Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adam Flatt, Ben Stevenson, Catherine Sailer, Christopher Moulton, Cinderella, Colorado Ballet, Dmitry Trubchanov, Francisco Estevez, Gil Boggs, Janie Parker, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Klara Houdet, Lorita Travaglia, Maria Mosina, Michelle Orman, Morgan Buchanan, Sandra Brown, Sergei Prokofiev, Sharon Wehner, Shelby Dyer, Tracy Jones, Viacheslav Buchkovskiy
As I have often said, Artistic Director, Gil Boggs, of the Colorado Ballet, has assembled an organization that is truly superior in the world of dance. This was clearly demonstrated Saturday, February 16th, at their performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s marvelous ballet, Cinderella. The artistic staff of the Colorado Ballet, aside from Gil Boggs, is as follows: Sandra Brown, Ballet Mistress; Lorita Travaglia, Ballet Mistress; Maestro Adam Flatt, Music Director and Principal Conductor; Maestra Catherine Sailer, Associate Conductor; Ben Stevenson, Choreographer; and, Christina Giannelli, Lighting Designer. This season’s performance of Cinderella was staged by Janie Parker.
Sergei Prokofiev (1891- 1953) breathed new life into the symphony, the sonata, concerto, and most certainly, the ballet. Early on, Prokofiev tried to duplicate the success that his older countryman, Sergei Rachmaninoff, had had in the United States. Prokofiev himself was a brilliant pianist, but for some reason he was not met with the same reception. His first ballet that became an international success was Romeo and Juliet, but many of his other works were met with extreme hostility from the cultural ideologues of the Soviet Union. He was called before the Supreme Soviet and told that his music was bourgeoisie, and did not reflect proper Soviet culture. His works were banned from performance. Part of the reason for this was that his music was filled with harmonic deceptive resolutions, the use of modes simultaneously with major and minor, disjunct melodic lines with surprising twists and turns, and, at times, dissonances that were, as he labeled it, used in effort to “tease the geese.” In other words, annoy those who had banned his works.
Cinderella closely adheres to the tail written by Charles Perrault. All of you readers know the story, having heard it many times in your youth. Prokofiev, in his ballet, emphasized comedy, as well as love, compassion for others, and the yearning to do, and be, something different.
The two mean stepsisters are always played by males in this ballet in order to emphasize their ugliness and the obstreperous behavior. Saturday evening, Francisco Estevez and Christopher Moulton danced the two stepsisters to perfection. They were ill-dressed, rowdy malcontents who were abusive to their stepfather and stepsister. Dmitry Trubchanov danced the role of the Father, and Lorita Travaglia danced the role of the Stepmother. Sharon Wehner danced the role of Cinderella, and though I have seen this ballet several times, I have never seen anyone infuse the role of Cinderella with so much emotion, whether it be poignancy or absolute joy. It truly made me think that she and Choreographer Ben Stevenson were absolutely on the same wavelength, with every movement she made. Every movement she danced, she described Cinderella.
Act I is used to introduce the audience to all of the characters, and every dancer onstage accomplished that with aplomb. The fairy godmother appears toward the end of the act, and was danced by the remarkable Maria Mosina, whose graceful arms never stop moving when she dances.
The sets were through the courtesy of the Texas Ballet Company, and I immediately thought that the Colorado Ballet deserves their own sets. Yes, that would be enormously expensive, but this ballet company is of the ilk that they should have them. Cinderella’s coach, which thankfully did not look like an enlarged pumpkin, was a total work of art, and the horses in special costumes, were a stroke of visual genius. In addition, the transformation of the set from Cinderella’s living room to the woods where her Fairy Godmother transforms her into a Princess was absolutely magical.
From the very outset of Saturday evening’s performance I was struck by the Colorado Ballet Orchestra. I don’t think, and I say this without exaggeration, that I have ever heard them perform better. Understand, that Prokofiev’s music, because of his highly individual style, is difficult for an orchestra to play because it is sometimes impossible to anticipate where the melodic line will turn next. But the emotion expressed by the dancers was strongly supported and reflected by the orchestra.
