Cleveland Ballet’s Season-Opener Promises to be an Eye-Opener


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Cleveland Ballet’s Nashializ Gomez and Rainer Diaz in Gladisa Guadalupe’s “Provocativo.”

By Steve Sucato

To open its fourth season Cleveland Ballet will take audiences on a journey from a high-flying pirate adventure to a late night Argentinean café awash in the tango of love. The company’s Fall Collection, October 19 & 20 at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre, will feature classical, neo-classical and contemporary ballet works including a world-premiere by artistic director Gladisa Guadalupe.

Since its founding in 2014, Cleveland Ballet has grown in size and dancer skill level every year. This season the company takes another leap forward by adding several high-caliber male dancers to its roster. They include Argentinean Luciano Perotto and Cubans Andy Sousa and Alfredo Rodriguez who, along with company veteran Rainer Diaz, may represent the finest male ballet dancer corps Cleveland has seen in over a decade. For the women, the recent departure of company star Luna Sayag is mitigated by the addition of Brooklyn-native Nicole Fedorov, who previously danced with Nevada Ballet, Moscow Classical Ballet and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. She joins a strong female corps that includes company veterans Lauren Stenroos, Madison Campbell and Anna Dobbins. They, along with the rest of the company, will take to the stage first Guadalupe’s full-company ballet “Momentum.”

Set to Felix Mendelssohn’s “Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor” performed live by pianist Ralitsa Georgieva Smith, the up-tempo ballet in three movements was inspired by Mendelssohn’s music says Guadalupe.  Seeing a recent rehearsal of the ballet, I found, like the music, the dancing came in vibrant back and forth runs. And while the choreography was fast paced, the dancing retained softness and grace to it.

Next, several of the aforementioned new company dancers will show off their considerable technical skills in excerpts from two ballet classics beginning with the bravura pas de trois from the ballet Le Corsaire (The Pirate) followed by the fiery Spanish pas de deux from Don Quixote.

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Cleveland Ballet’s Alfredo Rodriguez and Elena Cvetkovich in Gladisa Guadalupe’s “Provocativo.”

The program will then shift gears from classical ballet fireworks to late night seduction in the form of Guadalupe’s new 25-minute ballet “Provocativo.” Set in an Argentinean café where love and lust permeate the air and danced to the music of Astor Piazzolla performed live by a quintet of musicians including bandoneonist Julien Labro, bassist Dan Finn and Russian tenor Mikhail Urusov, the ballet seeks to capture the desirous attitude of tango without being a tango piece.

Inspired by her memories of being in such a café in Argentina while on tour as a young professional dancer, Guadalupe has populated this café with a cast of colorful characters including a wealthy socialite, an painter, a Casanova and woman dreaming of her lost lover. In watching Cleveland Ballet’s dancers in a rehearsal of the jazz and tango infused contemporary ballet work, I found it to be a playfully evocative and entertaining ballet.

For those still unfamiliar with the new Cleveland Ballet, the company’s Fall Collection program may just be the introduction needed to make you a fan of this company on the rise.

Cleveland Ballet performs Fall Collection, 8 p.m., Friday, October 19 and 1 p.m. & 7 p.m., Saturday, October 20; Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre, 1511 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland. Tickets are $25-79. Also available on October 21 is a Ballet & Brunch Package at $41 that includes a pre-show brunch at Playhouse Square’s RJF Presidents’ Club starting at 11 a.m. followed by the 1p.m. performance. For tickets, visit playhousesquare.org or call (800) 801-7407. More information at clevelandballet.org.

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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‘Wild Sweet Love’ to usher in Sofranko-Era at Grand Rapids Ballet


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(L-R) Grand Rapids Ballet dancers Matthew Wenckowski, Isaac Aoki, Gretchen Steimle and StevenHouser rehearsing Penny Saunders’ “Ghost Light”. Photo by Jade Butler.

By Steve Sucato

For Grand Rapids Ballet’s season opening program, the first under new artistic director James Sofranko, the company will present Wild Sweet Love, October 19-21 at GRB’s ’ Peter Martin Wege Theatre. The diverse program including ballets by George Balanchine, Trey McIntyre, GRB resident choreographer Penny Saunders and a world premiere by Sofranko has audience-pleaser written all over it.

