In today’s quickly evolving dance environment, it is not only beneficial but also necessary for a dancer to be able to quickly adapt to accommodate a wide variety of dance styles. In Colorado Ballet’s Director’s Choice, March 30 at the Newman Center for the Performing Arts, the dancers of the company had the opportunity to showcase their versatility and dynamism throughout the unique program.
Twyla Tharp’s Brief Fling, originally debuted in 1990, opened the evening. The company donned Scottish-inspired plaid costumes designed by Isaac Mizrahi in a variety of styles, from classical tutus to casual rehearsal-inspired wear and in blue, red, and green shades to differentiate each section. The costumes provided visual variety but proved distracting at times. The corps costumes appeared bulky on the petite women, and the tutu of Dana Benton, the blue principal, was too large on her frame and looked as if it might drop off at any moment.
As the music began a low, percussive beat, the audience stirred with anticipation, ready for an unusual experience. Unexpectedly, the music transitioned to a classical tune as Benton appeared in her return to the stage for the season’s finale show. Benton sparkled, displaying light footwork and expressive epaulement. The red section couples were slightly off sync, one couple missing a lift and at other times arriving in poses at visibly different times. Similarly, the corps couples seemed out of practice, with lifts of varying heights and differently interpreted tempos. Yosvani Ramos, as the male blue principal, completed many nuanced head positions and complicated footwork with much flair. The green female soloist, Francesca Martoccio, was an audience favorite with lots of precarious lifts and daring overhead presses that she fearlessly dove into with her three male partners. Kevin Hale performed a particularly strong and dynamic solo, featuring clean turns and high extensions in his controlled penchees.
The only story ballet of the lineup, Antony Tudor’s Pillar of Fire, opened with a dark and muted set. The sets, on loan from Star Dancers Ballet, were a highlight, perfectly showcased by the lighting design by Todd Elmer. The choreography, typical of Tudor, is somehow forbidding and eerie. Hagar, danced by Morgan Buchanan, features stiffened arms but a piercing stare as she battles her inner demon of sexuality with restraint. Tudor “quickly became notorious as a control freak, choreographing every aspect of the dancers’ performance down to the position of their little fingers and the angle of their heads,” wrote Judith Mackrell in a review of his work.
The dancers of Colorado Ballet conveyed this in their execution of the piece, which felt strangely controlled in contrast with the light freedom of Tharp’s work in the first act. The exceptions to this dark control were the gypsy-like movements of the Lovers-in-Experience and The Young Man from the House Opposite, danced by Nicolas Pelletier, whose pelvic thrusts and hand gestures portrayed a dark sexuality. Fernanda Oliveira was a visual feast of strong expressive feet and aggressive fluidity. In contrast, dancer Emily Speed as one of the Lovers in Innocence left the audience wanting more of her floaty fluidity.
The final work of the evening was choreographer Val Caniparoli’s In Pieces, and was by far the audience favorite. Debuting with Colorado Ballet in 2013, the strong dramatic lighting design of Lloyd Sobel and the costumes designed by Sandra Wodall set the piece apart. Asuka Sasaki’s solo had exceptional moments of humor and playfulness, executed with skill and experience. The three men, Francisco Estevez, Domenico Luciano and Kevin Hale, donned modernized versions of tutus but still appeared masculine, their muscular forms accentuated by the downlighting. Estevez was a bit of an odd man out in this section next to the tall and lengthy Hale and Luciano, with a slightly different movement style. However, the three men synchronized well and the audience was wowed into silence watching their dynamic movement.
Hale again stood out as a virtuoso, matching his partner Sharon Wehner in both stage presence and timing. They moved together as one, their pas and progression in silence effecting an interesting contrast to the rest of the program. The illumination of their tutus in silhouette showed the shape and construction of the costumes and highlighted the physical beauty of the two. Wehner’s effervescent personality always shines through onstage into her dancing and she attacked the directional changes with gusto, clearly enjoying her moments onstage.
Director’s Choice is consistently a unique and exciting program; this year seemed particularly ambitious in terms of breadth of techniques and tempos, and the dancers rose to the challenge.
Briana Selstad Bosch is a Denver native. She trained in classical ballet with the late Karen Williamson of American Ballet Theater, Kris Kehl of Colorado Ballet, and Carla Parks’ Academy of Classical Ballet. She went on to train at Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet and Colorado State University with Melissa Corr and Jane Slusarski-Harris, While at CSU, Briana obtained her degree in Technical Journalism. Following her undergraduate study, she went on to achieve her Master’s in Business Administration from the University of California – Irvine, while training in dance at the Maple Conservatory and working on the brand management team at Disney. Following graduate school, she returned to Denver, where she danced with Ballet Ariel for four seasons and performs guest artist work.
Briana founded Ballet5280 in 2017, a ballet company that strives to create a healthful and supportive environment for dancers. They are in their first season.