Gil Boggs’ easy manner with his Colorado Ballet dancers sometimes makes him seem more like a colleague than a director. When principals Chandra Kuykendell and Igor Vassine bobble a step while rehearsing the Sugar Plum Fairy pas de deux, Boggs, wearing a faded black T-shirt and black jeans, calmly walks over. He stands next to them silently as they work it out, then simply sits back down and cues the piano.

 

Boggs’ relaxed approach is especially remarkable in the midst of this year’s Nutcracker rehearsals: Each of the four principal casts will dance slightly different variations of the choreography. Boggs has been working individually with every pair, allowing the dancers to choose steps they want to try until all agree on what looks best. “It’s a factory,” he says, with a smile, “a Sugar Plum factory.”

 

Formally established in Denver in 1961, Colorado Ballet began as a school and has since grown into a 30-member professional company, a 15-member
studio company and a two-location dance academy. In 2006, shortly after a new executive director helped the company recover from a period of financial difficulties, Boggs was recruited to take a fresh look at the artistic product.

 

The former American Ballet Theatre principal, beloved for his bravura dancing and versatility, came to Colorado Ballet after spending six years out of the dance world, focused instead on his second love: golf. “Whenever we went on tour with ABT,” he says, “I always took my clubs with me. It was my outdoor activity.” After retiring from performing, he became director of the Golf Academy at Chelsea Piers in New York City—until he got the call from Colorado Ballet. “My wife, former ABT soloist Sandra Brown, had just retired from the stage and we had recently had a son, so we were at a bit of a crossroads,” Boggs says. “I decided that it was time to return to dance.”

 

Upon arriving in Denver, Boggs was immediately impressed by the technical prowess of the dancers, and felt that their strength offered an opportunity to work on artistry. “I focused on getting them to project across the footlights to the audience,” Boggs says. Along with Brown, who came on as a ballet mistress, he began coaching the dancers one-on-one in ways to develop and portray their characters.

 

He also created an atmosphere in which the dancers can thrive as performers. “I’ve tried to instill confidence in them so they can go onstage and not be afraid to fail,” he says. Most of Colorado Ballet’s productions run for at least two weekends and have multiple casts. Certain productions, like The Nutcracker, have up to four casts of principals and soloists. This gives the dancers more opportunities to tackle leading roles, as well as time to refine their artistry over multiple performances.

 

Despite limited resources, Boggs has expanded the company’s repertoire, modeling his programming choices on ABT’s range of works. He’s brought in new stagings of classical full-lengths like Swan Lake and Don Quixote, dramatic works by Antony Tudor and Agnes de Mille and premieres by up-and-
coming choreographers like Brian Reeder and Matthew Neenan.

 

“I want to give the audience many different aspects of ballet: romantic ballets, balletic comedy,” says Boggs. “I don’t want them to have one idea of what going to the ballet is like.”

 

He’s also careful not to ignore long-time audience favorites, such as Michael Pink’s Dracula. “When I first came, I wasn’t sure if I would continue doing it,” he says. “But then I saw how much the audience enjoyed it. They dress up, Rocky Horror Picture Show–style. It’s really an event.”

 

Unfortunately, due to budget cuts, this year the company had to scale back its season from the usual five productions to four. After a small recovery in 2006, donor contributions and ticket sales were hit hard by the recession. While Boggs doesn’t like downsizing during the 50th-anniversary season, he says, “Being fiscally responsible and staying away from debt is good for the audience and the company.” This year’s cuts have set up the company to enter next season strong.

 

Boggs has many dreams for the future, including an endowment, financial stability, a new rehearsal space, a large academy that feeds into the company and the resources to take Colorado Ballet on tour. But despite the lengthy wish list, he’s proud of the quality of work that the company produces. “We’re not the size of ABT,” he says, “but we’ve done performances that I would put on the Metropolitan Opera stage without a worry in the world.”

 

at a glance
Colorado Ballet
Number of dancers: 30
Contract length: 33 weeks
Starting salary: $651 per week
Performances per year: 52 to 54 on average
Website: www.coloradoballet.org





 

Courtney E. Thompson writes about dance from Colorado.








