Opus Colorado

The Colorado Ballet creates a transcendental Romeo and Juliet

Once in a while, and it is rare, I have seen performances that were so wonderfully incredible that I simply could not take any notes. These are performances where I have simply been drawn into whatever event is in progress on the stage, whether it is a ballet, symphony, chamber music, or a solo artist. At events like these, I find it impossible to think about what I will write concerning the performance, and I simply wallow in the artistry that is on stage. I have had considerable performance experience myself during my concertising lifetime, and I always hoped that any critic reviewing one of my performances would become as awestruck as I was at the Saturday matinee performance of the Colorado Ballet’s Romeo and Juliet. 

There is no doubt in my mind that this performance by the Colorado Ballet was the finest that I have ever seen them give. What was so amazing was the companionship (there is no other word for it) between the dancers and the orchestra. Maestro Adam Flatt was clearly moved by the music and his love for it, and not only did he communicate that to the orchestra, but to the dancers as well, and the dancers in turn, communicated their love for their art and for the music back to Maestro Flatt. The result, quite literally, was the melding of artistic purpose and joy, the likes of which I have not seen for several years. 

Gil Boggs, the Artistic Director of the Colorado Ballet, deserves unlimited credit for holding together such a remarkable dance company. In past reviews of the Colorado Ballet, I have said that every single dancer in the entire company could be a soloist. But in this performance, the company did not simply “dance” there respective roles. Caitlin Valentine-Ellis did not dance Juliet. She was Juliet. Viacheslav Buchkovskiy did not “dance” Romeo. He became Romeo. Sayaka Karasugi and Gregory K. Gonzales were Lord and Lady Capulet, complete with their arrogance and expectation that things should go their way, and yet they often displayed kindness as well. Every person on the stage, whether it was Jesse Marks, Igor Vassine, Christopher Ellis, Elizabeth Shipiatsky, Ron Marriott, Kevin Aydelotte, Eric Cedarlund, Sonja Davenport, or any of the other soloists or corps members were remarkable in their portrayal of intense emotion, joyful or sad, as well as the character that Shakespeare and the composer, Sergei Prokofiev, were presenting. And there are so many names that I did not mention: Faith Madison, Sally Turkel, Cara Cooper, Casey Dalton, Asuka Sasaki, Dana Benton, Sean Omandam, Greg DeSantis, Morgan Schifano, and you see, there are just too many to name. But you must understand how excellent every single one of this company is. 

The only possible criticism that I could have has nothing to do with the performance. It just seems to me, that the Choreographer, in this case the illustrious Alun Jones, and the repetiteur, Helen Starr, should be listed in the front of the program with everyone else. Alun Jones was born in Wales and made his debut as a dancer with the Welsh National Opera, dancing in La Traviata, Faust, and May Night. After several positions as Associate Artistic Director, he was named Artistic Director to the Louisville Ballet in 1978, a position he held until 2002. He has choreographed over 30 ballets, including two of Prokofiev’s: Cinderella and Romeo and Juliet

And now it is time for a quiz! How many of you know what a repetiteur is? You know that the choreographer is the person who writes – composes – the steps that the dancers dance, and the repetiteur is the individual responsible for rehearsing and staging the ballets. But, the repetiteur also makes sure that the dancers are dancing exactly what the choreographer composed. Can you imagine how well that individual must know the choreography? Ms. Helen Starr, the repetiteur for Romeo and Juliet, was trained at the Royal Academy of Dance in England, and she has toured extensively with them throughout the entire world. And after joining the London Festival Ballet she was made the principal dancer and has danced the lead roles in several ballets since then. 

And one other very small quibble. The program misspelled repetiteur. Personally, I would be thrilled to death to be hired by the Colorado Ballet just to teach French! 

There are so many moments in this performance that stand out in my mind. In the opening act, the dislike shared by the Capulets and the Montagues did not resemble acting. It seemed to be absolutely genuine. Eric Cedurlund appeared to be accustomed to having his orders obeyed when, as Prince of Verona, he commanded that the feud between the two families must end. 

And of course, the famous balcony scene where Romeo and Juliet meet in secret and declare their love for each other was full of astonishing emotion. The Colorado Ballet, and I mean this most sincerely, is the only company that I have ever seen that is so successful in portraying so many different kinds of emotion by so many different members of the company. There were members of the audience sitting around me who had tears flowing down their cheeks just from the sheer joy of seeing Romeo and Juliet declare their love for each other. And I assure you, there were many scenes in this ballet where the audience had tears flowing down their cheeks. And there is one other thing that all you readers need to understand. That is that the music written by Sergei Prokofiev is one of the best scores, in my opinion, that he ever composed. The music surrounds the dancers and the audience with its emotional fragrance, and it leaves nothing to the imagination. For example, as the guests arrive for the ball in the first act the music reflects that the Capulets are very rich indeed, and also very aware of their place in the society of Verona. And Alun Jones made sure that as the family members proceeded, their arrogance and knowledge of their station in life was made clear to all of those less advantaged, and to the audience as well. 

