Benz a Consummate Juliet in BalletMet’s Superb ‘Romeo and Juliet’


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BalletMet’s David Ward and Adrienne Benz in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet with Columbus Symphony Orchestra – Romeo and Juliet
Ohio Theatre
Columbus, Ohio

April 28-30, 2017 

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Since taking over BalletMet’s artistic leadership in 2010, Edwaard Liang has molded the company into more of a contemporary ballet powerhouse with ballets by himself, Christopher Wheeldon, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, Ma Cong and others. With the Columbus premiere of his Romeo and Juliet, April 28-30 at the Ohio Theatre however, Liang asserted BalletMet’s might in classical story ballets as well with a next-level production usually reserved for ballet companies twice its size.

Originally created on Tulsa Ballet in 2012, the 3-act production had opera house-style sets and costumes by David Walker to go with the rich playing of Sergei Prokofiev’s iconic score for the ballet by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra conducted by Peter Stafford Wilson and some of the best classical dancing I’ve seen from the company. In the ballet’s final performance on April 30 however, one light shone above the rest, that of retiring company star Adrienne Benz whose moving performance as Juliet stands with any given anywhere in recent years.

True to Shakespeare’s play and the storyline structure found in most high-level ballet productions of Romeo and Juliet, Liang’s adaptation moved briskly in choreography that was engaging and descriptive. The ballet’s scenes not only told the star-crossed lovers’ familiar story, but captured nicely the atmosphere of Shakespeare’s fictional Verona, Italy setting and its colorful renaissance-era inhabitants.

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(L-R) BalletMet’s Andres Estevez, David Ward and Kohhei Kuwana in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

In typical fashion, Act I introduced us to the feuding Capulet and Montague families including male protagonist Romeo (David Ward), his friend Mercutio (Andres Estevez) and his cousin Benvolio (Kohhei Kuwana) as well as to Juliet’s cousin and antagonist Tybalt, portrayed with icy malice by first-year company member Austin Moholt-Siebert.

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(L-R) BalletMets’ Sarah Wolf, Karen Wing and Kristie Latham in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

Frivolity, swordplay and the flirtations of young men and women made for a vibrant opening scene. Most interesting were Liang’s use of three gruff but sexy harlots danced by Kristie Latham, Karen Wing and Sarah Wolf who, when they weren’t pushing around the villagers, fawned over Romeo and his compatriots and even engaged in some of the sword fighting.

Later in the Act, the ballet shifted scenes to Juliet’s bedroom were we get our first glimpse of Benz as Juliet being playful with her nurse and confident (Leigh Lijoi) while making preparations for that evening’s masked ball. Benz appeared to have leapt from the pages of Shakespeare’s play. Her youthful exuberance and joy made you fall in love with her character instantly and her acting skills and technical prowess were stunning.

As in most Romeo and Juliet ballets, the ball was a lavish affair with the aforementioned costumes and sets to match. The trio of Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio looking to crash the ball were a bit like the three musketeers in their cocky, cavalier attitudes toward those arriving for the ball. Ward as Romeo appeared straight out of central casting. His princely looks and adroit dancing seemed to charm the audience almost as much as it did Juliet in the scene which played out as most do with the two meeting and falling for each other instantly and Romeo and cohorts clashing with Tybalt and Juliet’s would-be suitor Paris, danced with nobility by BalletMet dancer Attila Bongar who was also making his final appearance with the company.

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BalletMet’s David Ward and Adrienne Benz in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

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BalletMet’s David Ward and Adrienne Benz in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

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BalletMet’s David Ward and Adrienne Benz in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

Bathed in golden light and dreamlike, the famous “balcony scene” that followed to end Act I dripped with romance which Benz and Ward let wash over them as the two lovers who then got drunk on each other’s company.  Within this beautiful setting Liang choreographed a beauty of a pas de deux that contained a wellspring of fabulous lifts and carries to go with the character’s unbridled joy which Benz and Ward captured to perfection in their exquisite dancing of it.

