The Colorado Ballet has donated tickets to a Thursday, February 16, matinee performance of Ballet MasterWorks to roughly fifty recently arrived refugees from countries including Somalia, Yemen, Iraq, Syria and the Republic of Congo. The refugees will attend the performance alongside more than 1,000 students and teachers.
The ballet connected with the refugees through Denver's International Rescue Committee, a group that responds to international humanitarian crises and recently opened a chapter in Denver. Some multilingual students who speak Arabic, French and Swahili will assist in translating conversations between the NGO, the ballet company and the young refugees at a gathering preceding the ballet.
"We made a decision as an executive team, both the staff of the ballet and the board, that this represents what we stand for as a ballet," says Susan Bailey, a Colorado Ballet boardmember who chairs the marketing and public-relations committee. "We stand for open access and inclusiveness."
Many Colorado Ballet performers are immigrants, Bailey says; in part, donating tickets to refugees is a reflection of the company's commitment to its own dancers. While the decision to invite refugees was motivated by President Trump's attempt to ban travel from seven largely Muslim countries, she insists the company's gesture is non-partisan.
"We approached this in an apolitical way," she says. "We’re an organization that provides a beautiful product on the stage, and we want it to be accessible to everyone. What better way to provide accessibility to a new community coming in to our city, state and country?"
Arts organizations across Denver are wrangling with how to respond to Donald Trump and the Republican Party's various policies targeting immigrants, refugees and Muslims. Should cultural groups produce overtly political work, like Curious Theatre, which will be presenting the anti-Trump play Robert Schenkkan dashed off in the wake of the election? Should institutions take positions on calls for action, as the Museum of Contemporary Art did regarding the January 20 art strike? Should they remain silent and stick to art, like so many cultural stalwarts are?
Will the Colorado Ballet do more than open seats to refugees, and decide to take social and political positions in its programming?
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"I don't think we've gotten that far," says Bailey, adding that the Colorado Ballet will begin to address those questions over the next few months.
But in the meantime, she notes, ballet is a universal art form that people from all backgrounds can appreciate: "There is no language. There is only music and dance."
Ballet MasterWorks includes performances of "Serenade," "Petite Mort" and "Firebird." The production runs through February 26 at the Ellie Caulkins Opera House; for more information, go to the Colorado Ballet website.