Category Archives: Dance Reviews 2019

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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Grand Rapids Ballet’s ‘Extremely Close’, Extremely Good [REVIEW]


Alexander Meister-Upleger in James Sofranko's The Sweet By and By. Photo by Scoot & Kate Rasmussen 500px

Alexandra Meister-Upleger (center) in James Sofranko’s “The Sweet By and By”. Photo by Damion Van Slyke.

Grand Rapids Ballet – Extremely Close
Peter Martin Wege Theatre
Grand Rapids, MI
April 12-14, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

In the company’s first season under new artistic director James Sofranko, Grand Rapids Ballet appears to be continuing on the path of upward trajectory begun by former artistic director Patricia Barker now the director of The Royal New Zealand Ballet.

The company’s program Extremely Close, on Saturday, April 13 at their in-house Peter Martin Wege Theatre, was varied, well-balanced and top notch. GRB’s dancers never looked better with adroit performances rivaling some seen in the finest dance companies in North America.

The program opened with veteran dance maker Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House” created for San Francisco Ballet (where Sofranko was a soloist) in 2008.

Caniparoli, one of the most consistently brilliant dance-makers working today, created with “Ibsen’s House,” a choreographic jewel.  The ballet was inspired by five female characters taken from Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s plays; A Doll’s House (1879), Ghosts (1881), Rosmersholm (1886), The Lady from the Sea (1888), and Hedda Gabler (1890). Said Caniparoli, in an interview about the ballet, “Ibsen’s radical ideas about marriage, gender roles, and family relations shocked and outraged many of his contemporaries, and still hold resonance today.”

Cassidy Isaacson and Steven Houser in Val Caniparoli's Ibsen's House. Photo by Ray Nard 500px

Cassidy Isaacson and Steven Houser in Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House”. Photo by Ray Nard.

Danced to excerpts of Antonín Dvořák’s “Piano Quintet in A Major, Op 81” played live, the ballet had as a partial backdrop a large window frame with the dancers costumed in rich-looking, buttoned-up Victorian dresses for the cast’s five women and equally stiff suits for its five men by designer Sandra Woodall that suggested persons of privilege.

The ballet, an amalgamation of the aforementioned Ibsen plays’ themes and attitudes towards their heroines, unfolded as a series of vignettes expressing the emotions and attitudes each of the women with regard to the important personal relationships written about in the plays they appear in.

While it might be helpful in knowing these women’s stories in Ibsen’s plays, in some ways, it may also have been better not to as to not bring to the ballet expectations of the women’s character portrayals and those of others in the ballet.  Caniparoli’s choreography spoke volumes on its own.

Cassidy Issacson in Val Caniparoli's Ibsen's House. Photo by Ray Nard 500px

Cassidy Issacson in Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House”. Photo by Ray Nard.

“Ibsen’s House” began with a series of solos introducing each of the five women and laying out their particular demeanor starting with dancer Cassidy Isaacson as Hedda Gabler from Ibsen’s play of the same name.

Isaacson was riveting as the cold and callous Gabler who appeared determined to fight back the boredom and disappointments in her life. Costumed in a mauve and black dress, Isaacson performed Caniparoli’s sharp, illustrative ballet choreography with soul withering intensity. Her deliciously superior attitude then gave way to the worried nervousness of Yuka Oba as Nora Helmer from A Doll’s House.  Oba’s solo, like Isaacson’s, was expertly-crafted with a high level of technique and phrasing. Caniparoli, who choreographed GRB’s The Nutcracker, creates the types of ballets that GRB and its dancers can only benefit from in taking the company to the next level in its upward trajectory.

Alexander Meister-Upleger in Val Caniparoli's Ibsen's House. Photo by Ray Nard 500px

Alexandra Meister-Upleger in Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House”. Photo by Ray Nard.

Next, newcomer this season, Alexandra Meister-Upleger portrayed Helene Avling from Ibsen’s “Ghosts”.  The former Nashville Ballet dancer moved a bit like a prancing horse in a gesture-laden solo that the veteran dancer performed superbly. She was followed by Connie Flachs as the unfulfilled Ellida Wangel from “Lady of the Sea” in a swooping and swaying solo and GRB up and comer Madison Massera as the manipulative Rebecca West from “Rosemersholm”.

