Telluride Choral Society and Dance Academy celebrate the seasons at weekend MasterWorks concert

Telluride Choral Society and Dance Academy celebrate the seasons at weekend MasterWorks concert

A little canoodling between two local nonprofits is not a bad thing – especially when considering the alternatives, such as more nail-biting over the kerfuffle on Wall Street.

The Telluride Choral Society and the Telluride Dance Academy offer a gentler, more melodic alternative to the drum roll leading up to Tuesday’s presidential election: their upcoming MasterWorks concert, “A Celebration of the Seasons,” should be a refreshing pause from the headlines in general.

The musical event, created by the Choral Society’s visionary artistic director, Dr. David Lingle, takes place this weekend, Saturday, November 1, and Sunday, November 2, at The Palm.

The highlight of the collaboration between the Choral Society and Dance Academy is Aaron Copland’s Pulitzer prize-winning ballet score “Appalachian Spring,” choreographed and performed by former Joffrey Ballet superstar Valerie Madonia, accompanied by the Telluride Chamber Orchestra.

Along with 14 members of the Dance Academy, ages 9 – 20+, Madonia is featured with her current partner, Olivier Wecxsteen, formerly a principal dancer with Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, the Boston Ballet, Les Grand Ballets Canadiens, and the San Francisco Ballet. Today, Wecxsteen and Madonia make guest appearances at gala performances around the world.

Shirley Fortenberry, formerly of the London City and Australian ballets and co-founder – with Madonia – of the Dance Academy, joins popular Ashtanga Yoga teachers Victoria Hoffman, a one-time student of Alvin Ailey, and Sharon Caplan, formerly of the Houston and Washington Ballets, in performance as The Women.

Lingle had a tough act to follow – his own – after last Fall’s grand slam, “American Voices,” an upbeat concert that included the music of the legendary Leonard Bernstein. Like Bernstein and Gershwin, Copland is among the populist icons that helped put American music front and center on the world stage.

There are many shades of Copland, but his most famous persona is that of composer of Western-tinged ballets, including “Billy the Kid” (1938), “Rodeo” (1942) and the instant hit “Appalachian Spring” (1943-44), with its deft variation on the graceful Shaker melody “Simple Gifts.”

Coincidentally “Appalachian Spring,” a nostalgic work which captures the essence of an ideal America of open fields and endless possibilities, premiered October 1944, exactly 64 years ago, with the country in the midst of yet another war. Lingle is intimately familiar with the work, which he conducted with the Tulsa Philharmonic Chamber Orchestra while living in Oklahoma.

“I love the sprightly music with its folksy feel, but the very demanding score requires 13 top tier musicians: flute, clarinet, bassoon, bass, four violins, two violas, two cellos and piano.”

Lingle’s first move after deciding on the theme of his program and the centerpiece was to secure a strong second. His choice was – once again – Carlos Elias, concertmaster of the Grand Junction Symphony and head of the orchestra program at Mesa State.

“Carlos and I worked well together in the past. And he backed me up on several other stand-out Masterworks programs, including Faure’s ‘Requiem,’ Schubert’s ‘Mass in G Major,’ and Vivaldi’s ‘Gloria.’”

With Elias on board, Lingle approached his star, Madonia.

“Appalachian Spring” was created at the request of choreographer Martha Graham, who danced the lead, The Bride. Graham was not the first dancer to rip off her toe shoes and break with the rigid conventions of classical ballet, but the technique she developed out of whole cloth – intense pelvic contractions, rugged floor work – set the dance world on its ear. The lady is one tough act to follow.

“I had seen Graham perform ‘Appalachian Spring’ when she should have been too old to be playing a bride. Nevertheless, she pulled off the role with aplomb,” said Madonia. “And two years ago, I danced in a bizarre version of the ballet myself, a perversion of the innocence of the original with dancers dressed in corsets carrying whips.”

Trained in classical ballet since the age of four, Madonia decided to create a contemporary, but not Graham-like wannabe adaptation. “The movements I created are organic, but not modern. Modern is not my thing. That said, the only pointe work in our performance is in my pas de deux with Olivier. Otherwise, we dance flat-footed. Ballet is, after all, ethereal: It is about being lifted off the earth. Toe shoes would make no sense whatever in the context of a score as earth-driven and grounded as ‘Appalachian Spring.’”

The text that accompanied Copland’s original is about American pioneers of the 1800s enjoying a Spring celebration just after building a new farmhouse. Central characters included a newlywed couple, a neighbor, a revivalist preacher, and his followers. While paying tribute to simpler times and the pioneer spirit, Madonia chose to focus her work on the subtext.
“While the ballet pays homage to earnest but good-natured piety, it is also a tribute to the resiliency of the human race and the day-to- day routines such as baking bread and doing laundry that act as a balm against the chaos raging in the larger world.”

“A Celebration of Spring” also includes “A Psalm of Thanksgiving,” written by Randall Thompson and performed by the Telluride Masterworks and Youth Chorales.

“A Time for Peace,” based on Ecclesiastes 3, is one of two original compositions written by Lingle. The second, "Telluride Suites: Seasons at 8750," is based on four poems by local Rosemerry Trommer.

“About two years ago, Deb Stevens gave me a book of Rosemerry’s poetry, which I loved. Rosemerry had already written odes to Winter, Fall, and Summer. At the time I called to ask permission to use her work for inspiration, I had been watching hummingbirds flitting about. Rosemerry liked the fact I described the little critters as ‘flirty’ and ‘promiscuous’ and decided then and there to write Spring for us.”

Tickets, $25 and $50, are available at or by calling 970-369-5669.

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