Category Archives: Dance Reviews 2019

Cuba’s Malpaso Dance Company Returns to Cleveland with Program of Quiet Brilliance


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Malpaso Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s “Tabula Rasa”. Photo by Nir Arieli.

Malpaso Dance Company
Playhouse Square’s Allen Theatre
Cleveland, Ohio
August 10, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

With previous performances in Cleveland in 2016 and 2017, Malpaso Dance Company’s return this past Saturday to Playhouse Square and the Allen Theatre felt like seeing a dear friend again.

Presented by DANCECleveland in collaboration with American Dance Festival to close out the third annual American Dance Festival in Cleveland, the Cuban contemporary dance company this time offered up a triple bill of quiet yet emotionally riveting dance works.  

Their evening program began with choreographer Sonya Tayeh’s 2017 commissioned work, “Face The Torrent”.  Choreographed in part during a creative residency provided by DANCECleveland, the work , said Tayeh in a Facebook live interview, was inspired by her recent concerns over “the state of the world” and an urge to “unify, rally and gather.”

Best known for her choreography for Broadway’s Moulin Rouge! The Musical and her Emmy Award-nominated work on TV’s So You Think You Can Dance, Tayeh brought some of that same rich emotional content that made her a darling of SYTYCD fans to “Face The Torrent”.

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Malpaso Dance Company in Sonya Tayeh’s “Face the Torrent”. Photo by Rose Eichenbaum.

Danced to music by cellist/composer Colette Alexander with folk duo The Bengsons, the 20-minute piece for 8 dancers began with the cast in a horizontal line across the back of the stage moving in a slow cautious walk forward evoking a feeling of impending doom in their demeanor, one that Tayeh says she incorporated into the work after having intense dreams of a huge body of water coming at her.  

Led by dancer Abel Rojo who appeared particularly struck by whatever dark forces were descending on the dancers, Rojo often broke from the dancers’ unison walks in lines across the stage to sink into pained cowering with his arms shielding his face and head.

The dancers’ straight line walking then gave way to embracing and intertwining movement with the cast pairing off in male/female couples as Alexander’s haunting cello music became invaded by distorted whispers of a female voice saying “I wonder how to cope with this?” Tayeh’s velvety partnered movement in this section was the picture of beauty and melancholy and Malpaso’s dancers radiated both. Stark, dramatic and carefully-crafted, “Face The Torrent” left a lasting impression.

Next was company dancer Beatriz Garcia’s debut work for Malpaso, “Being (Ser)” (2018). The 12-minute trio set music by Italian composer Ezio Bosso was danced by Garcia, Dunia Acosta and Armando Gomez.

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(L-R) Malpaso Dance Company’s Armando Gomez, Dunia Acosta and Beatriz Garcia in Beatriz Garcia’s “Being (Ser)”. Photo by Nir Arieli.

Costumed in all white and dancing in socks, the trio of performers spent the first part of the work repeatedly traversing the stage in idiosyncratic solo movement phrases that entered from one side of the stage and exited the other.  Those solo riffs then turned into duets and a trio as the work progressed. Garcia’s contemporary dance choreography favored movement that bent and twisted the dancers’ shoulders and torsos, and like “Face The Torrent”, had the trio bunching and intertwining their bodies in close-quartered movement phrases. The work was a fine effort for the promising choreographer that fit right in with the style and quality of the works in the company’s diverse repertory. One hopes to see more from Garcia as choreographer for the company in addition to her adroit dancing.

The program then closed with another thoughtful and atmospheric work, Ohad Naharin’s “Tabula Rasa”, set to music of the same name by composer Arvo Pärt.

Created on nearby Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 1986 (and who inexplicably haven’t performed it in over 20 years), the over 30-year-old, 30-minute modern dance piece whose title means “clean slate”, felt like a newly-minted work on Malpaso’s 10 dancers who appeared to own the former Batsheva Dance Company director’s “gaga” movement language as if it were a part of their upbringing.