Act II is comprised of The Ball. The Jester, danced Saturday evening by Kevin Gaël Thomas, introduces and welcomes the arriving guests. Their reaction to the ugly stepsisters was priceless. Upon the arrival of Cinderella, she and the Prince are smitten with the immortal love at first sight. Cinderella and the Prince, danced by Viacheslav Buchkovskiy, danced a wonderful and impassioned pas de deux which was one of the highlights of the evening’s performance. These two dancers were totally superb, as is everyone in this company. I have often said, and I mean that sincerely, that every single dancer who appears on stage for the Colorado Ballet could be a soloist. The depth of quality is astounding. When the clock struck twelve, Prokofiev allows the trombones to become powerful and threatening. I’m quite sure, judged by the sound, that Maestro Flatt told the brass to sneer and growl.
Act III concerns the prince’s search for the love of his life, who completely disappeared at the end of Act II. He searches far and wide. He and his servants ask all the cobblers who made the shoe that Cinderella dropped. While he is searching, Cinderella takes the other slipper from her apron pocket, and realizes that her memories of the ball and a handsome Prince were not a dream after all. The Prince arrives at the household, and the two stepsisters try on the shoe to no avail. Cinderella helps her stepmother to try it on, and while she is doing so, the other slipper falls from her apron. The Prince realizes that he has found his princess, and the two live happily ever after.
As I have said, I have seen Prokofiev’s Cinderella several times, but this is the first time where I was so taken with the shared artistry between the orchestra and the dancers. In the forest scene, where the Fairy Godmother transforms Cinderella, the Spring Fairy, danced by Klara Houdet; the Summer Fairy, danced by Tracy Jones; and the Autumn and Winter fairies, danced respectively by Morgan Buchanan and Shelby Dyer, were strongly supported by the excellent clarinet work of Michelle Orman in the orchestra. Small details, such as the transformation of the moon into a midnight clock, added to the magic of the performance. When the guests at the ball were given oranges as special treats, the orchestra seemed to emphasize the theme for the oranges, so that those familiar with Prokofiev’s opera, The Love for Three Oranges, was clearly recognizable.
It was a magical evening in every sense of the word. The adults in the audience sat transfixed, and the youngsters in the audience laughed delightedly with the antics of the stepsisters. Everyone gasped in almost terror and surprise when the clock began to strike twelve. Saturday evening’s performance was a complete artistic amalgamation where dancers, choreographer, and musicians worked together in a convincing artistic union.
There are more performances. You must see this ballet.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adam Flatt, Adam Still, Adolphe Adam, Alexi Tyukov, Asuka Sasaki, Caitlin Valentine-Ellis, Chandra Kuykendall, Colorado Ballet, Dana Benton, Dmitry Trubchanov, Gil Boggs, Hector Berlioz, Jean Coralli, Jesse Marks, Jules Perrot, Lorita Travaglia, Maria Mosina, Marius Petipa, Sharon Wehner, Shelby Dyer, Théodore Gouvy, Viacheslav Buchkovskiy
Friday evening, October 4, was the Colorado Ballet’s 53rd season opener. There was so much that seemed new Friday evening: there were new faces on the stage, there are new names on the board, the Colorado Ballet has a new home which they will move into next year, and there was a brand-new enthusiasm displayed by the dancers onstage. As everyone knows, Gil Boggs was made artistic director of the Colorado Ballet during the 2006 – 2007 season. He has changed the Colorado Ballet very dramatically every year since he has held that position, and there is absolutely no question that the Colorado Ballet is one of the best ballet companies in the United States. It is certainly time for an organization of this caliber to have a new home, and not only do they deserve our congratulations, they deserve our continued support.
They opened this year’s season with Giselle written by Adolphe Adam (1803 – 1856). He was a prolific composer of ballets, incidental music, comic operas, and even vaudeville. This seems most unusual considering the fact that his father was a pianist and teacher; however, his father encouraged him only to become a musician if he learned that music was only amusement (!) not an art, and certainly not suitable for a career. His father finally changed his mind and permitted Adolphe to enter the Paris Conservatory. Keep in mind, that at this time, in France, musical plays, trite operas, and music written for the entertainment of the masses was extremely popular, and remained so for a number of years, much to the consternation of composers such as Hector Berlioz (who wrote much about French music in the Journal des Débats), Georges Bizet, and Théodore Gouvy. To find seriously composed concert music, one had to go mainly to Germany and Austria, for that is where symphonies and chamber music were being written, and that, for example, is why Théodore Gouvy spent his early years in Germany surrounded by friends such as Liszt, Friedrich Förster, Ferdinand Möhring, Ferdinand Hiller, and Carl Reinecke. Nonetheless, Adolphe Adam became a very well-known composer in France, but it is two of his ballets, Giselle and Le Corsaire, that have assured his place in the history of music.
