Ballet MasterWorks

As the title indicates, each of the program's three dances is a masterwork. Although stylistically and contextually different, the pieces are related artistically in spirit, each in their own way breaking new ground.

Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov in
Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov
in "Theme and Variations"
Photo: Mike Watson
Theme and Variations, choreography by George Balanchine, music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky (Suite No. 3 for Orchestra in G major): Tchaikovsky was inspired by the ballet and, in turn, his music evokes dancing, even if a particular composition wasn't designed for a specific dance. Balanchine thought it a pity that many choreographers in Tchaikovsky's day did not see the genius in his scores. Balanchine makes up for this dearth with his choreography for two of Tchaikovsky' orchestral suites, including this one.

In Balanchine's Complete Stories of the Great Ballets, the choreographer says that the score "is a dance ballet; like Ballet Imperial, it evokes that great period in classical dancing when Russian ballet flourished with the aid of Tchaikovsky's music," by way of referencing Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty, and The Nutcracker.

What Balanchine means by dance ballet is that "Theme and Variations" is pure ballet, created with the dance as the theme, rather than dances following a story line. The results take classical ballet to new heights, as Balanchine dazzles us with an original vocabulary organically evolved from the classical form, thereby transcending what he set out to do, revealing in the course of the dance how Tchaikovsky's score provided the means to this evolution in choreography.

For good reason, the Balanchine Trust is stingy with the performance rights to this and other pieces: Not many companies are capable of meeting the technical demands of the choreography, not to mention the requirement for 26 dancers to perform at this level. It has been 10 years since the company was last licensed to perform Balanchine and they make the most of the opportunity, deftly handling some of the most complex sequences you're likely to see in such profusion.

Caitlin Valentine-Ellis and Dmitry Trubchanov in In Pieces
Caitlin Valentine-Ellis and Dmitry Trubchanov
in "In Pieces"
Photo: Mike Watson
In Pieces, choreography by Val Caniparoli, music by Poul Ruders (Concerto In Pieces): One might think it daunting for a world premiere to be placed between two masterworks, but the choreography of Val Caniparoli and the music of Poul Ruders prove them among the finest contemporary artists. Caniparoli is the choreographer for the San Francisco Ballet; his work is part of the repertoire of 35 dance companies. Ruders' orchestral and operatic works have been performed throughout the world; his commissions include The Berlin Philharmonic, The New York Philharmonic, The BBC Symphony Orchestra, and from The Royal Danish Opera.

Both Caniparoli and Ruders are well grounded in the classical canon of their respective art form, and both have, at times, pushed beyond the envelope of neo-classicism, making the combination of their talents remarkably diverse—untamed and powerful, subtle and subdued, lyrical and frenetic—creating a perfect bridge from the neo-classical Tchaikovsky and Balanchine to the experimental Stravinsky and the 1974 Glen Tetley choreography.

If the "pieces" referenced in the title were a painting, one might be reminded of Georges Braque, a contemporary of Stravinsky, whose cubist works are remarkable for the cohesiveness of their multifaceted images. In the ballet, one moment we glimpse wild atmospherics, another angle celebrates a jazzy mood; still another piece trumpets tribal rhythms and physicality; then the music ceases and we have silhouettes and silence, followed by energetic solos and pas de deux that carry us to the finale, which ties it up.

Adam Still and ensemble in The Rite of Spring
Adam Still and ensemble
in "The Rite of Spring"
Photo: Mike Watson
The Rite of Spring, choreography by Glen Tetley, music by Igor Stravinsky (The Rite of Spring): On the 100th anniversary of the original, its revolutionary nature (there was a near riot at the world premiere in Paris, May 29, 1913) remains self-evident, infusing the passion and physicality of tribal rhythms onto a previously classical-only canvas. For my generation, an apt comparison would be Elvis shaking his hips for white America, or Bob Dylan breaking out his electric guitar on the folkies. And those mop-headed androgynous mods from Liverpool—turn off the TV, please!

Drawing on the somewhat common Paleolithic superstition that the regeneration of life in the springtime is dependent on the sacrifice of a virgin (a female in the original version and a male in Tetley's dance), The Rite of Spring is both a celebration and a tragedy in many ways, most of which challenge the superficial propriety of "polite" bourgeois society, which conveniently forgets that its privileges are enforced by equally perverse violence against defenseless populations. A century out from the raucous premiere, such allusions are perhaps less accessible, though no less apt: tribal drums are now beaten by the ubiquitous calls to arms in the centrally owned mass media and/or video games, which enthrall our youth with military service and other forms of state-sanctioned murder, or simply points for killing—that is, sacrificing virgins.

Regardless of one's interpretation of this ballet, it is a fitting crescendo to an evening filled with the fireworks of artistic and technical virtuosity. The corps de ballet is astounding from top to bottom. Adam Flatt and the 70-piece strong Colorado Ballet Orchestra are inspired. Kudos to artistic director Gil Boggs for such an ambitious, well-conceived, and perfectly produced program.

The Colorado Ballet's Ballet MasterWorks concludes this weekend with four performances (Friday at 7:30 PM, Saturday at 2:00 PM and 7:30 PM, and Sunday at 2:00 PM). 303-837-8888 or

Bob Bows


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