Last Saturday, with the bite of fall in the air, the Arvada Center for the Arts and Humanities’ outdoor amphitheater buzzed with cozy excitement. Picnic baskets and checkered blankets took over the grassy hill while high-heeled ladies edged down the aisles to their covered seats. Rogue ladybug landings provided some pre-show entertainment while the Scientific & Cultural Facilities District’s mascot, Popsicle, made rounds with hugs and plenty of selfie poses. When the curtains rose, however, everyone’s attention was focused center stage for the reason for all the camaraderie and fun: Colorado Ballet’s An Evening Under the Stars. The evening featured five short works, three from this past February Director’s Choice and two from the upcoming Swan Lake, that showcased not only the Ballet’s technical and athletic chops but also its artistic and creative range.
The night opened with a Pas de Trois from Swan Lake. Despite an abrupt start and occasional lack of synchronicity, Morgan Buchanan, Shelby Dyer and Francisco Estevez powered through these minor setbacks to give a performance full of beauty, grace, playfulness and sheer strength. The precision and delicacy of Buchanan’s and Dyer’s footwork as well as the power in Estevez’s turns and leaps inspired awe and several rounds of applause from the audience.
Dana Benton and Sean Omandam followed with “It’s Not a Cry” choreographed by Amy Seiwert and set to “Hallelujah” by Leonard Cohen and recorded by Jeff Buckley. Emotionally complex and incredibly nuanced, the contemporary piece explores a by-turns tumultuous, tender, aggressive, heartrending relationship between lovers. Benton and Omandam’s stage presence as well as their muscular physiques give the work a raw sense of intimacy and borderline voyeurism on behalf of the audience. The duo artfully uses a jacket as a prop to tie, tug and toss each other across the stage. Two particularly poignant moments occur when Benton, standing over Omandan in a cobra pose, twirls him by his hair and when Omadan picks Benton up, her legs splayed in right angles on either side of him, and turns slowly. Despite the intensity and beauty of the work, I longed to see Benton in point shoes during the piece.
Next was “Light Rain” choreographed by the late Gerald Arpino and set to music by Douglas Adamz and Russ Gauthier. The flesh toned leotards of Chandra Kuykendall and Alexei Tyukov immediately set a sensual tone that the movement continues. Almost tantric, the two appear more often than not as a single entity, locked at the hips, eight limbed, mesmerized by the slow, rhythmic beat of the music. With the self-satisfaction and immersion of young lovers, they explore each other’s bodies and their own. Ending the performance on the ground, Tyukov on his back with Kuykendall in bow pose above him, the pair look like an acro-yoga team. Afterward, the gentleman sitting next to me said, “Nothing wrong with a little sensuality. Nothing wrong at all.”
The fourth piece was a black swan pas de deux from Swan Lake performed by Sharon Wehner and Yosvani Ramos. In comparison to the previous work, the passion between the black swan and the prince seems pedestrian, but after closer consideration is highly restrained yet whimsical. Wehner’s stamina and strength rivals that of professional athletes. She appears to be able to stay on point
indefinitely and her turn sequences seem endless. More than once throughout the performance, I found myself comparing the dancers to the Olympians I had been watching the past two weeks – the same defined muscles, an apparent ease at the most difficult movements, hardly appearing to break a sweat.
The final work, “The Angel of Buenos Aires,” a tango-inspired ballet by Colorado Ballet’s own ballet mistress Lorita Travaglia that premiered this past March closed the performance. Equal parts ballroom, nightclub, West Side Story and classical ballet, the piece showcases the danger of passion yet the perseverance of good over evil prevails in the end. Domenico Luciano plays a sultry, Machiavellian, yet irresistible Diablo, while Dana Benton plays a luminous, ethereal Angel. The thrilling mashup of tango and ballet left me wanting more cross-genre performances, especially ones on point.
If An Evening Under the Stars is any indication of the season ahead (and, let’s face it, it most surely is), then dance fans are in for a treat with Colorado Ballet’s 2016-2017 season.
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.