To quote from the Colorado Ballet press release: “[Giselle] tells the story of a count [Albrecht] in disguise who falls in love with Giselle, a beautiful peasant girl with a fragile heart. When she discovers the count’s true identity, and that he is engaged to another woman, she dies broken-hearted. She becomes a member of The Wilis – vengeful spirits who suffered unrequited love in life, and are destined to roam the earth each night, trapping men and dancing them to their deaths. When the count enters the domain of the Wilis, only Giselle’s love can save him.” The original choreography for this ballet was done by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, and was later revised by Marius Petipa. The staging for the performance was done by Gil Boggs, Sandra Brown, and Lorita Travaglia.
The minute the curtain rose there was a gasp from the audience because of the scenery which came to the Colorado Ballet through the courtesy of the American Ballet Theatre. It was absolutely wonderful, with branches and leaves individually cut out with a cottage on each side of the stage. In the background, on a high hilltop, was the castle of the Duke of Courtland. The costumes were also terrific, and they were also from the American Ballet Theater.
Friday evening, Giselle was danced by Maria Mosina. I have seen Maria Mosina dance many times, but I must say that this was the best performance I have ever seen her give. There is absolutely no doubt that she was immensely comfortable on stage, which led me to believe that she has danced Giselle many times before. What sets her apart from other principal dancers around the country is her acting ability as well as her true artistic ability as a supreme ballerina. She is, simply put, incredible. And, what is more incredible is the fact that the other principal dancers in the Colorado Ballet, Viacheslav Buchkovskiy, Chandra Kuykendall, Dmitry Trubchanov, Alexi Tyukov and Sharon Wehner are all equal in ability. I have written in the past about the depth of artistry that the Colorado Ballet has, and you readers must understand that there is no clear-cut division in artistic ability between principles soloists and members of the Corps. Asuka Sasaki, Shelby Dyer, Dana Benton, Jesse Marks, Adam Still, and Caitlin Valentine-Ellis are all incredibly fine artists. I have watched other ballet companies, and have often thought that, perhaps next year, so-and-so will be elevated to the rank of Soloist from the rank of Corps de Ballet. The division line was clear. With the Colorado Ballet, that division line is very hard to see indeed, and it was particularly hard to see Friday evening. There was a new precision from everyone on stage: movements were absolutely together, and they were precisely with the beat provided by the orchestra. In fact, it was difficult to tell if they were following Maestro Adam Flatt, or if Maestro Flatt was following them, because there was such precision. And I point out that everyone seemed to be at perfect ease.
When Alexi Tyukov lifted Maria Mosina over his head, Mosina was perfectly horizontal, and it was one of the most graceful moves I have seen from these two dancers. The Peasant Pas de deux, which was danced by Dana Benton and Adam Still, was simply perfect. Truthfully, I do not remember ever seeing a performance the Colorado Ballet where everyone on stage made all of their movements look so effortless. And again, I must mention their dramatic ability, as well. Berthe, Giselle’s mother, was performed by Lorita Travaglia who is one of the Ballet Mistresses with the company. This role is not a dancing role, but she performed it so well that one simply did not have to read the program notes in order to understand what she was telling her daughter.
In Act II, Giselle has died because Albrecht’s deception aggravated her frail heart, and the character, Hilarion, danced by Dmitry Trubchanov, is attending her grave. It is nighttime, and the Queen of the Wilis, Myrtha, danced by Asuka Sasaki, made her appearance on stage. She performed a bourée step across the stage, and I do not think I have ever seen a bourée done so well. Nothing moved accept Sasaki’s feet. Her head did not bobble and her arms did not move, but you must understand that she did not appear to be rigid either. She simply floated across the stage in the most graceful manner, simply by moving her feet inches at a time. That has to be one of the most difficult steps in ballet, or at least, it seems so to me.
All of the Wilis danced precisely together, and their movements were highlighted by the perfect costumes that they wore: dressed entirely in white, they seemed entirely the antithesis of evil, but that is what made them so effective. They quickly dispatched Hilarion by dancing him to death.
