Opus Colorado

The Magnificent Colorado Ballet and Don Quixote

The use of the word “Wow!” is probably considered not very sophisticated, and quite possibly uncouth, in refined circles. In academic circles, most likely it should be avoided completely. After all, in undergraduate school and graduate school, I was always taught to be very objective and concise and totally un-emotional in my academic writing. But I have to say that during Friday night’s performance of Don Quixote by the Colorado Ballet, the word “Wow!” with its attendant exclamation point came to mind quite often. I may have even mouthed the word.

The Colorado Ballet has come so far in the last few years that it is almost unrecognizable in comparison to its earlier days. Artistic Director, Gill Boggs, Ballet Mistresses, Sandra Brown and Lorita Travaglia, have had a profound effect on this organization which is headed by Executive Director, Jack Lemmon. And of course, the other name that is so deserving and equal in importance to the people I just named, is Music Director and Principal Conductor, Adam Flatt. Not to insult anyone’s intelligence, but many people do not understand how difficult it is to conduct a ballet. The conductor has to honor the composer’s intentions, and he also has to honor what the dancers are capable of, for example, when it comes to tempo. The conductor has to keep an eye on the score and the orchestra, but he also has to keep an eye on stage so that when a dancer comes back down from a grand jeté (a step where the legs are thrown ninety degrees with a corresponding high jump. The grande jeté is always preceded by a preliminary movement which gives impetus to the jump.), he can cue the orchestra for its entrance or rhythmic jab to coincide with the dancers foot touching the stage. Keep in mind that every performance is different, and every dancer is different, so that the length of time they stay in the air before landing changes all the time no matter how hard they strive for consistency. The conductor’s job is not easy, but Mr. Flatt makes it appear effortless.

And while we are talking about consistency, let me mention that is what the Colorado Ballet has. There were several instances, not involving dance steps, but handclapping and finger snapping where the entire corps was absolutely together. And of course, the corps’ dancing was total precision. That’s what every ballet company strives for, but I have rarely seen it. This is a very high tribute to the Artistic Director Boggs and the Ballet Mistresses Brown and Travaglia. And by the way, do any of you remember the old days of ballet and ballet programs, when the Artistic Director and Ballet Mistresses were listed up front with the dancers? It should be done today as it was in this program.

The choreography for Friday’s performance was essentially that of Marius Petipa. Petipa (1822 – 1910) was born in France but traveled to Spain where he was employed by the King’s Theater. He eventually signed a contract to be the principal dancer at the Imperial Theater in St. Petersburg, where he remained for the rest of his life. In 1854 he became the instructor at the Imperial Ballet School and continued to dance and re-stage the ballets. Then, in 1862, he was made the Chief Choreographer, a position which he held for almost fifty years. The trademark of his classic choreography is concentration on the dance and little attention to the dramatic content. As emphasis on dramatic content began to increase, his style began to fall out of favor, and yet he is still considered one of the best choreographers who ever lived. Friday’s performance by the Colorado Ballet most certainly had a pronounced dramatic content.

The music for Don Quixote was written by Ludwig Minkus. Minkus was an Austrian composer who spent most of his time in Russia as the official composer of the Bolshoi Theater in Moscow. His compositions were almost exclusively ballets (similar to today’s Webster Young), and he wrote over twenty. His ballet music is characterized by clear dance rhythms and very expressive melodies, which were different from his great contemporary, Tchaikovsky (can you imagine yourself as a ballet composer and having Tchaikovsky as a contemporary?). However, his ballet music has always been appreciated. After spending 11 years in Moscow, he took a position in St. Petersburg where he composed until 1891 when his position was eliminated. He found it very difficult to live on the pension that he was being paid in Russia, and he returned to Austria where he died in abject poverty at the age of 91 in 1917.

In Act I, in the first pas de deux, it was readily apparent that both Maria Mosina as Kitri, and Igor Vassine as Basilio were incredibly well matched. Vassine demonstrated great strength to accompany his gracefulness, and really that is what technique is – it covers everything, both dancers possess it: strength, grace, remarkable confidence (think how easy it would be to pull a muscle or break something if it is not done properly, or that there is a split second of hesitation), and remarkable rhythm. As I watched them, and also Sayaka Karasugi as Mercedes and Dimitry Trubchanov as Espada, I was struck by their ability to work together. Every movement and gesture must communicate something. It reminded me of performing a two piano concert – everything must be concentrated in the same direction and to the same goal. These four dancers were superb. Adam Flatt’s energy as a conductor was received and returned by them, and it was obvious that everyone was working toward a common purpose.

Act II takes place in a gypsy camp where Kitri and Basilio are hiding. Chandra Kuykendall who danced the role of the Gypsy Queen was breathtakingly wonderful. But I must tell you, that I was astonished at the performance of Dana Benton who danced the role of Amour. Several time she executed what is known as a pas de bourrée couru, which is a series of small, even steps with the feet very close together. I have never seen it done so quickly – and she was smiling all the time. How does one smile when doing something so difficult? The orchestra was exceptional in this act.

In the final Act III, the celebration of Kitri’s and Basilio’s wedding, Dimitry Trubchanov as Basilio’s friend, Espada, executed several large leaps which reminded me of Merce Cunningham, who I regard as probably the finest choreographer in the world. But you must understand that all of the soloists that I just mentioned and all of the corps were equally fine and rewarding to watch. All are virtuosos. They are fantastic dancers and very good actors, and they genuinely communicate.

One aspect of Friday’s performance at which was quite obvious was the ability of all of the soloists and the entire corps to communicate through their acting ability, aside from their remarkable dancing ability. Kevin Aydelotte, who played Don Quixote, is not required to do much dancing, but he certainly did a great deal of acting, and was very successful in allowing us to see Don Quixote as a sympathetic and kind individual caught up in his dreams and a constant search. Joey Wishnia was equally effective as a Sancho Panza, and so were Ken Street as Lorenzo, and Gregory Gonzales as Gamache. So many times I have seen a ballet where the dancers, and everyone involved in the production, are solely concerned with dancing and not concerned with giving the audience a character with which to share emotions.

In a review that I wrote last year about the Colorado Ballet, I said that this company had finally arrived after so many years of struggle. That may turn out to be an understatement. It is such a fine organization that is difficult for me to imagine that they still have to rent scenery and sets from other ballet companies around the nation. If the Louisville Ballet (from whom the Colorado Ballet rented the Don Quixote set) can have their own scenery and sets which they rent to the Colorado Ballet, why can’t we have our own? Now I am aware of all of the answers to that question, but consider this: Denver’s six county metro area population is slightly over 2 million. Louisville, Kentucky’s population is roughly 1.4 million. We have a better symphony and many community symphony orchestras, and I will wager that our ballet company is superior to theirs. I know that times are tough for everyone, and the people who form the organization of the Colorado Ballet work incredibly hard. Can’t we give them more support? The Colorado Ballet no longer has to prove itself as an organization.

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