Category Archives: Airings

North Pointe Ballet Production Celebrates The ‘Why’ Of What They Do


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North Pointe Ballet in “What’s Your Why?”. Photo by Paul Lender, Left of Center photography.

By Steve Sucato

Why artists do what they do is a constant source of curiosity for many.  It is perhaps in trying to understand their motivations that we gain a better understanding of them and their art.  In North Pointe Ballet’s program What’s Your Why?, March 14 and 15 at the Lorain Palace Theater, the West Side ballet company seeks in part to answer those questions of understanding for themselves and audiences.

“The whole show is a reflection on what motivates us as artists and people,” says NPB’s founding director Janet Strukely-Dziak.

An encore performance of the 90-minute repertory program in 3-acts that the company premiered last October at Cleveland’s Near West Theatre, What’s Your Why? begins with Strukely-Dziak’s frenetically-paced group ballet “The Chase” (2009).

Performed to music from the soundtrack of the 2004 movie National Treasure by former YES guitarist Trevor Rabin, “The Chase” gets its inspiration from a young ballet dancer’s constant drive toward perfection,” says Strukely-Dziak.

Next, the company will perform excerpts from Arthur Saint-Leon’s 1870 comedic ballet “Coppelia”, adapted and staged for the company by NPB assistant director Melaina Kampf.

Rounding out the program’s first act will be “Quiet Chaos” (2003) choreographed by former Mercyhurst University Dance Department chair Tauna Hunter, a former mentor of Strukely-Dziak’s. Set to music by Philip Glass and Canadian singer-songwriter Jennifer Berezan, the ballet for 8-dancers is about escaping life’s day-to-day chaos and finding peace.

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North Pointe Ballet dancer in Tauna Hunter’s “Quiet Chaos”. Photo by Paul Lender, Left of Center photography.

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North Pointe Ballet in “Swan Lake”. Photo by Paul Lender, Left of Center photography.

Act 2 of the program coincidentally showcases Act II of Marius Petitpa and Lev Ivanov’s ballet “Swan Lake” (1895) to music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It features NPB principal dancer Elizabeth Radachi as Odette, the White Swan and Matthew Robinson, formerly of Cleveland’s Dancing Wheels, as Prince Siegfried.  In a recent rehearsal of the ballet at Jillian Rian’s Dance School in North Ridgeville, the statuesque Radachi, partnered by Robinson, showed a quiet and steady confidence in her dancing while leading a young corps de ballet of dancers of varying skill as swans.

Act 3 contains the most personal of the ballets on the program in the form of Strukely-Dziak’s “Because of You,” which tells of the motivations behind her founding NPB in 2016 and of the company’s underlying mission to make classical ballet accessible to the community it serves by offering family-friendly, easy-to-understand, professional ballet productions in the western suburbs of Cleveland.

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Janet Strukely-Dziak and son Lucas in “Because of You”. Photo by Paul Lender, Left of Center photography.

Set to an eclectic mix of rock and dance music from Guns N’ Roses, The Doors, Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake and others performed live by the NPB band, the emotional ballet stars Strukely-Dziak and her 9-year-old autistic son Lucas and looks back on their lives at the genesis of North Pointe Ballet. In addition to the pair, the cast will include NPB company and student ensemble dancers as well as performers from Lorain’s Spectrum Resource Center & School.

“The ballet and the program are a reflection of what North Pointe Ballet is all about” says Strukely-Dziak. “We are all in this together; let’s share our love of dance with everyone”.

North Pointe Ballet presents encore performances of What’s Your Why?, 7 p.m., Saturday, March 14 and 2 p.m., Sunday, March 15; Lorain Palace Theater, 617 Broadway Ave., Lorain, OH. Tickets are $15-20 and available at northpointeballet.org, lorainpalace.org or by calling (440) 245-2323.

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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Ballet Legato’s Debut Production a Bold Take on a Familiar Storybook Character


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Artwork courtesy of Ballet Legato.