Even in death, Giselle resolves to protect Albrecht, and it is here that Mosina and Tyukov do some of their finest dancing together. It was artistic and it was poignant. Maria Mosina was able to demonstrate through her remarkable skill and artistry that she was a spirit trying to protect the man she loved while she was alive. And, Alexi Tyukov was clearly able to play the role of a man still in love with the spirit, and yet, frightened by being surrounded by the Wilis and not knowing what to expect from the woman he loved while she was alive.
The Colorado Ballet is also very fortunate that they have Maestro Adam Flatt to conduct the Ballet Orchestra. In some ways, conducting a ballet can be considered to be not too much different from conducting a soloist who is performing a concerto. I make that statement only because audiences sometimes find it more difficult to hear a soloist who is unable to stay with an orchestra than it is to watch a dancer who is unable to stay with the orchestra. Maestro Flatt’s conducting is flawless, because he is able to anticipate what the dancers need in the way of support rhythmically, while making sure that the orchestra responded to those needs. Needless to say, he has transformed this orchestra so that its quality matches that of the ballet company. It is a wonderful thing to have the dancers and the orchestra so evenly matched.
Looking back over the years since Gil Boggs has been the Artistic Director; it is easy to watch the rapid improvement in this organization. And to phrase it in those terms makes it sound very trite. He has inspired the dancers with a newfound enthusiasm and he has inspired them with his own love for the art of ballet. He has proven time after time that he can raise this ballet company to new heights, and that here in Denver, there is a place for such an artistic organization to exist. It is high time that the community realizes that they do need their own building, and it is a very happy occasion when the community recognizes that need and supports the ballet to the extent that they have realized a long-held dream. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if they could have their own set design crew? They need that as well. This company, through the hard work by everyone on the staff, is one of the best in the United States. I can say that because I have seen other ballet companies and the Colorado Ballet is an equal.
Thank you, Colorado Ballet, for making my Friday evening a memorable one.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Adam Still, Alexei Tyukov, Art Bouton, Asuka Sasaki, Caitlin Valentine-Ellis, Chandra Kuykendall, Chrstipher Ellis, Dana Benton, Dimitry Trubchanov, George Balanchine, Gil Boggs, Glen Tetley, Jesse Marks, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Lydia Sviatlovskaya, Maria Mosina, Michael Allen, Sharon Wehner, Shelby Dyer, The Colorado Ballet
Every season, the Colorado Ballet has always performed an unrelated trilogy of one act ballets that, for the last several years, have represented some of the finest dancing of which the company is capable. Sometimes there are fewer people in the audience because these ballets do not necessarily represent a kingpin in the season, such as The Nutcracker does. However, I have noticed that those who attend this “trilogy” seem to be those who really love dance, and are dedicated to the Colorado Ballet. Therefore, these three ballets have always struck me as representing a “kingpin” performance.
Friday evening, February 22, the Colorado Ballet presented such an evening entitled Ballet MasterWorks. The three ballets that made up this splendid evening were Theme and Variations, with music by Tchaikovsky and choreography by Balanchine; In Pieces with music by Poul Ruders and choreography by Val Caniparoli; and the third ballet of the evening was The Rite of Spring, with music by Igor Stravinsky and choreography by Glen Tetley.
The Colorado Ballet opened the program with Theme and Variations by Tchaikovsky and Balanchine. This was an important performance because this was the first time that the Colorado Ballet has performed a work by George Balanchine in the last ten years. Many of you who read this article will know that George Balanchine, (1904-1983), was the most influential choreographer of classical ballet in the United States in the 20th century. He was the founder of the New York City Ballet, and he also pioneered the use of choreography for film and musical theater. In 1947, he choreographed the music from Tchaikovsky’s Orchestral Suite Nr. 3 in G, Opus 55. It has no plot or storyline, and is therefore an example of classical ballet technique that is so extraordinary that it has become an indispensable portion of ballet repertoire.
Friday evening, the principles in this ballet were the incomparable Maria Mosina and the likewise incomparable, Alexei Tyukov. The Demi-Soloist ladies were Dana Benton, Shelby Dyer, Asuka Sasaki, and Caitlin Valentine-Ellis. The Demi-Soloist men were Christopher Ellis, Jesse Marks, and Adam Still.