In Act Two, when the young lovers approach Friar Lawrence to ask him to marry them, one can easily sense through Ron Marriott ‘s acting ability, that he is not sure that he should grant their request, but eventually does so because he recognizes their love, and because he hopes that their union will bring about an end to the rivalry between the two families. 

At the end of Act Two, when the good natured Mercutio is killed, in the agonies of his death, he is convincing, as he tries to pretend for the benefit of his friends, that nothing is amiss and that he is not really hurt. What an incredibly heartrending scene this is. 

But over all, in the second act, one is so strongly moved by the consummate acting ability of Caitlin Valentine-Ellis and Viacheslav Buchkovskiy. One becomes pulled into their lives; their dancing ability was as incredible as their acting. And I don’t understand to this day how a dancer can do a bouree step as fast as Caitlin Valentine-Ellis did on Saturday, either forwards or backwards, while she smiles all the time. 

In Act Three, both Romeo and Juliet understand that he has been banished from Verona and he must leave. The duet that they dance is one of the most poignant in the entire ballet. Juliet realizes Romeo must leave her, but she tries to delay it for as long as she can. And once again, tears flowed in the audience. 

Even if one does not know the story of Romeo and Juliet, when Friar Lawrence gives the sleeping potion to Juliet, one can begin to visualize the outcome of this tragic story, where a deep sleep is mistaken for death. Romeo, believing Juliet is dead, drinks poison and dies. Juliet awakens and finds Romeo dead beside her. She takes his dagger and stabs herself, and in one of the most tragic and effective scenes of any ballet that I have seen, she tries to reach his hand, stretched out in death, but dies before she can grasp it.

For so many reasons, this ballet is one of the most beautiful ever written. It seems a little redundant to make that statement because Shakespeare’s play and Prokofiev’s music have been addressed before. The Colorado Ballet presented a perfect performance, where dance, music, and drama were astoundingly well combined and presented. The company, Gil Boggs, and Maestro Adam Flatt, are here in Denver, and that is astounding as well.

Colorado’s 50 Years of Ballet Art

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 development@coloradoballet.org

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.

The beauty and evil of Colorado Ballet’s Dracula

To borrow a few words from Arnold Schoenberg and paraphrase them: Everyone associated with the Colorado Ballet feels the artistic necessity to have the stamina and courage to make everything connected with dance and music a very special case. 

Continuing the Colorado Ballet’s 50th Anniversary Celebration, “Dracula” was performed Friday night, October 15. It follows the novel written by Bram Stoker very closely. And what is so remarkable is that the members of this ballet company are so skilled not only in dance, but also in acting. They easily convey so many emotions: fear, passion, revulsion, and the grotesque. And once again, they have taken upon themselves the rather heavy duty of performing a ballet which is very far from one’s concept of what a ballet is. They also did that last year with their production of “Echoing of Trumpets.” I will quote Gil Boggs, who is the gifted Artistic Director of the Colorado Ballet: “While it does demonstrate the dancers’ classical technique, there is also a great deal of focus on characterization, music and costumes. These elements coupled with [Choreographer Michael] Pink’s mesmerizing and sensual choreography makes it seem much more like a theatrical production and offers something completely distinctive and in a class of its own.” 

Michael Pink is an internationally known choreographer. And I quote from the program notes: “Michael Pink began his tenure as Artistic Director of the Milwaukee Ballet Company in December of 2002. Since that time, he has established himself as a prominent member of the Milwaukee arts community, demonstrating his commitment to the future of dance through education and collaboration. Mr. Pink’s dramatic production of Romeo & Juliet took narrative dance drama to a new level of interpretation. His new productions of The Nutcracker and Swan Lake both received critical acclaim. Other works for the Milwaukee Ballet include Solstice and The Red Dress.” 

Most of you who attend the ballet on a regular basis probably know that when a ballet is choreographed, that original choreography has to be followed to the letter. There are a few deviations allowed, to take into consideration the ability and strength of the dancer. If the original choreographer cannot attend the rehearsals, then an individual known as a Repetiteur coaches the dancers. In this case of Dracula, the Repetiteur was Denis Malinkine. I was fortunate to attend a studio rehearsal and I saw him work with the dancers. He is an excellent coach and communicated easily with the dancers in the company. Did you know that it takes one hour to choreograph one minute of dancing? That’s why the dancers in the Colorado Ballet practice up to six hours a day. Sometimes, in order to warm up for their practice, that time extends to eight hours. 

The score for Dracula was composed by Philip Feeney. “Philip Feeney studied composition at the University of Cambridge with Robin Holloway and Hugh Wood, and at the Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome under Franco Donatoni. His works have been performed extensively throughout Europe, and he is most noted for his work in ballet and dance. After a period as pianist/composer for the Teatrodanza di Roma from 1980 to 1984, he returned to London and has been Composer in Residence for the Central School of Ballet and Musical Director for their national tour ever since. It was for Christopher Gable and Michael Pink that, in 1996, he wrote the highly acclaimed score for Dracula.” The music for this ballet is absolutely sensational. I would hope that some of the local orchestras would perform some of his ballet music or other works. He is a marvelous composer. 

