Michigan Ballet Academy dancers win first, second place at World Ballet Art Competition-Grand Prix Semifinal


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Michigan Ballet Academy dancers Breanna Proseus (Left) and Corinne Jarvis show off first and second place certificates respectively from the World Ballet Art Competition — Grand Prix semifinal in Toronto. Photo by Bruce Jarvis.

By Steve Sucato

No one would have blamed Nikoloz Makhateli if he had said no a third time to Michigan Ballet Academy (MBA) board president David Bellamy’s offer to take over the artistic leadership of the academy. Makhateli was a principal dancer with the National Opera and Ballet Theater of Tbilisi in Georgia and a master ballet teacher for the national ballet schools of Nicaragua and Senegal, his own Makhateli Ballet in Colorado, and the Kirov Ballet Academy in Washington, DC. He had retired from teaching to live in his native Georgia after a decades-long career of training ballet students worldwide, several of which went on to professional dance careers including Makhateli’s own children, David, a former principal dancer with England’s Royal Ballet and Maia, a principal dancer with Dutch National Ballet.

But Makhateli says the political tensions in Georgia over Russia along with his positive experience in visiting Grand Rapids to teach master classes convinced him to take finally accept the post 2014.

“It’s a beautiful place, quiet—and the students love ballet,” says Makhateli.

Two of MBA students now benefitting from Makhateli’s un-retirement and teaching expertise are 16-year-olds Corinne Jarvis and Breanna Proseus. Both dancers competed in and took top honors in the Toronto semifinal of the World Ballet Art Competition – Grand Prix this past October. In the classical category of the international competition for 14 to 16-year-olds, Proseus placed first for her performances of a variation from George Balanchine’s ballet Walpurgisnacht (1975) and the “Kitri” variation from the ballet Don Quixote (1869). Jarvis was awarded second place in the same category for her interpretations of the “Pas D’Esclave” from Le Corsaire (1858) and a solo from the ballet Raymonda (1898). She also placed third in her age group in the contemporary category for her performance of Makhateli’s contemporary ballet solo Song for Viola (2014), with music by folk-pop Americana singer-songwriter Peter Bradley Adams.

Both dancers came to the dance academy, housed in Cascade, a suburb of Grand Rapids, in 2011 from the Grand Rapids Ballet School, following former Grand Rapids Ballet principal dancers and MBA founders Akop and Gaiane Akopian. MBA’s mission according to their website is to “deliver the highest quality ballet training in an atmosphere of creativity, challenge, encouragement, and integrity.” Under Makhateli’s mentorship as well as the tutelage of other MBA faculty members including former Cleveland San Jose Ballet standout Joanne Jaglowski and Grand Rapids Ballet star Yuka Oba, Jarvis feels MBA is living up to that mission.

“I wanted to train more seriously and have more performance opportunities,” says Jarvis of her move to MBA.

But Jarvis’ current push for ballet excellence began as a push against her family’s calling. Both of her parents were professional ballet dancers in Mexico and the U.S., and her brother Victor is a dancer with the new Cleveland Ballet. She was put in ballet classes at an early age.

“I absolutely hated it. I would throw tantrums when I had to go to class,” she confesses. Jarvis says she quit for a time but went back to it and really fell in love with the art form after performing in Grand Rapids Ballet’s “The Nutcracker” production.

This article also appears on the cultured.GR website, where you can find this article and more conversations about the arts in Grand Rapids. 

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‘The Benefit’ Triumphs with Choreographic Gems and Delectable Dancing


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BalletMet’s Adrienne Benz and Carolina Ballet’s Marcelo Martinez in Jimmy Orrante’s “Imperfections.” Photo by Ira Graham.

The Benefit
BalletMet Performance Space
Columbus, Ohio
May 22, 2016

Reviewed By Steve Sucato

There’s nothing like a noble cause to bring out the best in artists and artistry. That was certainly the case for the third annual The Benefit (formerly Dancing for the Cure) dance concert, May 22 at BalletMet’s Performance Space in Columbus, Ohio. Produced by former BalletMet star Jimmy Orrante and current company member Attila Bongar, The Benefit was a sold-out, jam-packed evening of music and dance whose proceeds went to supporting The Central Ohio Chapter of the National Hemophilia Foundation and Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Donating their time and talents to the event were dancers from BalletMet, Carolina Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, Rochester City Ballet and elsewhere performing classical and contemporary ballet works from George Balanchine, Marius Petipa, BalletX’s Matthew Neenan, Carolina Ballet artistic director Robert Weiss and more.  Joining the dancers onstage were Camarata, a 23-member orchestra made up of musicians from the Columbus Symphony Orchestra led by principal cellist Luis Biava.

