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Posted: March 18, 2009

Colorado Ballet turns to burly guy in leotard to boost profile in tough times

Season finishes Saturday with Twyla Tharp premiere

Maria Martin

Think of ballet and images of delicate ballerinas en pointe and powerful men lifting tiny women in a pas de deux come to mind. Hairy, burly men in leotards, clowning around on stage? Not so much.

But that was the risk a team at the Colorado Ballet took in an advertising campaign for everything from "Swan Lake," to the "Nutcracker," to the recent "A Midsummer Night's Dream." Colorado Ballet finishes the season Saturday with The Repertory Series; a premiere of a Twyla Twarp piece and two other world premieres. So what's up with that hefty man most of us have seen in ads for the Ballet through last year and this?

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What: The Repertory Series
When: Through Saturday
Information: (303) 837-8888
coloradoballet.org

"We're obviously trying something a little different," said Jack Lemmon, executive director of the company. "Ballet Bob has been doing ads for the 'Nutcracker' since last September. The idea behind it is to reach out to people who wouldn't ordinarily attend the ballet." At the end of the company’s season, Lemmon says that like most arts organizations locally and nationally, it’s been a tough year, and he expects an even bigger struggle in the 2009-2010 season. Donations, especially foundation grants and funding from large organizations, have been down. So it's been more important than ever to make sure the theater isn't empty during performances, he says.

"That's part of the ad campaign," he says. "We've always been viewed as a hoity toity art form and we're really not. So we're sort of poking fun at ourselves with the campaign." Gil Boggs, artistic director of the ballet, thinks the gamble worked. "When they first presented the idea to me, I was a little shocked," he says. "But I certainly wanted the Ballet to be noticed. I mean, even if you don't plan to go to the performance, people react; they say, 'Hey, there's that guy again.'"

Whether "that guy," local actor Drew Frady, will appear in future advertising is unclear. But what does seem clear, Boggs says, is that he helped to draw the coveted younger audience. "We're trying to make the arts more accessible. When I look around the lobby, I see a lot of younger faces." Not everyone loved the campaign, Lemmon says. "One guy called and said, 'Hey, if I want to see a fat, balding middle-aged man, I'll just look in the mirror,'" Lemmon says with a laugh. "But the point is, he took the time to call. We caught his attention.”

And attention is what all the arts organizations need during these tough times, he says. The Colorado Ballet also has programs to reach out to people who are struggling. "We're trying to do what we can to help the situation,” Lemmon says. "We've offered 50 $10 dollar tickets for each show, and we were doing a food collection, because we know we all have to work together to help each other out. The community sustains us, and we have an obligation to sustain the community."

His hope is that the community will continue to sustain the Ballet and other arts organizations. "People are supremely aware of the needs of the social service agencies, but the arts are important, too, Lemmon says.”We're part of what makes Denver Denver."

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Maria Martin is a freelance writer.

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