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Malpaso Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s “Tabula Rasa”. Photo by Nir Arieli.

Naharin’s simply structured unison movement phrases for the work full of leans and sways was an adept counterpoint to Pärt’s passionate string music that tore at one’s soul with a desperate longing.  And while Naharin’s clever choreography did not parallel the music’s aching, the choreographer did incorporate into it a few heartbreaking moments. One such scene had the dancers pairing off with one dancer charging into the other’s arms in desperate embraces. Ms. Acosta made such a charge only to have her male partner turn his back on her at the last moment causing her to crash to the floor stunned and dejected.

“Tabula Rasa” is prime example of Naharin’s early genius as a choreographer. A precursor to his often performed masterwork “Minus 16” (1999), it is itself masterful and was a fitting closer to Malpaso’s program that wowed the Allen Theatre audience with its emotion and exquisite music and thoughtful dancing. A standing ovation was given from the appreciative audience signaling a hope that Malpaso will continue to make Cleveland a regular stop on future U.S. tours.

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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BalletX Marked the Spot for Great Dance at ADF in CLE


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BalletX in Lil Buck’s “Express”. Photo courtesy of BalletX.

BalletX
Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre
Cleveland, Ohio
July 27, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Philadelphia’s BalletX opened DANCECleveland’s 2019-2020 season this past Saturday as part of year three of the annual American Dance Festival in Cleveland. The contemporary ballet company founded in 2005 by former Pennsylvania Ballet dancers Christine Cox and Matthew Neenan, made its Cleveland debut at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre in a program featuring three diverse works that by its end, brought the audience to its feet in appreciation.

Known as a breeding ground for new works by contemporary choreographic voices from around the globe, much has happened with BalletX since its last visit to Northeast Ohio back in 2013. Neenan has moved on from company leadership to concentrate fully on his burgeoning choreographic career and BalletX in 2018 opened its new Center for World Premiere Choreography, moving into a new 5,000 square foot studio and administrative home in Philadelphia.

What hadn’t changed since 2013, was the ability of the company and its 10 dancers (including former GroundWorks Dance Theater dancer Blake Krapels) from knocking an audience’s socks off with world class dancing in world class dance works.

The program opened with choreographer Nicolo Fonte’s latest ballet for the company “Steep Drop, Euphoric” (2019) set to music by Ezio Bosso and Ólafur Arnalds. The 25-minute piece began with the jolting screech of string instruments to usher in the first of many traveling dancer tableaus that would be integral to the look of the ballet beginning with dancer Chloe Perkes being lifted to stand atop the shoulders of several other dancers.

Fonte’s choreographic style for the ballet had BalletX’s full complement of dancers flowing from one smoothly formed tableau of dancers being lifted or melting into one another’s arms a la the works of choreographers Lar Lubovich and Doug Varone.  The lush movement was characterized by the dancers swaying and sinking into close-quartered interactions with each other, arms often suspended in air briefly. Fonte alternated the  pace of the ballet with quick bursts of movement by individual dancers mixed in with slower group dance phrases.

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BalletX in Nicolo Fonte’s “Steep Drop, Euphoric”. Photo courtesy of BalletX.

At one end of the rear of the stage, a long piece of what looked to be Marley dance floor (the slip-resistant surface the dancers perform on) hung from the rafters and was unrolled to the stage floor, suggesting a road to the heavens. The image jived with Fonte’s thoughts on the ballet contained in the program notes that read: “Perhaps the only places left unexplored are the canyons of your interior geography, the dark alleys of your consciousness – one of which might lead you to your road to bliss.”

That interior geography and potential road to bliss appeared to belong to Perkes’ character who throughout the ballet stepped in and out of dancing with the others to stand on the Marley road and gaze back at her fellow performers as if reflecting on her life.

