Opus Colorado

The Colorado Ballet: Enthusiasm, Joy and Artistry

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Colorado Ballet leaves no doubt: They are one of the best in the United States

Friday evening, February 20, the Colorado Ballet gave one of its most brilliant performances. It was brilliant not only because the dancers are so good and the orchestra so fine, but because the Ballet Masterworks series is always just that: usually three short ballets – roughly 20 to 25 minutes each – are very carefully chosen by Artistic Director Gil Boggs. They are truly masterworks. They can carry that label because the choreography is excellent and because the music is magnificent as well.

The opening work was Concerto Barocco choreographed by George Balanchine with music by Johann Sebastian Bach. Balanchine was an excellent musician as well as a choreographer and dancer, and he had the reputation of being a remarkable pianist. He had extensive courses in music when he was in school. When he conceived this work, which uses the music from Bach’s Concerto in D minor for Two Violins, he was quoted as saying, “if the dance designer sees in the development of classical dancing a counterpart in the development of music and has studied them both, he will derive continual inspiration from great scores.” I came away from the performance Friday evening secure in my realization that Gil Boggs is also an accomplished musician, and agrees with the ethos expressed by Balanchine. For those of you who are surprised by the use of Bach’s music for a ballet, realize this: the one feature of every single piece that Bach wrote that stands out above all else is an underlying rhythmic pulse. And, it is that pulse that Balanchine took advantage of. Certainly, there is much in Bach’s music to take advantage of: the counterpoint, incredible grace, and continual forward movement. I also hasten to point out that Gil Boggs is aware of the fact that Maestro Adam Flatt, who conducts the ballet orchestra, has had a profound effect on the quality of this orchestra. Lydia Sviatlovskaya and Leslie Sawyer where the violin soloists for this double concerto. They were superb.

I was astounded by the very opening of this work, because the minute the curtain was up the orchestra and the dancers began their work; there was no hesitation. It was absolutely together as the curtain reached its zenith. It truly seemed to me as if Maestro Flatt was watching the curtain, and, of course, all of the dancers on stage had their eyes glued to Maestro Flatt. It had a profound effect on the audience. It was immediately obvious that Balanchine felt a remarkable kinship with the music, and the dancers on stage seem to take particular joy in dancing to his choreography. The most astounding feature of their dancing came in the last movement, where Bach wrote many 16th note passages. The dancers were required to use a step which seemed to me to be a combination of a frappé and a bourée. I have never seen that step before, and I’m quite sure that it has a name, but it was incredibly difficult and every dancer on stage was precisely together with the orchestra and with each other. It was a breathtaking demonstration of the ability of these dancers. However, truly, the most amazing aspect of the performance of this work was the fact that Balanchine’s choreography, and the skill of the dancers on stage, made Bach’s wonderful double concerto truly fit ballet. It was as if Bach had written this work as a ballet. I am sure that he would be amazed if he could have seen this performance.

Sharon Wehner, Maria Mosina, and Alexei Tyukov, were truly sensational. The dancers in the core, Morgan Buchanan, Casey Dalton, Emily Dixon, Tracy Jones, Fernanda Oliveira, Alexandra Pullen, Emily Speed, and Melissa Zoebisch were marvelous. All of these dancers “fit” the choreography to the extent that I cannot imagine a performance using any other dancers.

The second ballet on this program of three was a work entitled In Pieces, which was given the world premiere by the Colorado Ballet on February 22, 2013. The title comes from a work entitled Concerto in Pieces by Danish composer, Poul Ruders (b. 1949). The work was commissioned by the BBC for the 300th year of the death of English composer Henry Purcell, and the 50th anniversary of Benjamin Britten’s Young Persons’ Guide to the Orchestra. The choreographer of this ballet is Val Caniparoli who, in an interview that is still available on the Colorado Ballet’s website, states that he specifically wanted the dancers in the Colorado Ballet to give the world premiere of this work. That should say something about the skill and artistic ability of these dancers, as well as the entire organization. Caniparoli, in the interview, states that he was very excited by the ability of these dancers, as well as having a live ballet orchestra at his disposal. He admired the versatility of these dancers because they are always “willing to try something new and they love challenges.” He also had a great affection for the orchestra’s ability.

From the outset, it was very clear that this is an incredibly difficult ballet. The rhythm is very complicated, and quite often the tempos, at least to me, seemed to be extreme. Asuka Sasaki, Domenico Luciano, Chandra Kuykendall, Jesse Marks, Sharon Wehner, and Christopher Moulton, were the soloists in this ballet, and I was left speechless (again) by their remarkable ability. The music itself has many instances wherein I was reminded of John Cage. There was what I can only describe as thorough use of percussion instruments in this ballet, which is one of the reasons I was drawn to the comparison with Cage. Douglas Walter, Scott Higgins, Mark Foster, Paul Milliken, and Carl Dixon are the percussionists in the Colorado Ballet Orchestra, and they are excellent. In addition, there was a marvelous tuba solo, and Michael Allen came wonderfully close to making the tuba sound like a cello.