The only set decoration on stage for this ballet were chandeliers hanging from the stage ceiling, because the original production indicated that it was to be done in a “warmly lit ballroom.” The women wore tutus, and the men wore quasi-military costumes of the nineteenth century. Two things struck me immediately: the first was that I could not recall seeing a classical ballet that required such incredible strength on the part of the dancers; and, in addition, the orchestra sounded better than it ever has, and it has always been excellent. I am constantly mystified at how seemingly easy it is for all of the dancers in this company to exude such incredible grace along with such incredible strength and control over what they do. Of course, that control takes strength, and it takes incredible mental strength to do so many things at once: keep the beat, smile, watch the conductor, worry about the conductor watching you, and learning to rely on those who are around you on stage. But one of the pleasures in watching Mosina and Tyukov is their remarkable reliability. Their solos were startling because of their difficulty, and in watching these two dance, they reflected the joy of their profession. I think that in ballet, that joy is easier to perceive than it is in watching orchestra members or solo musicians perform. A dancer has to perform with their entire body. Musicians have to perform by holding instruments or touching an instrument, and I think that makes a difference. It is often difficult for me to write a review of a ballet simply because there are so many on stage that I can’t just list every individual. But, the Colorado Ballet has such depth of artistic ability, that all of the dancers should be named.
The pas de deux by Mosina and Tyukov was sensational, not only because they are so skilled, but because they have such incredible trust and knowledge of each other’s reliability. Mosina knows exactly how she will be caught by Tyukov, and she knows he has the ability to hold her over his head. Tyukov can rely upon Mosina to make a leap in exactly the right moment so that he can catch her with great ease. All of this seems so obvious, that it hardly seems worth mentioning. But, I do mention it because the choreography in this opening work was incredibly difficult, and the reliability that I have mentioned in the preceding sentences is what separates the Colorado Ballet from other dance companies around the country. I heard an individual comment on a photograph of the composer Carlisle Floyd, who was hard at work at his desk. This individual said, “Look at the expression on his face! He is really concentrating hard, and it looks as if composing is hard. Is writing an opera really difficult?” So, you see, that’s why I sometimes feel compelled to mention the obvious.
The orchestra was superb in Theme and Variations. There is a marvelous violin solo in Tchaikovsky’s work and it was beautifully done by Lydia Sviatlovskaya.
Another reason that the house should have been full Friday evening was the World Premiere of the second ballet of the evening, In Pieces, choreographed by Val Caniparoli, who is the choreographer for the San Francisco Ballet. The music which Caniparoli used for this ballet is by Poul Ruders: his Concerto in Pieces “Purcell Variations” (1994-95).
I will quote briefly from the websites of Caniparoli and Ruders:
“Born in Renton, Washington, Mr. Caniparoli opted for a professional dance career after studying music and theatre at Washington State University. In 1972, he received a Ford Foundation Scholarship to attend San Francisco Ballet School. He performed with San Francisco Opera Ballet before joining San Francisco Ballet in 1973. He continues to perform with the Company as a principal character dancer.
“He has contributed to the repertories of more than thirty-five dance companies, including Pacific Northwest Ballet, Boston Ballet, Northern Ballet Theatre, Pennsylvania Ballet, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Ballet West (Resident Choreographer 1993-97), Washington Ballet, Israel Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, Singapore Dance Theatre, Atlanta Ballet, State Theatre Ballet of South Africa, Louisville Ballet and Tulsa Ballet, where he has been resident choreographer since 2001. When Boston Ballet danced the company premiere of Mr. Caniparoli’s full-length Lady of the Camellias in 2004, the critic for the Boston Herald wrote, ‘Why have we had to wait so long to see a ballet by this gifted choreographer?’”
And now, Poul Ruders:
“Poul Ruders was born in Ringsted, Denmark, on March 27, 1949. His early studies in piano and organ led eventually to studies in orchestration with the Danish composer Karl Aage Rasmussen. Ruders’s first compositions date from the mid-60s. Ruders regards his own compositional development as a gradual one, with his true voice emerging with the chamber concerto, Four Compositions, of 1980. Writing about Ruders, the English critic Stephen Johnson states: ‘He can be gloriously, explosively extrovert one minute-withdrawn, haunted, intently inward-looking the next. Super-abundant high spirits alternate with pained, almost expressionistic lyricism; simplicity and directness with astringent irony.’