Act II opened with us back in the village’s marketplace with the requisite frolicking and celebrations. Wing, as the village’s most brazen harlot, once again made her presence felt strutting about with the kind of aggressiveness she displayed in the lead role of Carmen in Sansano’s Carmen.maquia in 2016. The act continued with Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio playfully teasing Juliet’s nurse who came to marketplace to deliver a note to Romeo from Juliet about meeting in secret with Friar Lawrence (David Spialter) to wed.  It was another charming scene in a ballet full of them that provided a wonderful counterpoint to the ballet’s drama and tragedy.

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(Center) BalletMet’s Karen Wing in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

As with any great tragedy, happiness comes at a cost and in one of the ballet’s most climactic moments Estevez as Mercutio, who was also making his final appearance with BalletMet, delivered a wonderfully acted and danced performance where he was both hero and jester battling and ultimately perishing at the hands of Tybalt in a swordfight. For his part, Moholt-Siebert as Tybalt nearly stole the scene with a “Joffrey Baratheon” from Game of Thrones kind of contemptibility.

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(Center) BalletMet’s Austin Moholt-Siebert and David Ward in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

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(Center) BalletMet’s Carly Wheaton and Austin Moholt-Siebert in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

The act then ended with Romeo taking revenge on Tybalt over Mercutio’s death in an unconscious fit of rage, and then guilt, as Lady Capulet (Carly Wheaton) crazed and bereft, stormed the stage and whipped her headdress into the wings in a somewhat over-the-top reaction to Tybalt’s death; suggesting perhaps there relationship was much more than just aunt and nephew.

The ballet’s third act continued the familiar tale with Romeo and Juliet waking in Juliet’s bedroom after assumingly consummating their secret marriage with Romeo still haunted by Mercutio and Tybalt’s deaths and Juliet not wanting Romeo to go. The pair engaged in another marvelously-crafted and passionate pas de deux.  Later in the scene, after Romeo’s departure, Juliet’s parents forced the issue of her marriage to Paris and Benz showed more of her brilliance conveying in her every step, gesture and heartbreaking tear, the very essence of Shakespeare’s words on the young heroine’s torn state of emotion.

After seeking solace from Friar Lawrence who gave her a potion to fake her own death, Juliet returned to her bedroom where she was visited by the ghosts of Mercutio, as sort of an angel one shoulder telling her not to take the potion, and Tybalt, the devil on her other shoulder urging to take it, which she does.

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BalletMet’s David Ward and Adrienne Benz in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

The ballet’s final scene at the Capulet family tomb brought the tragic tale to its inevitable conclusion as Romeo and Paris faced off in a knife fight at the alter Juliet’s seemingly lifeless body lay with Romeo the lone survivor. Liang then wrapped up the story and the lover’s fates with a rarely used ending in U.S. productions where Romeo sees Juliet wake up from her fake-death coma seconds before he succumbs to the very real poison he just drank to be with her in the afterlife. What must he be thinking in that brief moment? Ward gave us both elation and resignation in seconds it took for that reunion to play out. Benz then true to her character’s grief and determination to forever be with Romeo grabbed Paris’ knife and ended her own life.

A triumph by most any standard of measure, BalletMet’s Romeo and Juliet with its brisk pacing, easy-to-follow story progression and relatable characters would surely resonate with even the most neophyte dance goer. Add to that finely constructed, world-class choreography, perhaps the best ballet score ever written played with heart by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, rich looking sets and costumes and great dancing led by the spellbinding performances of Benz and Ward, and even the most persnickety of balletomanes would have a hard time resisting the production’s allure.

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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Grand Rapids Ballet Begins Search for a New Artistic Director


GRB logo

By Michael Erickson

Grand Rapids, MI, August 15, 2017– Grand Rapids Ballet (GRB) announced today that they are formally beginning a search for a new artistic director for Michigan’s only professional ballet company. Current artistic director, Patricia Barker, announced in June that she accepted the artistic director appointment at Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB). Barker has been in this position with GRB since 2010, and will split her time between GRB and RNZB until the end of the 2017-18 season.