The music and the choreography in this work were incredibly dramatic. The movements and steps that the dancers were required to make were quite new to me, and I am quite sure that Caniparoli invented them out of necessity in order to fulfill his spectacular concept of the music. And, there again, I have mentioned a choreographers concept of movement that the music requires. Many audience members who are not totally familiar with ballet and all of its artistic intricacies are under the impression that a choreographer somehow separates movement from the music, and only picks the music once he or she has the choreography in mind. I hasten to point out that in the mind of a choreographer, the movement and the music cannot be separated: they are conceived simultaneously. I encourage all of you to go to the Colorado Ballet website and listen to the interview with Caniparoli. It will shed much light on the process of such a complicated procedure. It also shows how much respect Val Caniparoli has for the Colorado Ballet.

Following In Pieces, the Colorado Ballet performed Fancy Free, choreographed by Jerome Robbins to the music of Leonard Bernstein. The set design for this work was absolutely terrific. One could easily tell that it was in the heart of New York City, for that is where this short ballet takes place: on a hot summer evening in 1944, with three sailors looking for relief from their military duty. As a matter of fact, this work was premiered on April 18, 1944. It concerns three sailors who find themselves in a pickle because they meet only two girls. There is a marvelous pas de deux which was danced by Dana Benton and Francisco Estevez. But when I mention them, you must realize that Kevin Gaël Thomas, Jesse Marks, and Shelby Dyer were excellent as well. It is that fact that sets this ballet company so far above many others that I have seen. I have stated many times, and it is my sincere belief, that every member of this ballet company is a truly fine artist. In the plot of this ballet. Each of the sailors performs a solo dance to attract one of the two girls they have met. The girls can’t decide who they wish to pair up with, so the three sailors promptly engage in a fight. While they are fighting the two girls disappear. The three sailors eventually noticed this, renew their friendship with another drink, and leave the bar for the sidewalk. There, they promptly meet another beautiful girl, danced by Tracy Jones, and they follow her with great enthusiasm.

Estevez, Thomas, Marks, Dyer, and Benton, are not only truly fine ballet artists, they are skilled actors as well, and they injected this ballet with humor as well as a certain amount of pathos. That fact always seems to surprise many individuals who are not familiar with ballet, as they seem to be unaware that a ballet can express so many different emotions.

This ballet company approaches every single production as if it were a theatrical play set to music with incredibly thought out and descriptive movement. Gil Boggs, Adam Flatt, Catherine Sailer, along with Sandra Brown and Lorita Travaglia, have changed this Colorado Ballet into a remarkable artistic organization by demonstrating to the dancers and the musicians that artistry and dedication are rewarded. It is clear that all of the dancers are artists just as all of the orchestra member are artists, and they have the support of the leadership and the Board.

There was a standing ovation Friday night by an audience that was too small. Certainly, many people stayed home in fear of the weather, but those who stayed home are the ones who lost the advantage of seeing three honest Masterworks of Ballet.

Artistry and hilarity: The Colorado Ballet’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Friday evening, September 26, I attended the opening night of the Colorado Ballet’s performance of A Midsummer Night’s Dream with the music of Felix Mendelssohn. This is a marvelous ballet that combines humor, love, and magic spells, in one of the most appealing ballet’s ever created. The choreography is by Christopher Wheeldon (George Balanchine also choreographed this ballet), and it is important to note that the Colorado Ballet gave the World Premiere of Wheeldon’s choreography when they performed this in 1997. Christopher Wheeldon (b. 1973) is an English choreographer who began his career with the Royal Ballet in London in 1991. In 1993 he joined the New York City Ballet and was named a soloist in 1998, all the while writing choreography. Notice the dates involved. Wheeldon was only 24 when he choreographed this ballet. Also, consider that when Felix Mendelssohn wrote his famous overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream, which became one of the most famous overtures ever written, he was only 17 years of age.

Several years ago, I attended a performance of this ballet with Balanchine’s choreography. I must say that I prefer Wheeldon’s choreography, because it lends itself more easily to the spirit of Shakespeare’s play, even though some aspects of the original play were not used by Wheeldon.

The performance Friday evening certainly made me sit up and take notice – once again – that this ballet company is comprised of some of the most expressive dancers that I have seen. The rampant confusion caused by the character Puck, danced by Sean Omandam, in this ballet was hilarious. It was truly refreshing to hear the audience respond at the humor in this ballet, because many individuals go to the ballet and sit there stone-faced, afraid to laugh at such an artistic event. Watching brave Sean Omandam fly through the air, suspended by wires attached to the flying machine in the ceiling of the stage, was a treat in itself as he dispensed his fairy dust and magic spells to all the creatures below him. Another performance that caught my eye Friday evening was Asuka Sasaki who danced Peaseblossom, an attendant to Queen Titania. She was positively liquid on stage, and very expressive.

There is a remarkable complexity to the plot of this story. Hermia, danced by Dana Benton, is in love with Lysander, who was danced by Viacheslav Buchkovskiy. However, Demetrius, danced by Jesse Marks is in love with Hermia, but, of course, she does not return his feelings. Helena, danced by Sharon Wehner is in love with Demetrius, and she follows him constantly as he tries to chase her away. Hermia and Helena have a rousing fight as they chase each other across the stage. In the end, Puck waits until everyone is asleep, then places a magic flower on the lovers’ eyes. They wake up, and discover that all is well: Demetrius loves only Helena, and Hermia loves only Lysander. The second act of this ballet is primarily the double wedding of Hermia and Lysander, and Demetrius and Helena. There is far more actual dance in this act then there is a dramatic acting.

