Lauper, Liang, Balanchine and Bowie: BalletMet’s ‘Breaking Ballet’ an Entertaining Ride


BalletMet dancers in James Kudelka's

BalletMet dancers in James Kudelka’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet – Breaking Ballet
Capitol Theatre
Columbus, Ohio
October 2, 2015

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

To open its 2015-2016 season, BalletMet artistic director Edwaard Liang put together a more populist program of ballet works to further dispel the stereotype that ballet is all raised pinkies and tutus appealing only to the stuffed shirt crowd. Anyone who frequents BalletMet’s programs probably already knows that ballet can come in a myriad of forms. Breaking Ballet, October 2-10 at the Riffe Center’s Capitol Theatre in Columbus, set about proving that point from the get go with the world-premiere of James Kudelka’s Girls Just Wanna Have Fun set to the music of 1980’s pop icon Cyndi Lauper.

Kudelka, a former artistic director of The National Ballet of Canada, has over the past decade created several works for BalletMet. Girls Just Wanna Have Fun is the latest in a series that includes 2010’s The Man in Black and last season’s Real Life in which Kudelka taps into folk dance patterning to help create a distinct movement language that permeates each ballet.

Decked out in 80’s-flavored costumes (sans the leg warmers and headbands) courtesy of costume designer Erin E. Rollins, the ballet bopped through a suite of Lauper hits.

BalletMet dancers in James Kudelka's

BalletMet dancers in James Kudelka’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

Capturing a music video vibe, Kudelka’s choreography had the dancers repeating exaggerated hip sways, sideways waddles and arms-on-shoulders Greek folk dance-like circle dances.

Dancing to Lauper’s “True Colors,” BalletMet’s Karen Wing and Austin Finley slowly swayed back and forth, shifting their feet with Wing locked on Finley with and intense gaze during the seductive duet. Then dancers Jessica Brown, Arielle Friedman, Samantha Lewis, Caitlin Valentine-Ellis and Carly Wheaton formed a horizontal line across the stage as a bank of low hanging stage lights swiveled toward and away from the audience simulating bright vehicle head and tail lights. The women shimmied, jogged and grooved to Lauper’s catchy tune “I Drove All Night.”

Following two splendidly danced pas de deuxs – Adrienne Benz and Gabriel Gaffney Smith to “The World is Stone” and Emily Gotschall and Andres Estevez to “All Through the Night” –   and an impassioned solo by Benz to “I’m Going to be Strong” that reflected each song’s lyrics, the ballet concluded with the cast reprising parts of the ballet to the song “Money Changes Everything.”

BalletMet's Olivia Clark (center) and dancers in James Kudelka's

BalletMet’s Olivia Clark (center) and dancers in James Kudelka’s “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

A special encore to “Who Let in the Rain” followed which honored retiring dancer Olivia Clark. Matched with the ballet’s five male dancers, Clark was smooth and elegant in the Vegas-style dance number.

BalletMet's Caitlin Valentine-Ellis and Gabriel Gaffney Smith in Edwaard Liang's

BalletMet’s Caitlin Valentine-Ellis and Gabriel Gaffney Smith in Edwaard Liang’s “Distant Cries.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet's Caitlin Valentine-Ellis and Gabriel Gaffney Smith in Edwaard Liang's

BalletMet’s Caitlin Valentine-Ellis and Gabriel Gaffney Smith in Edwaard Liang’s “Distant Cries.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

Originally set on former New York City Ballet stars Wendy Whelan and Peter Boal, Liang’s Distant Cries (2005) was a heartfelt pas de deux about longing.  Petite company star Valentine-Ellis dancing to the music of Tomaso Albinoni was thoughtful and vulnerable in appearing to conjure up the memory of perhaps an erstwhile lover portrayed by Smith. Smith appeared out of shadow to partner the supple Valentine-Ellis in a sequence of high bended lifts, sharp turns and desperate embraces. Doubt as to the pair’s true relationship came in the form of Valentine-Ellis more than once, holding her face in her hands as if to hide her emotions. The memorable pas de deux concluded with Smith fading back into the darkness and Valentine-Ellis directing a pained silent cry toward the audience.

BalletMet's Miguel Anaya (center ) and company in George Balanchine's

BalletMet’s Miguel Anaya (center ) and company in George Balanchine’s “Allegro Brilliante.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet dancers in George Balanchine's

BalletMet dancers in George Balanchine’s “Allegro Brilliante.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

Like the Beatles’ music, the ballets of George Balanchine seem to never get old in people’s hearts. That held true once again as the Oct. 2 audience ate-up BalletMet’s dancers’ performance of the Balanchine masterwork Allegro Brilliante (1956). Led by first year company member and former Ballet Nacional de Cuba soloist Miguel Anaya, the company gave a solid performance of the vibrant classical work. Anaya is a godsend to the company’s classical repertory. His eye-popping technical prowess instantly raises the bar on what audiences can expect from the company in classical works.

BalletMet dancers in Edwaard Liang's

BalletMet dancers in Edwaard Liang’s “Dancing in the Street.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet dancers in Edwaard Liang's

BalletMet dancers in Edwaard Liang’s “Dancing in the Street.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

Breaking Ballet concluded with a similar vibe to how it began with the world-premiere of Liang’s Dancing in the Street. Originally supposed to be an all David Bowie hit music driven ballet, issues with song rights cut that back to a few obscure early Bowie tracks plus the Mick Jagger/Bowie hit the ballet was titled after. That left the door open for Liang to augment the ballet’s score with original music (partially played live by cellist Marc Moskovitz and violinist Katherine McLin) by multi-talented company member Smith. Smith also danced the ballet’s lead role, a being in all white with superpowers. Specter? Angel? The only thing for sure was Smith’s character liked to party and was looking for love. Enter new company member Grace Ann-Powers in a flattering green dress as Smith’s character’s love interest. The former dancer with Montreal’s La La La Human Steps was wonderfully compelling and is one to watch in future productions.

Overall Dancing in the Street was a lark of a ballet, full of crowd-pleasing dancing and a fitting end to a production that placed a premium on fun.

Breaking Ballet continues 7:30 p.m., Thursday, October 8 and 8 p.m., Friday, October 9 and 10. Riffe Center’s Capitol Theatre, 77 S. High Street, Columbus. $29-69. (614) 460-7211 or balletmet.org. 

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