In a later section of the ballet, dancers Andrea Yorita and Zachary Kapeluck launched into the first of two successive pas de deuxs. Yorita, a diminutive powerhouse, burst about the stage with spritely energy showing off her beautiful extension, turning ability, and footwork.  A second pas de deux immediately followed with dancers Skyler Lubin and Stanley Glover continuing the barrage of beautiful choreography that culminated in the dancers forming a quartet spiced with partnered lifts.  After a heartfelt solo danced by Perkes in spotlight moving along the Marley road, the ballet ended as it began with her standing atop several dancers’ shoulders reaching out. This time not toward the Marley road leading out on to the stage, but the one leading upward.

Next the company switched its stylistic gears in Charles “Lil Buck” Riley’s “Express” (2018), danced to jazz music by The Late Show with Stephen Colbert bandleader Jon Batiste.  Lil Buck, a dancer, actor and model from Memphis, Tennessee, burst onto the dance scene in a big way in the past few years in large part due to his “Memphis jookin” hip hop dance version of Michel Fokine’s ballet classic “The Dying Swan” that went viral.

For the 16-minute “Express,” the choreographer fused his mostly improvised jookin movement language with ballet and jazz movement to create a hybrid style that fit nicely on BalletX’s dancers.  Costumed in streetwear and sneakers for the men, pointe shoes for the women (at least to begin with), the work was overall a fun, flirty, and jazzy play on male/female relationship banter.

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Stanley Glover in Lil Buck’s “Express”. Photo courtesy of BalletX.

The work’s finest moment came in a solo by featured dancer Glover to Batiste’s melancholy dirge “Saint James Infirmary Blues.” The silky smooth Glover moved with the freedom of Lil Buck himself in the jookin-flavored solo.

By work’s end the women had swapped their point shoes for red Nike sneakers, and the entire cast of 10, especially dancer Cali Quan, let their funk flag fly in a frenetically fabulous finale to the Jon Batiste and Stay Human song “Express Yourself (Say Yes)” capped by Batiste asking the question, “What is Jazz?”

The program ended most satisfyingly with a reprise of Neenan’s signature ballet for the company, “The Last Glass”(2010) that the company performed in Akron in 2013.

Inspired by what Neenan referred to as “wild street-parade,” the 25-minute ballet all 10 dancers was set to suite of 8 tunes by American indie-rock band Beirut, and whose emotional lyrics Neenan took to heart in his choreography.

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BalletX in Matthew Neenan’s “The Last Glass”. Photo courtesy of BalletX.

I wrote of the ballet in 2013:  As if splashing through puddles of emotion that covered the stage, the dancers kicked up anger, joy and sadness, which then clung to them, giving their characters an underlying motivation and exposing their imperfections.

Masterfully-crafted in its dancer formations, group movements on and off the stage, and its transitions between dance phrases, Neenan wrapped a clever tapestry of contemporary ballet movement and beauty around several very relatable human stories contained within the ballet.  None so emotionally penetrating than that of characters portrayed by Perkes and Krapels in which Perkes seemed to be recalling the joys and heartache of being with Krapels, a lover she lost.  The haunting image of a heartbroken Perkes walking slowly across the stage, head in hand as the carnival of humanity carried on all around her, was one that could be universally felt.

It is perhaps fitting BalletX and DANCECleveland chose to repeat Neenan’s “The Last Glass,” as the ballet warrants repeated viewings to take in its full glory. One can only marvel at Neenan’s ability to conjure up such an exquisite creation.

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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Joint Bodiography and Graham 2 Program a Triumph


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Bodiography’s Bethany Schimonsky and Josef Hartman in Maria Caruso’s “Light By Love II”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

Bodiography and Graham 2 – Horizons
Byham Theater
Pittsburgh, PA
April 26-27, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

For the first-ever collaboration of its kind for both Pittsburgh-based Bodiography Contemporary Ballet and New York’s Graham 2, the joint program Horizons, on April 26 at Pittsburgh’s Byham Theater, offered up a unique look at what each company does best; the ballets of their respective company founders, Maria Caruso and Martha Graham.