“Poul Ruders has created a large body of music ranging from opera and orchestral works through chamber, vocal and solo music. In recent years, performances of his work on both sides of the Atlantic and in such distant locals as China, Japan and Russia have taken place with increasing regularity. With the overwhelming success of his second opera, The Handmaid’s Tale (1996-98), produced in Copenhagen (2000), Ruders became even more in demand, with commissions coming in rapid succession from The Berlin Philharmonic, The New York Philharmonic, The BBC Symphony Orchestra, and from The Royal Danish Opera. Recent performances include productions of The Handmaid’s Tale in Toronto and London, and orchestral premieres and performances in Berlin, New York and London.”
The music that Caniparoli chose is a set of variations on themes of the English composer, Purcell. However, Ruders variations began very exuberantly with a full orchestra performing at a good solid forte. It was instant excitement. It has been a long time since I have seen a ballet choreographed with such vigorous and rapid movements. The dancers in this terrific ballet were Caitlin Valentine-Ellis, Dmitry Trubchanov, Chandra Kuykendall, Jesse Marks, Sharon Wehner, and Christopher Ellis. The costumes were avant-garde: the danseuses wore smoky blue tights with transparent “petals” as skirts. The danseurs wore smoky gray tights with much smaller “petals.” This added to the aspect of being in a totally new world. The choreography was very rapid and incredibly energetic, but it was so imaginative that it almost defies description. And, I might add, that the choreography was absolutely beautiful. So much of that beauty was the result of the grace added to these very energetic movements. In the press release announcing this concert, Artistic Director Gil Boggs said, and I quote, “These three works in one evening with a live orchestra performance will make for a very powerful night of dance and music, and will leave the audience in awe.” Truthfully, that is an understatement. I would classify this style of choreography as abstract expressionist, but to fully fit that definition may be impossible, just as architecture as designated in the abstract expressionist style is impossible, because it could not be used by human beings. But the choreography was so creative and so imaginative, and the music wonderfully chosen by the choreographer and written by the composer, and it seems new, that it was hard to classify. I assure you that this was not “modern dance.” It was ballet in its purest form. The orchestra was sensational, and there was some marvelous saxophone solo and an equally marvelous tuba solo. I am sure that it was Art Bouton performing the saxophone solo and Michael Allen performing on the tuba. Both were incredibly mellifluous.
The third ballet Friday evening was the legendary Le Sacre du Printemps, or The Rite of Spring, by Igor Stravinsky. The choreography was done by Glen Tetley. Everyone, I am sure, is familiar with the legendary story of the near riot that this ballet caused in 1913 at its Paris premiere. The French audience was simply not accustomed to Stravinsky’s music, nor was it accustomed to the “risqué” choreography that Stravinsky required. Even Stravinsky’s good friend, Claude Debussy, seemed to be nonplussed. The musicologist, who was a friend of both, Louis Laloy, wrote of a meeting between Stravinsky and Debussy at Debussy’s house when the two sat down at the piano to play through a forehand arrangement of Stravinsky’s ballet. Debussy played the bass while Stravinsky played the upper register. These two giant composers had greeted each other at the beginning of the afternoon with hugs and handshakes, but after reading through the score, Debussy could do nothing but continually stare at the score, dumbfounded.
This is such an historic work in so many respects, that it is almost embarrassing to admit that I have never seen it before, but this was the first time. I found myself wondering what it would be like to sit there in 1913. The choreography was originally done by Vaslav Nijinsky, and it was long thought to have been lost, but it was recently reconstructed by the Joffrey Ballet. My initial reaction to Glen Tetley’s choreography, and it was sustained throughout the entire ballet, is that this is a beautiful work. Glen Tetley’s choreography was remarkable and very satisfying, and like the ballet before it, In Pieces, very energetic.
In the program notes, there was a quote from Glen Tetley which may be of help to those who are unfamiliar with this ballet. I will quote verbatim:
“Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring is earth music of profoundly moving power. It speaks to me not only of pagan Russia, but our ancestral beginnings of Myth and Belief. When seasons changed, when earth seemed to die without a leaf to survive, man heaped the blame on a single person, a chosen victim who was killed and then buried within the earth, ritually mourned and then miraculously reborn, bringing the gift of life to earth. T.S. Eliot in his poem, Gerontion, in one line captures this magic moment, “and in the spring comes ‘Christ the Tiger’.”
The Chosen One was danced by Adam Still; Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov danced the Earth Mother and Earth Father. Casey Dalton and Asoka Sasaki with a female soloists, and Jesse marks and Kevin Gaël Thomas were the male soloists.