It was quite something to see the ever-graceful Maria Mosina, who danced Titania, fall in love with Bottom even though he has been turned into a donkey. She displayed such a wonderfully comic nature in her relationship with Bottom, portrayed by Gregory K. Gonzales. Again, Puck has caused this problem, but he comes to the rescue and releases Bottom from his spell, and Queen Titania falls back in love with King Oberon who is danced by Alexei Tyukov. Much of the humor of the story comes from the fact that it is so confusing, and even the dancers as part of their character, portray the confusion amongst themselves. The acting ability of the dancers was absolutely outstanding.

In one scene, Queen Titania, danced by Maria Mosina, is sung to sleep by the fairies, the Colorado Children’s Chorale was augmented by sopranos Amanda Balestrieri, and Ana Spadoni. I must say that these two fine sopranos seemed to be just as excited to perform in the ballet as the youngsters who comprised the Children’s Chorale. The young people from the Colorado Ballet Academy were delightful and charming to watch. Saige Ju, who performed as the Changeling attendant to Queen Titania was absolutely perfect. All of the young people had such remarkable stage presence that they all seem to be headed for a career in ballet.

The dancers in Friday’s performance, Alexei Tyukov, Sharon Wehner, Dana Benton, Jesse Marks, Viacheslav Buchkovskiy, Domenico Luciano, Asuka Sasaki, and Shelby Dyer were all superb. But in listing these names, I have run up against an enormous problem: there is not room in this article to name everyone who appeared on stage. Gil Boggs, Sandra Brown, and Lorita Travaglia have put together a wonderful assemblage of dancers. In Friday’s performance, it was so obvious that a new spirit has taken over the Colorado Ballet.

The costumes were excellent. Many came from the Boston Ballet Company as well as the Orlando Ballet. The set came from Ballet West and was designed by Adam Skulte.

Even the Colorado Ballet Orchestra, under the direction of Maestro Adam Flatt, seemed to be inspired by a new spirit. There was a wonderful spontaneity and precision in Friday’s performance, particularly in the dynamic range demonstrated by the musicians. Both Flatt, and Associate Conductor, Catherine Sailer, have had a profound impact on the Colorado Ballet Orchestra. Friday evening there was a new spark from the orchestra which was clearly evident to the audience.

The leadership that Gil Boggs has shown as Artistic Director, and the artistic ability of all of the dancers, has been rewarded by the awareness and support of the Board of Directors. Their new building on Santa Fe Street is a reflection of the fact that the Colorado Ballet’s evolution has been irrevocable in every artistic respect, and that this evolution has resulted in a national standing. The new building has eight studios, two of which are the size of the Ellie Caulkins’ stage. It has facilities for the Academy students to do their school work with tutors available, so that they may be immersed in ballet as they do their studies. There is a Black Box Theater to provide an extra dimension of performance. And, there is also adequate office space for the staff, and much, much more. As I have said before, the Colorado Ballet has become a very robust and artistic organization that can stand with any other ballet company in the United States. We need to support it, and we need to show our appreciation not only to the artistic leadership of the Colorado Ballet, and the musicians, but to the Board of Directors for their recognition of the artistic accomplishments and the needs of this fine ballet company.

Art and the art of communication: The Colorado Ballet

The Colorado Ballet gave their opening performance of the season at the Arvada Center Outdoor Amphitheater on Saturday, August 16. Some of the works that were on the program have been previously performed, but Saturday night they were infused with a new sense of freshness and enthusiasm that truly reflected the excitement of an opening season. Indeed, there has been so much good news from the Colorado Ballet in the last few weeks. The Artistic Director, Gil Boggs, has wisely been offered – and he has signed – a new five-year contract. This is remarkably good news, for it should be obvious to everyone that he has turned the Colorado Ballet into a vital and robust program that has some of the best dancers in the country. The second bit of good news is that Dana Benton and Domenico Luciano have been promoted from Soloists to Principals, and that is most certainly where they belong, for they are stellar artists. The other bit of good news, as most of you ballet aficionados know, is that they are preciously close to moving into their new building in the art district on Santa Fe. Note that it is their building, and they won’t have to pay anybody rent.

Keep in mind that on Saturday there were no complete works performed: this wonderful dance concert was comprised entirely of excerpts which gave the audience a taste of the coming 2014-2015 season. And, in addition, the opening excerpt, a pas de deux from the ballet Flames of Paris, was used simply as an introduction to their entire performance. I’m sure it was chosen because the choreography certainly attracts immediate attention due to its difficulty and its romantic ambiance. It was danced by Dana Benton and Viacheslav Buchkovskiy. The original ballet was premiered in 1932, and it is a fairly typical “French Revolution” ballet which deals with the trials and tribulations of that era. The music was composed by Boris Asafyev (1884-1949) whose music sounds very much like Tchaikovsky. The choreography was done by Vasily Vainonen and it requires a great deal of virtuosity. Benton and Buchkovskiy are, of course, two virtuoso artists and it showed very clearly in this introduction which alternated between solo dances and a pas de deux. As I said above, the entire company seemed to be very excited for the opening performance, and certainly Benton and Buchkovskiy were no exception.

You readers, who are not totally familiar with ballet terminology, must understand that principals are the top-of-the-line. Next, comes soloists, and, after that are members of the corps de ballet. I mention this only to tell you that everyone in the Colorado Ballet is an exceptional dancer, and I have absolutely no doubt that all of them are quite capable of eventually being promoted to a principal. From my point of view, it is only the smallest detail that is separating them now.

