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: Colorado Ballet, Gil Boggs, Marie Belew Wheatley, The Nutcracker
Every time I see a performance by the Colorado Ballet, I think that they cannot get any better, but they always do. The Saturday matinee of The Nutcracker was one of the best performances of the Colorado Ballet, and certainly of The Nutcracker, that I have seen. There are at least two reasons for this: 1) I have never seen every dancer in the Colorado Ballet dance with such obvious joy. That makes a tremendous difference in the performance. Yes, they have exhibited much joy before Saturday afternoon, but Saturday afternoon was truly exceptional. 2) For a variety of reasons, I was unable to see The Nutcracker last year, but I have seen it in the past, and this year, there was so much that seems to be new. This ballet performance could be classified as bright and sunny.
There was a new opening curtain depicting Herr Drosselmeyer’s workshop. This is quite similar to an overture to the ballet, and when this curtain opened to reveal the street outside the Stahlbaum’s house, I am sure that it was a new set. There was also a new set for the living room of the Stahlbaum house, which included a marvelous clock with an owl on top. When the clock chimed the owl flapped its wings and its eyes flashed: spectacular! Some of the costumes seemed new, and some of the wigs seemed new, and I can guarantee you that the spirit was new.
One glance at the program, and it was easy to see the depth of the Colorado Ballet. Some of the dancers, who had secondary roles in the matinee performance, danced lead roles in the evening performance. Dana Benton danced Clara, and Adam Still danced the Nutcracker Prince at the matinee. Sharon Wehner was the Sugarplum, and Viacheslav Buchkovskiy danced the Cavalier. I have long admired these four dancers, but I must tell you that at the matinee, they seemed to demonstrate a newfound energy and pleasure in their dancing ability, and I can guarantee you that it was totally effortless. I will also say that I have never heard the Colorado Ballet Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Adam Flatt, sound better, and I know that had to help motivate the dancers. As I have stated in past reviews, conducting a ballet orchestra is quite difficult, because one has to make sure that the dancers are following the conductor, and that the conductor is taking into consideration the individual dancers slightest differences in interpretation.
Once again, in looking at the program, it was terrific to see some dancers added to the Corps de Ballet who have moved up through the ranks of this company. This simply means that their dancing ability is appreciated by Maestro Gil Boggs. He has done wonders for this ballet company, and it has improved every single year, and I am quite sure that the dancers appreciate having their effort rewarded.
I cannot stress how different this production was (was the choreography still the same?), even though the Nutcracker is so very familiar. There were so many changes in the small details, such as the aforementioned clock, and in the snow scene, there truly was a lot of snow, so much that it appeared that the dancers were behind a scrim. It truly added to the mood of the scene.
Gregory K. Gonzales, who once again played Herr Drosselmeyer, portrayed him as much kinder and less menacing this year, but still was able to leave the impression that he was an individual best left in a good mood.
The set for Act II was the same as I have seen in previous years, but the towers of candy with their smiling faces made all of the children sitting around us in the audience smile too.
Dmitry Trubchanov, Chandra Kuykendall, Ariel Ha, Morgan Buchanan, Gregory DeSantis, Sean Omandam, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Luis Valdes, Cara Cooper, Christopher Moulton, Jesse Marx, Shelby Dyer, and last but not least, Asuka Sasaki, are just a few of the incredible dancers in this company. And to all of those whose names I did not mention, please accept my humble apologies.
It was also wonderful to see the Sugarplums and the Polichhinelles, who were excellent, be so alive and obviously thrilled at being on stage.
Virtually all of the dancers in the Colorado Ballet share one attribute that I have never seen in any other ballet company: that is the ability to reach out to the audience, not only with their dancing skill, but with their acting skill, as well. They draw one into the performance, and when one leaves the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, one has the feeling of leaving behind some old friends. Since that is shared by every dancer who appears on stage, it not only reflects their skill, but it also reflects the atmosphere and leadership of Maestro Gil Boggs who is the Artistic Director of this organization.
That aspect is also a reflection on the leadership of Executive Director Marie Belew Wheatley, who, in such a very short time seems to have made this a very strong organization. This was an outstanding performance, and I hope that any of you who think that you will not come to see it simply because The Nutcracker is traditional and done every year, will understand that in spite of its familiarity, this is a production that you have to see. The orchestra is one of the finest ballet orchestras in the country – I know that may be strong, but it is true – and the dancers, so astoundingly equal in ability, comprise one of the best ballet companies in the country. And, in a time, when so many organizations seem to be suffering, not only financially, but artistically as well, here is an organization that is solid in its aesthetic footing and solid in its success in bringing to Colorado a true artistic experience.