I don’t think I have ever seen Adam still dance so well: he was not only sensational in his dancing, but in his expressivity as well. Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov were absolutely perfect. Their pas de deux was overwhelming in its tenderness. And, of course, Dalton, Sasaki, and Marks and Thomas were outstanding.
As I left the Ellie Caulkins Theatre, I was convinced that this was one of the best productions I have ever seen from the Colorado Ballet. Then I remember Echoing of Trumpets, Dracula, Romeo and Juliet, and, you see how many I have mentioned already. This makes obvious that in The Colorado Ballet, we have a treasure that has set the standard for the arts not only in Denver, but for the country as well. The Colorado Ballet is that good, and we must never take them for granted.
Filed under: Reviews | Tags: 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: Alexei Tyukov, Carin Higgins Goodson, Denise Sanderson, Friedann Parker, Gil Boggs, Igor Vassine, Janelle Cooke, Jesse Marks, Lillian Covillo, Marie Belew Wheatley, Marie Mosina, Martin Leuthauser, Patricia Renzetti, Sharon Wehner
There were several poignant moments Thursday night at the Colorado Ballet’s 50 Year Celebration event. I say event is because it was more than a party, and yet, more than a ballet. It was a history of the Colorado Ballet in honor of the Lillian Covillo and the late Freidann Parker. These two women were the founding members of the Colorado Ballet, and they both shared a vision of ballet and dance to fulfill that need here in the city of Denver.
The program began at seven o’clock with opening remarks by the Colorado Ballet’s Artistic Director, Gil Boggs. Mr. Boggs introduced Lillian Cavillo who was in the audience, and who was greeted with a hearty round of applause. He gave a short synopsis of the history of the ballet and the audience then presented a video showing excerpts of past performances and wonderful pictures of Lillian Cavillo and Friedann Parker. The guest speakers included Denise Sanderson, Board Chair, Carin Higgins Goodson and Martin Leuthauser former members of the Colorado Ballet who had danced under the direction of the Lillian Covillo and Friedann Parker. Patricia Renzetti, a former Colorado Ballet Principal was also a speaker. These three individuals discussed what it was like to be members of the company and to see the kind of leadership that the two founders provided. The three of them described an amazing development over the years carefully watched by two individuals, Covillo and Parker, who were so totally dedicated to their art and the artistic excellence that they wished to instill in all of the dancers. Some of the remembrances were humorous, some were statistical, some were quite emotional, and all were occasionally interrupted by rounds of applause from the audience. It was abundantly clear that Patricia Renzetti was very moved by her memories of the Colorado Ballet and dancing with such a marvelous ballet company. Jesse Marks, who is currently dancing Renfield in the Colorado Ballet’s production of Dracula also spoke. He pointed out something that I have often suspected about this ballet company and that I have mentioned in past reviews. Mr. Marks said that all of the dancers help each other when it was needed – perhaps a little technical advice, a little moral support, and sometimes some emotional support when the day was not going as one would hope. Every rehearsal that I have attended, and the way the dancers performed with each other on stage, have indicated to me that there are no professional jealousies in this company as I have seen in other companies. Perhaps part of that is becase all the dancers are so equally skilled, and I can assure you that that fact makes this company so thrilling to watch when they are on stage.
Last but not least of the speakers was the new Executive Director, Marie Belew Wheatley. I have been in charge of several arts organizations in my life, as well as a university department. It must be an incredible experience to step into a position of Executive Director where the organization is so good that one does not have to get rid of deadwood on the board, set up a new accounting system, or try to fire up a lackadaisical staff. Granted, she certainly has much work ahead of her when it comes to fundraising, but she strikes me as being someone who is not only quite charming, but someone who really knows how her position works, how to succeed, and also is willing to allow those under her to succeed. I am confident that the Colorado Ballet has found an Executive Director who knows and agrees with one aesthetic that absolutely everyone from the office staff to all of the dancers believes in: good is the enemy of excellence.
