For many, ballet might seem inaccessible, even intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Denver’s Ballet Nouveau Colorado, entering its 10th season, aims to appeal to a wide audience in various ways, says the group’s artistic director, Garrett Ammon.
And its upcoming show adds an extra dimension to that experience: visual and performance art together. A collaboration with RedLine art studio in Denver, A Shared Experience in Art presents five dance pieces in which dancers’ move in and around visual art works created by RedLine resident artists.
The performance isn’t just dancers frolicking around statues. The visual art ranges from massive multicolored fabric sheets dancers interact with to aluminum spheres, paintings and more. The goal, Ammon says, is to connect with its audience and go beyond the limits of traditional ballet.
“All our dancers are classically trained,” he says. “But we try to take that and manipulate it and bring other ideas into it that are influenced by the world we live in today.
“We’re engaging in a conversation that is vulnerable and stepping out there in front of the world and saying, ‘This is who I am, and I invite you on that journey with me,’ rather than it being more presentational,” he says.
“Ballet Nouveau is about finding new ways to connect with humanity,” says Sarah Tallman, one of the group’s longest-tenured dancers. “I love it when audience members start asking questions of the dancers, the choreographers and themselves.”
Tallman says dancers at Ballet Nouveau want to create a connection with viewers so that the performance becomes personal.
“I feel as artists we’re really dedicated to pushing through that imaginary fourth wall,” she says. “We want the audience to exist with us.”
For the upcoming show, performances will also challenge the audience to rethink the division of performance and visual art.
“The goal is to blur the lines between performing arts and visual arts,” says P.J. D’Amico, the executive director of RedLine, which operates as a nonprofit. “Knowing that art can manifest in many forms and across forms, we integrated their choreographers with our artists to come up with pieces of work that cross over.”
Ammon says the two companies want to present the two media in a way that enhances both.
“We share a lot of common ideas about how art can be created in new ways and shared with our communities, he says. “We love to open the door to that conversation and hope people say, ‘I need to go to the gallery or see ballet more often.’” Now in her eighth season at Ballet Nouveau, Tallman will be dancing and choreographing for the show. She says the process of pairing artists was fast and efficient.
“We went through a speed dating process with the interested artists at RedLine,” Tallman says. “We had eight minutes to talk to them about our ideas and what motivated us. From there it was a very natural progression; you kind of understood who you fit with.”
Tallman says she decided she fit with sculptor Virginia Folkestad, whose works of various materials, like wax, aluminum and steel, have been featured in exhibits across the country.
“I’d seen her work a year ago at [Denver’s] Republic Plaza, and I was like, ‘Oh, I just want to touch this stuff.’ I don’t tend to want to touch art, but I really wanted to get involved with her work. I found it visually stunning, and I was curious about her and the process she went through to produce her work.”
Folkestad’s installation “Drift” will be a part of Tallman’s choreographed piece. “Drift” features aluminum-mesh spheres of various sizes, and Tallman says the sculpture has added greater depth to her choreography.
“The dancing stands on its own and the art stands on its own, and it’s beautiful to see them interacting. It’s two strong mediums coexisting,” she says. “It’s great as a dancer to work with these kinds of things and it’s really awesome as a choreographer. You just suddenly realize all the possibilities that exist.”
“You’ll see five distinctly different works that each have that particular pairing as the driving force,” Ammon says. “Rather than one evening of a specific experience, you’ll see five very different responses to a collaborative project.”
Ammon himself choreographed one of the pieces, which will be paired with artist Theresa Clowes’ large fabric panel installation.
“It really has been a true collaboration,” Clowes says.
Dancers will interact with her fabric installation in various ways in a performance that Clowes says is full of tension.
“Mine includes a live cellist who’s playing Bach, but it’s kind of rough,” she says. “The whole thing’s got this interesting tension to it. It’s beautiful, but kind of eerie in a way.”
Dancers and visual artists alike said the performance is about much more than just telling a certain story. The goal is to reach the audience emotionally.
“What we’re trying to express are the inner workings of the mind and the heart, giving external expression of who we are as individuals,” he says. “The most interesting things about people are the things they try to hide from the world, and we want to give an external expression of those things.”
Performances of A Shared Experience in Art open at RedLine’s studio in the Five Points neighborhood of Denver before moving to the Pinnacle Performing Arts Center in north Denver. For the shows at RedLine, Tallman says, choreographers have to be ready for another level of possibilities: Performances will take place in the round, with audience members on all four sides of the dancers.
“That’s something to consider choreographically,” she says. “I feel like my work turns into an installation in a sense.”
Installation, performance, or both, the performers aim to combine art forms to reach out to viewers.
“We want the audience to feel something very genuine and real,” Ammon says. “We want people to feel inspired.”
On the Bill:
A Shared Experience in Art plays from Nov. 4 to Nov. 6 at RedLine at 2350 Arapahoe St., Denver, and from Nov. 11 to Nov. 13 at the Performing Arts Complex at PCS at 1001 W. 84th Ave., Denver. Tickets range from $15 to $44. Call 303-466-5685 for more information.