Opus Colorado

“Traveling” through beauty with the Colorado Ballet

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Everyone in Colorado owes the Colorado Ballet a Tribute

Every time I attend a performance by the Colorado Ballet, I am left with the feeling that it is such a privilege.

Thursday evening, March 29, I attended the opening of Tribute. The Colorado Ballet gave the performance this title because it was a tribute to Lillian Covillo and Freidann Parker, the founders of the Colorado Ballet. I felt that I was privileged because the performance was so absolutely marvelous. The program was comprised of three separate ballets of approximately twenty minutes each. All three ballets were World Premieres. Each ballet was very different in character, and each was choreographed by different choreographers: Emery LeCrone, Amy Seiwert, and the Jodie Gates.

All three ballets were done without scenery on the Gates Hall stage at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts. The lack of scenery was, in truth, rather refreshing because that allowed me, at least, to concentrate on the dancing and the music, and certainly, the size of the Gates Hall stage certainly seemed quite adequate.

The opening ballet of this three-part performance was choreographed by Emery LeCrone. Ms. LeCrone, who attended the University of North Carolina School of the Arts, is a very prolific choreographer, and she is the Choreographer in Residence of the New Chamber Ballet and the Columbia Ballet Collaborative. The title of this first ballet of the evening is Archetypes, and was written for ten women and eight men. The principal dancers were Maria Mosina, Chandra Kuykendall, and Dmitry Trubchanov. There were also two soloists: Dana Benton and Caitlin Valentine-Ellis. The other dancers came from the Corps.

From the outset, it was apparent that this was going to be a very intense performance. I was unable to find out anything concerning a suggested plot for this ballet, and indeed, there may not be a plot. But it seemed to me that it centered around two women – Mosina and Kuykendall – who were polar opposites in their approach to life and men. Ms. LeCrone chose music composed by Terry Riley, and its intensity certainly provided the motivation for the dancers. Terry Riley has been strongly influenced by John Cage, and, in 1964, he moved into the realm of minimalist music. It is amazing to me how Mosina and Kuykendall can add tension, intensity, and such fluid grace all in one short ballet. It seems to me that both of them were intent upon portraying characters that were extremely comfortable in their own life, but extremely uncomfortable in facing each other. Such are the gifts of these two ballerinas, that they can convey so many facets of mood through movement. Yes, I know there are many of you who will say that is what dancers do, but these two are truly exceptional. Everyone in this company is exceptional, and that is one of the reasons why I think the Colorado ballet is one of the best ballet companies in the United States. I also noticed that in the last year, the artistic abilities of Greg DeSantis and Morgan Buchanan have just exploded in grandness. They showed absolutely marvelous confidence on stage, and that is what it takes to match everybody else they were performing with. It is my hope that everyone who was in the audience this evening could realize that the performance of ballet takes intense (there’s that word again) mental effort as well as the noticeable physical strength and endurance. The choreography of Archetypes was quite remarkable because it had so many new movements that I have not seen without destroying the emotional impact of what the dancers conveyed. I have seen some avant-garde ballets where, in spite of the good music (and Terry Riley is a very good composer) the choreography did not seem to match. This was most certainly not the case Thursday evening. It was a wonderful amalgam of music and dance and emotion.

The second ballet of the evening was choreographed by Amy Seiwert, and was entitled Traveling Alone. Ms. Seiwert is currently the Choreographer in Residence at the Smuin Ballet. She has won many awards and her creations are part of the repertoire in several ballets in the United States and Canada. She has been lauded in Dance Magazine and has been invited twice to participate in the New York Choreography Institute.

Dana Benton was remarkable in portraying a young woman all alone. Again, the emotions in this ballet combined apprehension and loneliness with one’s surroundings. I must admit that I am totally unfamiliar with the composer, Max Richter, whose music was used by Amy Seiwert. I do know that he has written several film scores, and he has received a commission for the Royal Ballet in England. The music that Seiwert chose for her ballet is highly effective and Dana Benton and Luis Valdes were superb. As I have written before about the Colorado Ballet: it is one of the most consistent ballet companies in the country. When I say consistent, I mean that they are consistently excellent in their artistic merit, not only as individuals, but as an entire company. They are consistent in their dramatic abilities. I know that all performers, after a performance, always look back and say to themselves, “Oh, I wish I could’ve done this better.”, but I assure you I have never seen any of these dancers commit what I would consider a gross blunder. I have seen that in other ballet companies. It was very interesting for me, as a musician, to be totally unaware of how carefully the choreographers chose their music. I mention that, because none of the music for these ballets was commissioned specifically for these three programs. Obviously, the music was chosen because it suggested something very specific to the choreographers. That seems like a very obvious statement, but it is one more item on the list that made this performance so intimate in an already intimate setting, compared to the Ellie Caulkins Theatre.

The third ballet of this wonderful evening was entitled Embellish. It was choreographed by Jodie Gates who is known the world over for her choreography, as well as her creation of a California-based nonprofit organization called Laguna Dance Festival. She has danced as a Principal Ballerina with ballet companies all over Europe and the United States and she is currently Professor of Dance at the University of California.

I was quite surprised to see (and hear) the music of Mozart used in her ballet. There were arias, there was a movement from a Mozart Violin Sonata, and there was a movement from a Violin Concerto.