Filed under: News | Tags: Adam Flatt, Amanda McKerrow, Gil Boggs, John Gardner, Marie Belew Wheatley, Michael Pink, Peter Pan, Philip Feeney, Sandra Brown, Swan Lake, The Colorado Ballet, The Nutcracker
There is good news for all of us who have been starved to see a performance by the Colorado Ballet during the off-season. We can now look forward to the new season which was announced yesterday, April 26, for this coming year. The new season will begin October 7, and the opening ballet will be Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Choreography will be based upon the work done by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, but will also include original choreography done by Sandra Brown, who you all know is ballet mistress for the Colorado Ballet, as well as Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner who danced with the American Ballet Theatre. Keep in mind that there is a very good reason that Swan Lake is such a popular ballet. Simply put, it has some of the most beautiful music written for any ballet at any time, and if you haven’t seen this ballet yet, now is your chance. Artistic Director Gil Boggs (and this cannot be stated often enough) has made many positive changes in this ballet company, and working with the new Executive Director, Marie Belew Wheatley and Conductor, Maestro Adam Flatt, there is no reason why this coming season should not be the best yet. Therefore, I hope all of you take my suggestion to make this an opportunity to see and hear one of the best ballets ever written. The performance dates for Swan Lake will be October 7 through October 23.
Yes, the Colorado Ballet will perform Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker beginning November 26, and running through December 24, 2011. There are many of you in Denver who have made going to The Nutcracker a yearly tradition, and I would point out that one of the reasons this is so easy to do, is because the Colorado Ballet always presents this classic as if they were doing it for the very first time. It is a fantastic story, the music is so good, and the costumes so wonderful, that it simply never gets old.
The most exciting announcement from the Colorado Ballet is the notice that they will be presenting a brand-new ballet, the Denver premiere, entitled Peter Pan, which will run from February 24, 2012, through March 4, 2012. The music was written by Philip Feeney, and the choreography is by Michael Pink, and I’m sure that the ballet audience will recall that Feeney and Pink where the artistic collaborators in last year’s production of Dracula. That collaboration was so blindingly successful that I have absolutely no doubt that Michael Pink’s choreography will be just as stunning and evocative as was his work in Dracula. Philip Feeney has certainly established himself as a major composer of ballets, and after the striking success last year of Dracula, there is every reason to believe that J.M. Barrie’s fondly remembered, Peter Pan, will be an instant success here inDenver.
From March 29 through April 1, 2012, will be the “mixed repertory” performance which will be performed at the NewmanCenterfor the Performing Arts at the Universityof Denver. This performance entitled, Tribute, is a collection of three world premieres by three female choreographers (another Colorado Ballet first?) which will run March 29, through April 1, 2012. The three choreographers will be Emery LeCrone, Jodi Gates, and Amy Seiwert, and I would point out that Seiwert made her debut with the Coloradoballet in 2009, when the company performed the world premiere of her ballet, Things Left Unsaid.
The Colorado Ballet will also perform two special appearances, one at the Vail International Dance Festival and the second at the ArvadaCenterfor the Performing Arts. Their appearance in Vail, August 8, 2011, will be at the VilarPerformingArtsCenterin Beaver Creek, where they will perform LeCrone’s Upclose: Premieres, a program that will also include works by Christopher Wheeldon and Richard Siegal with dancers from the New York City Ballet and Trey McIntyre Project.
The performance at the ArvadaCenterwill be given on August 27, 2011, and will include various classical excerpts featuring Faraway, which was performed last season.
Season tickets for the Colorado Ballet will be available beginning May 2, 2011, and individual performance tickets will be available August 22, 2011. Additional details can be found at the Colorado Ballet’s website, www.ColoradoBallet.org.
