Category Archives: Dance Reviews 2020

Verb Ballets’ All-Female Choreographer Program Delivers Mixed Results


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Verb Ballets Elizabeth “Betsie” Schaeffer and Antonio Morillo in Kay Eichman’s “Mendelssohn Italian Symphony”. Photo by Jackie Sajewski.

Verb Ballets – 4X4: Four Works by Female Choreographers
Breen Center for the Performing Arts
Cleveland, OH
February 8, 2020

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

No doubt Verb Ballets production of 4X4: Four Works by Female Choreographers is to be commended for giving more opportunities to female choreographers. As a production however, it delivered mixed results with those opportunities.

Dedicated to the memory of Millie Carlson, the mother of Verb Ballets artistic director Margaret Carlson, the program led off with a reprise of Kay Eichman’s neo-classical ballet “Mendelssohn Italian Symphony” (2018) that was set to music of the same name by Felix Mendelssohn. Inspired by its invigorating music Eichman’s ballet in 3 sections was awash in musicality and Verb’s dancers performed it with enthusiasm and effervescence. Skirting the line between an academic look and feel to the choreography and that of a truer artistry, Eichman’s ballet had its four male/female couples executing lovely group movement patterns, engaging phrases and changes in dancing pace that was a delightful beginning to the stylistically varied program.

And while Eichman’s ballet served to illuminate Verb’s dancers, the next work, Verb principal dancer Kate Webb’s “Stellar Syncopations” (2019), was more earthbound in its effect.

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Verb Ballets in Kate Webb’s “Stellar Syncopations”. Photo by Kolman Rosenberg.

A relative newbie as a choreographer, Webb’s ballet showed she is still finding her way as a choreographer in terms of craft and editing. The ballet, said to visualize the life-cycle of a star, was further hampered by the music it was set to. Commissioned for Verb’s 2019 joint program with the Chamber Music Society of Ohio entitled Akron Legends of Jazz and Dance, Webb set “Excursions” by jazz pianist Pat Pace that was used for choreographer Heinz Poll’s 1982 ballet of the same name. And while Pace’s score had its own musical merits, the forced marriage of the less than dance friendly and dated composition with Webb as choreographer resulted in a ballet that was a bit clunky at times and had trouble holding interest. Kudos however to Verb artistic director Margaret Carlson for giving her artists other opportunities to create, and to Webb for her efforts, but the ballet overall proved itself not ready for prime time. I look forward however to seeing the promising Webb’s evolution as choreographer in future works.

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Lieneke Matte and Benjamin Sheppard in Agrippina Vaganova’s “Diana y Acteon Pas de Deux”. Photo by Kolman Rosenberg.

Next, Verb dancers Lieneke Matte and Benjamin Sheppard performed Agrippina Vaganova’s 1935 showpiece “Diana y Acteon Pas de Deux”. Restaged by Cuba’s Laura Alonzo, the 8-minute classical pas de deux, a favorite of ballet competitions, got the most out of Matte and Sheppard as dancers. The pair turned in a respectful performance of the technically difficult and somewhat flashy pas de deux full of lifts, jumps and pirouettes to the delight of the Breen Center audience.

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Verb Ballets in Stephanie Martinez’s “Wandering On”. Photo by Kolman Rosenberg.

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(L-R) Daniel Cho, Antonio Morillo, Benjamin Shepard and Hunter Hoffman in Stephanie Martinez’s “Wandering On”. Photo by Kolman Rosenberg.

The program concluded with Chicago-based choreographer Stephanie Martinez’s Wandering On (2017).  The contemporary dance work for 4 men and 7 women set to music by composers Lars Meyer, Ezio Bosso and others on a theme of traveling to another realm in search of freedom and enlightenment had the most comfortable fit on Verb’s dancers. A vibrant work with snappy movement, Verb’s dancers appeared to kick their performance energy and stage presence into overdrive.  Of particular note in the atmospheric work was a men’s section bursting with jumps, leaps and aggressive turns and the performances of dancers Emily Dietz, Daniel Cho and newcomer Elizabeth “Betsie” Schaeffer.

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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Bodiography’s ‘Unveiled’ Revealed Caruso’s Entertaining Forward Vision


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Bodiography in Virginie Mécène’s “Curse Upon Iron”. Photo by Eric Rose.

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet Company – Unveiled
Byham Theater
Pittsburgh, PA
February 7, 2020

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

A greater diversity in its repertoire and a showcasing of the organization’s many performance troupes is what Bodiography Contemporary Ballet Company founding artistic director Maria Caruso says is driving the current direction of the organization. That path forward was on display for all to see in Bodiography’s latest home season production Unveiled.