By Steve Sucato

With the popularity of recent movies and television shows taking familiar storybook characters and inventing new storylines such as Hansel & Gretel being witch hunters and Peter Pan being an evil lad looking to harvest the “heart of the truest believer” on the TV series Once Upon a Time, it was only a matter of time before the dance world got onboard the alternate storyline train.  Perhaps the first to do so in Northeast, Ohio is its newest professional dance company, Ballet Legato with their debut production, Red Riding Hood & the White Witches, an original take on the Brothers Grimm “Little Red Riding Hood” character. The company performs the ballet February 15 & 16 at Saint Ignatius High School’s Breen Center for the Performing Arts.

Founded in 2019 by former Ohio Dance Theatre principal dancer Jennifer Muselin, the mission of the North Ridgeville, Ohio-based troupe she says is to “introduce artistic and innovative repertoire from classical to contemporary works and connect with our community and familiarize them with the depth and relevance of dance as an art form.”

“Starting a professional ballet company has been on my bucket list for years,” says Muselin, Ballet Legato’s executive artistic director. “After leaving Ohio Dance Theatre I took a long hiatus from dance and now wanted to return to my passion.”

Conceived and choreographed by Muselin, the 2-act ballet is set in a small Irish village in the 1200’s and tells a story of manslaughter, human sacrifice and an eternal curse — You know, family-friendly entertainment…in a dark, Brothers Grimm kind of way.

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(L – R) Richard Oaxaca, Domonique Glover, Dijon Kirkland, Kassandra Lee and Caleb Waybright in a rehearsal of “Red Riding Hood & the White Witches”. Photo by Joan Lederer.

“Our goal was to make sure the ballet wasn’t too scary and was appropriate for young audience members,” says Muselin.

Set to a music score Muselin compiled from movie soundtracks and video game tunes, the ballet incorporates a few themes found in Catherine Hardwicke’s 2011 motion picture Red Riding Hood such as taking place during a Blood Moon and involving Scarlett’s (Red Riding Hood) father Bron being a part time wolf.

In the ballet, Bron accidentally kills one of three white witches while hunting in the forest near his village and is cursed by the remaining witches to turn into a wolf with every full moon. To remain human the rest of the time he must sacrifice a young girl from the village to the witches. If he fails to do so, he then must sacrifice Scarlett, and failing that he will remain a wolf forever. The ballet then moves through various attempts to save Scarlett and her father from their unpleasant fates. Through plot twists that include Scarlett’s love interest Liam, the tale ramps up the tension and drama before coming to unexpected ending.

With this ballet audiences shouldn’t come expecting to see the familiar “Red Riding Hood” tale. The only thing they will recognize from the traditional tale is that “there will be a Red Riding Hood and she has a cape,” joked Muselin.

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(L – R) Dijon Kirkland, Kassandra Lee and Domonique Glover in a rehearsal of Ballet Legato’s “Red Riding Hood & the White Witches”. Photo by Joan Lederer.

The 90-minute ballet will be performed by Ballet Legato’s 4-member troupe of Point Park University grads Natalie Atman, Megan Carcioppolo and Jennifer Milani along with former Dancing Wheels Company dancer Caleb Waybright. They will be joined by guest dancers Kassandra Lee, from Neos Dance Theatre as Scarlett, former Toledo Ballet dancer Domonique Glover as Bron and Wisconsin’s Kanopy Dance dancer Richard Oaxaca as Morrigan the Raven of Death along with 16 student dancers from Muselin’s JAM Dance Academy.

For a brand new ballet company having their introduction to audiences be a story ballet with the heart of a horror movie is a gutsy move. Nonetheless, Ballet Legato is forging a unique path forward for itself that is rather refreshing in an industry dominated by the rehashing of the same (albeit often great) tales over and over again.

Ballet Legato performs Red Riding Hood & the White Witches, 7 p.m., Saturday, February 15 and 2 p.m., Sunday, February 16. Saint Ignatius High School’s Breen Center for the Performing Arts, 2008 W. 30th St., Cleveland. Tickets are $15-25. Tickets and information at balletlegato.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.