I encourage everyone to attend the Colorado Ballet. You must understand that ballet is no longer the stereotypical art in which a line of dancers stands at the rear of the stage in white tutus, while a pas de deux is danced in front. Ballet tells a real story with real people, and Artistic Director Gil Boggs with his ability to choose outstanding choreographers and dancers creates in this company’s ballets the most alluring ballet that I have seen in years. It truly equals or exceeds anything you will find in any city in theUnited States.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Alexei Tyukov, Carin Higgins Goodson, Denise Sanderson, Friedann Parker, Gil Boggs, Igor Vassine, Janelle Cooke, Jesse Marks, Lillian Covillo, Marie Belew Wheatley, Marie Mosina, Martin Leuthauser, Patricia Renzetti, Sharon Wehner
There were several poignant moments Thursday night at the Colorado Ballet’s 50 Year Celebration event. I say event is because it was more than a party, and yet, more than a ballet. It was a history of the Colorado Ballet in honor of the Lillian Covillo and the late Freidann Parker. These two women were the founding members of the Colorado Ballet, and they both shared a vision of ballet and dance to fulfill that need here in the city of Denver.
The program began at seven o’clock with opening remarks by the Colorado Ballet’s Artistic Director, Gil Boggs. Mr. Boggs introduced Lillian Cavillo who was in the audience, and who was greeted with a hearty round of applause. He gave a short synopsis of the history of the ballet and the audience then presented a video showing excerpts of past performances and wonderful pictures of Lillian Cavillo and Friedann Parker. The guest speakers included Denise Sanderson, Board Chair, Carin Higgins Goodson and Martin Leuthauser former members of the Colorado Ballet who had danced under the direction of the Lillian Covillo and Friedann Parker. Patricia Renzetti, a former Colorado Ballet Principal was also a speaker. These three individuals discussed what it was like to be members of the company and to see the kind of leadership that the two founders provided. The three of them described an amazing development over the years carefully watched by two individuals, Covillo and Parker, who were so totally dedicated to their art and the artistic excellence that they wished to instill in all of the dancers. Some of the remembrances were humorous, some were statistical, some were quite emotional, and all were occasionally interrupted by rounds of applause from the audience. It was abundantly clear that Patricia Renzetti was very moved by her memories of the Colorado Ballet and dancing with such a marvelous ballet company. Jesse Marks, who is currently dancing Renfield in the Colorado Ballet’s production of Dracula also spoke. He pointed out something that I have often suspected about this ballet company and that I have mentioned in past reviews. Mr. Marks said that all of the dancers help each other when it was needed – perhaps a little technical advice, a little moral support, and sometimes some emotional support when the day was not going as one would hope. Every rehearsal that I have attended, and the way the dancers performed with each other on stage, have indicated to me that there are no professional jealousies in this company as I have seen in other companies. Perhaps part of that is becase all the dancers are so equally skilled, and I can assure you that that fact makes this company so thrilling to watch when they are on stage.
Last but not least of the speakers was the new Executive Director, Marie Belew Wheatley. I have been in charge of several arts organizations in my life, as well as a university department. It must be an incredible experience to step into a position of Executive Director where the organization is so good that one does not have to get rid of deadwood on the board, set up a new accounting system, or try to fire up a lackadaisical staff. Granted, she certainly has much work ahead of her when it comes to fundraising, but she strikes me as being someone who is not only quite charming, but someone who really knows how her position works, how to succeed, and also is willing to allow those under her to succeed. I am confident that the Colorado Ballet has found an Executive Director who knows and agrees with one aesthetic that absolutely everyone from the office staff to all of the dancers believes in: good is the enemy of excellence.
In the second half of the program, excerpts from ballets and a choreographed poem were presented. The first ballet excerpt was from Giselle. This is one of the most famous ballets and it is a favorite of Ms. Lillian Covillo. The ballet tells the story of a peasant girl named Giselle whose ghost, after her death at a young age, protects her lover from the vengeance of a group of evil female spirits called the Wilis. The score was composed by Adolphe Adam and the choreography was originally done by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, though I’m fairly sure that modern productions of this ballet use the choreography by Marius Petipa. This excerpt was danced by Sharon Wehner and Alexei Tyukov, and even if one did not know the story behind this ballet, one could sense the bond between the two characters. It is remarkable to me, at least, how two such expressive dancers can fill their motions with such grace and such an amazing strength. It is always easy to see, for example, a violinist or a pianist fill their performance with the emotion that the composer intended. But I still believe that the dancers in the Colorado Ballet are exceptional in bringing that kind of emotion to the way they dance. I might add that Ms. Wehner never lost her presence – even when she came out for her final bow she was full of grace in her curtsy to the audience.