Next on the program, Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov danced the Grand Pas de Deux from Mendelssohn’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream. The music for this ballet always startles me, because Felix Mendelssohn (1809-1847) wrote the Overture to A Midsummer Night’s Dream when he was 17 years old. Dwell on that. He wrote the incidental music (incorporating the Overture) for Shakespeare’s play shortly before his death, and it is that music of Mendelssohn’s which is used in the ballet.

Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov were sensational. They are sensational because they are totally consumed by their art, and there is nothing that detracts from their concentration on that art, which includes their relationship to each other on stage. They are capable of so much communication through their movements and facial expressions, that it surely must attract the attention of those not totally familiar with ballet. Therefore, they are completely able to convert ballet neophytes to ardent supporters. And, as in paragraph one of this article, there is one more bit of good news: everyone in this company is capable of doing exactly that. It’s still astounds me that Gil Boggs has put together such an amazing collection of dancers. Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov are positively electrifying.

The Mendelssohn was followed by a short work entitled Young and Beautiful featuring the choreography of the Colorado Ballet’s own Sandra Brown with music by Lana Del Rey. This was a pas de deux that was stunningly beautiful, and it was danced by Chandra Kuykendall and Domenico Luciano.

Following the remarkable grace of Kuykendall and Luciano was a solid and very expressive depiction of evil. It was the pas de deux from Dracula danced by another incredible pair of dancers, Sharon Wehner and Dmitry Trubchanov. This is the pas de deux wherein Dracula entices Mina from her bed by appearing in her dream, and then flings her around the stage by her emotions, at once enticing her with his supposed love, and repelling her with his overpowering evil. This was another pas de deux where the emotional expression conveyed by the dancers was unmistakable.

Sitting in front of me were some individuals that seemed to me to be unfamiliar with the power of expression of which ballet is capable. When Dracula ripped open his shirt and slashed his chest open, and then thrusts Mina’s face into the blood forcing her to drink, the individuals stared at each other, not believing the horror they had just seen. It was a very powerful moment. If any of you readers have not seen Dracula by the Colorado Ballet, I would encourage you to attend this season. Yes, it is horrifying, but the choreography by Michael Pink, and the music by Philip Feeney, will stay with you for a long time, not only because of the horror, but because of the beauty as well.

The Colorado Ballet then performed the Scherzo from A Midsummer Night’s Dream. This certainly demonstrated the depth of ability of the dancers in the Colorado Ballet. Asuka Sasaki, Sean Omandam, Shelby Dyer, Morgan Buchanan, Luis Valdes, Francisco Estevez, Emily Speed, Tracy Jones, Emily Dixon, and Melissa Zoebisch were truly remarkable. Again, it all comes down to their expression through the movement and the spirit of the music. Some of these are new faces, but they are certainly welcome additions to the Colorado Ballet, and it is an important point to make that the Colorado Ballet can attract, and demand, dancers of this quality.

After the intermission, the second half of Saturday’s performance was taken up by the remarkable (there’s that word again) choreography by Sandra Brown in the performance of a new ballet, The Last Beat, which was given its world premiere in March of this year. The entire company was used on this half of the program. All of the dancers in the Colorado Ballet exemplify what it means to be a member of a Professional company. And, I might add, that this organization keeps getting better and better, and ever since Gil Boggs, Sandra Brown, and Lorita Travaglia have been a part of this organization, their artistic demands have been raised and met with every performance. The choreography for The Last Beat is difficult, and I think there is no mistaking the fact that Sandra Brown took into consideration the dedication and artistic ability of the dancers she was writing for. If you demand a lot, you will receive a lot.

Saturday’s performance was memorable. In addition to all of the good news, there is still more. Even though Saturday’s performance was done to recorded music (there is no room for an orchestra at the Arvada Center Outdoor Amphitheater) Maestro Adam Flatt and Maestra Catherine Sailer will still be in charge of leading the Colorado Ballet Orchestra.

The Colorado Ballet is comprised of individuals who have made a tremendous investment to their art. They have made it very clear that their art comes first. Therefore, let us all make our own investment, and attend their performances so that this outstanding ballet company will understand how much we appreciate them.

“Traveling” through beauty with the Colorado Ballet

I always look forward to the Colorado Ballet’s series, which they have entitled Ballet Director’s Choice. Instead of one ballet being performed, the Colorado Ballet performs three short ballets, usually thirty minutes for each work, that have, for various reasons, caught the attention of the Colorado Ballet’s Artistic Director, Maestro Gil Boggs. The performance of these three ballets, in the last few years, has been done at Gates Hall in the Newman Center on the DU campus. While I certainly enjoy going to see the Colorado Ballet at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House, I truly enjoy seeing the Ballet Director’s Choice done at Gates, because the three short ballets seem more personal and intimate. In addition, there are no sets or scenery, so it gives the audience the opportunity to concentrate on just the dancing, and that is a real joy because everyone in this ballet company is a true artist.

The Ballet Director’s Choice opened with the ballet Feast of the Gods, choreographed by Edwaard Liang, and music by the Italian composer, Ottorino Respighi (1879-1936). This particular short ballet was inspired by the history of the band of traveling Gypsies, which certainly reminded me of Respighi’s travels around the Italian Peninsula on a bicycle in his youth. The particular composition of his that Liang used for the ballet is Ancient Aires and Dances, which resulted from Respighi’s interest and knowledge in sixteenth and seventeenth century Italian music. Respighi was also a noted musicologist, linguist, and conductor.

