CorningWorks’ ‘with a shadow of…’ a Muddling of Liminal Space


CORNINGWORKS_ Catherine hires

Catherine Meredith in CorningWorks’ “with a shadow of…” Photo by Frank Walsh.

CorningWorks – with a shadow of…
New Hazlett Theater
Pittsburgh, PA
March 27-31, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

In the lead up to her latest GLUE FACTORY PROJECT work with a shadow of…, dancer/choreographer Beth Corning said “I hope nobody makes any sense of this work; none.”

Mission accomplished.

Pittsburgh’s queen of metaphor outdid herself with the hourlong collection of mind minutia and movement that proved as baffling as it was visually breathtaking.

Thematically said to reflect “the moment before sleep and the moment before waking,” with a shadow of… did well in capturing the surrealness of such moments.  Where the dance-theater work fell short was in conveying purpose beyond that initial idea and in achieving the deep-reaching emotional connections with the viewer that have been a hallmark of Corning’s works. Having over the years taken in the breadth of Corning’s works created for her now 10-year-old organization CorningWorks, in some ways with a shadow of… may be the least impressive choreographically while also being a bold visual step forward for one of the region’s most intriguing dance artists.

The final performance of the work’s run on Sunday, March 31 at the New Hazlett Theater began with a prelude dance improvisation by cast member Janis Brenner.  On a darkened stage, Brenner, an award-winning choreographer herself and the artistic director of Janis Brenner & Dancers in New York, darted in and out of shadow performing an energetic modern dance solo as audience members filtered into the theater.  The sound effect of a cell phone ringing ended her solo and officially began the work.

Danced to a montage of atmospheric music with a shadow of… bounced between vignettes that bordered on genius and tedium.  The opening vignette had New York dance icon David Dorfman pulling a curled up and supposedly sleeping Brenner in a red wagon around the stage and continuing to act as if doing so after he had let go of the wagon’s handle.  It was followed by Corning and the work’s final cast member Catherine Meredith (choreographer and rehearsal director for Cleveland’s Dancing Wheels) in each other’s arms rolling on to the stage like human tumbleweed.

CORNINGWORKS_ Janis hires1

Janis Brenner in CorningWorks’ “with a shadow of…” Photo by Frank Walsh.

That scene led into the work’s first bit of tedium, watching the cast members piled upon and rolling over one another for an extended period. A go to move for pop up improvisation sessions and student choreographers, “the moving pile of bodies” is one of dance’s most boring clichés. Undoubtedly a metaphor related to the partial inspiration for the work, Corning’s feelings that current U.S. political and social climates have created a reality in which little makes sense, the dance phrase perhaps intentionally played into that dulling of the senses.  Repeated later in the work, it was made more palatable when Brenner, standing and shadowing the pile of dancers as they rolled about, pulled from her pocket a clementine that she peeled and ate while waiting for something interesting to happen in the moving pile — nothing did and maybe that was the point.

While the work contained a few more mind-wandering-off-to-make-a-grocery-list-moments such as Brenner dragging around a potted tree on an upper side balcony, there were also delicious nuggets such as a sweeping and dreamy solo by Meredith in a long dress that she melted into after Corning carried her onstage on her shoulders, and a breathy and fun full cast unison dance that saw Dorfman become giddy with the joyful feeling of it.

The unequivocal star of the production however was Iain Court’s brilliant lighting and stage effects worthy of a Broadway production.  Bathed in an almost constant stage fog, the dancers moved through dazzling lighting patterns and spotlights that not only highlighted them but sometimes followed after them like a puppy dog.  Easily the most ambitious and successful of the Corning and Court collaborations to date, the visual theatrics culminated in a genius moment with Corning dancing a slow-moving, Isadora Duncan-like solo under a heavy waterfall of stage fog.  Partially obscured by the fog at all times, Corning’s graceful and fluid hand and arm movements appeared and disappeared from view like a siren call to the audience to come join her.

As with all of Corning’s works, they are essentially a response to the human condition. And like most choreographers she would like audiences to discover their own meanings, feelings and truths in her work. But with as celebrated a cast of performers as was assembled for with a shadow of…, one can’t help but wish the choreography and the driving purpose behind the work did more to let those talents shine.  As theatrical eye-candy however, with a shadow of… was a knockout.