Following the Giselle excerpt was a choreographed poem entitled Lightning Chain (no, that is not a misspelling). The poem was choreographed by Andrew Thompson, a former Principal with the Colorado Ballet, per the request of Lillian Covillo. This piece was originally performed in honor of Friedann Parker at her Celebration of Life Memorial Serivce in 2002. The poem was written by Friedann Parker and was read by Andrew Thompson. It was absolutely wonderful to see this danced by Janelle Cooke who returned for this performance. Ms. Cooke is now in California and her dancing is sorely missed. The poem tells of Calamity Jane and her encounter with Wild Bill Hickok. It is a humorous poem and Janelle Cooke danced the role in Levi’s, western shirt, and western boots. While she danced, I looked around at the audience, and even in the semi-dark, one could see the smiles of recognition and appreciation on the faces in the audience. It was clear that they miss Janelle Cooke as much as they admire her artistic ability.
Next, came the pas de deux from Swan Lake danced by the incomparable Maria Mosina and Igor Vassine. These two are extraordinary and absolutely beyond compare. Simply put, I would willingly match them with any other dancers in the country. Their ability to anticipate each other’s moves, their trust in each other’s ability, and their concentration on the smallest of artistic details absolutely boggles the mind. Toward the end of their pas de deux, Maria Mosina executed a dance step that I don’t recall seeing ever before. Keep in mind that she is a swan in this pas de deux. She moved her right foot (with her back to the audience while she was embracing Igor Vassine) in a rapid trembling motion which was at once very animalistic and yet full of incredible passion. It resembled a petit battement, but I am not at all sure that’s what one would call it. It was stunningly effective, and I might add that I could hear gasps from those sitting around me. It was very sensuous.
The final excerpt of the evening was comprised of The Faraway. The music for this ballet was taken from the compositions of Dmitri Shostakovich. Use was made of his first piano concerto and his first jazz suite. The choreographer is Matthew Neenan. This was a premier danced for the first time by the Colorado Ballet when they performed their opening at the Newman Center on the DU campus at the beginning of the season. The dancers in this excerpt were Dana Benton, Cara Cooper, Casey Dalton, Shelby Dyer, Chandra Kuykendall, Asuka Sasaki, Caitlin Valentine-Ellis, Sharon Wehner, Christopher Ellis, Jesse Marks, Sean Omandam, Rylan Schwab, Adam Still, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Dmitry Trubchanov, and Luis Valdes. This is a wonderful ballet with tinges of poignancy and a little darkness, but by and large it seems like a celebration. And why not? For the whole evening was a celebration for the remarkable Colorado Ballet.
I use the word remarkable very carefully and with its full meaning. This semester, I am teaching a course on the history of ballet at the Academy For Lifelong Learning. And I point out with fervent thanks, that the Colorado Ballet has been essential in my presentation of this course. Anne O’Connor, Director of Education and Outreach, Marlene Strang, Education Programs Manager, Katrina Tamminga, Public Relations Manager, and two members of the ballet corps, Morgan Buchanan and Gregory DeSantis, were instrumental in assisting me with this class. I also point out that we were invited to rehearsal for Dracula, where the Artistic Director, Gil Boggs, took time out from his busy rehearsal schedule and addressed my class. This organization is so accessible and so dedicated to their art that we in Colorado must make every effort to preserve their longevity. In honor of the founders of the Colorado Ballet, Lillian Covillo and Freidann Parker, the Colorado Ballet has established a Founders Fund. I encourage you to donate to this fund so that we can be sure that this organization is around for another 50 years. Simply call 303-399-1629, or on the web go to firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Colorado Ballet is an organization which, as it becomes more widely known, and I guarantee you that it will, will be the envy of the entire country. They are that good and they are that committed to the art. We must help them celebrate.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Catherine Sailer, Colorado Ballet, Edwaard Liang, Friedann Parker, Gil Boggs, Lar Lubovitch, Lillian Covillo, Marie Belew Wheatley, Matthew Neenan, Respighi, Sandra Brown
On Friday night, September 10th, I attended the opening performance of the Colorado Ballet’s 50th Anniversary Season. In the last couple of years, the Colorado Ballet has attracted a great deal of attention, particularly because they just keep getting better and better. I must tell you that the opening performance Friday night can be summarized with two words: excellence and emotion. I hasten to point out that those two words apply to every single dancer who was onstage in this performance, and to the onstage musicians led by the Colorado Ballet Associate Conductor, Catherine Sailer. It also contained a world première. But let us delve into one thing at a time.
