When Canyon Concert Ballet’s (CCB) founder, Carol Torguson, a bright and enterprising young woman from Sanborn, ND, launched an incorporated, nonprofit ballet in Fort Collins in 1979, she made her dream of creating an outstanding dance company a reality. Today, the school trains ́more than 350 dancers each year in multiple genres of dance, including ballet, modern, lyrical, jazz, tap, and musical theater. This month, presents “An Evening of Ballet and Chopin,” a production supercharged with magic and offering repose from today’s often chaotic and tumultuous experience. Consisting of two distinct parts, Les Sylphides and Etudes, this presentation of exquisite dance, music, and classical-meets-contemporary interpretation is destined to delight audiences and offer a fresh spin on what CCB has traditionally presented as its spring performance.
Les Sylphides, the entry to CCB’s unique production, is a masterpiece of early 20th-century choreography by Michel Fokine, having premiered in Paris in 1909. Fokine was one of the most influential choreographers of the 20th century. He was also a talented dancer and teacher. He graduated from the Imperial Ballet School in St. Petersburg, Russia in 1898 and was promoted to First Soloist at the Mariinsky Theatre in 1904.
His choreographic career began in 1907 when he created his first work for the Imperial Russian Ballet, Le Pavillon d’Armide. That year he also created Chopiniana, to music by Frederic Chopin, an early example of choreography to an already existing score rather than to music specifically written for the ballet. Chopiniana was revised over the next three years and Fokine’s romantic pas de deux in the style of Marie Taglioni to the Waltz in C minor, Op. 64, No.2, became the basis for his ballet blanc. The ballet was later renamed Les Sylphides and staged for Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes in the form we know today and premiered at the Théâtre du Châtelet, Paris on June 2, 1909, danced at this first performance by Anna Pavlova, Tamara Karsavina, Vaslav Nijinsky and Alexandra Baldina. Diaghilev provided Fokine with the opportunity to break away from the academic form of late 19th-century ballet, implement his reforms and helped to cement his reputation as an early 20th-century choreographic giant.
Though not a narrative work, Les Sylphides demonstrates all the qualities of the Romantic era, evoking imagination and unrequited desire. The original set depicts the ruins of a Gothic castle in a misty, forested land. (Romantic artists were fascinated by all things Gothic and grotesque!) As the curtain opens, we see “the Poet” surrounded by the Sylphs. Accompanied by Fokine’s eight selections of Romantic Era giant, Frederic Chopin’s orchestrated pieces, the Sylphs dance in a flutter of white tulle as the Poet grasps longingly but futility after them. While watching Les Sylphides, one can almost hear John Keat’s stanzas, “A thing of beauty is a joy forever: its loveliness increases; it will never pass into nothingness.”
Choreographically, Fokine’s movement is extremely difficult for its lightness and precision. The corps de ballet are woven in and out of exquisite patterns with bourreés (little steps on pointe) and airy jumps, while the lead dancers fly through the air with effortlessness. Dainty and unique gestures give the ballet its signature Fokine look.
CCB Artistic Director, Alicia Laumann, commented, “CCB is honored to get to perform a work of historical importance such as this. It provides audiences a chance to see a work not often done in this region and our dancers the opportunity to perform in a style originating from the 1830’s.”
Audiences will be treated to Les Sylphides and a famous duet from Giselle (1841), the Peasant Pas de Deux in Act I. In Act II, Laumann will present her new work entitled Etudes. Etudes is a contemporary look at the Romantic era ballet blanc, the “white ballets” that dominated this time period (1830’s-50’s) in which the ballerinas typically portrayed personality-less ghosts, sylphs, dryads, naiads, enchanted maidens, fairies, and other supernatural creatures and spirits. These otherworldly beings come together in the corps to create a collective picture of order and beauty and were used to create moments of respite from the turbulent reality of the world. The dancers are, for the most part in these scenes, nameless and without human personality; yet, these ballets were, for their time, radical. The dancers will be accompanied by local concert pianist, Silvana Santinelli, who will be playing nine solo piano works by Frederic Chopin on stage. Laumann hopes to create a contemporary version of a ballet blanc where the dancers’ unique qualities and human personalities shine through.
In the 21st century, ballet is and must be re-imagined. In a recently published Op-Ed article in Dance Magazine, writer Theresa Ruth Howard asks the question, “What would a radically reimagined ballerina look like?” Though her opinion may not be shared by all, it is worth deep consideration. She writes, “The archetype of the classical “ballerina” was crafted by the male gaze: a pale, waifish prepubescent girl who projects so much vulnerability that she has to be ushered to and fro by an able-bodied man. In many classical ballets, she’s often not even mortal, but takes the form of animals, apparitions and dolls. Moreover, it is still typically a man who tells her where to stand, what steps to do and what to wear. The ballerina has always been the muse of men. She has never controlled her own destiny, never held true sway or power. She is like the winged hood on a Rolls Royce, a lovely ornamental status symbol.”
Etudes “riffs” off of the standard corps de ballet ideas of symmetry, synchronicity, and ethereality, purposely looking for opportunities to disrupt these established conventions of the ballet blanc. The choreographer asks: “What does a corps de ballet look like where the dancers are uniquely themselves and are given some agency to be human on stage: to see one another, to talk, to share, to laugh…and to dance together?”
Not wishing to completely eschew the beauty and the ability of the traditional ballet blanc to transport viewers, Laumann harkens back to these ballets with choreographic nods to classics such as the second act of Swan Lake and La Bayadére while allowing the dancers’ unique movement styles to shine through rather than being subjugated to the whole. Using dancers who vary in age, ability, body-type, and height, Etudes hopes to celebrate the wonderful diversity of humans through dance.
Nearly all members of CCB’s Ballet Company will be performing. They will be joined by approximately 10 dancers from the upper divisions of the dance academy. Additionally, they will be joined by three guest artists: Adrian Fry, Principal Dancer from Ballet West in Salt Lake City, Matthew Harvey, an adjunct professor from CSU, and Nick Blaylock, a freelance choreographer and dancer based out of Portland, Oregon.
Laumann concluded, “I’ve never set this ballet before, but the ballet is simply beautiful in its understatement. I think that in today’s turbulent world, ballet still offers moments of escape for audiences. Les Sylphides and Etudes, with its gorgeous Chopin music, white-tulled ghostly maidens, and delicate Fokine gestures and pristine footwork is a feast for the eyes and ears.”
April 27 (7 pm) and April 28 (2 pm and 7 pm)
Regular: $25; Child (15 and under) $15
The Lincoln Center, Fort Collins, CO
Tickets: lctix.com/les-sylphides or 970-221-6730