The ABT Touch

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.




Latest Posts


Complexions Contemporary Ballet's Tatiana Melendez Proves There's No One Way to Have a Ballet Career

This is Pointe's Fall 2020 cover story. Click here to purchase this issue.

Talk to anyone about rising contemporary ballerina Tatiana Melendez, and one word is bound to come up repeatedly: "Fierce." And fair enough, that's a perfectly apt way to describe the 20-year-old's stage presence, her technical prowess and her determination to succeed. But don't make the mistake of assuming that fierceness is Melendez's only (or even her most noteworthy) quality. At the core of her dancing is a beautiful versatility. She's just as much at ease when etching pure classical lines as she is when boldly throwing herself off-balance.

"Selfish choreographer that I am, I want Tatiana to stay with Complexions for all time," says her boss Dwight Rhoden, Complexions Contemporary Ballet's co-artistic director and resident choreographer. "She has a theatricality about her: When the music comes on, she gets swept away." Not too shabby for someone who thought just a few years ago that maybe ballet wasn't for her.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

#TBT: Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov in "Coppélia" (1976)

Gelsey Kirkland and Mikhail Baryshnikov share the unique experience of having danced at both American Ballet Theatre and New York City Ballet during their careers. The two overlapped at ABT in the mid-'70s, where they developed one of the best-known partnerships in ballet. They were both celebrated for their dynamism onstage; however, in this 1976 clip of the pas de deux from Coppélia, Kirkland and Baryshnikov prove they are also masters of control.

Keep reading SHOW LESS
Natalia Voronova, Courtesy Bolshoi Ballet

The Bolshoi Is Back Onstage: We Went Inside Bryan Arias' Latest Work

This summer, when parts of the world were slowly emerging from the COVID-19 lockdown, all live performing arts events having been canceled or postponed, choreographer Bryan Arias found himself in Moscow creating a brand-new work for the Bolshoi Ballet.

Arias, who was born in Puerto Rico, grew up in New York City's Spanish Harlem, and danced with Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Nederlands Dans Theater 2 and Kidd Pivot, had been invited by Bolshoi artistic director Makhar Vaziev to be part of an impromptu program of contemporary choreography titled Four Characters in Search of a Plot. Three other international choreographers—Martin Chaix (France), Dimo Milev (Bulgaria) and Simone Valastro (Italy)—had also been asked to participate. This program, unusual by all standards for Russia's esteemed classical ballet company, opened the Bolshoi's 245th ballet season on September 10. Eager to resume live events, the theater introduced a number of safety regulations for audience members, including limited and spaced-out seating, temperature checks upon entry and audio messages reminding patrons to wear masks and maintain social distance.

Below, Arias talks about his trip to Russia and his experience of creating his new piece, The Ninth Wave, on the Bolshoi Ballet dancers.

Keep reading SHOW LESS

Editors' Picks