The production will also be the first opportunity for area audiences to see several new dancers Sofranko added to the company. They are former Nashville Ballet dancers Alexandra Meister-Upleger (Aurora, Ohio) and Nathan Young (Little Rock, Arkansas), Emily Reed (Monee, Illinois) formerly with Minnesota Ballet, Israel Garcia Chenge (Mexico), Nicholas Gray (Milwaukee, WI), William Shearstone (Atlanta, Georgia) and Cuban Josue Justiz a former dancer with National Ballet of Cuba.

Just a few months into the job, Sofranko says moving from being soloist with San Francisco Ballet for 18 seasons to now running a fulltime ballet company has been a bit of a shock to the system.  “There are a lot more demands on my time. You are needed in the studio, in meetings, in marketing discussions, dancers need to talk to you, choreographers need to talk to you, it’s a constant information overload,” says Sofranko. “You are the guy everyone wants to talk to so you have to be ‘on’ all the time.”

While balancing his time has been big challenge, Sofranko says he was surprised by the dancer in him still wanting to be in the studio to take class. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to just let that part of me go,” he says. “Being in the studio are the moments I cherish. The more I can be in there the better.”

Another hurdle Sofranko is facing that other former dancers turned artistic directors have also faced is coming to grips with not being one of the gang anymore. “You are the boss now and that is a different dynamic than being colleagues. That will definitely take some getting used to,” says Sofranko.

Also, like many new directors, Sofranko has had little time to do anything but prep for Wild Sweet Love since the dancers returned in September from their summer layoff. That includes creating his debut ballet for the company, “Ballade,” a 9-minute lighthearted classical piece to excerpts of Antonín Dvořák’s four “Romantic Pieces, Op. 75” for violin and piano (1887). In keeping with the love theme of the program, it features new dancers Meister-Upleger and Young along with Ednis Gomez and Gretchen Steimle as couples in more mature love relationships; one couple is awash in romance while the other has a more contentious relationship.

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Grand Rapids Ballet dancers Josue Justiz and Yuka Oba rehearsing George Balanchine’s “Allegro Brillante”. Photo by Jade Butler.

Prior to “Ballade,” the company premiere of Balanchine’s “Allegro Brillante” (1956) will open the program. The choreographer said of his vibrant and expressive ballet for 10 dancers, “It contains everything I know about the classical ballet in 13 minutes.” Danced to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 75, Sofranko sees the ballet as good test for the company and a great way for him to better get to know the dancers.

After a short intermission, the program will continue with Saunders’ “Ghost Light” (2014). Originally created on Kansas City’s Owen/Cox Dance Group, the work for 4 dancers (1 woman, 3 men) costumed in formalwear follows the mischievous antics of a group of theater ghosts inspired by famous figures Maria Callas, Harry Houdini, Fred Astaire and Duke Ellington at play after the living have gone home.

Saunders is familiar to GRB audiences having choreographed several of the company’s more popular ballets during Patricia Barker’s tenure as director including last season’s The Happy Prince & Other Wilde Tales. “Ghost Light” taps into the theatrical superstition that every theater is haunted and that the light or lights left lit onstage meant to keep stage hands and performers from falling into the orchestra pit when the theater is dark, also provides theater ghosts a spotlight to perform in once again.

Danced to an eclectic music mix from composer Alexandre Desplat, Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, David Hirschfelder, J. S. Bach and Traffic Quintet, the 18-minute work is a comedic romp tinged with a bit of melancholy.

Bravura classical dancing then follows in the bold, high flying pas de deux from the ballet Le Corsaire. Danced to music by Riccardo Drigo, the pas de deux made famous by Rudolf Nureyev will showcase company members Justiz and Meister-Upleger.

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Grand Rapids Ballet dancers Ednis Gomez and Yuka Oba rehearsing Trey McIntyre’s “Wild Sweet Love”. Photo by Jade Butler.

