From Pre-Columbian Statues to a Purple Velvet Sofa and Great Dancing, ‘Best of’ Program had the Goods


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Grand Rapids Ballet dancers in Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Memorias Del Dorado.” Photo by Chris Clark.

Grand Rapids Ballet – Best of MOVEMEDIA
Peter Martin Wege Theatre
Grand Rapids, MI
March 19, 2016

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

To celebrate the fifth season of Grand Rapids Ballet’s successful MOVEMEDIA dance series – a showcase of new works from contemporary choreographers from around the world – artistic director Patricia Barker put together a best of program that included some of the series’ most popular works.

Opening the jam-packed program was an excerpt from sought-after choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa’s “Memorias Del Dorado” (2014).

A crack of thunder and the sound of a woman’s whispered voice ushered in a scene where nine female dancers stood posed like pre-Columbian statues. A lone male dancer moved about them marveling at their beauty as they came to life in front of him and engaged in unison choreography. Built into that choreography was a leaning move a la Michael Jackson’s “Smooth Criminal” music video where the dancers tilted to the side at an extreme angle while their feet remained stationary.

Injected with movements and poses reminiscent of ancient drawings and sculpture, “Memorias Del Dorado” had a wonderful primitive feel carried into the 21st century by Lopez Ochoa. Solid performances were given by the entire cast including dancer Ednis Gomez and mighty-mite Julia Turner, who in a section with eight males dancers, was tossed about like a piece of found treasure for all to see.

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Grand Rapids Ballet dancer Laura McQueen Schultz in Robyn Mineko Williams’ “One Take.” Photo by Chris Clark.

Next, the company reprised former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancer Robin Mineko Williams’ touching “One Take” (2014). The cinematic contemporary dance work like that of an old family movie played back scenes recalling one man’s cherished memories of love and times gone by. Playing on the notion of our lives as being a one take movie, Williams created a world where dancer Nicholas Schutz and Steven Houser as his younger self, drifted between dreamlike vignettes of encounters with an effervescent 1920’s flapper portrayed by Cassidy Isaacson and with his apparent soulmate portrayed by Laura McQueen Schultz.

Full of charm, wit and poignancy, “One Take” is a gem in GRB’s ever-growing repertory that is worth seeing time and again especially its spellbinding closing duet danced brilliantly the two Schultz’s to Claude Debussy’s moving “Clair de Lune.”

A marathon in itself with several false endings, Kirk Peterson’s finale for his 2013 ballet, “Amazed in Burning Dreams,” was a real barnburner. The group ballet for 14-dancers which closed the program’s first act was danced to music by Philip Glass and was awash in fast, precision footwork, sharp turns and a whole lot of energy.

An excerpt from Olivier Wevers’ “The Sofa” (2012) then opened the program’s second act. Danced by Mr. Schultz and Yuka Oba, the wonderfully-crafted duet featured a purple velvet sofa as its focal point.  As if a symbol of the pair’s complicated relationship, the dancers struggled to sit together on it. The two perched, leaned and lay on it and pushed about in a tension-filled tango of sorts. The duet’s genius coming in the carefully cultivated realization that Oba’s character cared more about the sofa than Schultz’s character.

Another duet, Thom Dancy’s “You’ve Gotta Be Kidding Me!” (2013) followed. Set to music by Beethoven, the humorous duet featured the short-in-stature Atilla Mosolygo and the much taller Darrell Haggard in a zany battle of wills.  In it, retired company star Mosolygo, who is now artistic director of GRB’s Junior Company, deliciously portrayed a mischievous soul trying everything to get noticed by Haggard. Mosolygo made faces at, climbed on, atop and hung from Haggard trying to get a rise and reaction from him. Nothing worked, even slap to his behind. Finally Mosolygo’s character fell before Haggard grabbing hold of his legs and audibly sobbing which elicited a sympathetic reaction from him. The clever duet was a joy to watch with both dancers displaying perfect comedic timing and restraint.

The lone new work on the program, “Joe & Ida,” came from choreographer Penny Saunders who previously created “base ∞” for MOVEMEDIA 2015. As with many of Saunders’ works “Joe & Ida” was danced to an eclectic soundtrack including music from composers Thomas Ades and Michael Nyman as well as former The Moldy Peaches singer/songwriter Kimya Dawson.

Six dancers (3 men, 3 women) essentially portrayed one romantic pairing in a series of engaging trios and duets that expressed a range of emotion. Saunders’ inventive contemporary movement sat well on the dancers including new arrival Matthew Wenckowski who impressed along with dancers Isaac Aoki and Caroline Wiley.

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Grand Rapids Ballet’s Steven Houser, Cassidy Isaacson and Mark Dave Naquin in Brian Enos’ “Nae Regrets.” Photo by Chris Clark.

Best of MOVEMEDIA concluded with Brian Enos’ “Nae Regrets” (2013). A Scottish-flavored travelogue set to updated traditional Scottish songs arranged by Martyn Bennett, the work was a series of vignettes that, like Williams’ “One Take,” reflected on one man’s (a kilt-wearing Thomas Seiff) exploits. Playful and spirited, the work had many delightful moments including Isaacson, like a leprechaun in hip-hugger pants, teasing a group of drunken men, and the statuesque Morgan Frasier acting as a siren luring men into misbehaving.

Not only a creative incubator for choreographers and a well-spring of new challenges for GRB’s dancers, MOVEMEDIA and the repertory generated from it, has helped build a reputation at home and nationally that Grand Rapids Ballet is now a place where exciting new works are taking place. For a regional company with bigger aspirations there can be no better calling card.

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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