 

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BALLETMET’S ‘ALICE’ TO BRING NEWNESS TO CARROLL’S FAMILIAR TALES


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Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

By Steve Sucato

As humans we are taught there are no limits to our creativity. While in theory that may be true, ask any working choreographer and they will tell you that the realizations of their creative endeavors almost always come with limitations. Compromises due to current technology, the abilities of artists they are working with, and most often the monetary costs involved. Such is the case for Edwaard Liang’s new family-friendly production of ALICE, being performed by his Columbus, Ohio-based BalletMet, February 14-16 at the city’s Ohio Theatre.

As is common for mid-level ballet companies to save on production costs, Liang and BalletMet have purchased costumes and sets from another production instead of making their own originals. They come from Septime Webre’s popular Alice (in Wonderland) that Washington Ballet debuted in 2012. Montreal-based designer Liz Vandal, who has worked with Cirque du Soleil created the 530 fanciful costumes used and James Kronzer the ballet’s whimsical set elements. For Liang, in creating his new ballet, that meant he would be somewhat constrained by those very costume and set elements.

“While we don’t follow the same narrative [as Webre’s production] and we don’t have the same musical score,” says Liang, “The commonality is whatever characters he [Webre] decided to create for his production are only what we have available for ours.”

Apart from the sets and costumes, Liang’s new production, like Webre’s, will be a mash-up of characters and events from Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” (1865) and “Through the Looking-Glass” (1871) books. Additionally, Liang will incorporate story elements from former BalletMet artistic director Gerard Charles’ 2006 Alice in Wonderland production for the company. The 2-act ballet throughout will bounce between storylines and characters from the two books with more of an emphasis on book one. Liang also chose not to use some of the characters found in Webre’s production including the pig babies, humpty dumpty and others. One character he kept not found in many existing “Alice” ballets will be the Jabberwocky from Carroll’s “Through the Looking-Glass”.

The ballet is set to a compilation of music from English composers Edward Elgar and Gustav Holst arranged and edited by Oliver Peter Graber.  While Liang’s libretto for the ballet will be very familiar to audiences, he changes things up a bit in the tea party scene where he has added more characters and where he plants the seed of a possible romantic interest between the characters of the Mad Hatter and Alice.

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Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

“In Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” there isn’t any sort of crush or romance,” says Liang. “It’s all about madness and the wild absurdity of Wonderland.” Liang says he sees his version of Mad Hatter as sort of a Sisyphus character and the tea party scene his rolling a boulder up a hill only to have it to roll back down when it nears the top, repeating this for all eternity. In this recurring loop of a scene, he says “I wanted a hint of humanity when Alice and Hatter are close together in a dance and she touches him, waking him briefly from his madness,” says Liang.

Entrusted with conveying this heartfelt moment as Mad Hatter will be South Bend, Indiana-native Michael Sayre in his 7th season with BalletMet.  Sayre will perform the role for the February 14 & 15 evening performances.

“There is not a very heavy emphasis on a romance between Hatter and Alice in the Tea Party scene,” says Sayre. “But as it progresses it builds to a point where it is clear there is an unrequited love going on.”

Sayre will also factor into another of Liang’s changes for the ballet, a beefed up dance scene for the Cheshire Cat character that he will dance for the February 15 & 16 matinee performances.

“The Cheshire Cat dances with Alice for a bit and there is a substantial solo for him,” says Sayre.

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Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

Liang says he wanted to keep his new version as much of a dancing production as possible.  That can also be seen in the character of the White Rabbit who receives a lion’s share of dancing in it says 3rd year company member Jim Nowakowski. The Rochester, New York-native will dance the White Rabbit role for the February 14 & 15 evening performances.

“I am onstage a lot and have a variation full of bravura jumps and turns,” says Nowakowski.

In addition to the aforementioned dancers, the large cast for the 2-hour production will include BalletMet and BalletMet 2’s full complement of dancers along with trainees and students of the BalletMet Academy. Add in some puppets, dancers flying and special effects and BalletMet’s new ALICE should prove a highly entertaining start to a new year in dance.

BalletMet performs ALICE, 8 p.m., Friday, February 14; 2 p.m. & 8 p.m., Saturday, February 15 and 2 p.m., Sunday, February 16. Ohio Theatre, 39 E State St, Columbus, Ohio. Tickets $52-94. Visit balletmet.org for tickets and full casting.

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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