This opening performance of their 50th Season was dedicated to the cofounders of the Colorado ballet, Lillian Covillo and Friedann Parker. As Artistic Director, Gil Boggs, pointed out this splendid ballet company would not be in existence had it not been for the vision of these two individuals. This 50th season also marks the appointment of the new Executive Director of the Colorado Ballet, Ms. Marie Belew Wheatley. Wheatley is being hired after a 10-month restructuring effort at the Colorado Ballet, led by the Board of Trustees. She was selected primarily because of her proven successes in fund raising and turnaround efforts and her extensive management experience, all skills the Board of Trustees sought throughout their search.
Along with an established executive record, Wheatley also has an affinity for the arts, having served on the boards of the Junior Symphony Guild, Opera Colorado Guild and the Denver Art Museum’s Alliance of Contemporary Art.
“Her executive style along with her deep appreciation for the arts will serve Colorado Ballet in many ways,” said Colorado Ballet Artistic Director Gil Boggs. “She has an unflappable senior executive presence, a calm and wise approach to balancing challenges and the ability to strongly collaborate. I look forward to working with her.”
I can guess, with a great deal of accuracy, that Ms. Wheatley is looking forward to working with Gil Boggs. In the last few years since he has been the Artistic Director, he has put together a company that is amazing in the consistency of its excellence. And judging by the performances they have given, including this particular opening performance, the entire company is consistent in the excitement caused by their ability to work together to produce such fine artistic programs.
Friday’s program consisted of three separate ballets. The first, entitled “Feast of the Gods,” was performed in 2009, and returned to the stage in this Anniversary Triple Bill. Choreographed by Edwaard Liang, “Feast of the Gods” was inspired by the history of a band of traveling gypsies. The ballet is set to Italian composer Ottorino Respighi’s Ancient Aires and Dances, and features intricate choreography and a fast-paced pas de deux. Respighi (1879-1936) was not only a composer, he was also a musicologist and linguist. Ancient Airs And Dances was a result of his enthusiasm (there is that word again) over 16th – 18th century Italian music, perhaps fathered by a long bicycle trip that he took around the Italian peninsula as a young man. As a matter of fact, many of his compositions could be classified as neo-Baroque or, in some cases neo-Renaissance.
I do not think I have ever seen a ballet performance where the choreography was so remarkably fast-paced. It was not just the pas de deux. All of the dancers on stage had difficult and very rapid changes of position which were constant throughout the performance. And I would like to point out something that is very unusual in other ballet companies that I have seen. Chandra Kuykendall was a soloist Friday, and is listed as a principal dancer in the program (and yes, there are new photographs of the entire company in the program). She and Travis Morrison were the soloists in this opening ballet. Travis Morrison is listed in the program as a member of the corps de ballet. Now, readers, that says something about this company. That the members of the Corps can dance with the principles on an equal footing (please excuse the pun) is something that you don’t see in other companies. That speaks volumes to the work that the dancers have done, and it also speaks volumes to the ability of Gil Boggs in assembling a ballet company where virtually everybody in the company has the capacity to give an incredibly artistic performance. And it also speaks volumes in the trust that each member of the company has in each other. When I say trust, I am talking about trust in each other’s artistic integrity. Sayaka Karasugi and Luis Valdes; Dana Benton and Christopher Ellis; Asuka Sasaki and Adam Still were the other performers Friday night. It is frustrating that in the last few years, I have not been able to pick a favorite performer from this company. I have seen ballets in New York, and Chicago, St. Louis, and at the Jacobs School of Music in Bloomington, Indiana, where I did my undergraduate work. In these locations, and in these companies, there were always dancers who were clearly superior to the others: favorites were easy. This is simply not the case in the Colorado Ballet where everyone is so equal. I can promise you that this is the result of some incredibly hard work and love of the art. It is my understanding that the choreographer, Edwaard Liang, was in attendance Friday night. I regret that I was not able to meet him. In 2002, Liang was invited by Jiri Kylian to join the acclaimed Nederlands Dans Theater. While dancing with Nederlands Dans Theater, Liang discovered his passion for choreography and since then, has gone on to establish himself as a freelance choreographer. Over the last eight years, Liang has created works for companies around the world and his choreography is noted to be distinct and highly imaginative with intricate techniques and sequences.