Graham 2 dancer Androniki Vasili from Athens, Greece led off the mixed repertory program in Ted Shawn’s 1916 solo “Serenata Morsica”. Originally performed by Martha Graham, the solo, dubbed a sensual “serenade,” was in Shawn’s orientalist style of early American modern dance and evoked the feel of a harem girl performing for the ruler of some unknown tribe or land. Set to a lively piano score by Mario Tarenghi, the choreography was playful and alluring. Vasili was a delightful as the smiling, somewhat innocent seductress who spun, jumped and gyrated her hips about the stage.

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Graham 2 dancer Androniki Vasili in Ted Shawn’s 1916 solo “Serenata Morsica”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

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Bodiography in Martha Graham’s “Steps in the Street”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

Next, Bodiography’s dancers led by Caruso performed Graham’s “Steps in the Street,” an excerpt from her 1936 anti-fascism ballet Chronicle.

Staged by Graham 2 director Virginie Mecéné, the work began with Caruso and the rest of the all-female cast on a darkened stage stiffly stutter-step walking backwards in silence across the stage with one arm held to their chins and the other, tight to their waists. Costumed in black floor-length dresses, the look was of an eerie stylized funeral march.

When Wallingford Reigger’s military march-like music kicked in, the stage lights brightened to reveal Caruso in a clench-fisted and determined march across the stage followed by the rest of the cast who came back onstage and hopped repeatedly in place, legs flared to the side. The atmosphere evoked a frenetic military campaign played out in Graham’s signature movement style. Bodiography’s dancers were sharply focused in the powerful work’s jumps, marches and formations. They never looked better as a unit.

Caruso as the group’s general was rock solid in her technique and in relaying the turbulent emotions of Graham’s masterwork. The ballet was a milestone in Bodiography’s ongoing development as a company and an important piece in their repertory.

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Graham 2 dancer Aoi Soto in Martha Graham’s “Satyric Festival Song”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

Continuing the succession of Graham works in first half of the 90-minute program, Graham 2 dancer Aoi Soto in a bumble bee–striped floor-length dress began 1932’s solo work “Satyric Festival Song” with her back to the audience, jumping wildly side-to-side with a child’s excitement. Danced to a spritely flute score by Imre Weisshaus, Soto flitted about the stage like the American Indian Pueblo clowns that from which the solo was inspired by. Her mischievous demeanor and humorous facial expressions brought life to the quirky solo filled with wiggles, wriggles and the whipping of her long black hair in circles and side to side.

Comprised of leftover material from a 2018 commission for a full-length ballet themed around the 1980s, “Billboards” (2019), was the first of several new Caruso ballets performed by Bodiography on the program. That leftover material looked as if it could have come from any number of her past slinky, music video-esque contemporary ballets. Danced to lively electronic music by Kansas City’s Quixotic, the ballet for three women and two men had some interesting movement phrases and formations but along with them came some uncomfortable choreographic moments that appeared forced into the work. While the cast, especially soloist Nicole Jamison, performed “Billboards” solidly, owing to the ballet’s title, the dancing it advertised was unremarkable.

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Bodiography in Maria Caruso’s “Billboards”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

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Bodiography’s Kaylin Treese, Melissa Tyler, and Amanda Fisher in Maria Caruso’s “Mother’s Prism”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

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Bodiography’s Bethany Schimonsky and Josef Hartman in Maria Caruso’s “Light By Love II”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

After the tender “Mother’s Prism” (2019), another new Caruso ballet themed around the facets of motherhood, came perhaps the best ballet Caruso has created in her career and one of the finest this dance season, “Light By Love II” (2019). Originally created in 2015, the reconstructed duet was deftly and passionately performed by Bodiography’s Bethany Schimonsky and Josef Hartman.