Easily amongst the very best dance productions in Columbus this year, The Benefit kicked off with the “Diamonds” pas de deux from Balanchine’s ballet Jewels (1967), performed by husband and wife pair Lauren Fadeley, currently a soloist with Miami City Ballet, and Francis Veyette, a former principal dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet.

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Miami City Ballet’s Lauren Fadeley and Francis Veyette in the “Diamonds” pas de deux from George Balanchine’s Jewels. Photo by Ira Graham.

Wowing the audience from the get go, the couple demonstrated skillful technique and an inviting stage presence that wonderfully aligned with Balanchine’s quintessential neo-classical choreography. Danced to music by Tchaikovsky thoughtfully performed by Camarata, Veyette was a steady and sturdy partner to the elegant and graceful Fadeley. The inspiring pas de deux acted as a harbinger for the wonderfully performed musical interludes, other choreographic gems and great dancing to follow.

After an adroit performance of Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude Op. 32 No. 12 in G sharp minor” by pianist Tyrone Boyle, five dancers (three women, two men) performed Cincinnati Ballet soloist James Cunningham’s “Meandering Heartbeat.” A talented young choreographer who has crafted well-received ballets for Cincinnati Ballet, this perhaps was not one of his best efforts.  Set to original music played live by Columbus ambient alternative band The Wind and the Sea along with Camarata, the contemporary “sock” ballet had the dancers darting about the stage in a mish-mash of arabesques, turns, rolls on the floor, and choppy partnering riffs that included dancer Margo Aknin stepping on partner Jarrett Reimers’ stomach to travel over him. Cunningham had some decent ideas and there were scant moments when those ideas were realized, but overall the ballet floundered.

Following an excerpt from the ballet Giselle performed tenderly by BalletMet’s Jessica Brown and Carolina Ballet’s Richard Krusch, and the sharply performed solo “Beat and Taal,” by kathak dancer/choreographer Mansee Singhi, the first of two new works by Orrante, “Imperfections,” took the stage. Danced by BalletMet’s Adrienne Benz and Carolina Ballet’s Marcelo Martinez to music by Josh Kramer, this was Orrante at his choreographic best. The superbly-crafted and danced pas de deux presented itself in waves of undulating and swirling unison dancing that was spellbinding. Equally ravishing partnered lifts sent Benz spinning skyward, her body open to the momentum and expressing fleeting moments of fragile beauty that followed one after another.  The dancers twisted, turned and gave into gravity, falling backwards only to catch themselves and then melt into another trance-inducing entwinement such as Benz, in a deep lunge supported by Martinez, stepping backwards across the stage as the tinkling of piano keys in Kramer’s music carried the dancers and the audience along in its melodic current to drift and dream.

The program’s first half closed with Bongar’s “Forced March: Second Eclogue.” Inspired by the poetry of Hungarian Miklós Radnóti who died in the holocaust and set to composer Charles Ives’ “The Unanswered Question,” Bongar’s ballet was haunting, thanks in large part to Ives’ music played with heartfelt emotion by Camarata.

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BalletMet’s Caitlin Valentine-Ellis atop dancers in Atilla Bongar’s “Forced March: Second Eclogue.” Photo by Ira Graham.

A cluster of five men in overcoats encircled and hid BalletMet’s Caitlin Valentine-Ellis from sight. Then spinning themselves outward they revealed her and became the objects she played off of, crashing into them, jumping on them, and cleaving to them. The men then spread out arms and legs opened wide, faces upward as if trees caught in a breeze that rocked them side-to-side as they basked in sunlight. Valentine-Ellis’ character appeared trapped in this melancholy world, surrounded by these men and somehow a part of them, her will no longer her own.

The program’s second half began with another musical interlude performed by Camarata that lead to Weiss’ soothing pas de deux “Meditation from Täis,” danced to music of the same name by Jules Massenet. Like Fadeley and Veyette in the program’s opening pas de deux, the dancing of Carolina Ballet principal dancers Lara O’Brien and Martinez was heavenly. Weiss’ neo-classical choreography had the pair delicately twirling like a wind sculpture with O’Brien enfolded in Martinez’s arms. The highly satisfying pas de deux earned hearty applause from the appreciative audience.

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Carolina Ballet’s Marcelo Martinez and Lara O’Brien in Robert Weiss’ “Meditation from Täis.” Photo by Ira Graham.

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(L-R) Jarrett Reimers, Michael Sayre, Ben Rabe and Jimmy Cunningham in Christian Broomhall’s “She is.” Photo by Ira Graham.