Maria Mosina and Dmitry Trubchanov once again took the stage along with Sharon Wehner and Christopher Ellis, Chandra Kuykendall and Alexei Tyukov. They were joined by members of the Corps. The choreography was modern even though the music came from the classical period. If anyone had suggested this to me before I came to Thursday evenings performance, I most likely would have dismissed the two widely varied styles of art. Seeing it made me believe that almost anything can be danced to. And, indeed, that was a view expressed by the late great Merce Cunningham. Mosina and Trubchanov work incredibly well together, and both of them exude remarkable physical and emotional power when they are on stage. And, I promise you that I heard softly murmured expressions to that effect from the audience as these two danced. It is also interesting to note that Sharon Wehner is probably the smallest individual in the company, but when she is on stage her artistic skills truly make her larger than life. She and Christopher Ellis were absolutely superb, as were Chandra Kuykendall and Alexei Tyukov. That opinion makes me feel it necessary to stress again: the Colorado Ballet has such remarkable depth that if it ever became necessary, any of the dancers could substitute for any of the other’s positions. There are not many ballet companies in the country in which that could happen.

The costumes which were done by Christine Darch and Sandra Kerr were excellent. You must understand that I never get tired of using that word when I associate it with the Colorado Ballet.

I might say one thing, however, and that is that I was surprised by Mozart’s name in the program where he was listed as Amadeus Mozart. I wonder why Wolfgang Mozart was not used, because Mozart did not like the name of Amadeus, and on his marriage contract of August 3, 1782, he signed his name Wolfgang Amade Mozart, leaving off the final -us of his middle name, and on the remainder of the documents he signed them Wolfgang Adam Mozart. In a letter of 1787 to his friend Gottfried von Jacquin, Mozart explains how, on a trip to Prague, he and his wife made up names for themselves, their dog, and all of their friends. As I recall, some of those names even ended in the Latin -us, as if Mozart was engaging in a little self-deprecating humor.

Of course none of this has any bearing on the performance Thursday night. The dancers and the music in the evening were superb. They received a very well-deserved standing ovation, and it is my hope that Gil Boggs is as proud as he can be. He, and all of the dancers, deserve that.

The Colorado Ballet will perform at the Newman Center and in New York City

The Colorado Ballet will present Tribute, a mixed-bill production of three contemporary world premieres by three innovative female choreographers March 29 through April 1, 2012 at the Newman Center at the University of Denver.   The choreographers premiering their works in this production include Emery LeCrone, Archetypes; Jodie Gates, Embellish; and Amy Seiwert, Traveling Alone.  Tribute honors Colorado Ballet’s founders, Lillian Covillo and Freidann Parker.   “I am especially proud of this production as it pays homage to Colorado Ballet’s founders, Lillian Covillo and Freidann Parker,” said Colorado Ballet Artistic Director Gil Boggs. “These two women had the imagination and courage to create world-class dance in Denver, and for that we owe them so much. This production is a testament to the vision of Lillian and Freidann and demonstrates the successes of female leaders and artists in ballet.”   At 25, LeCrone has created several prominent works, competed in numerous choreography competitions, and received substantial grants and new commissions for her choreography.  She founded her own performance series, The Young Choreographers Showcase, which promotes the creation of new dance works and provides opportunities for young emerging choreographers to create and present their work in New York City free of charge.   Gates is a 30-year veteran in the professional dance field and has wide-ranging career as a choreographer, director, educator, producer and dancer. She is internationally recognized as a leader in the dance world with her choreographic work for professional companies, the creation of the California-based non-profit organization Laguna Dance Festival, and directing educational programs at the university level.   Dance Magazine named Seiwert one of “25 to Watch” and the San Francisco Chronicle has listed her choreography in the “Top 10” dance events twice.  She worked with dancers from the New York City Ballet twice, participating in the NY Choreography Institute at the invitation of Peter Martins.  She is Artistic Director of Imagery as well as Choreographer in Residence for Smuin Ballet.  This is Seiwert’s second work for Colorado Ballet; her first was Things Left Unsaid.   Performance Schedule and Ticketing Information for Tribute: Thursday, March 29, 2012 @ 7:30 p.m. Friday, March 30, 2012 @ 7:30 p.m. Saturday, March 31, 2012 @ 2 p.m. Saturday, March 31, 2012 @ 7:30 p.m. Sunday, April 1, 2012 @ 2 p.m.   Ticket prices range from $22 to $154. To purchase tickets for Tribute visit www.ColoradoBallet.org or call 303-837-8888 ext. 2.

The Colorado Ballet invited to perform at Gotham Dance Festival in New York where they will perform Embellish, a work from the upcoming production Tribute.

The Colorado Ballet will perform at the invitation of choreographer Jodie Gates during the Gotham Dance Festival June 2-3, 2012 at The Joyce Theatre in New York City.  Gates chose two companies to show the span of her work: Colorado Ballet and BalletX from Philadelphia.

Gates spent three weeks in Denver to create her new work Embellish as part of Tribute, an upcoming mixed-bill production featuring three world premieres by innovative female choreographers.  With the generosity of several donors, Colorado Ballet raised the necessary funds for the trip and will travel with a cast of six men and six women to perform Gates’ Embellish at the festival.

According to Gates, she felt Colorado Ballet would best represent her neoclassical work, which embodies her influences of classical ballet training and her work with William Forsythe.  Embellish is a 22-minute neoclassical ballet performed to Mozart arias, Sonata for Violin and Piano, and the 3rd movement of the Violin Concerto No. 1.

For more information, visit www.ColoradoBallet.org.

About Colorado Ballet Under the direction of Artistic Director Gil Boggs, Colorado Ballet’s dancers come from all parts of the world. Established in 1961 by Lillian Covillo and Freidann Parker, Colorado Ballet is a non-profit organization celebrating 51 years of presenting world-class classical ballet and superior dance in Denver. Colorado Ballet presents more than 50 performances annually. Colorado Ballet enhances the cultural life of the Colorado community through performances, training and educational programs.