Category Archives: Dance Reviews 2015

Neglia Ballet, Philharmonic give new life to ‘Nutcracker’


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Yuha Tomita as young Marie in Neglia Ballet Artists’ “The Nutcracker.” Photo courtesy of Neglia Ballet Artists.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

San Francisco Ballet founder and artistic director Willam Christensen, credited with the first complete performance of “The Nutcracker” ballet in the United States on Christmas Eve 1944, couldn’t have foreseen the love affair American audiences would have with the ballet in the decades since – making it one of this country’s most cherished holiday traditions.

Now a Buffalo holiday tradition, the seventh annual presentation of Neglia Ballet Artists’ “The Nutcracker” ballet Saturday night, November 28, 2015 in Shea’s Performing Arts Center, in collaboration with the Buffalo Philharmonic Orchestra and Shea’s, once again reinforced that love affair with a magical production that excited the senses and warmed the hearts of audience members of all ages.

Based on E.T.A. Hoffman’s well-known 1816 story “The Nutcracker and the Mouse King,” the mostly traditional production was conceived, choreographed and produced by Neglia Ballet Artists’ artistic director/principal dancer Sergio Neglia and executive director Heidi Halt.

Set to Tchaikovsky’s iconic score for the ballet, performed live by the BPO under the baton of associate conductor Stefan Sanders, the production in two acts – featuring a cast of some 120 characters – opened on the Christmas Eve party at the home of the affluent Stahlbaum family.

The lively party atmosphere introduced the audience to young Marie Stahlbaum, the ballet’s protagonist, danced by Yuha Tomita and her mischievous brother Fritz (Adrien Malof) as well as their mysterious uncle Drosselmeyer, portrayed once again by Irish Classical Theatre artistic director Vincent O’Neill. During the scene, the fresh-faced Tomita was full of life as young Marie. A fine actress and dancer, Tomita was a delight, as was the sister-torturing antics of Malof as Fritz. In giving Marie a Nutcracker doll during the party, Drosselmeyer set into motion a magical journey Marie would embark on during the rest of the ballet, beginning with a nightmarish battle of mice and men.

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(L-R) Brian Pagkos as the Rat king battles Sergio Neglia as the Nutcracker while Vincent O’Neill as Drosselmeyer looks on. Photo by Mary White.

Wonderfully lit by lighting designer Dyan Burlingame and costumed by Donna Massimo, the surreal “Battle” scene saw Marie’s Nutcracker doll come to life as the life-size leader of an army of toy soldiers who battled an army of pirate-outfitted rats.

The frenetic scene kicked the ballet into high gear with cheese-firing artillery and cavalry helping the Nutcracker (Sergio Neglia) defeat the Rat King (Brian Pagkos) and his cohorts and save Marie. At scene’s end, the Nutcracker was again transformed by Drosselmeyer, this time into a handsome Cavalier, danced by American Ballet Theatre corps dancer Jose Sebastian, and young Marie into an adult, danced by fellow ABT dancer, soloist Luciana Paris. The pair embodied a sense of youthful wonderment as they entered a land of snow, surrounded by dancing snowflakes to end the ballet’s first act. One of the ballet’s best group dances, the “Snow” scene, choreographed by Halt, evoked images of a swirling, snow-filled wonderland.

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The “Snow” scene in Neglia Ballet Artists’ “The Nutcraker.” Photo by Mike Benz.

Act Two saw adult Marie and her Cavalier arrive at the “Land of Sweets,” where confectionary-themed dances were performed for them by dancers from foreign lands. Highlighting those dances were: a sensual and sleek Mary Beth Hansohln and her steady partner James Graber reprising their roles in “Arabian,” Walter Garcia in the explosive “Trepak,” in which he barreled through a series of high-flying leaps and rapid-fire turns, and “Flowers,” another well-crafted group dance by Halt.

This year was only the second time Neglia did not dance the role of the Cavalier. His emotional and power-packed stage presence was missed but the handing over of the torch this time round to Sebastian proved the right move. With clean, elegant lines, jumps and leaps, Sebastian danced marvelously and was a solid partner to the stunning Paris. The pair’s dancing in the ballet’s “Grand pas de deux” was spellbinding. Paris’ beautiful facility and extension along with her precise footwork and grace as a dancer, put an exclamation point on Neglia Ballet Artists’ heartfelt and memorable The Nutcracker production.

Neglia Ballet Artists’ The Nutcracker continues 2 p.m., Today, Nov. 29. Shea’s Performing Arts Center, 646 Main St., Downtown. $29-75. 1-800-745-3000, ticketmaster.com, Shea’s Box Office or sheas.org.

A version of this review first appeared November 29, 2015 on The Buffalo News’ webstie: Click here to read. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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‘Count …The Legend of Dracula’ Frightfully Entertaining Despite Flaws


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Jose Soares in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .” Photo by Ashlyn Duke.