Switching gears, Columbus Dance Theatre’s Christian Broomhall’s ballet “She is,” interjected a bit of levity into the program. Another talented new choreographer, Broomhall’s contemporary dance work for four men and four women set to a suite of music sung by Billy Holiday was deliciously charming and clever. Dancing to Holiday’s rendition of the song “All of Me,” the work’s four male dancers engaged in quirky, gesture-laden choreography that had them marching about in unison choreography, dropping to the stage floor to move like inchworms, gyrating their hips and wildly waving their arms in the air, and walking on their knees, hearts aflutter toward imagined girlfriends. BalletMet’s Karen Wing and Michael Sayre then paired up in an endearing, touchy-feely duet to Holiday singing “Until The Real Thing Comes Along.” Next, it was the ladies’ turn as the work’s four women continued Broomhall’s regimented movement patterns dancing to “I’ll Be Seeing You.” The wistful dance was another example of Broomhall’s inventiveness and innate ability to make sophisticated movement choices in his choreography. The work left you wanting more.

Another Fadeley/Veyette pas de deux followed. In the vein of Broomhall’s playfully descriptive contemporary choreography, Neenan’s “11:11” (Excerpt), generously tapped into the couple’s affections for each other delightful choreography that had the pair rocking back and forth in a lullaby of warm feelings and artful dancing.

After another piano solo by Boyle playing Mendelssohn, former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer Marcus Jarrell Willis performed his powerful solo “Distance Between,” set to Debussy’s “Claire de Lune.” Willis began seated in a chair, staring across the stage at another empty chair. He then rose and began inching his way toward that chair and what it seemed to represent to him, gradually adding pace to his movements until skittering to halt in front of it. Sitting in the chair, Willis then lit into a succession of rapid arm, hands and upper torso movements a la Donald Byrd’s “White Man Sleep” (2002). Willis’ conflicted and poignant solo proved touching.

The Benefit concluded with Orrante’s “For Fun” a rollicking group ballet in the mold of Balanchine’s Western Symphony (1954) sans the costuming. Set to Don Gillis’ expansive Symphony No. 5 ½, the ballet, like the music, conjured the spirit of a hoedown scene from cowboy movie musical, only Orrante swapped the knee-slapping yeehaw’s and high stepping waltzes for refined and pretty ballet steps.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

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Corning Triumphs in One-Woman Show about Loss


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Beth Corning in CorningWorks’ “Remains -A One-Woman Show.” Photo courtesy of CorningWorks.

CorningWorks
Remains — A One-Woman Show
New Hazlett Theater
Pittsburgh, PA
September 7-11, 2016

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

In 2013, after an extensive creative residency with Tony Award-winning physical-theater director Dominique Serrand, dancer/choreographer Beth Corning felt ready to tackle the complicated emotions and aftereffects of a string of recent personal tragedies.  The resulting dance-theater work Remains, co-created with Serrand, was a hit with audiences and critics alike for its poignant portrayal of a woman dealing with the feelings and memories generated from going through the physical items left behind by departed family members.

In this latest incarnation of the work entitled Remains — A One-Woman Show, Corning and Serrand teamed up again to rework and refine the original work in order to strip away any extraneous elements and further clarify the intent and arc of the work and Corning’s character within it.  In a lot of ways, they achieved that goal. Doing so without sacrificing any of the empathetic connection the original instilled in audiences.

Backed by a new set design by Britton Mauk of Pittsburgh’s Quantum Theatre that depicted a wall of cardboard moving and storage boxes, and costumed in a new cream-colored coat-dress by award-winning costume designer Sonya Berlovitz, the hour-long multimedia work on September 11 at Pittsburgh’s New Hazlett Theater, began with a quote from the Mahabharata, one of the world’s oldest religious Sanskrit texts that was projected on the wall of boxes. It read: “No man, although he sees others dying around him, believes that he himself will die.” And with that, Corning emerged from a box triumphantly holding a pair of men’s dress shoes; her father’s. Then placing the shoes on her hands, she camel-walked around the stage as the sound effect of a person in heavy-stepped walking rang out.

Like the appearance of a ghost from the past onto the stage, Corning then drifted into a memory of her father in those shoes, remembering and reacting to the sounds of him walking, inhaling the smell of them and drinking in the warm feelings they conjured up in her before the reality of his absence from this world took hold and yanked back to the present.

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Beth Corning in CorningWorks’ “Remains -A One-Woman Show.” Photo courtesy of CorningWorks.

In this scene and all that followed, Corning showcased her adroit acting abilities. Skilled in the art of gesture, she built into her choreography for the work several small, subtle gestures that helped paint a vivid portrait of her character; a woman haunted, often delighted and at times emotionally consumed by the memories that surfaced from within her surrounding the objects contained within those storage boxes.  One repeated gesture, a brief scratch at the back of her calf with her other foot, acted as an unconscious reminder of the uncomfortable feelings itching to break through and spoil her happier memories of departed loved ones.

