BalletMet’s Triple Bill of World Premiere Ballets Finds Beauty in Strange Situations


BalletMet dancers in Brian Enos' "Les Absents". Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet dancers in Brian Enos’ “Les Absents”. Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet Columbus – Innovations
BalletMet Performance Space
Columbus, OH
October 24 – November 8, 2014

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

One thing is clear about Edwaard Liang’s first full season as artistic director BalletMet Columbus; the honeymoon period with him as new director shows no signs of being over. On the heels of this past September’s landmark production of Twisted, Liang and company have kept the world-class performance vibe going with Innovations. The triple bill of world-premiere ballets at the company’s own intimate downtown Columbus performance space featured ballets from celebrated choreographers Brian Enos, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano and BalletX’s Matthew Neenan.

The sold-out Halloween night performance on October 31 began with Enos’ “Les Absents”. The ballet for four men and four women was danced to music from the documentary film Tabarly by Yann Tiersen. In it, the ballet’s female dancers began moving their arms up and down with the robotic precision of music box dancers. Their rigid balletic movement quickly melted away when their male counterparts joined them on stage.

Costumed like old world European peasants at a festival, the dancers then engaged in a series of delightful vignettes performed to French accordion music. Enos’ playful choreography led to a romantic storyline between two characters portrayed by dancers David Ward and Emily Gotschall. The happy coupe’s fairytale romance abruptly came to an end in a surprising twist as the mood of the ballet turned nightmarish and the pair were torn from each other’s arms by the other dancers in a slow motion scene that left the audience wondering if all that occurred before was a dream. Then left alone at opposites of the stage the pair reunited but with that came the realization their relationship was not as it was before. Approaching Ward, Gotschall leaned sideways, surrendering to gravity and falling into his arms as he guided her body to the floor. He then backed away from her leaving her to rise and stare emotionally defeated out into the audience to end the ballet.

That dramatic shift in the direction of Enos’ choreography served to add emotional depth to the ballet while jolting the audience’s perceptions on what they had just witnessed. Was this romanticized relationship all in Gotschall’s character’s mind?  And was what happened in the final scene a death knell to that romantic fantasy?

BalletMet dancers Karen Wing and Gabriel Gaffney Smith in Gustavo Ramirez Sansano's "Lovely Together". Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet dancers Karen Wing and Gabriel Gaffney Smith in Gustavo Ramirez Sansano’s “Lovely Together”. Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

This past April former Luna Negra artistic director Sansano made a positive impression on BalletMet audiences with his brilliant work “18+1”.  The premiere of his “Lovely Together,” had a similar effect.  The highlight of the evening, the “sock ballet” like“18+1” was fashioned with a European/Israeli contemporary dance aesthetic. Set to a variety of classical works including music from the Keller Quartet and The Stuttgart Piano Trio, “Lovely Together’s” fifteen dancers poured through mini-solos and interactions where they pawed at, clutched, and pulled away from one another. Heads bobbed in a slow, cinematic movement study to haunting music. At times the dancers froze in place looking like oddity shop figurines. Sansano’s choreography was delivered in fits of movement where the dancers acted squirrely creating a unique form of emotional beauty.

In a duet danced by Karen Wing and Gabriel Gaffney Smith, Wing pressed the top of her head into Smith’s back, supporting him when he stumbled in his locomotion.  The two nerdy characters then faced off and began jumping up and into each other when Smith tried to leave. Wing stared him down as if to say “you’re not leaving”; he shortly did in spite of her intense glares.

Then to music with sound effects of the turning pages of a book, the dancers zipped through more peculiar choreography characterized by athletic runs, sinking knees, and expressions of wanting.

The ballet ended with Smith and Wing’s characters reuniting. They two stared into each other’s eyes with naïve affection then fittingly turned in opposite directions and walked off the stage.

BalletMet dancers Caitlin Valentine Ellis and David Ward in Matthew Neenan's "On the Other Side".  Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet dancers Caitlin Valentine Ellis and David Ward in Matthew Neenan’s “On the Other Side”. Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

The program’s final offering was the premiere of Neenan’s “On the Other Side”. Set to music by Mendelssohn, the ballet for seven dancers was not the best ballet I have seen from Neenan but its fun and athletic choreography had its moments.

The ballet began with Smith standing still in spotlight as dancer Bethany Lee danced around him. Lee’s turn-filled solo gave way to a series of fine performances such as a plucky solo by dancer Caitlin Valentine-Ellis to galloping piano music; a speedy trio featuring Smith, Gotschall and Lee; a leggy pas de deux featuring dancer Courtney Muscroft and partner Attila Bongar and an introspective and beautifully danced pas de deux between Ward and Valentine-Ellis. The ballet came full circle at its end with Smith once again stationary in spotlight and Lee moving toward him.

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