Opus Colorado

Swan Lake: The Colorado Ballet continues its excellence

It is been more than 20 years since I have seen Swan Lake. The opening night performance of the Colorado Ballet production, October 7, was the fifth performance that I have seen. Gil Boggs and the Colorado Ballet, even though they used the traditional choreography of Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, have staged a wonderful new production of this ballet. It has been slightly updated by Armanda McKerrow, John Gardner, both of whom were principals in the American Ballet Theater, and Colorado ballet’s Sandra Brown. Even with these updates, which include adding an original waltz during the first act, this was still the Swan Lake that everyone will recognize by its choreography. Do not begin to compare it with “updated” versions that have been done in London and in Sydney, where some critics have compared it, because of its changes, to the arranged marriage between the Prince of Wales and Princess Diana. I can assure you that everyone at the Colorado Ballet is an artist, and would not bend to modernizing one of the great classical ballets of all time. As performed by the Colorado Ballet, Act I contains two scenes. Some programs of other ballet companies label these as Act I and Act II, with the second act as Act III, and act three as Act IV.

What really gave me a very pleasant surprise in this production Friday night were the absolutely splendid sets and costumes. None of the previous Swan Lakes that I have seen had such beautiful sets, and the costumes certainly added a great deal to the story. One of the most spectacular costumes was worn by the character Baron von Rothbart which was performed by Gregory K. Gonzales. Gonzales is a very fine character actor, and his costume, with its huge feathered wings, coupled with his hard, cold stare gave him a remarkable sense of evil. But understand that one of the premier aspects that Gil Boggs, Sandra Brown, and Lorita Travaglia have added to the Colorado Ballet is a remarkable sense of drama and acting, which I have never seen in any other ballet company. And speaking of acting, it was also remarkable to watch the lovely Maria Mosina switch between Odette and the evil von Rothbart’s daughter, Odile. Her acting is always superior, and I will never forget her role in 3 Motions in March of 2010. On Friday, I was absolutely astounded at Mosina’s dancing. When she uses her arms to simulate the flying wings of a Swan, I was stunned. I was not able to get backstage after the performance, but I truly wanted to ask her how many elbows she has on each arm! Her arm motions were so fluid and never angular, that I am convinced she has at least five additional joints between her shoulder and wrist. Likewise, when she collapses to the stage from fourth position, I am convinced she has at least 30 more vertebrae in her back than the rest of us mortals. She was beautiful to watch and beautifully expressive.

I was also pleasantly surprised at all of the familiar faces I saw on stage. In a way it was like greeting old friends. In addition, there are several new faces that have come up through the ranks from the Academy to the Corps. It was easy to recognize Greg DeSantis and Morgan Buchanan. Among the new faces was one dancer that really stood out because of her dancing ability, and her ability hold a position, was Ariel Ha. The Corps was wonderfully sensational in this ballet. I am, as a pianist, always amazed to see them do a boureé because it seems so incredibly difficult. But all of the swans did it together, and did it in such a way that it seemed very easy. And perhaps, to a dancer, it is. But I don’t believe that for a minute. Last year I asked one of the dancers how they could do such difficult steps, and still smile while the exertion must be killing them. She said matter-of-factly, “But that’s what dancers do.”

Alexi Tyukov was wonderful as Prince Siegfried and Viacheslav Buchkovskiy as Benno was outstanding. This ballet company has such incredible depth: Casey Dalton, Shelby Dyer, Caitlin Valentine-Ellis, Olga Prikhodtseva, Dana Benton, Cara Cooper, Asoka Sasaki, Sally Turkel, Alyssa Velázquez (and I know I am leaving out some of the swans and waltz couples, so please, please forgive me) are always beyond compare. And the same phrase belongs to Christopher Ellis, Christopher Moulton, Sean Omandam, Kevin Gaël Thomas, Adam Still, Luis Valdes, Jesse Marks, and Kevin Wilson. Look at all the names that I have mentioned. And, again, I’m afraid that I have left some out. As I have said before, and I sincerely believe this, most of the corps are capable of being soloists.

Lorita Travaglia, one of the Ballet Mistresses with the company, and who has a remarkable history of performance, was perfect as the Queen Mother. Many might think that since this is a rather minor role in the ballet, that its impact would be minor. It isn’t, simply because it speaks to the detail that goes into every production by the Colorado Ballet. Everything associated with Friday night’s Swan Lake was artful, polished, and professional.

Maestro Adam Flatt, who conducts the Colorado Ballet Orchestra, is superb. I think it is worth noting that conducting a ballet is not the same as conducting an orchestra without dancers, or an orchestra that is performing, say, a concerto with a soloist. If a conductor has three performances with a violinist as soloist, he or she can be assured that the soloist will take the same tempos at each performance that have been so carefully worked out at rehearsals. But a ballet conductor has an entire stage full of dancers, and not only that, but the next evenings performance may well be with different lead dancers. Some of those dancers undoubtedly will prefer different tempos. Ballet is strenuous and athletic. It is conceivable that a dancer could suffer an injury. In that case the conductor has to be aware of changes in tempo from the dancer. I have seen Maestro Flatt conduct many times, and he has a sixth sense of empathy with the dancer (as well as solo instrumentalists).

