Every two years the Colorado Ballet presents Ballet MasterWorks, a collection of stylistically different pieces combined in a single show. Ballet MasterWorks provides the company a chance to showcase the artistry and elegance of its dancers as they push beyond the boundaries of classical ballet and into the boundless realms of contemporary performance art.

On February 17, 2017, the Colorado Ballet opened its latest installment of Ballet MasterWorks with three very diverse ballets at the magnificent Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver. From the orchestra to the balcony of the opera house, each seat was filled with audience members eagerly anticipating this year’s diversion from the company’s traditional program.

Part I: Serenade

Ballet MasterWorks

Artists of Colorado Ballet in “Serenade”. Photo by Mike Watson, courtesy of Colorado Ballet.

As the curtain rose on the first piece, “Serenade,” choreographed by George Balantine and set to Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings in C”, the stage was awash in blue light as a cast of 28 performers floated gracefully across a blue sky. As “Serenade” progressed, the intricacy of the dancers’ movements became more and more wave-like, which gave the impression of an underwater scene where tides ebb and flow. The dancers’ tutus were reminiscent of delicate jellyfish floating skillfully across the stage. “Serenade” was soothing to observe, like watching an aquarium filled with expertly crafted movements.

Ballet MasterWorks

Chandra Kuykendall and Kevin Hale in “Serenade”. Photo by Mike Watson, courtesy of Colorado Ballet.

“Serenade” opened the show rooted safely in the Colorado Ballet’s tradition of classically delicate pieces showcasing the precision and elegance of the ballet arts.  The second piece, “Petite Mort,” choreographed by Jiri Kylian to music by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, pushed past those traditions to offer something truly unique and surprising.

Part II: Petite Mort

Ballet MasterWorks

Artists of Colorado Ballet in “Petite Mort”. Photo by Mike Watson, courtesy of Colorado Ballet.

At the beginning of “Petite Mort,” the opera house was completely silent, the stage pitch black — save for six male dancers clutching swords. The melancholic sounds of the piano began to swell from the orchestra pit as the stage became alive with movement. However, this movement was not the delicate swan-like elegance of most ballets, but the expertly executed staccato of perfectly timed choreography. The visual delight of the sword-play that followed kicked off a piece full of physical feats and the inventive use of props as costumes. The curtain fell on this second act to the sound of thunderous applause from the audience.

Part III: Firebird

Ballet MasterWorks

Maria Mosina, Alexei Tyukov, Francisco Estevez and Artists of Colorado Ballet in “Firebird”. Photo by Mike Watson, courtesy of Colorado Ballet.

The third installment in Ballet MasterWorks was “Firebird,” choreographed by Yuri Possokhov, a Russian folklore tale set to the music of Igor Stravinsky. In “Firebird,” a prince is guided by a magical phoenix-like bird as he rescues a damsel in distress from an evil sorcerer. The tale was typical fairy tale fodder, but the ingenuity of “Firebird” did not lie in the story itself, but how the story was presented. The perfectly timed special effects astonished the audience while moments of physical comedy drove the story from lull to action-packed surprise, all the way to its happy conclusion.

Maria Mosina and Alexei Tyukov in “Firebird”. Photo by Mike Watson, courtesy of Colorado Ballet.

All three pieces in this year’s Ballet MasterWorks easily held their own as masterful presentations of what contemporary ballet has to offer. However, presented all together, Ballet MasterWorks gave the audience the gift of truly understanding the variety of artistry that makes up the Colorado Ballet.

MasterWorks runs through February 26 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House. You can get your tickets here for an evening of visual delights and surprises.