Category Archives: Airings

Cleveland Ballet to Perform Newly Enhanced Version of Ramón Oller’s ‘Coppélia’


Lauren Stenroos and Alfredo “Freddy” Rodriguez rehearsing Coppélia. Photo by New Image Photography.

By Steve Sucato

Cleveland Ballet closes out perhaps its most successful mainstage season to date with a reprise of their 2016 hit, Ramón Oller’s adaptation of the comic ballet Coppélia. The first full-length ballet production created on the now 5-year-old company returns to Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre for three performances on April 5 & 6.

“It’s very dear to us,” says company artistic director Gladisa Guadalupe.  “When Ramón [Oller] first choreographed the ballet it was on a young company. Now to bring it back four years later, the company is bigger and the dancers are stronger artistically and technically.”

Based on two tales by E. T. A. Hoffmann, the ballet originally choreographed by Arthur Saint-Léon in 1870 to music by composer Léo Delibes, tells the story of eccentric inventor Dr. Coppélius who makes life-size dancing dolls including his beloved Coppélia who he desperately desires to bring to life. Seeing the lifelike doll Franz, a village youth, becomes infatuated with it to the detriment of his relationship with his intended Swanilda. Through a series of humorous encounters the unlikely trio of Franz, Swanilda and Coppélius become entangled in a web of mistaken identity, misdirection and mischievousness that by ballet’s end once again confirms the adage that true love conquers all.

Oller, a native of Esparreguera, Spain, is an award-winning choreographer who has created ballets for Compañía Nacional de Danza, National Ballet of Spain and New York’s Ballet Hispánico. For his 80-minute 2-act adaptation of Coppélia, also set to Delibes’ music, he says he was inspired by the 1966 film El fantástico mundo del doctor Coppelius. For the most part his version follows the traditional Coppélia storyline. Where things differ is in the second act in his revealing more of Dr. Coppélius’ longing for a family of his own and the idea of real versus imagined love. That comes to its pinnacle in an added dream sequence in which Coppélius dances a tender and more contemporary dance duet with Coppélia who imagines briefly comes to life. Oller also swaps the ballet’s conventional folk dances and mazurkas for fast-paced and intricate partnering work showcasing the talents of the company.


Cleveland Ballet dancers rehearsing Coppélia. Photo by New Image Photography.

Rainer Diaz and Cleveland Ballet dancers rehearsing Coppélia. Photo by New Image Photography.

A cast of 49 including dancers from the company, apprentices, trainees and students from The School of Cleveland Ballet, will take the stage for this reprise. As a reflection of the aforementioned growth of Cleveland Ballet as a company, Oller has made some changes to improve the production including beefing up sections of the choreography to make them more challenging and exciting, and adding more life-size dolls to second act scenes in Dr. Coppélius’ workshop such as Pierrot and Columbine Dolls and a Duke and Duchess pair.

Reprising their roles from 2016, Oller will once again portray the role of the wizard-like doll maker Dr. Coppélius, Elena Cvetkovich, the Coppélia doll, and Bath-native Lauren Stenroos in the role spirited lead role of Swanilda alongside new partner Alfredo “Freddy” Rodriguez as her love interest Franz.


Lauren Stenroos and Alfredo “Freddy” Rodriguez rehearsing Coppélia. Photo by New Image Photography.

“Lauren’s evolution as a dancer over the years has been amazing,” says Oller. “She controls the stage.”

And in keeping with Guadalupe’s vision for Cleveland Ballet as being a lean and mobile troupe with a repertory suitable for touring, Oller’s Coppélia will feature minimal sets in favor of tour-friendly lighting effects and images created by nationally known lighting designer Trad A. Burns.

“I love the simplicity of the ballet,” says Oller. “The most important thing is the story and the dance. This production is very alive.”

Cleveland Ballet performs Ramón Oller’s Coppélia, 8 p.m., Friday, April 5 and 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., Saturday, April 6; Ohio Theatre at Playhouse Square, 1501 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. Tickets are $25-79 and available by calling (216) 241-6000 or  playhousesquare.org. For group sales: (216) 640-8603. More information at clevelandballet.org.

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.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Airings

Akron’s ‘Lose Your Marbles’ Festival Returns with a Decidedly Different Approach


Neos Dance Theatre. Photo by Dale Dong.

By Steve Sucato

After taking a year off in 2018, Akron’s dance-centric Lose Your Marbles festival is back with a smaller, regionally focused event taking place Friday, March 1 at the Akron Civic Theatre.

