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: Adam Flatt, Colorado Ballet, Gill Boggs, Lorita Travaglia, Maria Mosina, Sandra Brown, Swan Lake
It is been more than 20 years since I have seen Swan Lake. The opening night performance of the Colorado Ballet production, October 7, was the fifth performance that I have seen. Gil Boggs and the Colorado Ballet, even though they used the traditional choreography of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, have staged a wonderful new production of this ballet. It has been slightly updated by Armanda McKerrow, John Gardner, both of whom were principals in the American Ballet Theater, and Colorado ballet’s Sandra Brown. Even with these updates, which include adding an original waltz during the first act, this was still the Swan Lake that everyone will recognize by its choreography. Do not begin to compare it with “updated” versions that have been done in London and in Sydney, where some critics have compared it, because of its changes, to the arranged marriage between the Prince of Wales and Princess Diana. I can assure you that everyone at the Colorado Ballet is an artist, and would not bend to modernizing one of the great classical ballets of all time. As performed by the Colorado Ballet, Act I contains two scenes. Some programs of other ballet companies label these as Act I and Act II, with the second act as Act III, and act three as Act IV.
What really gave me a very pleasant surprise in this production Friday night were the absolutely splendid sets and costumes. None of the previous Swan Lakes that I have seen had such beautiful sets, and the costumes certainly added a great deal to the story. One of the most spectacular costumes was worn by the character Baron von Rothbart which was performed by Gregory K. Gonzales. Gonzales is a very fine character actor, and his costume, with its huge feathered wings, coupled with his hard, cold stare gave him a remarkable sense of evil. But understand that one of the premier aspects that Gil Boggs, Sandra Brown, and Lorita Travaglia have added to the Colorado Ballet is a remarkable sense of drama and acting, which I have never seen in any other ballet company. And speaking of acting, it was also remarkable to watch the lovely Maria Mosina switch between Odette and the evil von Rothbart’s daughter, Odile. Her acting is always superior, and I will never forget her role in 3 Motions in March of 2010. On Friday, I was absolutely astounded at Mosina’s dancing. When she uses her arms to simulate the flying wings of a Swan, I was stunned. I was not able to get backstage after the performance, but I truly wanted to ask her how many elbows she has on each arm! Her arm motions were so fluid and never angular, that I am convinced she has at least five additional joints between her shoulder and wrist. Likewise, when she collapses to the stage from fourth position, I am convinced she has at least 30 more vertebrae in her back than the rest of us mortals. She was beautiful to watch and beautifully expressive.
I was also pleasantly surprised at all of the familiar faces I saw on stage. In a way it was like greeting old friends. In addition, there are several new faces that have come up through the ranks from the Academy to the Corps. It was easy to recognize Greg DeSantis and Morgan Buchanan. Among the new faces was one dancer that really stood out because of her dancing ability, and her ability hold a position, was Ariel Ha. The Corps was wonderfully sensational in this ballet. I am, as a pianist, always amazed to see them do a boureé because it seems so incredibly difficult. But all of the swans did it together, and did it in such a way that it seemed very easy. And perhaps, to a dancer, it is. But I don’t believe that for a minute. Last year I asked one of the dancers how they could do such difficult steps, and still smile while the exertion must be killing them. She said matter-of-factly, “But that’s what dancers do.”
Alexi Tyukov was wonderful as Prince Siegfried and Viacheslav Buchkovskiy as Benno was outstanding. This ballet company has such incredible depth: Casey Dalton, Shelby Dyer, Caitlin Valentine-Ellis, Olga Prikhodtseva, Dana Benton, Cara Cooper, Asoka Sasaki, Sally Turkel, Alyssa Velázquez (and I know I am leaving out some of the swans and waltz couples, so please, please forgive me) are always beyond compare. And the same phrase belongs to Christopher Ellis, Christopher Moulton, Sean Omandam, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Adam Still, Luis Valdes, Jesse Marks, and Kevin Wilson. Look at all the names that I have mentioned. And, again, I’m afraid that I have left some out. As I have said before, and I sincerely believe this, most of the corps are capable of being soloists.
Lorita Travaglia, one of the Ballet Mistresses with the company, and who has a remarkable history of performance, was perfect as the Queen Mother. Many might think that since this is a rather minor role in the ballet, that its impact would be minor. It isn’t, simply because it speaks to the detail that goes into every production by the Colorado Ballet. Everything associated with Friday night’s Swan Lake was artful, polished, and professional.
Maestro Adam Flatt, who conducts the Colorado Ballet Orchestra, is superb. I think it is worth noting that conducting a ballet is not the same as conducting an orchestra without dancers, or an orchestra that is performing, say, a concerto with a soloist. If a conductor has three performances with a violinist as soloist, he or she can be assured that the soloist will take the same tempos at each performance that have been so carefully worked out at rehearsals. But a ballet conductor has an entire stage full of dancers, and not only that, but the next evenings performance may well be with different lead dancers. Some of those dancers undoubtedly will prefer different tempos. Ballet is strenuous and athletic. It is conceivable that a dancer could suffer an injury. In that case the conductor has to be aware of changes in tempo from the dancer. I have seen Maestro Flatt conduct many times, and he has a sixth sense of empathy with the dancer (as well as solo instrumentalists).
Tchaikovsky wrote a good deal of music in this ballet for violin solo. I could not see into the orchestra pit from where I was sitting, but I would this assume that the solo work was done by the concertmaster, Lydia Sviatlovskaya. She was excellent, as was the entire orchestra.
It is always such a pleasure to see the Colorado Ballet because they are so consistent in every detail throughout the production. Friday night’s performance left no detail lacking. Everyone on the staff of this organization from the Lighting Director, to the dancers and orchestra, are totally concerned with their art. That is one reason that we here in Denver should be so gratified to have them here.
If you are hesitating to see the Colorado Ballet’s production of Swan Lake because you are familiar with it, and anticipate “another performance of the same old thing,” you will be making a big mistake. It is fresh and invigorating. And remember: the Colorado Ballet is one of the best, if not the best, in the United States. If you go to this Swan Lake, you will agree.
I have never seen the Colorado Ballet do anything that was less than excellent.
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: 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.