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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Cleveland Ballet to Perform Newly Enhanced Version of Ramón Oller’s ‘Coppélia’


Lauren Stenroos and Alfredo “Freddy” Rodriguez rehearsing Coppélia. Photo by New Image Photography.

By Steve Sucato

Cleveland Ballet closes out perhaps its most successful mainstage season to date with a reprise of their 2016 hit, Ramón Oller’s adaptation of the comic ballet Coppélia. The first full-length ballet production created on the now 5-year-old company returns to Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre for three performances on April 5 & 6.

“It’s very dear to us,” says company artistic director Gladisa Guadalupe.  “When Ramón [Oller] first choreographed the ballet it was on a young company. Now to bring it back four years later, the company is bigger and the dancers are stronger artistically and technically.”

Based on two tales by E. T. A. Hoffmann, the ballet originally choreographed by Arthur Saint-Léon in 1870 to music by composer Léo Delibes, tells the story of eccentric inventor Dr. Coppélius who makes life-size dancing dolls including his beloved Coppélia who he desperately desires to bring to life. Seeing the lifelike doll Franz, a village youth, becomes infatuated with it to the detriment of his relationship with his intended Swanilda. Through a series of humorous encounters the unlikely trio of Franz, Swanilda and Coppélius become entangled in a web of mistaken identity, misdirection and mischievousness that by ballet’s end once again confirms the adage that true love conquers all.

Oller, a native of Esparreguera, Spain, is an award-winning choreographer who has created ballets for Compañía Nacional de Danza, National Ballet of Spain and New York’s Ballet Hispánico. For his 80-minute 2-act adaptation of Coppélia, also set to Delibes’ music, he says he was inspired by the 1966 film El fantástico mundo del doctor Coppelius. For the most part his version follows the traditional Coppélia storyline. Where things differ is in the second act in his revealing more of Dr. Coppélius’ longing for a family of his own and the idea of real versus imagined love. That comes to its pinnacle in an added dream sequence in which Coppélius dances a tender and more contemporary dance duet with Coppélia who imagines briefly comes to life. Oller also swaps the ballet’s conventional folk dances and mazurkas for fast-paced and intricate partnering work showcasing the talents of the company.


Cleveland Ballet dancers rehearsing Coppélia. Photo by New Image Photography.

Rainer Diaz and Cleveland Ballet dancers rehearsing Coppélia. Photo by New Image Photography.

A cast of 49 including dancers from the company, apprentices, trainees and students from The School of Cleveland Ballet, will take the stage for this reprise. As a reflection of the aforementioned growth of Cleveland Ballet as a company, Oller has made some changes to improve the production including beefing up sections of the choreography to make them more challenging and exciting, and adding more life-size dolls to second act scenes in Dr. Coppélius’ workshop such as Pierrot and Columbine Dolls and a Duke and Duchess pair.

Reprising their roles from 2016, Oller will once again portray the role of the wizard-like doll maker Dr. Coppélius, Elena Cvetkovich, the Coppélia doll, and Bath-native Lauren Stenroos in the role spirited lead role of Swanilda alongside new partner Alfredo “Freddy” Rodriguez as her love interest Franz.


Lauren Stenroos and Alfredo “Freddy” Rodriguez rehearsing Coppélia. Photo by New Image Photography.

“Lauren’s evolution as a dancer over the years has been amazing,” says Oller. “She controls the stage.”

And in keeping with Guadalupe’s vision for Cleveland Ballet as being a lean and mobile troupe with a repertory suitable for touring, Oller’s Coppélia will feature minimal sets in favor of tour-friendly lighting effects and images created by nationally known lighting designer Trad A. Burns.

“I love the simplicity of the ballet,” says Oller. “The most important thing is the story and the dance. This production is very alive.”