Tchaikovsky wrote a good deal of music in this ballet for violin solo. I could not see into the orchestra pit from where I was sitting, but I would this assume that the solo work was done by the concertmaster, Lydia Sviatlovskaya. She was excellent, as was the entire orchestra.

It is always such a pleasure to see the Colorado Ballet because they are so consistent in every detail throughout the production. Friday night’s performance left no detail lacking. Everyone on the staff of this organization from the Lighting Director, to the dancers and orchestra, are totally concerned with their art. That is one reason that we here in Denver should be so gratified to have them here.

If you are hesitating to see the Colorado Ballet’s production of Swan Lake because you are familiar with it, and anticipate “another performance of the same old thing,” you will be making a big mistake. It is fresh and invigorating. And remember: the Colorado Ballet is one of the best, if not the best, in the United States. If you go to this Swan Lake, you will agree.

I have never seen the Colorado Ballet do anything that was less than excellent.

The Colorado Ballet announces its new season with a new ballet

There is good news for all of us who have been starved to see a performance by the Colorado Ballet during the off-season. We can now look forward to the new season which was announced yesterday, April 26, for this coming year. The new season will begin October 7, and the opening ballet will be Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake. Choreography will be based upon the work done by Marius Petipa and Lev Ivanov, but will also include original choreography done by Sandra Brown, who you all know is ballet mistress for the Colorado Ballet, as well as Amanda McKerrow and John Gardner who danced with the American Ballet Theatre. Keep in mind that there is a very good reason that Swan Lake is such a popular ballet. Simply put, it has some of the most beautiful music written for any ballet at any time, and if you haven’t seen this ballet yet, now is your chance. Artistic Director Gil Boggs (and this cannot be stated often enough) has made many positive changes in this ballet company, and working with the new Executive Director, Marie Belew Wheatley and Conductor, Maestro Adam Flatt, there is no reason why this coming season should not be the best yet. Therefore, I hope all of you take my suggestion to make this an opportunity to see and hear one of the best ballets ever written. The performance dates for Swan Lake will be October 7 through October 23. 

Yes, the Colorado Ballet will perform Tchaikovsky’s The Nutcracker beginning November 26, and running through December 24, 2011. There are many of you in Denver who have made going to The Nutcracker a yearly tradition, and I would point out that one of the reasons this is so easy to do, is because the Colorado Ballet always presents this classic as if they were doing it for the very first time. It is a fantastic story, the music is so good, and the costumes so wonderful, that it simply never gets old. 

The most exciting announcement from the Colorado Ballet is the notice that they will be presenting a brand-new ballet, the Denver premiere, entitled Peter Pan, which will run from February 24, 2012, through March 4, 2012. The music was written by Philip Feeney, and the choreography is by Michael Pink, and I’m sure that the ballet audience will recall that Feeney and Pink where the artistic collaborators in last year’s production of Dracula. That collaboration was so blindingly successful that I have absolutely no doubt that Michael Pink’s choreography will be just as stunning and evocative as was his work in Dracula. Philip Feeney has certainly established himself as a major composer of ballets, and after the striking success last year of Dracula, there is every reason to believe that J.M. Barrie’s fondly remembered, Peter Pan, will be an instant success here inDenver. 

From March 29 through April 1, 2012, will be the “mixed repertory” performance which will be performed at the NewmanCenterfor the Performing Arts at the Universityof Denver. This performance entitled, Tribute, is a collection of three world premieres by three female choreographers (another Colorado Ballet first?) which will run March 29, through April 1, 2012. The three choreographers will be Emery LeCrone, Jodi Gates, and Amy Seiwert, and I would point out that Seiwert made her debut with the Coloradoballet in 2009, when the company performed the world premiere of her ballet, Things Left Unsaid

The Colorado Ballet will also perform two special appearances, one at the Vail International Dance Festival and the second at the ArvadaCenterfor the Performing Arts. Their appearance in Vail, August 8, 2011, will be at the VilarPerformingArtsCenterin Beaver Creek, where they will perform LeCrone’s Upclose: Premieres, a program that will also include works by Christopher Wheeldon and Richard Siegal with dancers from the New York City Ballet and Trey McIntyre Project. 

The performance at the ArvadaCenterwill be given on August 27, 2011, and will include various classical excerpts featuring Faraway, which was performed last season. 

Season tickets for the Colorado Ballet will be available beginning May 2, 2011, and individual performance tickets will be available August 22, 2011. Additional details can be found at the Colorado Ballet’s website, www.ColoradoBallet.org

I encourage everyone to attend the Colorado Ballet. You must understand that ballet is no longer the stereotypical art in which a line of dancers stands at the rear of the stage in white tutus, while a pas de deux is danced in front. Ballet tells a real story with real people, and Artistic Director Gil Boggs with his ability to choose outstanding choreographers and dancers creates in this company’s ballets the most alluring ballet that I have seen in years. It truly equals or exceeds anything you will find in any city in theUnited States.

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