Cincinnati Ballet’s ‘Director’s Cut’ Amused, Charmed and Enthralled


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Maizyalet Velázquez, Sirui Liu and Christina LaForgia Morse in Ma Cong’s “Near Light.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

Cincinnati Ballet
Director’s Cut
Procter & Gamble Hall at Aronoff Center
Cincinnati, Ohio
September 16, 2016

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

To kick off her 20th anniversary season as artistic director of Cincinnati Ballet, Victoria Morgan culled together seven diverse ballets for the program Director’s Cut, performed by Cincinnati Ballet, September 16-17, 2016 at the Aronoff Center’s Procter & Gamble Hall in downtown Cincinnati.

Performed in part to live music by the Cincinnati Ballet Orchestra conducted by Carmon Deleone, Director’s Cut amused, charmed and enthralled opening night, September 16 beginning with New York City Ballet resident choreographer Justin Peck’s “Capricious Maneuvers” (2013).

Presently, one of ballet’s “it” choreographers, Peck’s neoclassical ballet was a satisfying blend of classic NYCB style infused with contemporary ballet sensibilities. Danced to Lukas Foss’ “Capriccio for Cello and Piano” performed live by cellist Nathaniel Chaitkin and pianist Michael Chertock, the ballet for five had a relaxed feel to it.  Dancers paired off in partnered movement phrases, while others nonchalantly stood by watching. Peck’s breezy choreography was playful and sophisticated a la a Mark Morris work. And like a Morris work, its ease look belied its technical difficulty. Up to the challenge, newly promoted senior soloist Sirui Liu shined in the ballet with a combination of textbook form and silky-smooth port de bras.

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Cincinnati Ballet dancers in Justin Peck’s “Capricious Maneuvers.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

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James Cunningham and Sirui Liu in Justin Peck’s “Capricious Maneuvers.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

Next, petite powerhouse Chisako Oga teamed up with José Losada for “Black Swan Pas de Deux,” from Swan Lake choreographed by Morgan after Marius Petipa. In it, Oga was slow to immerse herself in the devilishly seductive Odile character. When she finally did her performance moved from decent to delicious. As “Black Swan” pairings go, Oga and Losada were overall technically solid but lacked chemistry which diminished the famous pas de deux’s emotional impact.

One of the program’s pleasant surprises was company soloist James Cunningham’s whimsical “Prohibition Condition.” Set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich, the solo for CB principal dancer Rodrigo Almarales proved an audience favorite. From the moment Almarales stumbled on to the stage in a comically drunken stupor, he endeared himself to the audience. His mugging and making fun of orchestra conductor Deleone’s movements in the pit elicited audience chuckles. For his part, Cunningham’s well-crafted choreography balanced clever, inebriation-inspired movement with bravura ballet fireworks in which Almarales tossed off series of jumps, pirouettes and attitude turns with relative ease.

Created for San Francisco Ballet in 2008, Yuri Possokhov’s “Fusion” (Excerpts), with music by Graham Fitkin, had a dreamlike atmosphere about it. It opened with dancer Sarah Van Patten performing a contemporary ballet solo on one end of the stage while behind her on the opposite side, a quartet of male dancers, backs to the audience in long skirts, stood with arms around each other’s waists in shadow. Van Patten was soon joined by Luke Ingham and the choreography took on a melancholy mood with bendy movements and those suggesting falling. Moving out from the shadows, the quartet of men then began to softly twirl like ghostly whirling dervishes. Perhaps seeing the ballet in its entirety would give one a better sense of it, nonetheless, the imagery and performances by the dancers in these excerpts related a sense of beauty that stirred internal emotions.

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Sarah Hairston and Zack Grubbs (center) with CBII and Otto M. Budig Academy Students in Marius Petipa’s “Raymonda Grand Pas Hongrois.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

Rounding out the program’s first half, the “Grand Pas Hongrois” from the ballet Raymonda was bittersweet for Cincinnati Ballet fans. On the one hand it was a spectacle of classical ballet pomp and circumstance. On the other however, it was one of principal dancer Sarah Hairston and senior soloist Zach Grubbs last performances. The two audience favorites retired from the company with this production. They will remain with the organization however, taking on leaderships roles at Cincinnati Ballet’s Otto M. Budig Academy.

Danced to music by Alexander Glazunov, Hairston and Grubbs led a corps of eight male-female couples from CB’s academy in Raymonda’s celebratory wedding scene which alternated between sweeping group dances and showy solo variations for Hairston and Grubbs.

A 15-year company veteran, Hairston brought elegance, energy and sass to the role of Raymonda and her dancing, typifying her performing career. As Jean de Brienne, Grubbs was regal and a steady partner to Hairston.

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Melissa Gelfin and Cervilio Miguel Amador in Victoria Morgan’s “Patriotic Pas.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

After the world-premiere of Morgan’s “Patriotic Pas,” a jaunty duet danced by Melissa Gelfin and Cervilio Miguel Amador to familiar tunes contained in Morton Gould’s American Suite such as “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” Director’s Cut concluded with the gem of the evening, the world-premiere of Ma Cong’s “Near Light.”

Amidst a blanket of stage fog and in spotlight, a red rose fell from a woman’s hand into those of a male kneeling before her. Was this a memory or a premonition? The rose was then then passed from one dancer to another who came onstage until finally it disappeared from our sight along with the stage fog.

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Patric Palkens in Ma Cong’s “Near Light.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

Set to a haunting collection of works by composer Ólafur Arnalds, Cong’s contemporary ballet spoke to the viewer on multiple levels. Visually, the combination of Trad A. Burns’ atmospheric lighting and Cong’s velvety movement for the dancers imprinted images of bodies in beautiful motion intertwining, cascading and melting into each other. Emotionally, Arnalds’ aching music and the dancers’ passionate response to it, left one breathtakingly silent. As in “Capricious Maneuvers,” Liu mesmerized. So too did Abigail Morwood whose stellar performance overflowed with intensity, drama and grace.

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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