“We have already had a lot of Interest in this position,” said Glenn Del Vecchio, GRB Executive Director. “Patricia’s artistic vision and the success of the company have made GRB a highly respected ballet company. We will find an excellent candidate to continue the artistic excellence Patricia began and our patrons expect.”

A search committee has been formed within GRB that includes current board members, company dancers, and community leaders. Applications will be accepted through September 15, 2017. Interviews will begin in early October with a final decision being made by early December 2017.

A complete job description and details on how to apply can be found at grballet.com/ADsearch. No phone calls, please.

About Grand Rapids Ballet

Celebrating its 47th anniversary this season, Grand Rapids Ballet remains committed to lifting the human spirit through the art of dance under the current leadership of Patricia Barker as artistic director, Glenn Del Vecchio as executive director, and Attila Mosolygo as school director.

A proud recipient of the ArtServe Michigan Governor’s Arts Award for Outstanding Cultural Organization, Michigan’s only professional ballet company has a rich history marked by steady growth, a commitment to excellence, and strong community support. In addition, Grand Rapids Ballet School provides over 250 students with the highest quality dance instruction in a nurturing and encouraging environment and the opportunity to perform in productions by Grand Rapids Junior Company.

Keep up with us on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube, and visit grballet.com today.

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Cincinnati Ballet Announces Exciting Promotions and New Dancers for 2017-2018 Company Roster


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Sirui Liu

By Ashley Kruger

CINCINNATI. (August 16, 2017)–Cincinnati Ballet Artistic Director, Victoria Morgan, is proud to announce the 2017-2018 dancer roster, complete with eight new hires and five promotions, including Sirui Liu, who moves from Senior Soloist to Principal, and Chisako Oga, who moves from Soloist to Principal.

Coming to the U.S from Shanghai, China, Sirui Liu joined Cincinnati Ballet in 2011 as a member of the Corps de Ballet, and has consistently risen through the ranks. “Sirui has an unusual work ethic – she dances to the fullest of her capacity every time,” noted Victoria Morgan. “Her stamina and attention to detail has inspired our artistic staff and her peers. Sirui is always on! I started seeing her as a Principal, watching her in The Nutcracker, in both the Grand Pas (Sugar Plum Fairy) and Snow Queen roles, and working closely with her in Cinderella as the Fairy Godmother. She has improved immensely over the years, and her sky-rocketing ability, matched with her generous on-stage spirit, has earned her Principal status.”

Along with the Sugar Plum Fairy, Snow Queen and Fairy Godmother, Liu has danced feature roles with Cincinnati Ballet including Swanilda in Coppélia, Rose in The Nutcracker’s Waltz of the Flowers, Guinevere’s friend in King Arthur’s Camelot, and she recently danced in several contemporary works, such as Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16, Adam Hougland’s Cut to the Chase, Jennifer Archibald’s Never.Nest, Heather Britt’s Karass, and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Eros Redux. In 2016, Liu was named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch.”

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Chisako Oga

Originally from Carlsbad, California, Chisako Oga joined Cincinnati Ballet’s Corps de Ballet in 2016, and was promoted mid-season to Soloist. Oga had previously been an apprentice at San Francisco Ballet. She has enjoyed several leading roles throughout the 2016-2017 season, including the Black Swan Pas, Swanilda in Coppélia, Guinevere in King Arthur’s Camelot, Sugar Plum Fairy in The Nutcracker, and several contemporary works including Justin Peck’s Capricious Maneuvers, Ma Cong’s Near Light, Adam Hougland’s Cut to the Chase, Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16, Heather Britt’s Karass, Jennifer Archibald’s Never.Nest, and Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s Eros Redux.