After another brief intermission the program will close with its title work, McIntyre’s “Wild Sweet Love” (2007). Originally created for Sacramento Ballet, “Wild Sweet Love” is a delightfully quirky and athletic work set to disparate music by Queen, Lou Reed, Roberta Flack, Felix Mendelssohn, The Zombies and others.  It explores the range of emotions being in love and lacking love in your life can bring. Played out in a series of dance vignettes that follow a central female character, the ballet is full of humor, heartache, and songs like The Partridge Family’s 1974 hit “I Think I Love You” that will leave you smiling.

Eager to begin this next chapter in his career and the next in GRB’s 46-year history, Sofranko says of Wild Sweet Love: “I am feeling good about the show. I am happy where we are at and how the dancers and the pieces look.”

Grand Rapids Ballet performs Wild Sweet Love, 7:30 p.m., Friday, October 19 & Saturday, October 20 and 2:00 p.m., Sunday, October 21. Peter Martin Wege Theatre, 341 Ellsworth SW, Grand Rapids. Tickets are $52 each. For tickets or more information visit grballet.com or call (616) 454-4771 x10.

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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Caruso Wows and Bodiography Entertains in Butler Program


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Maria Caruso in Lamentation®, choreographed by Martha Graham, photograph by Eric Rosé.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Butler County Community College’s Succop Theater
Butler, Pennsylvania
September 29, 2018

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

After making waves this summer at Israel’s largest dance celebration, the Karmiel Dance Festival with her solo Metamorphosis, Bodiography Contemporary Ballet founder/artistic director, Maria Caruso returned with Bodiography to Butler County Community College’s Succop Theater to wow area audiences with a reprise of her interpretation of Martha Graham’s iconic solo “Lamentations.”

The jam-packed program, Saturday, September 29, featured the 18-year-old resident company of the theater along with Butler area community dancers and dance majors from La Roche College where Caruso is chair of the performing arts department.

It began with the Caruso choreographed “My Mozart” (2017), set to music by Mozart.  In it, a quartet of barefoot women moved through vibrant and engaging neo-classical ballet movement that was harmonious with Mozart’s uplifting music.

Performed with vigor by dancers Amanda Fisher, Nicole Ivan, Bethany Schimonsky and Kaylin Treese, the ballet’s unique movement phrasing and wonderfully spaced dancer patterning showed a side of Caruso’s choreography rarely seen; one that favored classicality over contemporary ballet motifs.  “My Mozart” was a delight from start to finish and a highlight of the program.

Following three student works and one by Caruso that featured the La Roche College dance majors and Butler area community dancers, the most intriguing being Andrea Levick’s “Retorque” (2018),  Bodiography’s dancers returned in Caruso’s “Break the Verse” (2018).

The 8–minute work for 11-dancers to a score by Pittsburgh composer Austin Beckman of experimental band Walrus Tales, began with the dancers clustered in a circle and moving as a unit. A prime example of Caruso’s go to choreographic recipe of turns, jumps and flashy, sweeping movement, the work didn’t so much “break the verse” as repeat the same verses found in many of her past works from her impressive catalog of creations for the company.  “Break the Verse” was a fine enough ballet on its own just one followers of the company will have seen several times in various iterations.

While “Break the Verse” may have taken something that was supposed to be new and made it old hat, next, Caruso brought a freshness and emotional power to Martha Graham’s classic “Lamentations” solo that rivaled the 1930 original.

Licensed by and trained rigorously by the répétiteurs at the Martha Graham Dance Company to perform “Lamentations,” Caruso was breathtaking in her bravura performance of it.  Set to Zoltán Kodály’s “Andante poco rubato, Op. 3, No. 2” from his 1910 Nine Pieces for Piano, Caruso, seated on a bench, was technically spot-on tugging, pulling and manipulating the famous purple tube-like costume into triangles, squares and rhomboids. On loan from the Graham Dance Company and made of the original non-stretch fabric, the costume was no easy feat to work and Caruso did so while adroitly capturing the passionate expression of sorrow contained within the 4-minute solo. Easily one of 2018’s best performances by a Pittsburgh-area artist, sadly this would be the last time Caruso was licensed to perform the solo.

