Danse Etoile’s season opener this year, Celebrate Dance and Music 2015, was like a variety dance show that included live music. Although the Broomfield Auditorium was not sold out, like the last time I saw Danse Etoile, the audience was clearly excited and sitting in anticipation; there were many parents, siblings, and BFF’s milling about. Marie-Jose Payannet, the founder and director of Danse Etoile, programmed her season opener like a professional ballet company. The first half of the evening was comprised of 11 brief dance pieces and a solo classical / Spanish guitar performance, while the second half of the evening had 5 longer dances, as well as another stunning guitar performance and live opera singing during “Excerpts from Carmen.”
One of my favorite things about attending performances of this caliber, meaning a mostly high school aged performance company of a quality, professionally styled community ballet school, is that the dancing and dancers are tangible, fathomable; they remain human, people like us, and are, like all humans, beautifully fallible. Not to say I find anything lacking in the performance quality of companies like The Colorado Ballet; it’s just that their level of perfection sometimes steeps the entire show in an air of otherworldliness. I greatly appreciate feeling connected to the young dancers of Danse Etoile. It allows me to feel such pride and joy watching them work, strive, succeed, falter, recover, and celebrate their own commitment to dance. Payannet has created a wonderful home for these dancers.
The evening showcased the impressive range of both the dancers and their director, as it went from classical ballet, including solos from Sleeping Beauty, Le Talisman Pas de Deux, Don Quixote, and Giselle, all choreographed by the famous Marius Petipa, to contemporary ballet, choreographed by Payannet herself or guest artist Leslie Merrill, all the way to East Indian and Russian Folk dancing. And once again, the use of projection, which took up the entire back wall of the stage, as well as quality and creatively designed costumes, helped set the scene for each piece in a way that allowed all focus to rest on the dancer(s).
The pieces that caught my attention the most were at the beginning and end of the evening. Opening the entire celebratory night was Standing Shadows, a dance incorporating the entire company plus the apprentices, choreographed by Leslie Merrill, a guest artist who is a dancer, teacher and choreographer throughout Colorado. The piece was relaxed and sweet, using the dancers’ bodies as shape and movement, highlighting lines, spaces, connections, and distance. The second piece, Backstage, was literally a practice / rehearsal session brought front and center. The audience was treated to a rare glimpse of the lives of the dancers when they’re not on stage, including prerecorded expressions, statements, and descriptions voiced by the dancers themselves.
The final piece of the evening, In the Crowd, I Stood, choreographed beautifully by Payannet and danced brilliantly and expressively by the company (8 dancers), embodied the electrifying yet often isolating experience of being one person in the midst of many. Issues of recognition, acknowledgement, existence, and identity were expressed through lines, jumps, group movements, and individual inconsistencies and solos. The movement of the piece was as solid and chaotic as an actual crowd, and the dancers’ bodies, sometimes slow and meditative, other times quick and frantic, showed the shifting waves of anxiety that crowds can create.
Four dancers stood out to me the most throughout the evening: the Jacobs sisters, Rachel and Emily, Kiera O’Neill, and Jasmine Duchene. Each of them brought skill, technique, maturity, and expression to their dances. O’Neill danced a wonderful Kitri from Don Quixote, Emily Jacobs nearly perfected her Giselle solo and proved her professional caliber, Duchene’s Scarlet from Payannet’s The Letter Scarlet was impressively mature, and Rachel Jacobs’ solos in Standing Shadows and In the Crowd, I Stood, were expressive in a way that helped capture the core sense and feeling of each of those pieces.
The entire evening was also peppered with wonderful quotes and text, both on the screen and in the program. For example, the program opens with an anonymous epigraph: “A dancer is also a poet whose poetry sings across the stage, evaporates in the audience’s consciousness and might become a dream.” The final quote projected on the back wall, from Nietzsche, was “And those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” Overall, the evening was thoroughly entertaining and a bit surprising in its range and openness. I can’t tell you how much I’m looking forward to Danse Etoile’s December / Holiday production of Pinocchio, coming to the Broomfield Auditorium Dec. 18 & 19.
Soma Feldmar: Soma Feldmar received her MFA from Naropa University’s Jack Kerouac School, and is now working on her PhD in English from SUNY Buffalo, with a focus on poetics. Other, her first book of poetry, was published in 2009 from Capilano University Editions (CUE Books). Soma’s work has also appeared in various online and print journals. Her doctoral dissertation is on poet Robin Blaser and how his work brings the poetic and the ethical together, remaining open to the other and the unknown. Originally from Vancouver, BC, Soma recently relocated to Denver, CO, after five and half years in Buffalo, NY. Overjoyed to be back in Colorado, she has started her own business, Seamoon Editing Services and joined the writing team of Presenting Denver. As a former ballet, jazz, and modern dance student, Soma looks forward to more opportunities to combine her love of dance and her love of writing.