Lake Erie Ballet with Neos Dance Theatre – Count …The Legend of Dracula
Lake Erie Ballet Performance Studios
Erie, Pennsylvania
November 5, 2015

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

For Lake Erie Ballet’s inaugural production in its new 1020 Holland Street facility that will soon be home to the 59-year-old dance school, its professional company and a Black Box Theater, LEB, in conjunction with Mansfield, Ohio-based Neos Dance Theatre, presented Neos artistic director Robert Wesner’s Count …The Legend of Dracula.

The ballet created in 2010 took on an added air of spookiness in LEB’s dark, semi-raw, pre-renovation performance space that will soon be  transformed into dance studios.

Wesner’s version of the Dracula story differed from the many Dracula ballets currently in circulation by focusing on different aspects of Irish author Bram Stoker’s original 1897 Gothic horror novel. Wesner’s ballet excluded Count Dracula’s henchman Renfield, often seen in other productions and added a number of ancillary characters from townspeople to vampires in order to accommodate more roles for children and teens in the family-friendly ballet production. Perhaps most intriguing however, was Wesner’s choice to humanize the Dracula character by presenting him as not just a heartless, bloodthirsty monster, but a once caring man who still pined for his long dead wife Elizabetha.

(L-R) Francisco Aguilar and Izabelly Possatto in Robert Wesner's "Count …The Legend of Dracula ."

(L-R) Francisco Aguilar and Izabelly Possatto in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .” Photo by Ashlyn Duke.

The ballet in two acts opened with the introduction of English estate agent Jonathan Harker, danced by LEB’s Francisco Aguilar and his fiancée Mina, danced by LEB’s Izabelly Possatto in a love pas de deux. The pair had nice chemistry in Wesner’s smooth, flowing choreography set to soft music.

The mood then quickly turned from sweet to accosting as Harker arrived in Transylvania to meet with Count Dracula about purchasing land in England and was met on his way by a group of gypsies looking to rob him. With this scene, and subsequent others, Wesner, who piecemealed the ballet’s score together from a mix of classical, heavy metal and rock music, began to fully introduce the use of thematic music to represent each group of characters (gypsies, vampires etc.). It’s also where the problems with this approach became evident. Abrupt shifts from classical music to loud heavy metal were jolting and the back and forth between various musical styles was at times off-putting.

Escaping the gypsies, Harker finally met with Count Dracula portrayed by LEB’s Jose Soares. Seeing a photo of Mina who resembled his late wife Elizabetha, Dracula, flashed back to the incident that forever separated him from her. And after killing a gypsy in a vengeful fit of rage Dracula was cursed by another gypsy into a depraved immortal existence.

(center) Anna Trumbo and Theresa Holland in Robert Wesner's "Count …The Legend of Dracula ."

(Center) Anna Trumbo and Theresa Holland in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .”

Jose Soares in Robert Wesner's "Count …The Legend of Dracula ."

Jose Soares in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .” Photo by Ashlyn Duke.

Soares was a standout as the Count. His dancing had an ease to it with clean lines and an ability to emote the various states of his character’s psyche.

Fattened with added scenes to provide dancing opportunities for LEB’s student dancers, the ballet’s first act dragged at times but Wesner’s choreography overall proved a nice fit for the mixed ability cast of student dancers and professionals.

LEB Student dancers in Robert Wesner's "Count …The Legend of Dracula ."

LEB Student dancers in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .” Photo by Ashlyn Duke.

The ballet’s second act seemed to flow better and contained more action in advancing Stoker’s tale.

Recovering from his not-so-friendly encounter with Dracula at the home of Mina’s friend, Lucy, Jonathan joined Mina and friends for an engagement party for Lucy and her fiancé, Arthur (Ethan Lee). During the party a disguised Dracula and his minions lured Lucy away and turned her into a vampire. Once bitten, Neos’ Juliana Freude as Lucy was ravenous. She exuded intense swings of emotion and struck fear as Dracula’s latest vampire bride. It was a role her skills as a dancer and actress seemed perfect for.

(L-R) Juliana Freude and Ethan Lee in Robert Wesner's "Count …The Legend of Dracula ." Photo by Ashlyn Duke.

(L-R) Juliana Freude and Ethan Lee in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .” Photo by Ashlyn Duke.

(L-R) Izabelly Possatto and Jose Soares in Robert Wesner's "Count …The Legend of Dracula ."

(L-R) Izabelly Possatto and Jose Soares in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .” Photo by Christine Erin.

The second act’s action and drama built as Jonathan, Arthur and Mina sought to reclaim Lucy from the dark side to no avail.  The ballet concluded with the men having to drive a stake through the heart of the now undead Lucy, Dracula abducting Mina, and Jonathan, Arthur and a band of gypsies cornering and killing Dracula and saving Mina.

While Count …The Legend of Dracula had its flaws, in the end it was a fine community production. LEB’s trio of professionals especially Soares were splendid, as were Neos’ Freude, Lee and dancers Theresa Holland, Anna Trumbo and Mary-Elizabeth Fenn.

