Opus Colorado

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.