Ballet Masterworks

Artists of Colorado Ballet, Serenade, Choreography by George Balanchine, copyright The George Balanchine Trust
Artists of Colorado Ballet, Serenade,
Choreography by George Balanchine, ©The George Balanchine Trust
Photo: Mike Watson
The Colorado Ballet annually ends its season with a program of two or three one-act masterpieces. As Gil Boggs, artistic director of the company, explained a couple of years back, performing such classic works is important for challenging the dancers and showcasing their talent, to which we would add (as he implies) the enrichment of local subscribers and supporters, who enjoy world-class performances without having to leave Colorado.

This year's production opens with:

Choreography by George Balanchine (1934)
Music by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky
Serenade for Strings in C, Op. 48
Staged by Vicki Psihoyos
Original lighting design by Robald Bates, recreated by Todd Elmer
Principals (4/6 evening): Dana Benton, Francisco Estevez, Asuka Sasaki, Sarah Tryon, and Yosvani Ramos

As Balanchine describes it, though Tchaikovsky's score was not composed for ballet:

"... because [it] has in its danceable four movements different qualities suggestive of different emotions and human situations, parts of the ballet seem to have a story: the apparently "pure" dance takes on a kind of plot. But this plot, inherent in the score, contains many stories—it is many things to many listeners to the music, and many things to many people who see the ballet."

As soon as the curtain rises, we are struck by the stunning imagery, with the female ensemble—in bright, fluid, crossing lines, wearing elegant tulle dresses, bathed in a blue, evening light—reaching to the sky. Small groups form effervescent, at times prancing, patterns to the music, eventually returning to the opening tableau, as one girl arrives late. A boy arrives, her friends leave, and a waltz ensues. The atmosphere is spring-like and the music is mesmerizing. As the playful pas de deux ensues, her friends return and the pair leads them until the movement ends.

Five girls sit on the stage and rise with gaiety as the famous melody is heard. A boy rushes onto the stage and meets a girl; they dance together; when then ensemble exits, a girl is left alone, fallen on the floor, her head in her arms, as the tone of the music deepens and slows.

Dana Benton and Francisco Estevez, Serenade, Choreography by George Balanchine, copyright The George Balanchine Trust
Dana Benton and Francisco Estevez,
Serenade, Choreography by George Balanchine,
©The George Balanchine Trust
Photo: Mike Watson
Another girl brings a blindfolded boy to her. The girl walks behind the boy, controlling him. When they reach the girl on the floor, the boy helps her to her feet and the three dance together. At some point, the boy must make a choice, and he chooses the girl who brought him and leaves with her. The forsaken girl collapses, is revived briefly, and then passes. She is carried off by three boys, on their shoulders, in a procession, as her body arches back and her arms open wide.

This was Balanchine's first ballet created in the U.S. It was developed at the School of American Ballet, which he had just opened with his partners. The choreography evolved from the lessons he was giving, plus unpredictable events, such as a dancer falling, or a girl late for class. It was revised when it was staged (in 1934), using the best dancers for the more difficult parts. Despite the interactions, Balanchine emphasized in his notes on the ballet that the only real story is that of the music, a serenade, and a dance in the moonlight.

What a treat to see Balanchine's original choreography so beautifully performed by the company! Adam Flatt and the Colorado Ballet Orchestra's interpretation of Tchaikovsky's score is sublime.

The final piece of the evening was last performed by the company in 2000:

Carmina Burana
Choreography by Fernand Nault
Staged by Andre=á Laprise (Trustee of Fonds chorégraphique Fernand Nault)
Music by Carl Orff
Sets by Robert Prévost
Costume design by François Barbeau
Lighting Design by Todd Elmer
With the permission of Fonds chorégraphique Fernand Nault
With the participation of the Evans Choir, Catherine Sailer, Director
Nadya Hill, Soprano
Kevin Gwinn, Tenor
Matthew Peterson, Baritone (4/6)
Principals (4/6 evening): Asuka Sasaki, Yosvani Ramos, Fernanda Oliveira, Francisco Estevez, Christopher Moulton, Leah McFadden, Sean Omandam, Kevin Gaël Thomas, and Tracy Jones
Artists of Colorado Ballet in Carmina Burana
Artists of Colorado Ballet in Carmina Burana
Photo: Mike Watson
Carmina Burana consists of twenty-five poems extracted from a 13th Century Latin manuscript and then set to music. The composer, Carl Orff, called this piece a "scenic cantata," meaning a series of arias, duets, and choruses that are interpreted and staged. Much of the verse is set in goliardic meter, a rhyming scheme popular among wandering scholar-poets of the period.

The great conductor, Leopold Stokowski, once characterized the score as "a synthesis of beauty of melodic line, remarkable rhythmic variations; lusty vitality; immense range of mood, humor, frenzy; folk-like simplicity, satire, mystery, spontaneous eloquence and tranquility," and the Colorado Balletís interpretation of this work is all of this. The ballet orchestra delivers the power and the subtleties of this amazing score.

Sean Omandam in Carmina Burana
Sean Omandam in Carmina Burana
Photo: Mike Watson
Loosely interpreted, Carmina Burana represents the struggle of humankind between the pleasures and heartbreak of the flesh and the solitude and exaltation of the soul. The beginning and end of the work evoke Fortune's wheel, which controls man's destiny, framed by strong religious overtones, within an atmosphere of penance, punctuated with bursts of self-flaggelation and mea culpa. François Barbeau's red robes underscore the seriousness of the message.

The middle scenes of the "scenic cantata" take place in springtime, in a Tavern and in a Court of Love. Barbeau's costume designs for nobles and peasants are delightful, in consonance with the love theme of this section. Baroque influences, with hints of the oriental, season the score. Folk dances celebrate the rites of spring. Horsemen come and go.

Returning to the wheel of fortune, the strength of the religious imagery strikes us again: a shirtless male draws on the form of athletic Russian dances; a man writhes on a wooden bar, echoing Jesus' passion; then, a prayerful and a martial dance, followed by loss, celebratory love, courting rituals, and breakups, before returning to orange robes of penance.

The Colorado Ballet's presentation of Ballet Masterworks runs through April 14th. For tickets:

Bob Bows

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