Opus Colorado

The Colorado Ballet pushes us with 3(e)motions

This is going to be a very enjoyable review to write. Enjoyable, because of the remarkable performance given on opening night by the Colorado Ballet Friday, March 19. Three ballets were performed, each lasting roughly 20 minutes to a half hour with an intermission between each one. The first was the World Premiere of a new work choreographed by Brian Reeder entitled “Eventually”. The music is by Michael Gandolfi.

Commissioned by Colorado Ballet specifically for this production, Eventually, choreographer Brian Reeder is clever and humorous, and while he has choreographed a variety of ballets, Reeder’s newest ballet follows en suite with Reeder’s persona. Described as a light-hearted and witty ballet, Eventually chronicles an elderly man making his way across the stage, through the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Throughout his journey, the gentleman is caught in the midst of four couples constantly moving around the stage exuding energy that juxtaposes the central character’s journey.

Brian Reeder was born in Sunbury, Pennsylvania and began his dance training with Marcia Dale Weary at the Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet. After attending American Ballet Theatre’s Summer Program, he studied at the School of American Ballet. Before joining American Ballet Theatre (1994-2003), Mr. Reeder performed as a soloist with William Forsythe’s Ballet Frankfurt (1990 -1993) and also danced with New York City Ballet (1986 -1990). He is currently on staff at American Ballet Theater’s Summer Intensives in New York City and the Coordinating Director of the ABT International Summer Dance Intensive in Bermuda (2006 – 2008.) Mr. Reeder has been a guest teacher at the Alvin Ailey School, School at STEPS, Studio Maestro, Orange County High School of the Arts, Newark Arts High School and the Icelandic National Ballet Company and School.

Michael Gandolfi entered the Berklee College of Music before transferring to the New England Conservatory of Music after one year. He went on to receive both his Bachelors and Masters degrees from NEC, where he is now the chair of the composition department. In 1986 he was a fellow of the Tanglewood Music Center; there he studied with Leonard Bernstein and Oliver Knussen. He has served on the faculty of Harvard University, Indiana University, and the Phillips Academy at Andover; since 1997 he has been the coordinator for the Tanglewood Music Center’s composition department. He has been championed by conductor Robert Spano as one of the “Atlanta School” of American composers, a group that also includes colleagues Osvaldo Golijov, Jennifer Higdon, and Christopher Theofanidis.

As this ballet opens, one can immediately see two things: an elderly man with a cane portrayed by Christopher Moulton, and on the other side of the stage is a mailbox. The elderly man’s wife, portrayed by Christina Schifano, hands him a letter to mail, and thus begins his journey from one side of the stage to the other; a journey which takes the length of the entire ballet. On this journey he is surrounded by the humdrum of everyday life, and his journey gives the audience a warm and humorous view of the comparison between the young and old and those who are fast and slow. Halfway across the stage, he becomes tired. He snaps his finger and a wonderful porch swing, its suspension cables covered with vines and flowers descends from the ceiling of the stage. He takes his seat and amuses himself by watching the hustle and bustle around him, and seems to be amazed at the thought that he was once as young as those he watches. The music has three sections; fast, slow, and fast. It is during the slow section that he is seated on the swing, and four couples take turns performing a pas de deux as he sits and watches them, eventually nodding off. The four couples were danced by Dana Benton, Andrew Skeels; Sharon Wehner, Adam Still; Caitlin Valentine, Sean Omandam; Shelby Dyer, Luis Valdes. And every one of these eight dancers exhibited a youthful exuberance and happy warmth in knowing that they were in their youth. And I must say, that it was extremely pleasurable watching eight young dancers who have very clearly worked very hard to perfect their art. I also could not escape the feeling of gratitude that Gil Boggs, the Artistic Director of the Colorado Ballet, has the creative imagination to commission Brian Reeder. I will not divulge how the ballet ends, but I promise you that it is a surprise, but yet charming.