Founded by Neos Dance Theatre artistic director Robert Wesner with the support of a three-festival, $100,000 John S. and James L. Knight Foundation grant, Lose Your Marbles (a reference to Akron’s history as a marble making center in the late 1800s), first go round in the summer of 2017 was an ambitious undertaking that featured a diverse group regional and national music and dance acts.

With the initial goal of presenting more experimental and avant-garde artists in traditional and alternative performance spaces a la the many “Fridge” festivals seen around the country, Wesner says although the pilot festival was a success in many ways, he and his fellow festival organizers felt more evaluation was needed to develop a sustainable path forward for the event.

“It was decided [for Lose Your Marbles II] to dial back the numbers of different groups and really focus on local artists so we could further develop relationships with existing dance audiences in the area and survey their interest in seeing other types of contemporary artists in future, says Wesner.”

This year’s scaled down festival is part of a strategy to get future festivals to a place where the initial goal of presenting tried and untried local, state and national artists in varying performance spaces around Akron can be realized.  

“The third year is going to be a continuation of what we have done in these first two festivals,” says Wesner. “This is a full on exploration of what Lose Your Marbles is and can be and the audience is in it with us.”  

Returning for Lose Your Marbles II are 2017 festival participants GroundWorks DanceTheater, Inlet Dance Theatre, Neos Dance Theatre and Verb Ballets.  Familiar to area dance goers, three out of the four troupes annually perform at the City of Akron’s Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival.

GroundWorks DanceTheater. Photo courtesy of Lose Your Marbles.

GroundWorks DanceTheater will open the one-night-only event with company artistic director and former Ohio Ballet star David Shimotakahara’s “LUNA” (2012).  Set to an original score by Oberlin Conservatory of Music grad Peter Swendsen, the work, says Shimotakahara “explores the nature of desire and its deeply held and often conflicting motivations. These polarities developed into a series of physical relationships that reveal many facets in a cycle of experience. That cycle is like the moon, as unknown and primal as it is familiar.”

“LUNA’s” celestial motif will fit in nicely with Akron Civic Theatre’s Moorish castle decor complete with an atmospheric twinkling starlit sky and moving clouds ceiling display.  

Inlet Dance Theatre. Photo courtesy of Lose Your Marbles.

Next, highlighting the humanitarian crisis of over 60 million refugees fleeing war, famine, violence and persecution worldwide, Inlet Dance Theatre’s work “Sojourn” offers up a message of compassion, empathy and grace for those in desperate need. Choreographed by Inlet founder/artistic director Bill Wade in collaboration with the company’s dancers, the work in five-section is danced to music by Max Richter.


Neos Dance Theatre. Photo by Dale Dong.

Wesner’s Neos Dance Theatre then reprises choreographer Joseph Morrissey’s “Near Light” that premiered at last summer’s Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival. Performed to music by composer Ólafur Arnalds, Wesner describes the ballet as being a dynamic and fairly aggressive work movement-wise with a lot of twists and turns in its partnering sequences.

Verb Ballets. Photo by Bill Naiman.

The roughly two hour program will close with Verb Ballets in choreographer Adam Hougland’s “K281” (2007). Originally created on Cincinnati Ballet, the 14-minute ballet gets its name from Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in B-flat major, K. 281 that it is danced to.  Staged by Jill Marlow Krutzkamp and original cast member, the ballet for three male-female couples is full of quirky contemporary dance movement. Each couple has their own distinct personality says Marlow; the first has a fun, free relationship, the second’s mood is somber and the third has a peculiar relationship where the woman moves like a rag doll.

Neos Dance Theatre with the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation presents Lose Your Marbles II, 8 p.m., Friday, March 1, Akron Civic Theatre, 182 South Main Street, Akron. Tickets are $23 for reserved seating, $18 general admission, and $5 for students with ID and available online at loseyourmarbles.org and at the door that evening.

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Airings

Neos Dance Theatre’s ‘1940’s Nutcracker’ brings Nostalgia to a Beloved Holiday Tradition


Neos 1940 Nutcracker 2016 green1

Anna Trumbo in Neos Dance Theatre’s “1940’s Nutcracker.” Photo courtesy of Neos Dance Theatre.

By Steve Sucato

As holiday traditions go, The Nutcracker ballet ranks among this country’s most well known. German author E.T.A. Hoffmann’s classic tale reworked by French writer Alexandre Dumas (The Three Musketeers) into the saccharine version we know about the fantastical adventure to faraway lands of young girl with her beloved Nutcracker doll come to life, is one that has entertained audiences and sparked the imagination of young children for decades.

