Ballet Masterworks

Jennifer Grace APP, Mario Labrador APP and Artists of Colorado Ballet
Theme and Variations, Jennifer Grace APP, Mario Labrador APP and Artists of Colorado Ballet,
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 few 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.

The opening number was last performed by the company in 2013:

Theme and Variations
Choreography by George Balanchine (1934)
© The George Ballanchine Trust
Staged by Miranda Weese
Music by Peter Ilych Tchaikovsky,
performed by the Colorado Ballet Orchestra
Suite No. 3 for Orchestra in G major
Lighting by Todd Elmer
Costume Design by Theoni Aldredge
Production Courtesy of American Ballet Theatre

Principals (4/16 evening): Asuka Sasaki and Mario Labrador

Note: The performance of Theme and Variations, a Balanchine Ballet®, is presented by arrangement with The George Balanchine Trust and has been produced in accordance with the Balanchine Style® and Balanchine Technique® with service standards established and provided by the Trust.

Balanchine choreographed the last two movements of Tchaikovsky's suite in 1947 for American Ballet Theatre, and added choreography for the first three movements in 1970 creating a larger ballet, Tchaikovsky Suite No. 3. Tchaikovsky's score was an enormous success when first performed orchestrally in St. Petersburg in 1885. While it was not composed for ballet, Balachine muses "... yet to listen to them is to think immediately of dancing."

Given the historic nature of the dance, let Ballachine set the stage for the final two movements:

"When the curtain rises, we see that the setting is formal: the scene is a great ballroom with huge, towering pillars decorated with vines, luxurious red draperies, and crystal chandeliers containing thousands of candles. A formal garden can be seen in the background. There is a corps de ballet of twelve girls arranged in two groups about the ballerina and the premier danseur."

The ballerina, followed by her partner, dance simply and gracefully to the principal theme of the violins, then leave the stage, with two sets of six girls in turn, initiating and responding, as the music intensifies with plucked strings accompanied by flutes and clarinets.

The tempo increases and the ballerina returns with a display of virtuosity (fouettés) along with the corps de ballet's bright, crisp steps and celebratory, intricate patterns. The woodwinds then repeat the theme in a slower tempo, with the ensemble, in three groups, flowing and shifting lines, followed by the premier danseur with an animated, graceful dance.

A fast fugue sets the corps into a brilliant, fluttering dance, which ends as abruptly as it started. The premier danseur moves diagonally in long, bold leaps to staccato strings whirling as in a tarantella.

Four girls holding hands move slowly, softly gathering and then surrounding the ballerina and support her adagio movements set to an English horn, before the music accelerates, with the ballerina performing a vigorous and joyful solo. She is joined by her partner as a solo violin sounds a romantic melody for a slow and precisely executed pas de deux.

Dana Benton
Dana Benton,
Choreography by George Balanchine,
©The George Balanchine Trust
Photo: Mike Watson
A drum roll and fanfare announce eight boys joined by the corps dancing to a regal polonaise, with swift variations by the principals, the ballerina accompanied by the girls and the premier danseur by the boys. They regroup with various partners as the music and dance builds, with the principals leading the corps around the ballroom in a sweeping circle, transitioning into vigorous dancing, and then finally into a tableau punctuated by the ballerina lifted high on her partner's shoulder as the court salutes.

* * *

Artists of the Colorado Ballet, Petit Mort
Petit Mort, Artists of Colorado Ballet
Photo: Mike Watson
The second piece of the evening was last performed by the company in 2017:

Petite Mort
Dance Production/choreography by Jiří Kylián
Assistant to the choreographer: Stefan Zeromski
Music: Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
I Piano Concerto in A Major KV 488, Adagio
II Piano Concerto in C Major KV 467, Andante
Set design: Jiří Kylián
Costume design: Joke Visser
Light design: Jiří Kylián (concept), Joop Caboort (realization)
Technical supervisor light/set: Joost Biegeiaar
World Premiere: 23 August 1991, Kleines Festspielhaus, Salzburg-Austria
Nederlands Dans Theater
Production Courtesy of Boston Ballet

In literary history, the term petite mort, or little death, refers to the post-orgasmic state of bliss, or the losing of one's self into such a state. In Kylián's popular piece, the noted choreographer explores this theme from a variety of directions.

Kylián introduces fencing foils in the first scene, employed first by men, then by women, and then in pairs, until a tarp (or perhaps a bed sheet) is spread over the proceedings and the next scene begins, where the interplay shifts from a tactical to emotional and physical, yet lyrical and sexy pas de deux.

The second piano concerto (known in popular culture as the theme from the film Elvira Madigan) begins humorously with a set of five formal dresses on wheels framing the accompanying dancers, and draws more laughs when the girls separate from the dresses. The pas de deux that follows is ecstatic, with smooth, lovely lifts. Another pair embodies intricate patterns that become frenetic and athletic, followed by a third pair who move back to a lyrical form, before the dresses on wheels return.

* * *

The final piece of the evening was last performed by the company in 2006:

Nine Sinatra Songs
Choreography by Twyla Tharp
Staged by Shelley Washington
Original Costume Design by Oscar de la Renta
Lighting originally by Jennifer Tipton, recreated by Todd Elmer
Music by Frank Sinatra with appreciation to Sinatra Enterprises and the Frank Sinatra Foundation
Original Set Design by Santo Loquasto
Production Courtesy of Miami City Ballet
© Twyla Tharp Dance Foundation

Melissa Zoebisch and Mario Labrador
Melissa Zoebisch and Mario Labrador
Photo: Mike Watson
The grand era of ballroom dancing is brought to life in Tharp's tip of the fedora to Ol' Blue Eyes. Beneath elusive chards of light flying off a giant rotating disco ball, Oscar de la Renta designed tuxedos and evening gowns sashay, spin, and glide to that unmistakably smooth bel canto voice crooning the likes of "My Way," "One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)," "All the Way," "That's Life," "Strangers in the Night," and more. Moods swing from the romantic, near schmaltzy, silky slides of the waltz to the fiery stileto-laced steps of the tango, with sultry strains of jazz and comic cha-cha in between. It's all about love, loss, late nights, and the long view. Particularly hot was the recollected romance in "One for My Baby," by Francesca Martoccio and Liam Hogan.

As always, one is left admiring the depth of the company.

The Colorado Ballets's presentation of Ballet Masterworks runs through April 23rd. For tickets:

Bob Bows

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