Cleveland Ballet performs Ramón Oller’s Coppélia, 8 p.m., Friday, April 5 and 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., Saturday, April 6; Ohio Theatre at Playhouse Square, 1501 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. Tickets are $25-79 and available by calling (216) 241-6000 or  playhousesquare.org. For group sales: (216) 640-8603. 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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Vertigo’s ‘One, One & One’ Leaves Heads Spinning with Delight


Vertigo Dance Company in “One, One & One”. Photo by Rune Abro.

Vertigo Dance Company – One, One & One
Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre
Cleveland, Ohio
March 9, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

The theme of the individual versus the group is nothing new in dance. Countless works have explored some aspect of it. Choreographer Noa Wertheim’s hour-long One, One & One (2017) performed by her Vertigo Dance Company Saturday night at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre, however, offered up a rather unique take on it.

Presented by DanceCleveland, the contemporary dance work by the Jerusalem-based company in their Ohio debut had the visual aesthetics and movement characteristics of works seen regularly on Israeli and European stages. For area audiences who see less of that, it was refreshingly brilliant.

Sound effects of surf and storm, a shovel repeatedly digging in the earth and the distant sound of a dog barking ushered in dancer Daniel Costa slowly pouring a line of dirt from a bucket across the front of the stage to open the work.  As he did, dancer Shani Licht began a slow, dreamlike solo in place, her measured movements lifting and stretching one limb at a time.  Then, joining the two on the bare, stark white stage containing two long bench areas on either side, others began to filter in to lift Licht skyward and move her about the stage — the scene set the tone for a carefully-crafted abstract work ripe with imagery one could read into its theme, but also left open countless interpretations.

Like Wertheim’s fabulous 2015 work Reshimo for the company, One, One & One found lingering beauty in the ordinary. The work’s dancers in grey pants and dark colored shirts executed multiple variations on pedestrian movement such as little shimmies, shakes and butt wiggles along with modern dance head stands and bursts of bending and swooping moment to Avi Balleli’s cinematic original score for the work.

Vertigo Dance Company in “One, One & One”. Photo by Rune Abro.

The atmospheric piece then switched gears as Licht and dancer Hagar Shachal squared off facing each other with arms high in the air and mirroring each other’s movements.  Another metaphor as to “the one” in relationship to a larger concept of “one,” the two women pushed into each other looking like a bird-like courtship dance, brushing the air space mere inches from the other without making contact.

As the work progressed, Wertheim’s choreography painted many more pictures of “the one” in solos, duets, trios and group dancing. The choreography constantly morphed, adding new elements such as hints of Israeli folk dance. For the most part, the movement flowed from the dancers’ bodies in a seamless succession of disparate movement phrases that felt connected. Only a scant few times did some phrases appear forcibly adjoined.

After more dirt was spread covering the stage, repetitive loud bangs in the score like gun shots invaded the theater space and jarred the senses. During this the dancers moved about drawing patterns in the dirt with their feet and kicking up dust clouds that, as in choreographer Pina Bausch’s famous The Rite of Spring (1975) with its dirt covered stage, the visual effect was dramatic but caused some audience members in the front rows to cough and a few to head for the exits.

Vertigo Dance Company in “One, One & One”. Photo by Rune Abro.
Vertigo Dance Company in “One, One & One”. Photo by Rune Abro.

Then, as another visual element of stage fog rolled in from above, below it dancers Korina Fraiman and Costa began a tender duet where the petite Fraiman was lifted and flipped about by Costa as if he were a gust of wind sweeping her up. The duet culminated in him grabbing her by the wrists as you would a child and spinning her round and round for a seemingly head-spinning eternity. 

Wertheim’s clever choreography also juxtaposed lively group dancing with near slow-motion solos. One such example saw Licht move around the perimeter of a quirky and athletic men’s group dance.

One, One & One hit its intensity height when Shachal began to try to separate herself from the other dancers. Turning on her as a group or perhaps seeking to save her from herself, the others surrounded Shachal, who darted and lunged desperately to escape their grasps.  They, like cats with a bird under paw, only reacted to her frantic attempts at escape and all was calm when she lay still on the stage floor resigned to her fate.

The engaging work then ended as quietly as it began, but perhaps with the dancers as a group more as “one” and with the audience of one appreciative mind, standing and applauding.

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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