Filed under: Reviews | Tags: Alexi Tyukov, Amy Seiwert, Asuka Sasaki, Caitlin Valentine-Ellis, Chandra Kuykendall, Christopher Ellis, Dana Benton, DeVotchKa, Dmitry Trubchanov, Domenico Luciano, Edwaard Liang, Francisco Estevez, Jeanie Schroder, Jesse Marks, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Kevin Wilson, Klara Houdet, Lesley Allred, Luis Valdes, Maria Mosina, Max Richter, Morgan Buchanan, Nick Urata, Sandra Brown, Sean Omandam, Sharon Wehner, Shawn King, Shelby Dyer, Tom Hagerman, Tracy Jones
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.
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 Flatt, Alexi Tyukov, Dimitry Trubchanov, Domy Reiter-Soffer, Gil Boggs, Igor Vassine, Janelle Cooke, Lorita Travaglia, Maria Mosina, Sandra Brown, Sayaka Karasugi, Sharon Wehner
I truly hope that everyone who reads this will have a chance to go see the Colorado Ballet’s production of “Beauty and The Beast.” It is one of the most original productions of the ballet that I have seen for several years. It has a marvelous and modern musical score by the gifted Hong Kong composer, Seen-yee Lam, and absolutely stunning choreography by the gifted Israeli artist, Domy Reiter-Soffer.
Do not expect a traditional ballet where members of the corps de ballet stand upstage in pastel tutus in the first position while the lead dancers perform a grand Pas de deux downstage. Beauty and The Beast is a fairy tale of the first order. It is a meaty ballet of great substance. It was written by Charles Perrault in 1697. Perrault also wrote Sleeping Beauty, Puss in Boots, and Cinderella. What could I possibly mean by a fairy tale of the first order? I stress that Beauty and The Beast is not all that frightening, and I certainly think that young children should go see it. But it is darker, and certainly more emotional than any production of Beauty and The Beast that I have seen. This is because of the amazing and wonderful choreography by Domy Reiter-Soffer. And we certainly need to thank Gil Boggs, the Artistic Director of the Colorado Ballet, for inviting him to stage the choreography. The New York Times said “Domy Reiter-Soffer is particularly noted for his brilliant translation of words into movement, dealing with the very essence of the subject creating sheer theatre”. I have never seen a ballet, except for those choreographed by the late Merce Cunningham, where the dancing and intense personal expression of the dancers truly tell the story.
Domy Reiter-Soffer is a kind of modern Renaissance man, with a great range of interests and achievements which to date have included dance, drama, music and the graphic arts as well as teaching.
His production of Equus for Dance Theatre of Harlem at the Met. New York won him the Best Ballet of the Year Award from New York Daily News. Lady of the Camellias was voted Best production at the Finland festival 1990. His play Mary Makebelieve for the Abbey Theatre, Dublin was nominated as one of the Best Plays in the Dublin Theatre Festival. He has created a large repertory of successful works, among others the deeply moving Yerma for La Scala Milan and Irish National Ballet, and House of Bernarda Alba, both based on Lorca. The full length Paradise Gained about the French woman of letters Colette won him a special award for the best creation of 1991. Chariots of Fire (Phaedra), The Turn Of The Screw, the pop Time Trip Orpheus, Medea, La Mer, La Valse, Oscar (on the life of Oscar Wilde) and a multi-media production of A Time to Remember for the commemoration of the 2nd World war and the Holocaust won him great acclaim using over 300 performers on the stage. These productions have been successfully staged for American and European companies, including Dance Theatre of Harlem, The Australian Ballet, Finnish National Ballet, Pittsburg Ballet Theatre, Ohio Ballet Louisville Ballet, La Scala and Bat-Dor Dance Company with which he has created over twenty-five ballets.
For the last three years he has created three full-length works for the Hong Kong Ballet, The Emperor and The Nightingale, which toured Germany, Switzerland then closing the Salzburg Festival in Austria, with critical success, also Beauty and the Beast and the multi media production of White Snake, which is based on a Chinese legend. He also restaged his award winning ballet Lady of the Camellias with great success. He was Artistic Advisor of Irish National Ballet from 1975 to 1989.
