More on Madonia

More on Madonia

Valerie Madonia

The notion of dance in Telluride was not new before Valerie Madonia arrived on the scene.

In the 1970s, Jeri McAndrews, a New York transplant and modern dancer, settled in town and taught modern, jazz, and ballet in what is now the Elementary School cafeteria.

In 1978, McAndrews also founded the first (and only) Telluride Dance Festival.

In the 1980s, Shirley Fortenberry and Leslie Crane taught ballet to young and older. It was “Miss Shirley” who put “The Nutcracker” back in our town’s Christmas.

In the 1990s, the Telluride Institute sponsored edgy performers. Under the banner of Deep West Arts Consortium, internationally recognized talent such as Trish Brown, Eiko and Komo, Contraband and Ghettoriginal danced on the Opera House stage.

What was new was the idea of leveraging the tour jetes into a tour de force that would put Telluride on the dance map alongside Vail and Aspen, and Valerie was one the to do it. She had – and has –  “cred.”

Baryshnikov hired Madonia, then age 17, to dance for the American Ballet Theatre. After five years with “Misha,” burnout hit. Valerie left ABT and joined The Joffrey Ballet of Chicago (at that time a New York-based company). The less constrained movement of the contemporary repertoire suited her at the time. Very soon Valerie was given principal roles and became a company star.

Since moving to town in the mid-1990s, Valerie (with Shirley) founded the Telluride Dance Academy, still going strong with wide-ranging programs for young people in adults from ballet to tap and belly dancing.

Thanks to Valerie and Bob Erie, for five glorious seasons in a row Telluride was the summer residence of the Joffrey Ballet of Chicago. When that contract ended and the town was jonesing for more blue chip dance, Valerie was able to entice top-tier companies such as The Washington Ballet and MOMIX to perform here.

These days, Valerie remains an in-demand guest performer at international galas. She also now teaches for the Joffrey and other, smaller companies around the country and is doing more and more choreography. After choreographing and performing in “Appalachian Spring” at a concert that marks the first ever collaboration between the Telluride Choral Society and the Dance Academy, she is heading to Louisiana to co-choreograph the Louisiana Delta Ballet production of “Cinderella.”

Watching Valerie in action is a rare treat. The first time she appeared on the Opera House stage in 1995, I was just two years into my job writing about Telluride’s cultural economy for the Daily Planet. When Valerie asked me to review her performance at the scheduled dance concert at the Opera House. I hedged, telling her I was trained as an art critic, and lacked technical knowledge about dance. She encouraged me to write what I saw from the heart, forget the lingo. What I saw was electrifying.

Valerie is extremely physical and fearless in terms of what a body can do – extension for days, arms that don’t end, long legs here and there – often nudging the limits of technical pizzazz. Her timing is perfect: she is always on the music. The silky silence when she moves is mesmerizing.

Describing his former Joffrey partner, dancer Daniel Baudendistel once told me: “A truly great dancer not only can do great feats, he or she understands what those feats are about and communicates the feelings tied to the moves. Valerie is one of those dancers.”

You snooze. You lose.

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