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Angela Sterling, Courtesy of Pacific Northwest Ballet

Clear your schedule now for Monday, January 29th, 2:45PM (EST)/ 11:45AM (PST). Pacific Northwest Ballet will be live-streaming rehearsal from Kent Stowell's Swan Lake, straight from their Seattle, WA-based studios. To psych us up for their on stage performances February 2nd - 11th, PNB is letting us in on their Act II rehearsal.

From the corps of swans to Odette and Prince Siegfried's pas de deux, and the infamous four swans, this rehearsal is not to be missed. You can sign up now for a live-stream reminder on their site. In the meantime, we'll be brushing up on our Cygnets with this PNB sneak peek.

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Rigorous program, check. Well-rounded technical training, check. Purposeful liberal arts curriculum, check. Study your craft abroad, check! If you are looking for all the above, the Joan Phelps Palladino School of Dance at Dean College truly has it all.

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Summer Study Advice
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Videos are a great alternative when auditioning in person isn't possible. Here are some general guidelines for making a good impression.

1. Follow directions. Before filming, research what each school you're interested in requires. "It demonstrates your ability to follow instructions, and schools pay attention to that," says Kate Lydon, artistic director of American Ballet Theatre's summer intensives and the ABT Studio Company. "If the guidelines haven't been followed, your video might not be watched the whole way through." You may need to make multiple versions to accommodate different schools.

2. Videos should be no longer than 10 minutes. "Keep it short, simple and direct," advises Philip Neal, dance department chair at The Patel Conservatory and artistic director of Next Generation Ballet. "You have to be sensitive to how much time the director has to sit down and look at it." Barre can be abbreviated, showing only one side per exercise, alternating. Directors will be looking at fundamentals—placement, turnout, leg lines, stability—but don't ignore musicality or movement quality. Make sure music choices match combinations and are correctly synced in the footage.

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Career
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I want to be a professional dancer, but my parents won't listen. They either don't think I can do it (contrary to what my teachers have said) or they won't let me take the necessary steps to become a professional. Please help. —Audrey

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Videos

They say that pigeons mate for life—perhaps that's why these birds naturally symbolize the young lovers in Sir Frederick Ashton's The Two Pigeons. In these two clips from a 1987 performance in Pisa, Alessandra Ferri and Robert LaFosse—then stars with American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet, respectively—dance a rapturous pas de deux at the end of Act II. With tiny pricks of her feet and bird-like flaps of her elbows in Part 1, Ferri marks her anguish, thinking she's been abandoned for another woman. Later, both she and LaFosse grow more and more entangled as they reconcile, Ferri dancing with the passionate abandon she's famous for. I love how in Part 2 (0:20), they can't seem to get enough of each other as their necks arch and intertwine. At the end of the ballet, two pigeons fly in to perch symbolically on the chair—er, there's supposed to be two. It looks like one missed its cue at this performance! No matter—Ferri and LaFosse's dancing make it clear that these young lovers are meant to be together for life. Happy #TBT!

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Summer Study Advice
The author at 13, rehearsing at her home studio, Ballet Arts Theater, in Endicott, NY. Courtesy McGuire.

This story originally appeared in the December 2010/January 2011 issue of Pointe.

As a young student at a small ballet school in upstate New York, I was obsessed with getting into the School of American Ballet. From the age of 10, I entered class each day with the ultimate goal of studying at SAB dangling before me like a carrot on a stick. Every effort I made, every extra class I took was for the sole purpose of getting into what I thought was the only ballet school that really mattered.

I auditioned for SAB's summer program for the first time when I was 12. In the weeks that followed, I became a vulture hovering over my family's mail, squawking at my mother if the day's letters were not presented for my inspection when I walked through the door. The day the letter finally arrived, it was thin and limp. I cried for a week as I dealt with the crushing feeling of rejection for one of the first times in my life.

My mind filled with questions and self-doubt. What was wrong with me? Why wasn't I good enough? I figured I must be too fat, too slow, my feet too flat. I had worked so hard. I had wished on every fallen eyelash and dead dandelion in pursuit of my single goal, just to have a three-paragraph form letter conclude that I was a failure. For a while, I let myself wallow in the comfort of my resentment, content to believe that success should have come easily, and that to fall was the same as to fail.

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