What were they getting themselves into? As I looked around the audience in the Ellie Caulkins Opera House on opening night of Colorado Ballet’s “Ballet MasterWorks,” a collection of three ballet performances, I imagined that many of the people were there against their will. Nothing against Colorado Ballet, of course, but you have to figure that at any given event, there’s some friend or date or partner who is there to please the other person, and not necessarily there because they wanted to be. So I thought of them as the performance began and hoped they were noticing some of the things I found myself noticing when I was first experiencing the world of ballet:
- Keep in mind what a physical feat it is to dance ballet. It takes incredible strength and endurance. No wonder professional athletes often take ballet classes to improve their abilities.
- Notice the shapes the dancer’s bodies make and notice the patterns they create in groups, in perfect synchronization. This was very evident in the first section, Serenade. The dancers’ arms reminded me of slender, curved tree branches in certain scenes.
- Lighting is as important as the movements the dancers are making. In Serenade, beautiful shades of blue set the tone for this first dance, covering the dancer’s costumes, the floor and the entire back wall making it cool and serene (see above). But then in the second section, Petite Mort, golden light enters from the side, bathing the male dancers in a warm glow that shows off the glint of the swords they wielded.
- Costumes, like lighting, are a major player in the entire performance. In Petit Mort, which is a French colloquial phrase for orgasm (“the little death”), the male and female dancers wear what seems to be only beige undergarments, with satined boning, like girdles and corsets. Given the theme, it was all about flesh and being primal. To two of Mozart’s most beautiful and lilting concertos, the dancer’s movements alternated between graceful, clunky and spasmodic. It was one of the most sexual and sensual dance performances I’ve ever seen. The use of a massive brown, satin sheet hiding and revealing dancers, and the whimsical black, strapless ball gowns to hide behind, added to the wonder of that whole piece. I’ve never seen anything like it!
- There’s a story, even if it isn’t super-obvious. Even if you make it up yourself. Yes, sometimes it’s pretty clear what the storyline is like in The Nutcracker during the holidays or during Firebird, the third in this Ballet MasterWorks trio (boy meets beautiful bird but also petulant debutante-type chick and has to choose which one to go with – hello, first world problems.) Telling a story without words means that the dancers have to act, in silence. And they can’t rely on facial gestures alone because the majority of the audience can’t see their faces. So they have to act with their bodies! Elation, agony, passion, fear – all portrayed in the way they carry and move their bodies. That takes talent!
Those same audience members, who I suspected were wondering how they were going to make it through the evening without falling asleep, were some of the first to jump to their feet in applause after each performance. They got it! It’s impressive stuff, ballet is. And it’s so much more than just tutus!
Ballet MasterWorks is a great opportunity to get to know ballet and to really grasp all that it’s about. It’s for anyone and everyone and it’s pretty darned amazing.
Ballet MasterWorks, by Colorado Ballet, runs through February 26. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit www.coloradoballet.org.
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