The choreographer Edwaard Liang joined the New York City ballet in the spring of 1993. He has won many awards for his ballet work as a dancer, and after he became a member of the well-known Nederlands Dans Theater 1, he choreographed and staged ballets as well as dancing in them. He has danced and choreographed ballets for many companies: the Kirov Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, the Joffrey Ballet, and many others. I truly believe he is one of the most imaginative choreographers that I have had the pleasure to see.

His choreography in Feast of the Gods is absolutely sensational. It is remarkably fast-paced and extremely complex, and that carries throughout the entire work and applies to all of the dancers onstage. I have never been so aware of how the choreography of a ballet can unify the work as a whole. Chandra Kuykendall and Alexi Tyukov danced a spectacular pas de deux Friday evening. It required so much energy that Liang, through his demanding choreography, gave a very clear demonstration of not only the artistry of these two individuals, but their athletic ability as well. And that certainly applies to Sharon Wehner, Dmitry Trubchanov, Shelby Dyer, Luis Valdes, Dana Benton, Christopher Ellis, the wonderful Asuka Sasaki, Klara Houdet, and certainly, Jesse Marks. The point of mentioning all those names is not just that they deserve it, but to help explain to you readers who have not seen the Colorado Ballet, that this company is comprised of stellar performers, every one of whom is an artist. The movements choreographed by Liang require so much attention to detail from the dancers that it is astounding to watch. It made me wonder if there is not an entirely new vocabulary to describe the new contemporary movements. For example, is the term “de Côté” still used to indicate a sideways movement, when there is so much other movement combined with it?

The next work on the program was entitled Traveling Alone, choreographed by Amy Seiwert, who used music written by Max Richter. Ms. Seiwert danced with the Smuin, Los Angeles Chamber and Sacramento Ballet’s, and she eventually became the Choreographer in Residence with the Smuin after she retired from dancing in 2008. “She also directs Imagery, which is a contemporary ballet company that collaborates with artists of other disciplines” (Quoted from the program notes). She often receives commissions from other ballet companies in the United States.

Max Richter, whose music was used for this ballet was born in Germany in 1966, and studied at the Royal Academy of Music in England, as well as studying at the University of Edinburgh. He also had composition lessons with the famed Italian composer, Luciano Berio in Florence, Italy.

Dana Benton and Jesse Marks were the soloists in Traveling Alone. Dana Benton has danced this role before, and she has a great dramatic sense in portraying someone who is totally alone. Both Dana Benton and Jesse Marks were sensational Friday evening, but after the curtain went down, I sat for a moment wondering if I had ever seen Jesse Marks perform as well as he did Friday evening. He was absolutely stunning. He seemed thoroughly comfortable in everything that he did, and it was also clear that Dana Benton was treating this ballet as an old, and well remembered, friend. The choreography in this ballet was just as fast-paced as in Feast of the Gods, but not quite as complex as the Liang. Chandra Kuykendall, Christopher Ellis, Shelby Dyer, Sean Omandam, Caitlin Valentine-Ellis, and Sharon Wehner, were also in this production. All of these dancers imbued their movements with a searing intensity that was absolutely startling. It seemed that they filled their performance with a sense of irrevocability, so that if anyone got in their way, the dancers would simply run them down. I could not help but notice that during this performance, the audience never made a sound, so rapt was their attention.

The third work on the program was entitled The Last Beat, and it was choreographed by the Colorado Ballet’s own Sandra Brown. She has vast dancing experience, and a great deal of choreography experience. For the American Ballet Theater, she choreographed her own ballet, Synchronicity, and she has assisted in choreographing The Nutcracker, Coppélia, Swan Lake, and she was chosen by Mikhail Baryshnikov to choreograph for the American Ballet Theater Choreographic Workshop. And, as all you readers know in 2006 she joined her husband, Gil Boggs, to work with the Colorado Ballet as a Ballet Mistress.

Her ballet, The Last Beat, is, as the program notes state, “Dedicated to those who are serving our country and for those who are waiting for them to come home.” One has the distinct feeling that the title of Brown’s ballet refers to the last beat of a dying soldier’s heart, rather than have anything to do with the inherent rhythm of the ballet. The music that she chose for her work was by DeVotchKa. DeVotchKa is, of course, a four-piece multi-instrumental and vocal ensemble. They take their name from the Russian word meaning “girl”. Based in Denver, Colorado, the quartet is made up of Nick Urata, who sings and plays theremin, guitar, bouzouki, piano, and trumpet; Tom Hagerman, who plays violin, accordion, and piano; Jeanie Schroder, who sings and plays sousaphone, double bass, and flute; and Shawn King, who plays percussion and trumpet.

The male dancers were dressed in camouflage, while the female dancers wore translucent skirts with an underskirt of a different color. There were five movements to this work, which sometimes used different dancers in each movement. Appearing for the first time Friday evening were Maria Mosina, Domenico Luciano, Kevin Wilson, Tracy Jones, Francisco Estevez, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Morgan Buchanan, and Lesley Allred. I apologize if I have left out anyone’s name, but this ballet required a very large cast, all of whom appeared together in the last movement. The name of the first movement was The Alley; movement two, All the Sand in the Sea; movement three, How It Ends; the fourth movement, Exhaustible; and movement five, The Last Beat of My Heart.

