For a brand new ballet company, Ballet5280 sets a lofty goal to change the centuries-old notions of the “ideal” ballerina in its debut performance, Four Seasons, performed this past weekend at the Broomfield Auditorium. Founder and Artistic Director, Briana Selstad Bosch announced before the show that she’d like the company to reflect the full spectrum of human skin color and dancer’s body shapes and types. Even though the conversation about women’s bodies, notions of beauty, health, and self-esteem have expanded and begun to change the culture at large, often notions of diversity and inclusivity in dance generally and ballet, specifically have lagged behind.
As I noted in a January 2016 story about the International Association of Blacks in Dance Conference, classical ballet still struggles to reconcile traditional aesthetics (that many see as a commitment to whiteness) with biases about non-white dancers. Black dancers have to overcome preconceived notions of their supposed athleticism and lack of lyricism, while Asian dancers can be pigeonholed as petite and, therefore, less powerful.
As Ursual K. LeGuin states in her 1992 essay, “Dogs, Cats and Dancers: Thoughts about Beauty,” “A lot of us humans are like dogs: we really don’t know what size we are, how we’re shaped, what we look like…At the other extreme, the people who have the most accurate, vivid sense of their own appearance may be dancers. What dancers look like is, after all, what they do.” Dancers always where know they are in space, always know exactly what they look like, exactly how each pound is distributed where. Rather than shame her dancers into fitting an unhealthy ideal, Selstad Bosch says she celebrates each dancer’s physical and artistic uniqueness.
Dance of the Clouds precedes Four Seasons. Choreographed by the company dancers to original music composed and performed by Daniel R. Magoun, the work feels like a quiet afternoon of watching clouds roll by. The dancers flit and twirl and swoop across the stage. Each dancer, like every cloud in the sky, a unique shape and size: long, lithe, petite, muscular, curvaceous, angular.
Four Seasons, set to Vivaldi’s music of the same name, begins in spring and features three movements for each season. Selstad Bosch wisely uses solos to play to each dancer’s strengths. Ariel Gilliam’s gorgeous leaps and surgically precise technique shine in the second autumn movement, while Jessica Mariner’s incredible turns steal the first winter movement. Angela Fiorini’s dramatic presence elevates the final autumn movement. Chelsea Cusack’s lines are full of grace and restraint in the second winter movement. Selstad Bosch also pushes the choreography with elements from other genres: Irish jigs, modern dance, and even Pilates. A solid debut performance, Four Seasons showcases Ballet5280’s elegance, technique, and passion.
And yet, I wanted more. The premise of the company, founded on diversity and inclusion, nagged at me throughout the performance and through the rest of the Memorial Day weekend. I wanted something with more bite than the seasons. In an article earlier this year, One Good Eye’s Ray Rinaldi laments how many artists in the RedLine resident show missed their opportunity to take a stand, say something important with nuance and complication and beauty. I similarly yearned for Ballet5280 to take activism out of the program and the pre-performance speech, placing it instead front and center on the stage.
Deanne Gertner: A Colorado native, Deanne Gertner is a graduate from the Vermont College of Fine Arts. She works for Denver-based art consulting firm, NINE dot ARTS, where she helps companies tell their stories through art. She sits on the boards of Lighthouse Writer’s Workshop and CultureHaus, the Denver Art Museum’s young professionals’ group. Her writing has appeared or is forthcoming from DailyServing and Quaint Magazine.