Scene one: The curtain opens on a cowgirl in a pasture. She's struggling to break a wild horse that bucks frantically, eventually throwing her to the ground.
How, exactly, is that performed in a ballet?
"It's not balletic in the classical sense at all," says Sharon Wehner, will play the cowgirl in "Rodeo" (pronounced ro-da'-o), the third and final act of Colorado Ballet's touring production All Pointes West, at the Pikes Peak Center on Sept. 19.
Before its 1942 premiere, choreographer Agnes de Mille drew upon horseback riding to create the dance style for "Rodeo." The result: ballerinas galloping, cantering, walking bow-legged. Wehner jokes half-seriously that while bucking in rehearsal, she sometimes gets whiplash.
While the choreography is unusual and the setting historical, Wehner says "Rodeo" tells a timeless coming-of-age story most everyone can relate to.
The cowgirl "doesn't have a frame of reference for being a girly girl," says Wehner, who's been dancing with the troupe since 1995. "She loves being around the guys, but she's at that age where she's growing into a woman.
"She's trying to find her place in the world. She's not a Kansas City girl who runs around in frilly dresses, but she's also not a cowboy."
In one scene set at a community party, every girl gets whisked away to dance except for her. And, as is often the case, the cowgirl's first crush has his eyes on someone else — in this case, the rancher's daughter.
"[The cowgirl] doesn't really know how to do 'love' yet ..." Wehner says. "When you're in [love] as an adolescent, you think you're the only one in the world going through those sort of growing pains."
In the end, the cowgirl "reconciles how to be herself," Wehner says. "She'll never be a girly-girl."
De Mille gave most of her characters generic descriptions for names, accentuating the idea that, as Wehner says, "they're all sort of archetypal characters." For personal inspiration, Wehner gave the cowgirl a name and a brief back story. She's keeping hers a secret, but viewers can feel free to make up their own.
Opening All Pointes West is Denver native Lynne Taylor-Corbett's "Great Galloping Gottschalk," followed by a pas de deux from Sleeping Beauty and the company premiere of Dwight Rhoden's "Ave Maria." The eclectic program, assembled by the ballet's artistic director, Gil Brooks, opens the company's 49th season.
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