The 90-minute program was highlighted by another of Caruso and company’s collaborations with artists who have ties to the Martha Graham Dance Company — Graham 2 director Virginie Mécène and former Graham Company star Jacqulyn Buglisi and her Buglisi Dance Theatre.

The stylistically varied program began however not with the work of a former Graham disciple, but with a reprise of former Anna Sokolow Dance Company dancer and professor of dance emerita at Princeton University, Ze’eva Cohen’s 20-minute “Meditation on a Square,” commissioned by Bodiography in 2006.

The pseudo-classical modern dance work set to ambient music by Scottish multi-percussionist Dame Evelyn Glennie, appeared to reflect on the secular and the sacred in our everyday lives. For the work, the Israeli-born Cohen used a mix of music including traditional Sephardic song that helped conjure up an idealized image of a decades-old Israeli village where young men gathered to play basketball and young women to folk dance.  Ironically, the scene depicting youth life felt a bit juvenile itself in its choreographic approach. Cohen made up for it in sections that followed with spiritual themes to them including a dramatic male duet performed with feeling by BCB’s Derrick Izumi and guest artist Ty Graynor of the Limon Dance Company. The duet was one of struggle both physically and of faith.

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(l-r) Ty Graynor and Derrick Izumi in Ze’eva Cohen’s “Meditation on a Square.” Photo by Eric Rose.

The remainder of “Meditation on a Square” followed a similar pattern with the secular life sections somewhat lacking (apart from an entertaining women’s folk dance trio) compared to those with more sacred intent.

Following a reprise of Caruso’s 2012 ballet Fractured and Rebuilt, performed by Bodiography’s student troupe BCB2, the main company premiered Caruso’s “No Strings Attached.”

The ballet was set to music by Ludovico Einaudi, Marbeya Sound and the Nelue song “No strings Attached” (feat. Kayele) and was inspired by Caruso’s “recent nights in the Al Wadi desert looking at the stars while being serenaded by a world class DJ,” says the program notes. That inspiration manifested itself onstage as a fast-paced and free-spirited ballet. In it were plenty of movement fireworks for Bodiography’s dancers including lifts, leaps and dizzyingly quick turns across the stage. It also contained some real head-scratching moments such as when the stylishly-costumed women in the ballet suddenly stopped in their tracks to execute awkward headstands in the middle of the stage.

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Virginie Mécène and Kevin Predmore in Jacqulyn Buglisi’s “Threshold”. Photo by Eric Rose.

The meat of the program and its most engaging works came after intermission beginning with Buglisi’s signature duet “Threshold” (1991). Danced to Estonian composer Arvo Pӓrt’s haunting Fratres, the 18-minute piece performed by Mécène and husband Kevin Predmore, opened on Mécène under an oval layer of fabric that covered center stage. Mécène writhed and contorted her body as if escaping a birthing sac.  Limbs jutted and stretched at the fabric membrane with an inherent grace.  The dramatic duet had a Graham-like quality in its approach. Then free of her bonds, Mécène crawled onto the back of Predmore who marched her around the stage on all fours. Said to be the embodiment of the angel of death, Predmore’s character appeared determined yet caring in ushering Mécène’s character across the threshold between life and what comes after.  The work’s stunning and powerful imagery came to a climax with Mécène rising to stand atop Predmore’s back and him rearing up like a stallion before he returned her to the fabric tomb she emerged from and then exited the stage on all fours.

Both mature dancers exuded an undeniable stage presence honed over decades in the work and their performances were passionately brilliant.

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Bodiography in Virginie Mécène’s “Curse Upon Iron”. Photo by Eric Rose.

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Blakeley White-McGuire in Jacqulyn Buglisi’s “In the name of the fire, and the flame, and grace”. Photo Eric Rose.

Next, came the premiere of Mécène’s commissioned work for Bodiography, “Curse Upon Iron”.  The 7-minute work for 9 dancers took its title from another Estonian composer Veljo Tormis’ uber dramatic music the work is set to. Mécène’s choreography was big and bold and along with Tormis’ music evoked a sense of menace and intrigue.  Also a nod to Graham in its look, the work was anything but a curse for Bodiography’s dancers who were spectacular in it.

Switching gears from the fullness of “Curse Upon Iron,” Buglisi’s new solo “In the name of the fire, and the flame, and grace” (2019), performed by former Graham Company principal dancer Blakeley White-McGuire, was a reaction to the current world refugee crisis and spoke to a feeling of being invisible in the world. Danced to music by Max Richter, White-McGuire dipped, lunged and let out silent screams along a thoughtfully-crafted path of movement. Her vivid facial expressions and depth of feeling gave voice to a work whose sentiments carried beyond the moment.