(Center) Jose Soares in Robert Wesner's "Count …The Legend of Dracula ."

(Center) Jose Soares in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .” Photo by Ashlyn Duke.

 

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Columbus Dance Theatre’s ‘Dancers Making Dances’ a mixed bag worth digging into


CDT's Elena Keeny (center) in Jaime Kotrba’s “Isolation.” Photo by John Ray.

CDT’s Elena Keeny (center) in Jaime Kotrba’s “Isolation.” Photo by John Ray.

Columbus Dance Theatre – Dancers Making Dances
Fischer Theatre
Columbus, Ohio
October 23, 2015

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Columbus Dance Theatre kicked off its 2015-2016 season with its annual Dancers Making Dances program in which CDT company members choreographed on each other.

Like most productions featuring works by mostly novice dancemakers, the program on October 23 at the Columbus Dance Theatre’s Fischer Theatre, was a mixed bag in terms of quality and refinement. It led off with what would be its highest quality offering Christian Broomhall’s “A Dozen Places,” that set a high standard few works on the program would approach.

Set to a trio of Indie-folk tunes by singer-songwriter Sam Beam (a.k.a. Iron and Wine), Broomhall, a former dancer with BalletMet and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, put the full weight of his past movement experiences dancing the works of great choreographers into creating a gem of his own.

Essentially an extended contemporary dance duet performed by himself fellow former BalletMet dancer Kerri Riccardi, “A Dozen Places” was a quiet, tender piece that swept up the viewer in its soft current like a winding stream.

CDT's Christian Broomhall and Kerri Riccardi in Broomhall’s “A Dozen Places.” Photo by John Ray.

CDT’s Christian Broomhall and Kerri Riccardi in Broomhall’s “A Dozen Places.” Photo by John Ray.

CDT's Christian Broomhall and Kerri Riccardi in Broomhall’s “A Dozen Places.” Photo by John Ray.

CDT’s Christian Broomhall and Kerri Riccardi in Broomhall’s “A Dozen Places.” Photo by John Ray.

Broomhall’s choreography for the first of its three sections fostered the image of a romantic couple conversing through movement.  The pair leaned into and fell into each other. Each targeted touches that gently nudged the other into motion. And while Iron and Wine’s song “Muddy Hymnal,” musically fit the mood of the section, its lyrics seemed at odds with the picture that played out before us.  In contrast, the work’s second section danced to the song “Cinder & Smoke,” pitted Broomhall and Riccardi on opposite sides of a movable wall mirroring and shadowing each other’s unseen movements but not able to touch.

Entering into the mix were dancers Erika Junod and Jaime Kotrba who appeared to be echoes of Riccardi’s character, flanking her at times and other times moving two more mini-walls about the stage that hid and revealed the work’s dancers with magical results.

Well thought-out, wonderfully-crafted and beautifully danced, “A Dozen Places,” alone justified the price of admission with the rest of the program still to come.

Broomhall is talented choreographer that CDT artistic director Tim Veach would be wise to utilize in future productions.

After a Stefani Repola’s balletic and breezy “Drops of Ocean,” dancer Terrence Meadows showed off his technical prowess, strength and vulnerability in “Please Don’t Leave,” a solo he created for himself set to the French standard “Ne Me Quitte Pas.”

The program’s first half then closed with Alexandra Napoli’s group work “Bella” for six of the company’s women. One of several beginner-level choreographic works on the program, Napoli’s choreography, although rudimentary, held an air of grace to it.

Napoli’s work, along with others on the program, also revealed the wide range of dancer skill and maturity found in the company.  Individually, CDT’s dancers are all capable movers in their own right. As a unit however, those disparities in technical ability and stage presence could at times be quite glaring.

The program’s second half began with Seth Wilson’s pas de deux “A Walk in the Park” set to the Stevie Wonder song “Village Ghetto Land.” Like Wonders’ song, which juxtaposes a happy melody with depressing lyrics about poverty and violence, Wilson chose to pair a cute, playful, contemporary dance waltz with those stark lyrics that was nicely performed by Broomhall and Kotrba.

As choreographer for the geisha-inspired group work “Suzuko” that came next in the program, Junod struggled to create an interesting, cliché-free dance. As a performer in Chloe Mellblom’s solo work “unBalanced” that followed, Junod showed brilliance. The solo had the feel of a delicate lullaby interjected with flurries of leaps and turns. Most captivating though were several repeated gestures in which a paused Junod nervously twisted her hands together or tensely grasped at her dress.

The program closed with Kotrba’s vibrant “Isolation.” Set to pulsing music by Philip Glass, Tyondai Braxon and Nosaj Thing, nine of CDT’s dancers including central figure Elena Keeny, swiveled, shimmied, twisted and twerked with style in the interestingly patterned work.

A program like Dancers Making Dances for any dance company is more a vehicle to foster its dancers’ growth as artists rather than being a best representation of its capabilities. Sometimes, as with Broomhall’s “A Dozen Places,” those two objectives meet.

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