The second ballet Friday night was entitled “… smile with my heart.” This was choreographed by Lar Lubovitch. Known throughout the world for his rhapsodic style and his technical structure and choreography, Lubovitch’s work is also recognized for its modern-dance undertones. Lubovitch was educated at The Julliard School by Antony Tudor and many other top dance professionals of the time, and became one of the most popular, versatile, and widely viewed choreographers in the United States.
The music for this second ballet of the evening was based on a “Fantasie on Themes by Richard Rodgers.” This Fantasie was done by Marvin Laird. I hasten to point out that it was originally done for Sandra Brown when she was a soloist with the American ballet Theatre. Of course, Sandra Brown is one of the two excellent Ballet Mistresses with the Colorado Ballet. There were four movements to this second ballet: 1) “Do I hear a waltz?” and “It might as well be Spring,” 2) “The Sweetest Sounds,” 3) ” I Didn’t Know What Time It Was” and “Where Or When,” and, 4) “My Funny Valentine.”
If anyone doubts how the music of Richard Rodgers could be used for a ballet, then I stress that those doubts would have been assuaged by simply seeing this performance. It was absolutely wonderful. The dancers were Maria Mosina, Sayaka Karasugi, Sharon Wehner, Jesse Marks, Dmitry Trubchanov, and Igor Vassine. Surely, all of you ballet goers must remember that it was Maria Mosina who brought tears to everyone’s eyes last year in the devastatingly emotional “Echoing of Trumpets.” But of course, you simply have to understand, that everyone in this company is capable of doing just that. All four parts of this second ballet were outstanding. Of the four parts, “The Sweetest Sounds,” truly caught my attention because it was, by comparison, so Art Deco in its choreography. The third movement of this second ballet, was incredibly sad in contrast to the fourth movement, which was an absolute triumph.
This ballet was accompanied by a live on stage chamber group led by Catherine Sailer, the Associate Conductor of the Colorado Ballet. Ms. Sailer, who conducted from the piano bench, led the chamber ensemble of cello, Jeffrey Watson, Cedra Kuehn, and Evan Orman; flute, Paul Nagem; and oboe, Kathryn Dupuy Cooper. It has long been known that Sailer is an accomplished conductor, but it may come as a surprise to some that she is also such a fine pianist. She simply must do some solo piano work. It would be wonderful to hear.
The third, and final, ballet of the evening was entitled “The Faraway.” Choreographed by Matthew Neenan, it was inspired by Georgia O’Keeffe’s life and work, wherein she described the land of northern New Mexico as the “far away.” Neenan is currently the choreographer-in-residence at the Pennsylvania Ballet, and this new work is a much anticipated world premiere, created specifically to end the Anniversary Triple Bill. Neenan’s choreography is recognized as a fresh, imaginative, and stylish twist to classical ballet, as well as technically challenging and full of life. The music for this ballet was taken from the compositions of Dmitri Shostakovich. Use was made of his first piano Concerto and his first jazz suite. There were other compositions as well, but I am chagrined to admit that I could not name them.
The dancers in this final ballet came from the entire company, and included Dmitry Trubchanov, Sharon Wehner, Jesse Marks , Dana Benton , Kevin Gael Thomas, Sean Omandam, Adam Still, Cara Cooper, Shelby Dyer, Christopher Ellis, Luis Valdes, Rylan Schwab, Casey Dalton, Asuka Sasaki, and Caitlin Valentine-Ellis. Every one of these individuals is a consummate artist and performer. Please do not think that the order in which they are named indicates their level of skill. There are so many companies in the United States that would appreciate having them in their roster.
The three ballets performed this Friday night were performed with excellence and with great confidence by the entire company. The trust that every single dancer had in each other was marked. There were no errors that I could catch. There was nothing but fluidity and consummate artistry on behalf of everyone involved. The performance was exciting, breathtaking, and demonstrative of the commitment on the part of the dancers and the leadership of this ballet company. Their artistry is so great that calling them mere dancers seems inane.
I encourage and challenge anyone who has doubts that ballet can be a totally aesthetic reward to come to a performance of the Colorado Ballet.