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Bodiography dancers in Maria Caruso’s “Doors and Windows”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

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Bodiography dancers in Maria Caruso’s “Doors and Windows”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

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Bodiography dancers in Maria Caruso’s “Doors and Windows”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

Rounding out the program was Caruso’s autobiographical “Doors and Windows” (2018). Performed to music by The 1975, Ludovico Einaudi, Kevin Keller, and Sigur Ros, the 36-minute ballet told the thinly veiled back story of how Bodiography came to be.

Narrated in voiceover by Fisher the cast of 7-dancers including Caruso, the ballet abstractly told of Bodiography’s (and Caruso’s) ups and downs over the years.  Prone to melodrama in spots, “Doors and Windows” overall, was an entertaining work showing off the dancers’ skills. Costumed in formal evening wear, the ballet moved through a variety of lighthearted, playful and jazzy vignettes as well as a few poignant ones. Of note was a moving solo by Caruso revealing a time of turmoil and heartache in her life, an athletic trio danced by Caruso and company trainees Josef Hartman and Derrick Izumi who appeared to compete for her favor — the men rattling off several well-executed jumps, lifts and turns — and a duet between Caruso and Fisher who appeared to be both a confidant to her character and perhaps a younger version of her.

Caruso says when “Doors and Windows” tours Europe later this year it will do so without Fisher’s voiceover, a move that may improve the ballet, taking it from a personal message to one more universal.

Enjoyable and at times brilliant, Bodiography’s program was a testament to Caruso and the company’s growth and evolution since 2000; one that has seen positive strides made both at home and abroad.

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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Abraham Takes ‘A.I.M’ at Greatness with Akron Program


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A.I.M’s Connie Shiau, Claude Johnson and Catherine Ellis Kirk in Kyle Abraham’s “Drive”. Photo by Ian Douglas.

A.I.M
University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall
Akron, Ohio
October 6, 2018

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Having followed Kyle Abraham’s career since he was a teen in Pittsburgh, his talents and potential as a dancer and choreographer revealed themselves early on. Seemingly in short order, the dance world began taking notice of those talents lauding him with accolades and awards including being named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” in 2009 and becoming the youngest recipient of a MacArthur “Genius” Grant 2013. And while Abraham’s individual career continues to skyrocket, the trajectory of his namesake New York-based company, Abraham.In.Motion (A.I.M), founded in 2006, has been on a more gradual incline.

For those unfamiliar with A.I.M and Abraham’s work, their Northeast, Ohio debut at the University of Akron’s E. J. Thomas Hall this past Saturday, October 6, showed rather emphatically that it the company is primed to run with dance’s big dogs.

Presented by DANCECleveland in collaboration with The University of Akron’s Dance Department, A.I.M’s mixed repertory program began with a company first, a dance work created on them by someone other than Abraham.

Choreographer Andrea Miller’s lush, atmospheric trio for women, “state” (2018) had the look and feel of a Beyoncé music video taken to even further artistic extremes.

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A.I.M’s Kayla Farrish, Catherine Ellis Kirk and Marcella Lewis in Andrea Miller’s “state”. Photo by Steven Schreiber.

On a stage barely lit by rear floor lights dancers Kayla Farrish, Catherine Ellis Kirk and Marcella Lewis in silhouette with their backs to the audience, shuffled side to side grooving to Pittsburgh-native Reggie Wilkins’ electronic chill vibe hip hop music.

Miller, the artistic director and vision behind New York’s Gallim Dance, is best known for her Israeli-style contemporary dance works. In working with the dancers on “state,” Miller acted more as a director/editor taking movement generated by them and assembling it into a brilliantly unexpected piece that wrapped around the dancers like a cozy sweater.

Performed on an earth-tone square of dance floor with the dancers costumed in muted colored tops and shorts with shiny gold painted patches on their knees and fingers, the contemporary dance work infused with African, hip hop, Israeli folk and other dance styles, looked ritualistic at times as well as exalting of the women. Parceled into sections reflecting various states of being both emotionally and attitudinally, the dancers moved mostly in unison throughout the work, rocking, bouncing and swaying in simple-looking yet slick choreography.

