Bodiography Contemporary Ballet
Butler County Community College’s Succop Theater
September 29, 2018
Reviewed by Steve Sucato
After making waves this summer at Israel’s largest dance celebration, the Karmiel Dance Festival with her solo Metamorphosis, Bodiography Contemporary Ballet founder/artistic director, Maria Caruso returned with Bodiography to Butler County Community College’s Succop Theater to wow area audiences with a reprise of her interpretation of Martha Graham’s iconic solo “Lamentations.”
The jam-packed program, Saturday, September 29, featured the 18-year-old resident company of the theater along with Butler area community dancers and dance majors from La Roche College where Caruso is chair of the performing arts department.
It began with the Caruso choreographed “My Mozart” (2017), set to music by Mozart. In it, a quartet of barefoot women moved through vibrant and engaging neo-classical ballet movement that was harmonious with Mozart’s uplifting music.
Performed with vigor by dancers Amanda Fisher, Nicole Ivan, Bethany Schimonsky and Kaylin Treese, the ballet’s unique movement phrasing and wonderfully spaced dancer patterning showed a side of Caruso’s choreography rarely seen; one that favored classicality over contemporary ballet motifs. “My Mozart” was a delight from start to finish and a highlight of the program.
Following three student works and one by Caruso that featured the La Roche College dance majors and Butler area community dancers, the most intriguing being Andrea Levick’s “Retorque” (2018), Bodiography’s dancers returned in Caruso’s “Break the Verse” (2018).
The 8–minute work for 11-dancers to a score by Pittsburgh composer Austin Beckman of experimental band Walrus Tales, began with the dancers clustered in a circle and moving as a unit. A prime example of Caruso’s go to choreographic recipe of turns, jumps and flashy, sweeping movement, the work didn’t so much “break the verse” as repeat the same verses found in many of her past works from her impressive catalog of creations for the company. “Break the Verse” was a fine enough ballet on its own just one followers of the company will have seen several times in various iterations.
While “Break the Verse” may have taken something that was supposed to be new and made it old hat, next, Caruso brought a freshness and emotional power to Martha Graham’s classic “Lamentations” solo that rivaled the 1930 original.
Licensed by and trained rigorously by the répétiteurs at the Martha Graham Dance Company to perform “Lamentations,” Caruso was breathtaking in her bravura performance of it. Set to Zoltán Kodály’s “Andante poco rubato, Op. 3, No. 2” from his 1910 Nine Pieces for Piano, Caruso, seated on a bench, was technically spot-on tugging, pulling and manipulating the famous purple tube-like costume into triangles, squares and rhomboids. On loan from the Graham Dance Company and made of the original non-stretch fabric, the costume was no easy feat to work and Caruso did so while adroitly capturing the passionate expression of sorrow contained within the 4-minute solo. Easily one of 2018’s best performances by a Pittsburgh-area artist, sadly this would be the last time Caruso was licensed to perform the solo.
Rounding out the program was Caruso’s autobiographical “Doors and Windows” (2018). Performed to music by The 1975, Ludovico Einaudi, Kevin Keller, and Sigur Ros, the 36-minute ballet told the thinly veiled back story of how Bodiography came to be.
Narrated in voiceover by Fisher the cast of 7-dancers including Caruso, the ballet abstractly told of Bodiography’s (and Caruso’s) ups and downs over the years. Prone to melodrama in spots, “Doors and Windows” overall, was an entertaining work showing off the dancers’ skills. Costumed in formal evening wear, the ballet moved through a variety of lighthearted, playful and jazzy vignettes as well as a few poignant ones. Of note was a moving solo by Caruso revealing a time of turmoil and heartache in her life, an athletic trio danced by Caruso and company trainees Josef Hartman and Derrick Izumi who appeared to compete for her favor — the men rattling off several well-executed jumps, lifts and turns — and a duet between Caruso and Fisher who appeared to be both a confidant to her character and perhaps a younger version of her.
Caruso says when “Doors and Windows” tours Europe later this year it will do so without Fisher’s voiceover, a move that may improve the ballet, taking it from a personal message to one more universal.
Enjoyable and at times brilliant, Bodiography’s program was a testament to Caruso and the company’s growth and evolution since 2000; one that has seen positive strides made both at home and abroad.
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.