In the second half of the program, excerpts from ballets and a choreographed poem were presented. The first ballet excerpt was from Giselle. This is one of the most famous ballets and it is a favorite of Ms. Lillian Covillo. The ballet tells the story of a peasant girl named Giselle whose ghost, after her death at a young age, protects her lover from the vengeance of a group of evil female spirits called the Wilis. The score was composed by Adolphe Adam and the choreography was originally done by Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, though I’m fairly sure that modern productions of this ballet use the choreography by Marius Petipa. This excerpt was danced by Sharon Wehner and Alexei Tyukov, and even if one did not know the story behind this ballet, one could sense the bond between the two characters. It is remarkable to me, at least, how two such expressive dancers can fill their motions with such grace and such an amazing strength. It is always easy to see, for example, a violinist or a pianist fill their performance with the emotion that the composer intended. But I still believe that the dancers in the Colorado Ballet are exceptional in bringing that kind of emotion to the way they dance. I might add that Ms. Wehner never lost her presence – even when she came out for her final bow she was full of grace in her curtsy to the audience.
Following the Giselle excerpt was a choreographed poem entitled Lightning Chain (no, that is not a misspelling). The poem was choreographed by Andrew Thompson, a former Principal with the Colorado Ballet, per the request of Lillian Covillo. This piece was originally performed in honor of Friedann Parker at her Celebration of Life Memorial Serivce in 2002. The poem was written by Friedann Parker and was read by Andrew Thompson. It was absolutely wonderful to see this danced by Janelle Cooke who returned for this performance. Ms. Cooke is now in California and her dancing is sorely missed. The poem tells of Calamity Jane and her encounter with Wild Bill Hickok. It is a humorous poem and Janelle Cooke danced the role in Levi’s, western shirt, and western boots. While she danced, I looked around at the audience, and even in the semi-dark, one could see the smiles of recognition and appreciation on the faces in the audience. It was clear that they miss Janelle Cooke as much as they admire her artistic ability.
Next, came the pas de deux from Swan Lake danced by the incomparable Maria Mosina and Igor Vassine. These two are extraordinary and absolutely beyond compare. Simply put, I would willingly match them with any other dancers in the country. Their ability to anticipate each other’s moves, their trust in each other’s ability, and their concentration on the smallest of artistic details absolutely boggles the mind. Toward the end of their pas de deux, Maria Mosina executed a dance step that I don’t recall seeing ever before. Keep in mind that she is a swan in this pas de deux. She moved her right foot (with her back to the audience while she was embracing Igor Vassine) in a rapid trembling motion which was at once very animalistic and yet full of incredible passion. It resembled a petit battement, but I am not at all sure that’s what one would call it. It was stunningly effective, and I might add that I could hear gasps from those sitting around me. It was very sensuous.
The final excerpt of the evening was comprised of The Faraway. The music for this ballet was taken from the compositions of Dmitri Shostakovich. Use was made of his first piano concerto and his first jazz suite. The choreographer is Matthew Neenan. This was a premier danced for the first time by the Colorado Ballet when they performed their opening at the Newman Center on the DU campus at the beginning of the season. The dancers in this excerpt were Dana Benton, Cara Cooper, Casey Dalton, Shelby Dyer, Chandra Kuykendall, Asuka Sasaki, Caitlin Valentine-Ellis, Sharon Wehner, Christopher Ellis, Jesse Marks, Sean Omandam, Rylan Schwab, Adam Still, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Dmitry Trubchanov, and Luis Valdes. This is a wonderful ballet with tinges of poignancy and a little darkness, but by and large it seems like a celebration. And why not? For the whole evening was a celebration for the remarkable Colorado Ballet.
I use the word remarkable very carefully and with its full meaning. This semester, I am teaching a course on the history of ballet at the Academy For Lifelong Learning. And I point out with fervent thanks, that the Colorado Ballet has been essential in my presentation of this course. Anne O’Connor, Director of Education and Outreach, Marlene Strang, Education Programs Manager, Katrina Tamminga, Public Relations Manager, and two members of the ballet corps, Morgan Buchanan and Gregory DeSantis, were instrumental in assisting me with this class. I also point out that we were invited to rehearsal for Dracula, where the Artistic Director, Gil Boggs, took time out from his busy rehearsal schedule and addressed my class. This organization is so accessible and so dedicated to their art that we in Colorado must make every effort to preserve their longevity. In honor of the founders of the Colorado Ballet, Lillian Covillo and Freidann Parker, the Colorado Ballet has established a Founders Fund. I encourage you to donate to this fund so that we can be sure that this organization is around for another 50 years. Simply call 303-399-1629, or on the web go to email@example.com.
The Colorado Ballet is an organization which, as it becomes more widely known, and I guarantee you that it will, will be the envy of the entire country. They are that good and they are that committed to the art. We must help them celebrate.