Reinvention of the classical was the theme of Appalachian Spring & Ballerinas by Degas presented by Ballet Ariel, a Denver ballet company and school. The show ran Saturday evening and Sunday afternoon, April 28 and 29 at the Lakewood Cultural Center. The Gallery North, in the first floor lobby, boasted a middle school art exhibit that provided breathtaking and thought-provoking pre-show entertainment. It had been a dazzling estival day in Denver and the sun was still aglow as showtime approached and the audience settled into the darkness of the theater.
“Denver’s Ballet Ariel Company and School is building excitement about ballet, with beautiful, original ballets and great ballet and dance classes,”(balletariel.org). This mission statement rings true as this company is refreshingly unique. The dancers hail from various levels and styles of training and experience. They are not cookie cutter molds in same sized tutus, but rather a group of individuals who not only dance, but perform ballet at the professional level. Ballet Ariel has not only reinvented classical choreography and art, but also the delineation of a ballet company.
Appalachian Spring was first performed in 1944, in the midst of World War II, as a collaboration between modern dance innovator Martha Graham and composer Aaron Copland. Following Martha Graham’s death in 1991, the piece became public domain after a 2002 court case decided on the legal ownership of a legacy of work. It was a pioneer story about settlers in Pennsylvania, from another time, when collaborators communicated through letters and over months, rather than virtually and in real time. Ballet Ariel placed Martha Graham modern en pointe and inserted smiles on what once were stern faces. The stage was set with a simple wooden fence, a clear homage to the original piece. The female dancers donned trademark Graham dresses with high necks, long sleeves, and full skirts. The choreography celebrated its namesake piece with clasped hands and deep, full, sweeping attitudes. A non-Graham savvy observer may have been intrigued by this throwback, young dancers observing received a dance history class, and Graham enthusiasts got to compare modern and ballet versions of the classic concept.
Ballerinas by Degas exposed Artistic and Executive Director Ilena Norton as a passionate storyteller. The endurance bred in the dance world was evident in and outside of the story as the same dancers who performed the first act took the stage for the rest of the evening. To the backdrop of some of the most recognizable paintings by French artist Edgar Degas, the story of a young dancer unfolded. It was quite enchanting to see the art come to life and to follow the original storyline in the beginning. However, this three act façon de parler took too long to develop and interest waned.
The ardor and approach of the Ballet Ariel company honors the heritage of the art of dance with well-informed work and an accessible presentation of what a ballet dancer and company can be. In a time when superficial knowledge reigns supreme, depth and tradition indicate dedication and rooted erudition for the culture of the fine arts.
Shelly Chapple Clements: I was raised in rural Pennsylvania, in Amish Country. I was drawn to the city of Pittsburgh through dance at the young age of 9 and never looked back. My dance education took me from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, to the National Academy of Arts in Champagne-Urbana, IL, then back east to graduate from the renowned Pittsburgh High School for Creative and Performing Arts. After high school I enjoyed a professional modern dance career in San Francisco from 1990-2002. I am a master instructor for young dancers and currently teach dance in Highlands Ranch and hold the position of Artistic Director of Youth Programs for DAMAGEDANCE. I have been a Colorado resident since 2002 and earned bachelor’s Degrees in Spanish Interpretation and Translation, Hispanic Literature, and Theatre Dance from Colorado Mesa University, and attended the master’s program at the School of Education and Human Development at University of Colorado Denver. I am an academic teacher for Summit Education Group, a public benefit company offering an alternative education platform as well as an ambassador writer for Presenting Denver where my passion for writing gives voice to the dancer who speaks not on the stage.