And speaking of the music, conductor Adam Flatt carries out his duties with consummate skill. And I use the word duties, because conducting a ballet is not at all like conducting a concerto with a solo instrument and orchestra. When a concerto is performed, the conductor can sense the phrasing and the agogics from the soloist. But in a ballet, the conductor has to be aware of every single movement the dancer makes. For example, certain movements have to be followed or accompanied very precisely by the beats in the musical score. If the dancer lifts another dancer into the air, that gesture has to arrive on a certain beat of the music. If one dancer looks over her shoulder to the male partner that she is dancing with and extends her hand for him to grasp, that “grasp” has to occur on a certain beat. Dracula has a complex score, and with such complex choreography where the movements come in rapid-fire succession, that Maestro Flatt’s abilities are taxed to the maximum, but he never fails. And, keep in mind that each performance is different because the dancers usually change with each performance; there is always a subtle difference between them. The Colorado Ballet Orchestra is excellent. There was some fine cello playing from Charles Lee and Evan Orman, in fact, the entire string section sounded spectacular. Michelle Orman and Deborah Wilber, the clarinetists, had some very rapid slides and gestures in the score. In fact, Feeney’s writing didn’t omit anyone in the orchestra; they all were able to demonstrate their consummate ability. 

There are several main characters in this ballet which, as I said, follows Bram Stoker’s novel very carefully. The ballet begins with Harker reliving his journey to Transylvania in a dream. He is tormented by three vampire maidens, Cara Cooper, Dana Benton, and Sayaka Karasugi.  All three executed exquisite port de bras. Harker, who was danced by Viacheslav Buchkovskiy, sets off for the region of Transylvania, where he has dealings with Count Dracula’s purchase of land in England. He is accompanied on his journey by Mina, danced by Sharon Wehner, and Dr. Van Helsing, danced by Gregory Gonzales. Harker witnesses a sacrificial ceremony conducted by the villagers which protects them from the dangers that threaten on All Souls Night. And from there, the story continues with all of the dancers: Jesse Marks as the insane Renfield, Christopher Ellis as Quincy, Alexei Tyukov as Arthur, and last but certainly not least, Maria Mosina as Lucy. One by one the characters are placed in a trance by Dracula. By his bite, he transforms Lucy forever into one of the undead. His main conquest is Mina, who manages to survive Dracula’s unspeakable horror. These dancers are so artistic in their depiction of emotions and drama that they truly create another world. And it is a world where the remarkable dancer, Igor Vassine as Dracula, rules with arrogance, terror, and an epicene sensuality. His haughty confidence is unmistakable, and he relies on his supernatural ability to suspend time – as in the slow-motion sequence in the Grand Hotel – to put all of those who interfere with his pursuit of Mina into a state of suspended animation. Igor Vassine slithered and coiled across the stage, sometimes reminding us of an evil viper that lives in permanent darkness and soil. And, likewise, Jesse Marks, who danced Renfield, and picked flies and blood off the floor, licking his hands greedily. Jesse Marks did an amazing pas de deux with Sharon Wehner as Mina, where he was in a straitjacket and could not use his arms. But he rolled Sharon Wehner across his back, lifting her from the floor, as he tried to warn her of the evils of Dracula and of Dracula’s pursuit of her, but each time failing because of his insanity. His earnestness and despair were absolutely palpable. And that is one of the aspects that make the Colorado Ballet so enthralling to watch. Their sense of drama allows every single dancer in the company to portray their character with great power. It does not matter whether they are dancing Dracula, Beauty and the Beast, Eventually, or The Nutcracker. This is one of the best ballet companies in the United States, if not the best. In my reviews, I have never said this before, but it certainly does no harm that every single female dancer is a raving beauty, and all of the male dancers are dashing. But I hasten to point out, that their dancing ability and their sense of drama far surpasses their physical attributes. 

Gregory K. Gonzales is the guest artist for this production of Dracula. He has spent the large majority of his career with the Colorado Ballet is a principal dancer and Choreographer in Residence. His portrayal of Van Helsing was desperate and frantic in his challenge to keep Mina, Harker, Arthur, and Quincy from falling under the spell of the evil Count. He has already lost Lucy, and is even more determined to save the others. Maria Mosina as Lucy, covered in blood in a terrifying scene, lures a small child to her death. Mosina always has power on stage, no matter what role she dances. 

I would encourage all of you who love ballet to support this company. And I would encourage all of you who have never seen a ballet to attend a performance because you will be amazed. The expenses of a ballet company are considerable. A pair of ballet shoes can be $75 and may last for only one performance. Typically, the Colorado Ballet spends $100,000 a year on shoes. Insurance, design royalties, and cleaning of costumes can be as high as $30,000-$90,000. The fake blood used in Dracula costs $500 per performance. If you attend the performance, you will clearly see that all of these costs are validated and necessary. Every individual in this company is worth every cent. 

I have seen ballet companies in Chicago and New York. Trust me. We are unbelievably fortunate to have this ballet company with these individuals in Denver.

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.

An incomparable Beauty and The Beast

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.

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.