The I-70 Corridor Chamber of Commerce hosted three Colorado Ballet directors at its April 19 meeting at May Farms in Byers. The organization’s two top officials, Executive Director Sameed Afghani and Artistic Director Gil Boggs, along with Director of Education and Community Engagement Emily Herrin, spoke about the history of the organization, its current operations, and its education and community outreach offerings. The program was facilitated by Chamber member Hally Albers, who is the Colorado Ballet’s Production Stage Manager.
Afghani, who took over the executive director position last February, was previously the vice president and general manager of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
“The Colorado Ballet was an organization that I wanted to be a part of, along with our artistic director and our board, to expand the way that we serve the greater Colorado region with our incredible art form and also through education and community engagement,” he said.
Herrin said her department’s mission is encapsulated in three words: Every. Body. Dance.
“We want to make dance accessible to everyone and inclusive of all — aiming to bring diverse communities together to overcome real and perceived barriers,” she said. “We promote a healthy lifestyle that incorporates movement, and we encourage creativity and expression through dance and hope to foster an appreciation of ballet.”
Educational programming includes student matinees, where the day before a production’s premiere, students attend the final dress rehearsal at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House in Denver.
“For a heavily discounted price, student groups are invited to experience ballet firsthand, complete with full costumes, makeup, sets, lighting and sound,” Herrin said, adding that students come from all over the state. “This season we had almost 8,000 students and educators attend our student matinee programming and, thanks to the connection facilitated by Hally Albers, that included 20 students and five adults from Agate School, who came and saw Cinderella.”
Byers School has also taken advantage of the student matinee program.
In another program, assemblies are offered at school sites. The 45- to 60-minute assembly called “From the Page to the Stage” features professional dancers performing excerpts from ballets based on folk tales and literary classics while moving through the history of ballet. Selected audience members are invited to join the company on the stage.
Agate School broadened its student participation in Colorado Ballet programs, hosting an assembly last March. Ten members of the company performed.
“After the assembly, something really special happened — the upperclassmen students dove in with our tech team, helping and learning how to roll up our (portable) floor and loading equipment on the truck,” Herrin said. “It was heartwarming to see their interest in the performing arts extend beyond what they saw on stage.
“I’m used to seeing students get excited to talk to the dancers, but this was one of the first times I saw students just as excited to talk to the crew behind the scenes. The enthusiasm was unparalleled.”
Assemblies and workshops are also offered in community spaces including libraries and are performed before all ages — from preschoolers to older adults. Inclusivity programs are offered for people with disabilities.
The Colorado Ballet’s acclaimed artistic director rounded out the Chamber program with inside information on the production side of the organization.
“I’m responsible for everything you see when you come to a performance — the 1dances, the music, the sets — the entire production,” Boggs said.
Boggs joined the Colorado Ballet in 2006. He started his career as a professional dancer with the Atlanta Ballet. He joined the American Ballet Theater in New York City in 1982, became a soloist in 1984, and a principal dancer in 1991.
“I was hired there 41 years ago today,” he said. “That set me on a career path I was very fortunate to have. I got to see the world.”
Boggs danced alongside Mikhail Baryshnikov and worked with noted choreographers including Agnes de Mille. When he retired in 1999, he turned to his second passion, golf, becoming a manager at a golf academy.
Boggs said that every January, he looks at as many as 600 applications for the four or five positions that are open that year.
“It is very competitive,” he said. “We have a company of 35 dancers and a second company of 22.”
Boggs said that, while he looks for technique in an applicant, “First and foremost I look for confidence.”
Each company has principal dancers, soloist dancers, and a corps de ballet that makes up the bulk of the roster. Child dancers are chosen from the Colorado Ballet Academy.
“We have around 700 kids go through the academy each year. They audition for whatever production needs children — there are 110 in ‘The Nutcracker.’ It’s a great proving ground for them.”
A dancer’s career, barring injury, can continue until they are between 39 and 41 years.
“One of the company retired at 44,” he said. “He had been with the organization for 22 years. I’ve retired many dancers who have been there over 20 years.”
Boggs assembles the lineup of productions to be presented each season.
“I look for a variety that will interest everyone from adults to children,” he said, adding that the March ballet is especially geared toward a young audience.
Next season the Colorado Ballet will present “Swan Lake,” “The Nutcracker,” “Jekyl and Hyde,” “Coppélia,” and “Ballet MasterWorks.”
Visit coloradoballet.org for more information and online sign-ups for programs.