An idyllic embodiment of two lovers becoming one, the sensual duet began with the pair lying on the stage floor, the petite Schimonsky draped over the taller Hartman in a slumber embrace. Slowly and delicately Hartman caressed Schimonsky shoulders and back with the fingers and palm of one hand while his other arm cradled her embrace.

Performed to zen string music by Garth Stevenson, the carefully crafted and subtle movements of the dancers in relation to one another had you believing in a Romeo and Juliet level love and appetite for one another. Spine tingling touches, breath-catching clenches and some of Carsuo’s finest partnered choreography, created a magic that one wishes could be bottled for future enjoyment. Both dancers showed a star quality beyond previously displayed with Schimonsky’s performance on pointe proving utterly mesmerizing. This masterful duet needs to be shown again and again.

After an intermission, special guest and former Martha Graham Dance Company star, Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch performed the first of two Caruso works that brought her movement style to Graham’s dancers.

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Carrie Ellmore-Tallitsch in Maria Caruso’s “Roots to Earth”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

Set to music by Portland band East Forest, the 10-minute solo “Roots to Earth” (2019) reflected on Caruso and Ellmore-Tallitsch’s interest in nature. Slow to develop, the introspective solo never quite blossomed in its intent and watchable interest. For her part Ellmore-Tallitsch, still a lovely dancer, showed signs of performance rust and nervousness in Caruso’s sedate choreography.

Graham 2’s dancers then returned in an excerpt from Graham’s Canticle for Innocent Comedians entitled “Duet From A Dancer’s World” (1957). Set to music by Cameron McCosh, the”Moon” duet, performed by Vasili and dancer Harold Trent Butler, was again Graham at her Grahamiest in style. Both dancers were radiant in the choreography’s twists, bends and curves of the body. The partnering and posed positions were spot on and it would be easy to believe you could be watching future dancers of the main company perform.

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Graham 2 dancers Androniki Vasili and Harold Trent Butler in Martha Graham’s “Duet From A Dancer’s World”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

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Bodiography’s Derrick Izumi and Maria Caruso in Caruso’s “Vespers”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

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Graham 2 dancers Aoi Sato and Ty Graynor in Martha Graham’s “Conversation of Lovers”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

The marathon program of shorter works continued with two more Caruso works for Bodiography’s dancers; the uplifting group piece “Midnight Air” (2019) and the quiet “Vespers” (2019). Then Graham 2 dancers Ty Graynor and Soto took the stage to perform another of Graham’s works, 1981’s “Conversation of Lovers” from her ballet Acts of Light. Perhaps not indicative of the full ballet, the duet felt influenced by Graham’s Greek and other mythology-related ballets in style. It had the look of a god and goddess in a reserved lover’s dance played out in images found on ancient antiquities.  Both dancers acquitted themselves nicely in the duet.

After an older Caruso work from Bodiography’s repertory, 2015’s “Parabola,” Horizons concluded with the premiere of “Inside OUT (The Call of Passion)” that Caruso created on the four Graham 2 dancers on the program.

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Graham 2 dancers in Maria Caruso’s “Inside OUT (The Call of Passion)”. Photo by Eric Rosé.

Danced to a yearning score by English composer Clint Mansell, the work was derived from the personal experiences of the dancers that Caruso used to craft a contemporary dance work that was heartfelt and wonderfully danced. The dancers, although out of their stylistic element when it comes to the type of works they usually perform, looked at home in the choreography that had them dipping and darting through brief interpersonal connections with one another.  The movement mixed frenetic bursts of emotion revealed in rapid twists and turns of the head and body with slow, tender touches and gazes into one another’s eyes. In one such exchange, the two women paired off with the two men in a dance phrase that had the men briefly frozen in place while the women continued on, seeming to combatively challenge one another in a fitful exchange that saw Vasili take a swing at a ducking Soto as the two traded places to be paired off with different male partners as the work continued.

A marvelous closer to a historic evening of dance, Bodiography and Graham 2’s collaborative Horizons program was a triumph.

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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