Where the work’s opening section had the trio of women appearing goddess-like, its second section with its sparse and somewhat ugly movement that had the dancers crab-walking and lying on the stage floor in fetal positions had a troubled feel to it.

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A.I.M’s Marcella Lewis in Andrea Miller’s “state”. Photo by Steven Schreiber.

The work then shifted moods several more times as it progressed with one section showing off the dancers in mini-solos before returning to its infectious opening groove to end the piece.

Keeping with the theme of states of being, Abraham’s latest solo for himself “INDY” (2018), at over 20-minutes is perhaps his longest to date. Like avant-garde jazz or the music of bands like the Pixies and Nirvana that abruptly switch from hard to soft passages in the same song, Abraham’s signature movement style moves abruptly from sinewy smooth, calm phrases to frenetic, hyper-speed riffs that have his arms circling and darting about, hips swiveling and torso twisting in the blink of an eye and back again. In “INDY,” Abraham came right out of the gate in that full-on frenzy mode, a flurry of hands and arms clearing the air and space around him as if cloud of hovering bees descended on him from above; the activity sending the fringed back of his all black costume into violent motion.

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Kyle Abraham in “INDY”. Photo by Steven Schreiber.

 

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Kyle Abraham in “INDY”. Photo by Steven Schreiber.

Set to an original score by Cleveland-native and Juilliard faculty member, Jerome Begin and in front of a target-like circular patterned backdrop, Abraham strutted and moved about the stage in various states of confidence.  From rounded shoulder, arm-swaying machismo to vogue-like prancing, the schizophrenic solo was a microcosm of Abraham’s signature movement style.  Toward the end of the solo, Abraham slowed the piece to a halt. As an audio recording of his college graduation ceremony played in the background, Abraham stripped off his costume and with it all of those states of confidence. The brief, vulnerable and revealing moment was a reminder of the fragile human beneath the stage façade. Donning his fringed shirt again, this time with the fringe in the front, Abraham returned to the virtuosic solo this time adding the silent screams and the pleading of someone whose confidence had been replaced by fear and doubt.

While “INDY” showed off Abraham’s major talents as a dancer, his new group work for the company, “Meditation: A Silent Prayer” (2018), revealed a choreographer at the top of his game in craft, theatricality, and having the pulse of the world he lives and works in.

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A.I.M’s Keerati Jinakunwiphat and Jeremy “Jae” Neal in Kyle Abraham’s ““Meditation: A Silent Prayer”. Photo by Steven Schreiber.

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A.I.M’s Jeremy “Jae” Neal and Marcella Lewis in Kyle Abraham’s ““Meditation: A Silent Prayer”. Photo by Steven Schreiber.

Danced to somber music by Craig Harris with haunting text and voiceover by Carrie Mae Weems, “Meditation: A Silent Prayer” was a heart-wrenching statement on black lives lost to police violence.

Performed in front of Titus Kaphar’s masterful yet eerie projected portraits of a trio of layered faces containing images of those being honored in the work, the blurred faces along with Weems’ stark roll call of their names, ages and familial titles including Cleveland’s own Tamir Rice, put into laser focus the injustice of those lives tragically cut short by police violence.

A gut check on our collective humanity, “Meditation: A Silent Prayer,” stands as one of Abraham’s finest works to date.

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Jeremy “Jae” Neal, Marcella Lewis, Matthew Baker, Keerati Jinkakunwiphat and Claude Johnson in Kyle Abraham’s “Drive”. Photo by Ian Douglas.

Switching gears, the final work on the program, Abraham’s “Drive” (2017) featured all eight of A.I.M’s dancers (sans Abraham) in an up-tempo tour de force that Abraham describes as an abstract statement on unity in the face of societal ills.

Set to pulsating electronic hip hop music by Theo Parrish and Mobb Deep, the work with its city traffic lighting effects, was an invigorating non-stop showcase for the dancers who performed it brilliantly and an apt closer for A.I.M’s stellar program.

Next on DANCECleveland’s 63rd season is Ballet Hispanico, Saturday, November 10 and Sunday, November 11 at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre. For information and tickets visit dancecleveland.org.

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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