I was again taken by surprise at the drama and emotion that every dancer onstage communicated to the audience. For sheer impact, Maria Mosina, Domenico Luciano, and Asuka Sasaki were startling. But you must understand that the Colorado Ballet, as I have said so many times before, has such incredible depth that it is very difficult to say one is better than the other. However, Friday evening, in this ballet, it was Mosina, Luciano, and Sasaki who made me take notice. They were fluid, dramatic, and yet very graceful in their drama.

The one thing that I question about The Last Beat was the choice of music. Clearly, a choreographer chooses music to work with because of its rhythmic element, and because it must suggest something specific to the choreographer. Keep in mind that quite often music used by a choreographer has not necessarily been written for use in a ballet unless it was specifically commissioned for that purpose. The music by DeVotchKa made use of Nick Urata’s singing, and I found myself wondering if it was the text that helped Sandra Brown’s choice in using DeVotchKa. I, for one, could not understand anything that was being sung except for scattered words and phrases here and there. Therefore, the text of the song had no meaning for me. The rest of the music used, perhaps, three or four chords, which lent itself to a kind of minimalist feel, but did not carry the subtleties and complexities found in the music of Phillip Glass or Arvo Pärt. Certainly, there was a steady beat and constant rhythmic pattern. And, certainly, the dancers onstage had no difficulty following that beat. The choreography in this ballet was so excellent and imaginative, that I was left wondering about the choice of music.

The Colorado Ballet once more demonstrated that they are one of the best ballet companies in the United States. Their depth, their excellence, and the inherent art in everything they do are remarkable. Their dedication shows, and the audience reaps the rewards.

The Colorado Ballet’s Cinderella: Artistry and Magic

As I have often said, Artistic Director, Gil Boggs, of the Colorado Ballet, has assembled an organization that is truly superior in the world of dance. This was clearly demonstrated Saturday, February 16th, at their performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s marvelous ballet, Cinderella. The artistic staff of the Colorado Ballet, aside from Gil Boggs, is as follows: Sandra Brown, Ballet Mistress; Lorita Travaglia, Ballet Mistress; Maestro Adam Flatt, Music Director and Principal Conductor; Maestra Catherine Sailer, Associate Conductor; Ben Stevenson, Choreographer; and, Christina Giannelli, Lighting Designer. This season’s performance of Cinderella was staged by Janie Parker.

Sergei Prokofiev (1891- 1953) breathed new life into the symphony, the sonata, concerto, and most certainly, the ballet. Early on, Prokofiev tried to duplicate the success that his older countryman, Sergei Rachmaninoff, had had in the United States. Prokofiev himself was a brilliant pianist, but for some reason he was not met with the same reception. His first ballet that became an international success was Romeo and Juliet, but many of his other works were met with extreme hostility from the cultural ideologues of the Soviet Union. He was called before the Supreme Soviet and told that his music was bourgeoisie, and did not reflect proper Soviet culture. His works were banned from performance. Part of the reason for this was that his music was filled with harmonic deceptive resolutions, the use of modes simultaneously with major and minor, disjunct melodic lines with surprising twists and turns, and, at times, dissonances that were, as he labeled it, used in effort to “tease the geese.” In other words, annoy those who had banned his works.

Cinderella closely adheres to the tail written by Charles Perrault. All of you readers know the story, having heard it many times in your youth. Prokofiev, in his ballet, emphasized comedy, as well as love, compassion for others, and the yearning to do, and be, something different.

The two mean stepsisters are always played by males in this ballet in order to emphasize their ugliness and the obstreperous behavior. Saturday evening, Francisco Estevez and Christopher Moulton danced the two stepsisters to perfection. They were ill-dressed, rowdy malcontents who were abusive to their stepfather and stepsister. Dmitry Trubchanov danced the role of the Father, and Lorita Travaglia danced the role of the Stepmother. Sharon Wehner danced the role of Cinderella, and though I have seen this ballet several times, I have never seen anyone infuse the role of Cinderella with so much emotion, whether it be poignancy or absolute joy. It truly made me think that she and Choreographer Ben Stevenson were absolutely on the same wavelength, with every movement she made. Every movement she danced, she described Cinderella.

Act I is used to introduce the audience to all of the characters, and every dancer onstage accomplished that with aplomb. The fairy godmother appears toward the end of the act, and was danced by the remarkable Maria Mosina, whose graceful arms never stop moving when she dances.

The sets were through the courtesy of the Texas Ballet Company, and I immediately thought that the Colorado Ballet deserves their own sets. Yes, that would be enormously expensive, but this ballet company is of the ilk that they should have them. Cinderella’s coach, which thankfully did not look like an enlarged pumpkin, was a total work of art, and the horses in special costumes, were a stroke of visual genius. In addition, the transformation of the set from Cinderella’s living room to the woods where her Fairy Godmother transforms her into a Princess was absolutely magical.

From the very outset of Saturday evening’s performance I was struck by the Colorado Ballet Orchestra. I don’t think, and I say this without exaggeration, that I have ever heard them perform better. Understand, that Prokofiev’s music, because of his highly individual style, is difficult for an orchestra to play because it is sometimes impossible to anticipate where the melodic line will turn next. But the emotion expressed by the dancers was strongly supported and reflected by the orchestra.