He has created many multimedia productions using different facets of the arts, involving singers, dancers and actors. As well as dance he has directed theatre productions, plays, musicals and opera. Domy Reiter-Soffer is a serious painter with seventeen one-man shows and has exhibited at the Royal Academy of Art’s summer exhibition in London.
He has created over thirty designs for a wide range of dance and drama productions with much success. Reiter-Soffer has had a long dancing career, he has directed many plays and musicals, has been a staged rector for opera, and has designed more than 30 productions for both dance and drama at theatres including La Scala Milan, Australian Ballet, Dance Theatre of Harlem, the Carmiel Dance Festival, the Finnish National, Bat-Dor Dance Company and Hong Kong Ballet, and the Ohio Ballet.
As I mentioned above, the score for this Ballet was written by Hong Kong composer Seen-yee Lam. She is a very gifted composer who has won many awards for her film scores, her popular music scores, her television drama scores, and her scores for ballet. Beauty and The Beast was scored for orchestra and tape.
The scenery for Beauty and The Beast was designed by Ivan Cheng and the costumes were designed by Domy Reiter-Soffer.
I am quite sure that everyone is familiar with the plot of this story, so I will not dwell too much on that. From the outset, Igor Vassine, who danced Belle’s father, and Belle herself, danced by Sharon Wehner, were absolutely incredible. This also applies to Ruby and Opal, Belle’s sisters, danced by Maria Mosina, and Sayaka Karasugi respectively. I had the great good fortune of being invited to a rehearsal, and I was struck, then, by the intensity of these dancers, and I wondered if this intensity would be transmitted to the audience at the performance. It certainly was. Again, I must point out, that I have never seen such intense dancing with all of its powerful emotions in any ballet. The dance movements, even though it was classical ballet, were so descriptive that one could understand the story without ever having heard of it before. When Alexi Tyukov entered the stage as Belle’s egotistical admirer, one immediately knew his personality because of the way he danced.
Even the costumes reflected the attention to detail by Reiter-Soffer. For example, Janelle Cook, who danced two roles, that of the Sorceress, and that of the Goddess of the Forest, had, of course, two different costumes. Her costume for the Sorceress was all black except for two red slashes on the top of each long sleeve. The stage was relatively dark as she danced, but the lighting emphasized the red slashes, so that when she changed the handsome prince into the Beast, it seemed that the red slashes were producing the energy. Her dance movements emphasized the evilness of her character. When she was the Goddess of the Forest, her costume was light and airy, and that is precisely how she danced that role.
It truly seemed to me that everyone in the Colorado Ballet was totally infected by their own imagination. And after watching them at the rehearsal, it is clear that they had the highest respect for Domy Reiter-Soffer and Gil Boggs, as well as Ballet Mistresses Lorita Travaglia, and Sandra Brown. It truly seemed as if the entire company was anxious to try something new and that they found this avant-garde music and demanding choreography truly exhilarating and exciting.
One of the most poignant duets I have ever seen danced in any ballet was in the second act when Belle, the Beauty, realizes that the Beast, danced by the remarkable and expressive Dimitry Trubchanov, is not so evil after all. They danced with their hands only inches apart, but they never touched each other. It was clear that the Beast was falling in love with her, as it was equally clear that she was beginning and yearning to understand him. As I stated above, this was classical ballet, but it was like nothing I have ever seen, because the movements were so very subtly different. Domy Reiter-Soffer told me that he referred to this duet as the “No Touch Duet.”
I must also point out that the Colorado Ballet Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Adam Flatt performed superlatively. There are only three violins and three violas, two cellos, two bass, one flute, one oboe, one bassoon, one clarinet, and one French horn. They are never out of tune, and they are always exciting to listen to. Since this production was for orchestra and tape recording, I don’t know for sure if Maestro Flatt also ran the tape (really a CD). I would imagine that he had to be responsible for that, though I forgot to ask him when I spoke to him after the performance.
I might also add that I had the opportunity to speak briefly with two of the dancers after the performance; Janelle Cook and Dmitry Trubchanov. It was almost a shock because they were normal human beings without any magic whatsoever. Such was their amazing dramatic ability on stage and their tremendous gift to their art. But I must say that the entire company is that way, because once they took the floor at the rehearsal, all of them transformed themselves into magical beings.