Connecticut Ballet blends classical and modern dances

Why travel to New York City or Boston to see a professional ballet performance? One of the state’s best-kept secrets has been the Connecticut Ballet, a professional ballet company, known for presenting classical and contemporary ballet.

Artistic director and company founder Brett Raphael says even after 17 years, people are still surprised to learn they are a professional company, not a dance school with youth dancers.

The Connecticut Ballet will continue to challenge notions of what ballet is and surprise audiences with a hat-trick weekend of performances, titled Russian Classics, May 11 at The Bushnell in Hartford, May 12 at The Palace, Stamford, Center for the Arts, and an hour-long family matinee show on Mother’s Day, May 13, at The Palace.

The program includes two works by two of ballet’s most famous progenitors, Marius Petipa and Michel Fokine, and a revival of a Connecticut Ballet commissioned work by a rising star in American dance.

“We are thrilled to bring this program to Hartford and Stamford for the first time. It should appeal to all dance lovers and those wishing to introduce their children to the athleticism and theatricality of ballet,” said Raphael.

The ballet tradition hails from Russia with classics like The Nutcracker and Swan Lake, so it was a fitting choice to embrace a theme celebrating Russian classics, Raphael said.

“We want to celebrate our ballet tradition and dance to that standard. Ballet is associated with great Russian dancers who moved to the West and made a big splash. A hundred years later, we are trying to be faithful to that,” he said.

Petipa’s Raymonda is a full-length classic in Russian ballet and allows Connecticut Ballet dancers to show off their technical mastery. Rarely performed in its entirety in the West, the shorter Raymonda Variations, which will be done here, is a suite of dances for a principal couple and corps de ballet taken from Act III of the 1898 original. Viewers will enjoy classical solos and lively group dances.

“It’s a very complicated sort of epic story which has to do with the king of Hungary, a conquering hero and the woman he is in love with,” Raphael said, noting there are many twists and turns to the tale. “It’s just a charming piece and has many character dances.”

Darrell Grand Moultrie’s ballet Pulse is a rousing dance set to music by the Euro-Japanese group United Future Organization. The Connecticut Ballet commissioned the work in 2000, the year Grand Moultrie graduated from the Juilliard School, and is bringing it back for a new generation to enjoy.

Orlando Lopez
Danielle Shupe
Marcos Vedovetto

Adding this contemporary work to the program alongside historic ballet will help attract new audiences as well as offer a striking juxtaposition in dancing styles.

“It’s such a contrast to see the same dancers attacking that piece to show the range that Connecticut Ballet can do,” Raphael said. “It’s very sleek. The physicality of Pulse is palpable.”

The weekend concludes on Mother’s Day with a family matinee of Fokine’s one-act ballet Petrouchka. A staple in Russian ballet tradition, the show premiered in Paris in 1911 by the famous Ballets Russes. The ballet centers around Petrouchka, a clown-like puppet, a love triangle, and takes place in St. Petersburg in 1830 at the Russian equivalent of Mardi Gras. The Connecticut Ballet premiere took place in 1997, with Raphael in the lead role.

Raphael spoke about the challenges of trying to stay faithful to the original when staging a classic Russian ballet like this, originally performed when there was no video, relying on original choreography and set design notes passed down through the generations.

“This is the fascinating thing about how ballets get staged and changed and reintroduced to a new generation,” he said. “What we are doing is our very best gloss on it. We literally are working with sacred material and artifacts of the past that we are bringing to life, and we are the messengers of that. We have this great responsibility to do it correctly and deliver it to the next generation.”

For more information, visit connecticutballet.org.