Act II is comprised of The Ball. The Jester, danced Saturday evening by Kevin Gaël Thomas, introduces and welcomes the arriving guests. Their reaction to the ugly stepsisters was priceless. Upon the arrival of Cinderella, she and the Prince are smitten with the immortal love at first sight. Cinderella and the Prince, danced by Viacheslav Buchkovskiy, danced a wonderful and impassioned pas de deux which was one of the highlights of the evening’s performance. These two dancers were totally superb, as is everyone in this company. I have often said, and I mean that sincerely, that every single dancer who appears on stage for the Colorado Ballet could be a soloist. The depth of quality is astounding. When the clock struck twelve, Prokofiev allows the trombones to become powerful and threatening. I’m quite sure, judged by the sound, that Maestro Flatt told the brass to sneer and growl.

Act III concerns the prince’s search for the love of his life, who completely disappeared at the end of Act II. He searches far and wide. He and his servants ask all the cobblers who made the shoe that Cinderella dropped. While he is searching, Cinderella takes the other slipper from her apron pocket, and realizes that her memories of the ball and a handsome Prince were not a dream after all. The Prince arrives at the household, and the two stepsisters try on the shoe to no avail. Cinderella helps her stepmother to try it on, and while she is doing so, the other slipper falls from her apron. The Prince realizes that he has found his princess, and the two live happily ever after.

As I have said, I have seen Prokofiev’s Cinderella several times, but this is the first time where I was so taken with the shared artistry between the orchestra and the dancers. In the forest scene, where the Fairy Godmother transforms Cinderella, the Spring Fairy, danced by Klara Houdet; the Summer Fairy, danced by Tracy Jones; and the Autumn and Winter fairies, danced respectively by Morgan Buchanan and Shelby Dyer, were strongly supported by the excellent clarinet work of Michelle Orman in the orchestra. Small details, such as the transformation of the moon into a midnight clock, added to the magic of the performance. When the guests at the ball were given oranges as special treats, the orchestra seemed to emphasize the theme for the oranges, so that those familiar with Prokofiev’s opera, The Love for Three Oranges, was clearly recognizable.

It was a magical evening in every sense of the word. The adults in the audience sat transfixed, and the youngsters in the audience laughed delightedly with the antics of the stepsisters. Everyone gasped in almost terror and surprise when the clock began to strike twelve. Saturday evening’s performance was a complete artistic amalgamation where dancers, choreographer, and musicians worked together in a convincing artistic union.

There are more performances. You must see this ballet.

Thu 2/20/14 6:30PM: Ellie Caulkins Opera House
2014 Cinderella More Information Purchase
Fri 2/21/14 7:30PM: Ellie Caulkins Opera House
2014 Cinderella More Information Purchase

Sat 2/22/14 2:00PM: Ellie Caulkins Opera House
2014 Cinderella More Information Purchase

Sat 2/22/14 7:30PM: Ellie Caulkins Opera House
2014 Cinderella More Information Purchase

Sun 2/23/14 2:00PM: Ellie Caulkins Opera House
2014 Cinderella More Information Purchase

The Colorado Ballet: A demonstration of depth in excellence

Friday evening, October 4, was the Colorado Ballet’s 53rd season opener. There was so much that seemed new Friday evening: there were new faces on the stage, there are new names on the board, the Colorado Ballet has a new home which they will move into next year, and there was a brand-new enthusiasm displayed by the dancers onstage. As everyone knows, Gil Boggs was made artistic director of the Colorado Ballet during the 2006 – 2007 season. He has changed the Colorado Ballet very dramatically every year since he has held that position, and there is absolutely no question that the Colorado Ballet is one of the best ballet companies in the United States. It is certainly time for an organization of this caliber to have a new home, and not only do they deserve our congratulations, they deserve our continued support.

They opened this year’s season with Giselle written by Adolphe Adam (1803 – 1856). He was a prolific composer of ballets, incidental music, comic operas, and even vaudeville. This seems most unusual considering the fact that his father was a pianist and teacher; however, his father encouraged him only to become a musician if he learned that music was only amusement (!) not an art, and certainly not suitable for a career. His father finally changed his mind and permitted Adolphe to enter the Paris Conservatory. Keep in mind, that at this time, in France, musical plays, trite operas, and music written for the entertainment of the masses was extremely popular, and remained so for a number of years, much to the consternation of composers such as Hector Berlioz (who wrote much about French music in the Journal des Débats), Georges Bizet, and Théodore Gouvy. To find seriously composed concert music, one had to go mainly to Germany and Austria, for that is where symphonies and chamber music were being written, and that, for example, is why Théodore Gouvy spent his early years in Germany surrounded by friends such as Liszt, Friedrich Förster, Ferdinand Möhring, Ferdinand Hiller, and Carl Reinecke. Nonetheless, Adolphe Adam became a very well-known composer in France, but it is two of his ballets, Giselle and Le Corsaire, that have assured his place in the history of music.

To quote from the Colorado Ballet press release: “[Giselle] tells the story of a count [Albrecht] in disguise who falls in love with Giselle, a beautiful peasant girl with a fragile heart. When she discovers the count’s true identity, and that he is engaged to another woman, she dies broken-hearted. She becomes a member of The Wilis – vengeful spirits who suffered unrequited love in life, and are destined to roam the earth each night, trapping men and dancing them to their deaths. When the count enters the domain of the Wilis, only Giselle’s love can save him.” The original choreography for this ballet was done by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, and was later revised by Marius Petipa. The staging for the performance was done by Gil Boggs, Sandra Brown, and Lorita Travaglia.