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Ty Graynor and Bethany Schimonsky in Maria Caruso’s “Light by Love 2”. Photo by Eric Rose.

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Maria Caruso in her solo “Unveiled”. Photo by Eric Rose.

A sequel to one of Caruso’s best and most celebrated ballet works, the critically-acclaimed romantic pas de deux “Light by Love” (2015), the premiere of “Light by Love 2” picked up where the original left off with its two lovers taking the next step in their relationship. Performed by Graynor and Bodiography’s Bethany Schimonsky, “Light by Love 2”captured the tenderness of the original in close-quartered and embracing choreography but it lacked a bit of the original’s genuineness. Nonetheless, the pas de deux was a lovely next scene in what Caruso hopes will blossom into an evening-length ballet.

The premiere of Carsuo’s latest solo work for herself “Unveiled” followed. A nod to several past solos involving sensual movement and costume changes during it. Caruso at her most Fosse-like jazz sultriness began the slinky solo costumed in a black men’s suit and hat then danced her way out of them and into a choreographic display of her feminine wiles that concluded with her back in the men’s suit by solo’s end.

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Bodiography in Maria Caruso’s “Psalm 23”. Photo by Eric Rose.

Rounding out the diversely entertaining program was Caruso’s latest group work “Psalm 23” danced to music by Bobby McFerrin. The spirited and spiritual work served as a sort of thank you note to the audience for being a part of Unveiled and those in the audience responded in kind with robust applause at program’s end.

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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Compagnie Hervé KOUBI’s ‘What the day owes to the night’ takes Audience on an Unforgettable Dance Journey [REVIEW]


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Compagnie Hervé KOUBI in “What the day owes to the night.” Photo by Karim Amar.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

The second to last production of DANCECleveland’s 2019-2020 season, French troupe Compagnie Hervé KOUBI arrived in Cleveland to a sold-out show last Saturday, February 15 at Playhouse Square’s Mimi Ohio Theatre.  Those attending got what they came for as the all-male company (for this production) of 15 mostly former street dancers from Algeria, Morocco France, Italy, Israel and Slovenia eagerly lived up to audience expectations in a dazzling performance of choreographer Hervé Koubi’s 2013 work What the day owes to the night.

Presented by DANCECleveland and Tri-C Performing Arts, What the day owes to the night gets its title and a bit of inspiration from Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra’s 2010 novel of the same name about a boy moved from one family to the next. Koubi, who grew up in Cannes, France, took that idea and applied it to his own personal journey of discovery of his Algerian heritage that the abstract contemporary dance piece explores. Anchored in capoeira, gymnastics, parkour and breakdance movement, What the day owes to the night took the audience along for a ride of extremes in athleticism and grace.

The company’s physically-ripped bare-chested and barefoot dancers in long white flowing skirts atop white pants tempered the rawness of North African/Mediterranean street dance with the well-rehearsed stage choreography of Koubi that made for a potent combination that was both mesmerizing and awe-inspiring.

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Compagnie Hervé KOUBI in “What the day owes to the night.” Photo by Olivier Soulie.

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Compagnie Hervé KOUBI in “What the day owes to the night.” Photo by Nathalie Sternalski.

Danced to a wide-ranging atmospheric score comprised of original music by Belgian musician/sound designer Maxime Bodson along with music by Hamza El Din, Jean-Sébastien Bach, Sufi music and silence, the mood of the work shifted from high-energy to dreamlike and mystical and back again.  Within that, the dancers performed an array of upside down whirling dervish spins on their heads and hands, gymnastic tumbling runs and various capoeira-inspired jumps and leg sweeps. The dancer’s high-flying machismo-fueled antics at times gave way to periods of lush, slow movement reminiscent of butoh dance troupe Sankai Juku with the occasional dancer coming to a dead stop to take in his surroundings and the efforts of his fellow dancers or marching in rows like some kind of street dance clergy on the move to sacred choral music.

The non-stop piece sans intermission appeared to follow no central figure along this journey, instead showcasing a bevy of solos, duets and group dances that gave each of the company’s dancers room to shine.

One of many visually bold movement sequences repeated a few times in the work found long-dreadlock-haired dancer El Houssaini Zahid lifted backwards onto the shoulders of several fellow dancers and falling backwards to the ground, taking the entire company of dancers onstage with him like collapsing dominoes — the effect was spiritual.

What the day owes to the night concluded with dancer Bendehiba Maamar emerging from the full company of dancers to the front of the stage to quietly recite in Arabic a poem by Koubi as the stage lights gradually dimmed. He repeated the phrase “I went there” followed by those places that were perhaps reflected in the dance work’s journey. Fittingly, as the curtain closed on the troupe, the audience erupted with a well-deserved standing ovation.

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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