Memorable characters such as uncle Drosselmeyer, the Mouse King, Sugar Plum Fairy and of course Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart…wait…what…Bogie and Bacall? That’s right, in Northeast Ohio’s Neos Dance Theatre’s 1940’s Nutcracker the Hollywood stars are just a few of the unusual characters to appear in this unique, regionally-flavored production.

Perhaps the most re-interpreted ballet story in history, there are hundreds of versions of The Nutcracker at all levels from dance school productions to million dollar-plus extravaganza’s to choose from each holiday season across the country.

For choreographer and  founding artistic director of Neos, Robert Wesner, the idea for a Nutcracker set in the 1940’s came from his having performed various versions of the ballet upwards of a thousand times in his dance career and feeling he could improve on it.

“For me, I always felt the first and second acts of the ballet [as they are done traditionally] lacked a through line,” says Wesner. “I wanted better storytelling and a fuller representation of the main character’s journey.”

Neos_2904_alt

Neos Dance Theatre’s Kassandra Lee as Marie in the “1940’s Nutcracker.” Photo courtesy of Neos Dance Theatre.

Wesner says in thinking about his vision for a Nutcracker production he began to look at how we as a culture [in the U.S.] celebrate Christmas. “I feel as though our conceptions of the holiday are pretty rooted in old Christmas-themed movies from the 1940’s such as “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” says Wesner. “What really sealed the deal for me that this concept could work for a Nutcracker production was the time period was within arm’s reach of the memory of a lot of audience members.”

Currently there are three different versions of Neos’ 2-hour 1940’s Nutcracker specific to regions in northern Ohio. This year the company will perform two of them with a cast of upwards of fifty dancers. The first, at the Renaissance Theatre in Mansfield, Ohio December 8 & 9 is themed to Richland County circa the 1940s. The second, December 14-16 at Lorain County Community College’s Stocker Arts Center in Elyria is themed to Lorain County during that period.

While the dance elements for each version and Tchaikovsky’s iconic score for the ballet are basically the same in each, the video backdrops used in the ballet gleaned from historical photos and imagery specific to each region changes.

“The experience for an audience member to be able to look at their own history and see a bit of themselves in it is impactful,” says Wesner.

With this approach Neos’ 1940’s Nutcracker not only seeks to deliver the magic of the Nutcracker story to its younger audience members, but also a familiarity and sense of nostalgia for those members young at heart.

Nutcracker_Photo2

Neos Dance Theatre dancers in “1940’s Nutcracker.” Photo courtesy of Neos Dance Theatre.

Neos’ Nutcracker maintains the ballet’s familiar structure in telling the dreamstate story of young Marie (Clara in other productions) adventures and budding romance.  Where it most differs from others is in its substitution of familiar characters from the original with those from the 1940’s. Johnny, Maries’ next door neighbor becomes the Nutcracker Prince, Bogie and Bacall take the place of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, Marie’s WWII soldier father becomes Drosselmeyer and Mae West and Rosie the Riveter make appearances in the place of other second act characters.

In a holiday landscape littered with cookie-cutter Nutcracker productions, Neos’ 1940’s Nutcracker is a wonderfully refreshing change for those seeking something different without giving up any of the charm and magic the Nutcracker story carries with it.

Akr3-4x6

Neos Dance Theatre dancers in “1940’s Nutcracker.” Photo courtesy of Neos Dance Theatre.

Neos Dance Theatre performs 1940’s Nutcracker:

8 p.m., Saturday, December 8 and 2 p.m., Sunday, December 9 at the Renaissance Theatre, 138 Park Avenue West, Mansfield, Ohio. Tickets are $15-50 (Veterans with valid IDs are eligible for two free tickets for either performance when reserved in advance at the Renaissance box office).  To purchase tickets or for more information visit neosdancetheatre.org, mansfieldtickets.com or call (419) 522-2726.

11 a.m., Friday, December 14 (Student Matinee), 7:30 p.m., Saturday, December 15 and 2 p.m., Sunday, December 16. Lorain County Community College’s Stocker Arts Center – Hoke Theatre, 1005 N Abbe Rd, Elyria, Ohio.  Tickets are $5-35. To purchase tickets or for more information visit neosdancetheatre.org, lorainccc/stocker.edu or call (440) 366-4040.

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Airings