The minute the curtain rose there was a gasp from the audience because of the scenery which came to the Colorado Ballet through the courtesy of the American Ballet Theatre. It was absolutely wonderful, with branches and leaves individually cut out with a cottage on each side of the stage. In the background, on a high hilltop, was the castle of the Duke of Courtland. The costumes were also terrific, and they were also from the American Ballet Theater.

Friday evening, Giselle was danced by Maria Mosina. I have seen Maria Mosina dance many times, but I must say that this was the best performance I have ever seen her give. There is absolutely no doubt that she was immensely comfortable on stage, which led me to believe that she has danced Giselle many times before. What sets her apart from other principal dancers around the country is her acting ability as well as her true artistic ability as a supreme ballerina. She is, simply put, incredible. And, what is more incredible is the fact that the other principal dancers in the Colorado Ballet, Viacheslav Buchkovskiy, Chandra Kuykendall, Dmitry Trubchanov, Alexi Tyukov and Sharon Wehner are all equal in ability. I have written in the past about the depth of artistry that the Colorado Ballet has, and you readers must understand that there is no clear-cut division in artistic ability between principles soloists and members of the Corps. Asuka Sasaki, Shelby Dyer, Dana Benton, Jesse Marks, Adam Still, and Caitlin Valentine-Ellis are all incredibly fine artists. I have watched other ballet companies, and have often thought that, perhaps next year, so-and-so will be elevated to the rank of Soloist from the rank of Corps de Ballet. The division line was clear. With the Colorado Ballet, that division line is very hard to see indeed, and it was particularly hard to see Friday evening. There was a new precision from everyone on stage: movements were absolutely together, and they were precisely with the beat provided by the orchestra. In fact, it was difficult to tell if they were following Maestro Adam Flatt, or if Maestro Flatt was following them, because there was such precision. And I point out that everyone seemed to be at perfect ease.

When Alexi Tyukov lifted Maria Mosina over his head, Mosina was perfectly horizontal, and it was one of the most graceful moves I have seen from these two dancers. The Peasant Pas de deux, which was danced by Dana Benton and Adam Still, was simply perfect. Truthfully, I do not remember ever seeing a performance the Colorado Ballet where everyone on stage made all of their movements look so effortless. And again, I must mention their dramatic ability, as well. Berthe, Giselle’s mother, was performed by Lorita Travaglia who is one of the Ballet Mistresses with the company. This role is not a dancing role, but she performed it so well that one simply did not have to read the program notes in order to understand what she was telling her daughter.

In Act II, Giselle has died because Albrecht’s deception aggravated her frail heart, and the character, Hilarion, danced by Dmitry Trubchanov, is attending her grave. It is nighttime, and the Queen of the Wilis, Myrtha, danced by Asuka Sasaki, made her appearance on stage. She performed a bourée step across the stage, and I do not think I have ever seen a bourée done so well. Nothing moved accept Sasaki’s feet. Her head did not bobble and her arms did not move, but you must understand that she did not appear to be rigid either. She simply floated across the stage in the most graceful manner, simply by moving her feet inches at a time. That has to be one of the most difficult steps in ballet, or at least, it seems so to me.

All of the Wilis danced precisely together, and their movements were highlighted by the perfect costumes that they wore: dressed entirely in white, they seemed entirely the antithesis of evil, but that is what made them so effective. They quickly dispatched Hilarion by dancing him to death.

Even in death, Giselle resolves to protect Albrecht, and it is here that Mosina and Tyukov do some of their finest dancing together. It was artistic and it was poignant. Maria Mosina was able to demonstrate through her remarkable skill and artistry that she was a spirit trying to protect the man she loved while she was alive. And, Alexi Tyukov was clearly able to play the role of a man still in love with the spirit, and yet, frightened by being surrounded by the Wilis and not knowing what to expect from the woman he loved while she was alive.

The Colorado Ballet is also very fortunate that they have Maestro Adam Flatt to conduct the Ballet Orchestra. In some ways, conducting a ballet can be considered to be not too much different from conducting a soloist who is performing a concerto. I make that statement only because audiences sometimes find it more difficult to hear a soloist who is unable to stay with an orchestra than it is to watch a dancer who is unable to stay with the orchestra. Maestro Flatt’s conducting is flawless, because he is able to anticipate what the dancers need in the way of support rhythmically, while making sure that the orchestra responded to those needs. Needless to say, he has transformed this orchestra so that its quality matches that of the ballet company. It is a wonderful thing to have the dancers and the orchestra so evenly matched.

Looking back over the years since Gil Boggs has been the Artistic Director; it is easy to watch the rapid improvement in this organization. And to phrase it in those terms makes it sound very trite. He has inspired the dancers with a newfound enthusiasm and he has inspired them with his own love for the art of ballet. He has proven time after time that he can raise this ballet company to new heights, and that here in Denver, there is a place for such an artistic organization to exist. It is high time that the community realizes that they do need their own building, and it is a very happy occasion when the community recognizes that need and supports the ballet to the extent that they have realized a long-held dream. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could have their own set design crew? They need that as well. This company, through the hard work by everyone on the staff, is one of the best in the United States. I can say that because I have seen other ballet companies and the Colorado Ballet is an equal.

Thank you, Colorado Ballet, for making my Friday evening a memorable one.


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