Jennie Lay: African balletomane

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When it comes to performance art, ballet is my favorite.

Bring on the tutus, the sparkling tiaras and the long, fake eyelashes. I never tire of them. It's gripping. It's romantic. It's dramatic.

It's also not for everyone, I regrettably understand.

When I was a teenager, other girls had posters of heartthrob Rob Lowe on their bedroom walls; I posted a cover of Vanity Fair featuring Mikhail Baryshnikov on mine. Today, I drool over seasonal performance calendars for ballet companies in New York, San Francisco and Boston -- as if they do me much good from Steamboat Springs.

In the theater, my pent-up adoration is liable to bring tears of joy at the sight of a perfect pirouette or a passionate pas de deux. I flat out sobbed a couple of years ago at the sheer beauty of watching the Bolshoi Ballet come on stage for the final act of La Bayedere -- a long, snaking line of elegant ballerinas repeating the same perfect arabesque over and over.

And last weekend, I was positively thrilled to see Steamboat Springs' blossoming ballerinas dance their elegant rendition of Metallica's "Enter Sandman" during the Musical Journey show.

This is the kind of creativity it takes to bring ballet to the masses. A typical crowd might be snoozing through Tchaikovsky, but it's hard to resist the thumping beat of Metallica accompanied by pointed shoes whooshing about on stage.

It rocked.

So, this is where I argue that ballet is for everyone -- if it's willing to cast aside its admittedly stuffy European traditions every once in a while.

And that's where Les Ballets Africains steps in.

This, my friends, is my hot-ticket tip for the summer.

Les Ballets Africains is a spectacular dance troupe from Guinea, West Africa, and they will be just down the road in Vail, as part of the annual International Dance Festival on Aug. 15. Go see them -- and don't say I didn't tell you so.

Les Ballets Africains has nothing to do with pink tights and satin slippers.

Raffia skirts, wildly colorful fabrics and ornate masks will replace tutus and tiaras for a night. While the dancing will be elegant, precise and powerful, a classical orchestra will be replaced by the troupe's drummers who perform their complex rhythms centerstage. The choreography is founded in traditional Guinean dances, and the training and athleticism of dancers and drummers is extraordinary.

Think tribal, not Swan Lake.

But because I fear you might not trust me now that I have admitted my tutu-loving balletomane instincts, I have gathered a couple of testimonials from other Steamboat residents who have seen this troupe in action:

"Oh, wow!" exclaims Robin Getter. "It's a feast for the eyes and ears with the costumes, energy, acrobatics, musical talent and extraordinary energy."

"It's awesome. It's unlike any cultural event I've ever been to," gushes Stacy Most.

"It was amazing -- a pure representation on national dances and national dress," added her husband, Rich Most.

"The amount of energy that embodies their performance is incredible. I was in awe when I saw them," remembers African dancer Jennifer Lowe.

And from my husband (not a balletomane by any stretch of the imagination), who got a most pleasant surprise after being dragged to the theater to see this troupe: "It's sick and wrong." He's willingly going to see them again this summer, by the way.

If you've been a fan of Steamboat's African Dance and Drum ensemble during the years, I cannot encourage you enough to get yourself a ticket to go see Les Ballets Africains at the Gerald Ford Amphitheater in Vail. Go see the real deal.

And if you're feeling really adventurous, don't be afraid to stick around for some of the week's more traditional ballet. You might just be pleasantly surprised.

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