“Chisako is well-trained, having attended San Francisco Ballet School on full scholarship. She then danced in SFB’s Second Company for two years before joining the SFB Company. When she arrived in Cincinnati, she was primed and ready for advancement. Her mind is always thinking about what you are going to say, and she is already presenting that thought in a physical expression – smart, fast, inventive and willing! She came to the call of Cincinnati Ballet, seeking a brilliant petit dancer to partner with two of our Principal men. Her technique is impressive, and I learned through my work with her as Guinevere in King Arthur’s Camelot that she has emotional depth to match her ballet technique. She moved up quickly in her first year, and proved she was worthy of Principal status for her second year,” stated Victoria Morgan.

Additional promotions announced include Melissa Gelfin, who has been promoted from Corps de Ballet to the rank of Senior Soloist, and Maizyalet Velázquez who has been promoted from Soloist to Senior Soloist. David Morse has been elevated from Corps de Ballet to Soloist.

Several new dancers join Cincinnati Ballet from across the U.S. and abroad, including two individuals promoted through Cincinnati Ballet’s Second Company: Michael Mengden and Naomi Tanioka, joining as Apprentices.

New hires also include former Sarasota Ballet Principal Dancer, Edward Gonzalez, from Havana, Cuba, joining Cincinnati Ballet as a Senior Soloist; Grace Choi, of Evans City, Pennsylvania, and previously at San Francisco Ballet, joining as a Corps de Ballet Dancer; Marcus Romeo of Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and previously at Boston Ballet, joining as a Corps de Ballet Dancer; Bella Ureta of Seattle, and previously at Boston Ballet, joining as a Corps de Ballet Dancer; Kathleen Dahlhoff of San Francisco, joining as a New Dancer after receiving a BFA from the Alvin Ailey/Fordham University program; Christian Griggs-Drane of Richmond, Virginia, and previously at Grand Rapids Ballet, joining as a New Dancer; Abbey Kay of Ft. Lauderdale, previously at Sarasota Ballet, joining as an Apprentice; and Matthew Griffin of Minneapolis, joining as an Apprentice after receiving a BS in Dance/Arts Administration from Butler University.

Six new dancers join Cincinnati Ballet’s Second Company this season, including Daniel Baldwin, Jonathan Carter, Zoe Donnenfield, Yu Ting Huang, Ethan Kimbrell, and Megumi Nishimori.

This new roster is being announced as Cincinnati Ballet unveils plans to implement a number of exciting initiatives in the 2017-2018 Season as part of a long-term strategy for sustained growth and advancement. Along with a talented company roster, the “new” Cincinnati Ballet also encompasses an eye-catching, refreshed logo and brand identity for the Company, the launch of the Otto M. Budig Academy’s Professional Training Division, the Company’s return to Music Hall for three productions, the introduction of a brand new Family Series, and a groundbreaking partnership with Ballet West to co-present a World Premiere production.

About Cincinnati Ballet

Since 1963, Cincinnati Ballet has been the cornerstone professional ballet company of the region, presenting a bold and adventurous array of classical, full-length ballets and contemporary works, regularly with live orchestral accompaniment. Under the artistic direction of Victoria Morgan, Cincinnati Ballet has become a creative force within the larger dance community, commissioning world premiere works and exploring unique collaborations with artists as diverse as Grammy winning guitarist Peter Frampton and popular, Ohio-based band Over the Rhine. With a mission to inspire hope and joy in our community and beyond through the power and passion of dance, Cincinnati Ballet reaches beyond the stage in programs that allow every person in the region to be part of the continued evolution of dance. To that end, Cincinnati Ballet presents exhilarating performances, extensive education outreach programs and offers top level professional ballet training at Cincinnati Ballet Otto M. Budig Academy.

CONNECT: READ / WATCH / LISTEN / LEARN / ENJOY at cballet.org

Cincinnati Ballet 2017-2018 Season Sponsors: Artswave, Mercy Health, PNC Bank, Ohio Arts Council, Louise Dieterle Nippert Musical Arts Fund, Frisch’s Big Boy, Rhonda & Larry Sheakley, The Otto M. Budig Family Foundation

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