After the first intermission, the Company performed for the first time in Denver, the ballet “Echoing of Trumpets.” This is a ballet choreographed by Anthony Tudor, with music by the Czech composer Bohuslav Martinu. The Colorado Ballet had the benefit of Mr. Donald Mahler who served as Repetiteur ( a “Repetiteur” is a coach for the dancers). Mr. Mahler has danced several leading roles in Antony Tudor’s ballets. In fact, he was trained at the Metropolitan Opera Ballet School by Antony Tudor. Tudor himself, is one of the outstanding choreographers of the 20th century. Born in London, in 1908, he began dancing professionally with the Ballet Rambert where he created many of his early ballets. He choreographed and created the Echoing of Trumpets in 1963 for the Royal Swedish Ballet.

The composer, Bohuslav Martinu, was born in Bohemia, and eventually became a violinist with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra. He began studying composition at the Prague Conservatory, but he became dissatisfied with the styles of music that he was being taught, and was eventually dismissed for being a “lazy student.” He traveled to Paris, but had to flee the German invasion of France, and he therefore immigrated to the United States. He was a prolific composer, and among his huge output are 14 ballet scores.

This ballet has to be one of the most moving and tragic performances I have ever seen from any ballet. It is set during the World War II Nazi occupation. This powerful ballet memorializes the Czechoslovakian village of Lidice, which was completely destroyed in 1942, by Nazi forces. Echoing of Trumpets explores man’s inhumanity as he grieves for lost lives in an upturned world. Tudor expertly evokes the emotional turmoil of the people of a war-ravaged land caused by occupying soldiers.

The story centers on a woman, danced by Maria Mosina, and her husband, danced by Viacheslav Buchkovskiy. The occupying troops torment and harass the residents of the village. There is a Young Girl danced by Sharon Wehner: a Tough Girl danced by Janelle Cooke. There are women of the village who are danced Shelby Dyer, Asuka Sasaki, and Evelyn Turner. The Army captain is danced by Alexei Tyukov. All of these dancers were certainly very affected by the roles that they were dancing. I can promise you that they didn’t “just” dance. Every single one of them is a superb actor, and I am absolutely convinced that every single one of them could portray any character you choose. They were able to project total fear and despair at their surroundings, knowing that at any moment their lives could come to an end. The women of the village danced often stooped over, with their arms in second position, and exuded a palpable air of being browbeaten and totally subjugated in every single respect. But it was Maria Mosina who gave a truly remarkable performance. She was chilling and entirely convincing as she portrays the devastation of watching her husband killed. She goes to her husband’s body and pulls him into a sitting position, hoping that if she does that, he will come back to life. It does not work. She then pulls on his arms, as if to try to move him away from the hell that has engulfed them, so that he will have a better place to come back to life. And that does not work either. Her character then becomes an empty and hollow shell. Maria Mosina is such a fine dancer and such a fine actor, that you can almost read her mind in this role. Everyone on stage reacted to her acting. And so did everyone in the audience.

I admire the Colorado Ballet for programming such a devastating work and presenting it in such an incredibly artistic manner. Gil Boggs and the Ballet Mistresses, Sandra Brown, and Lorita Travaglia are masterful at what they do, and so is Donald Mahler.

After the second intermission, the ballet company performed “Celts.” Celts is a wonderful, cheerful, and energetic ballet based on traditional Irish music. It was choreographed by Lila York who danced with the Paul Taylor Dance Company. She has choreographed ballets for companies all over the United States and Great Britain. I was astonished at the demands that she places on the dancers. There was constant and incredibly vigorous movement all the time without a let up, and let me assure you this was not any kind of a cheesy reprise of Riverdance. This is a wonderful and artistic ballet that exhibits far more than athleticism. Adam Still, Sayaka Karasugi, Janelle Cooke, Igor Vassine, Johnstuart Winchell, Sean Omandam, and Cara Cooper absolutely shone in this third ballet of the evening.

Every time I see the Colorado Ballet perform I think that I have seen them at their best, but each performance is always better than the last. They always surprise and they never disappoint. Under the leadership of Gil Boggs the Colorado Ballet is doing remarkable things. All of you who attend their performances should go backstage afterward and tell the dancers how well they have done. It lets them know they are appreciated and this is an organization that deserves and has earned everyone’s respect and support.

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