In a letter of 1787 to his friend Gottfried von Jacquin, Mozart explains how, on a trip to Prague, he and his wife made up names for themselves, their dog, and all of their friends. As I recall, some of those names even ended in the Latin -us, as if Mozart was engaging in a little self-deprecating humor.
Of course none of this has any bearing on the performance Thursday night. The dancers and the music in the evening were superb. They received a very well-deserved standing ovation, and it is my hope that Gil Boggs is as proud as he can be. He, and all of the dancers, deserve that.