Set to an eclectic mix of music including that of composer Olafur Arnalds, the work, the latest in CorningWorks’ Glue Factory Project, for nationally or internationally known performers over age 40, as with its previous incarnation, was delivered via a series of moving and dramatic vignettes.

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Beth Corning in CorningWorks’ “Remains -A One-Woman Show.” Photo courtesy of CorningWorks.

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Beth Corning in CorningWorks’ “Remains -A One-Woman Show.” Photo courtesy of CorningWorks.

A dance with a well worn coat, a tête-à-tête using full wine glasses pushed around with her feet and the discovery of forgotten notes in the pockets of garments, all conjured carefully cultivated imagery and emotional states that drew one in as if to take part in them. Most memorable for its heartbreaking impact and fine detail was a scene where Corning dragged out an oblong table and began to set it as she may have done in the past for an extended family dinner. She then mimicked those she imagined seated around the table in conversation — laughing with one another, arguing, and on occasion grabbing at another’s derriere in a marvelous and imaginative dance-pantomime sequence. Overwhelmed with the sudden realization of being the only one left alive to attend such a dinner party, Corning climbed up onto the table and under its white tablecloth, pulling it over her head and laid there corpse-like, shaking and sobbing. It was an achingly sorrowful moment that brought tears to the eyes of this reviewer.

As in 2013, Corning’s performance in Remains — A One-Woman Show was a tour-de-force of well-honed artistic brilliance. More movement theater than straight-up dancing, it along with 2015’s BECKETT & beyond is Corning at her very best. Her collaboration with Serrand once again proved fruitful, yielding a must-see production for any dance and theater-goer.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

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Jones’ ‘Analogy/Dora: Tramontane’ is Pure Theatrical Magic


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Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company in Bill T. Jones’ “Analogy/Dora: Tramontane.” Photo by Paul B. Goode.

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company
Analogy/Dora: Tramontane
EJ Thomas Hall
Akron, Ohio
October 9, 2016

By Steve Sucato

Dancer I-Ling Liu stood with her back pressed to a wall, slowly and deliberately moving her stiffly pointed index finger from above toward the outstretched palm of her other hand like a dagger. Steps away on the stage of The University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall, fellow dancer Jenna Riegel achingly voiced the words of Dora Amelan, recounting the death of her 20-year-old sister from an infection caused by a botched abortion during World War II. Lu embodied the cold anguish felt in Amelan’s words, her dark eyes a window into a woman who had seen untold horrors, perhaps none as haunting as the memory of this moment.

The heartbreaking scene was one of many played out in Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company’s Analogy/Dora: Tramontane (2015), performed by the company Oct. 9 in Akron, Ohio.

The first part in Bill T. Jones’ Analogy trilogy, the production, presented by DANCECleveland in collaboration with The University of Akron’s Dance Department, is based on a riveting oral history that artistic director/choreographer Bill T. Jones conducted with his now 96-year-old French-Jewish mother-in-law in 2002. In Amelan’s own words and those of Jones, the 90-minute intermissionless dance-theater work told of Amelan’s harrowing experiences escaping the Nazis and serving as a nurse/social worker in occupied France.

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Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company in Bill T. Jones’ “Analogy/Dora: Tramontane.” Photo by Paul B. Goode.

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Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company in Bill T. Jones’ “Analogy/Dora: Tramontane.” Photo by Paul B. Goode.

Set to a masterfully crafted original score sung and performed live by its composer, Nick Hallett, and pianist Emily Manzo, the piece, in 25 chapters, fully embraced the “theater” in dance-theater. The combination of the dancers skillfully voicing dialogue (often while dancing), Hallett’s powerful score and Jones’ abstract yet illustrative choreography made for a deeply moving experience that drilled into the core of our humanity, producing swells of disparate emotions and entrancing us with marvelous storytelling.

Perhaps the production’s only shortcoming was that the music and dialogue sometimes overshadowed the dancing in dramatic impact. When all the elements did come together — such as in a scene when Amelan recalled a female co-worker saying goodbye to her husband who was being sent to a concentration camp, and a happier one depicting a visit from her entertainer cousin Marcel Marceau — it was pure theatrical magic.

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(foreground) Dancers Antonio Brown and I-Ling Liu in Bill T. Jones’ “Analogy/Dora: Tramontane.” Photo by Paul B. Goode.

Overall, the entire cast of nine dancer/actors performed with aplomb. Of particular note were the performances of Riegel and Cain Coleman who handed the bulk of the emotionally potent dialogue with calming vocal control, dancers Liu and Rena Butler who expertly illustrated the trauma and heartache contained in Amelan’s words, and Cleveland-native Antonio Brown, in his last season with the company, who lent a quiet strength to Jones’ words.

A modified version of this review first appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper on October 19, 2016.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

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