Yuka Oba and Nathan Young in Val Caniparoli's Ibsen's House. Photo by Ray Nard. 500px

Yuka Oba and Nathan Young in Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House”. Photo by Ray Nard.

The second half of the ballet paired the women with their male counterparts and sources of consternation in Ibsen’s plays. A series of dark and troubled pas de deuxs then further fleshed out the relationships between these characters. Most memorable was that of Oba and Nathan Young as the stern Torvald Helmer, her character’s husband in “A Doll’s House” who has found out she has been secretly stealing from him. The perfectly danced pas de deux filled with tension and peril left one  gripping at their seat watching it unfold.

Switching stylistic and emotional gears, the world-premiere of Sofranko’s “The Sweet By And By,” danced to lively jazz music by New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band, was a charming spirit-lifter.

Levi Teachout, Nathan Young, and Adriana Wagenveld in James Sofranko's The Sweet By and By. Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen 500px

Levi Teachout, Nathan Young, and Adriana Wagenveld in James Sofranko’s “The Sweet By and By”. Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen.

The ballet followed main character Steven Houser as a carefree, life-of-the-party gent in a parade of bubbly dances with his large group of friends to the songs “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “Down by the Riverside,” “By and By” and others.

Looking like frolicking characters from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Sofranko infused the ballet’s choreography with an energy and bravura that was pleasing.

Interjected into this world of glee were moments of melancholy. Houser’s flirty and infectiously positive character was, underneath that exterior, quite lonely for companionship and a meaningful romantic relationship. After several tries in the ballet, he found that companionship in a female friend portrayed by dancer Gretchen Steimle.

Steven Houser and Gretchen Steimle in James Sofranko's The Sweet By and By. Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen 500px

Steven Houser and Gretchen Steimle in James Sofranko’s “The Sweet By and By.” Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen.

Truly a vehicle for Houser’s wide-ranging talents as a dancer, he simply killed it and received a rousing ovation at ballet’s end.

The program concluded with its namesake work “Extremely Close” by former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancer and resident choreographer, Alejandro Cerrudo.

Choreographed in 2008 (and making the rounds to several regional ballet companies next season), the contemporary dance work was Cerrudo’s second-ever and smacked of a young dance-maker looking to make a big impression — He did.

Emily Reed and Isaac Aoki in Alejandro Cerrudo's Extremely Close. Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen 500px

Emily Reed and Isaac Aoki in Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Extremely Close.” Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen.

Set to music by Philip Glass and Dustin O’Halloran, the work began in silence with white feathers slowly drifting down from the rafters and piling up on the stage floor like fluffy snow. A cast of 8 dancers in socks cut paths in the feathers with their dancing, launching into prolonged slides across the floor as if ice lay below the surface of feathers. Into this scenic dreamland, Cerrudo also added door-sized moving walls that the dancers then appeared and disappeared from behind as they glided in lines across the stage. GRB’s dancers were brilliant in their timing pulling off these visual effects.

Yuka Oba and Matthew Wenckowski in Alejandro Cerrudo's Extremely Close. Photo by Damion Van Slyke 500px

Yuka Oba and Matthew Wenckowski in Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Extremely Close”. Photo by Damion Van Slyke.

Led by dancers Yuka Oba and Matthew Wenckowski, GRB’s dancers performed Cerrudo’s grounded movement language that is so associated with his works and that of Hubbard Street, marvalously. The breathtaking work ended with Wenckowski at the front of the stage pulling up the stage floor over his head and running toward the rear of the stage a la the billowing fabric effect used in choreographer Jiri Kylian’s masterwork Petite Mort.

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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Ailey Magic Returns to Playhouse Square [REVIEW]


AAADT in Jessica Langs EN. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Jessica Lang’s “EN”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Playhouse Square’s KeyBank State Theatre
Cleveland, Ohio
April 27, 2019
 

By Steve Sucato

The return of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to Northeast, Ohio is always a hotly anticipated event. The company’s 60th anniversary tour performances this past weekend (April 26-28) at Playhouse Square’s KeyBank State Theatre in Cleveland rewarded that anticipation with memorable works and dancing.

Presented by Playhouse Square in partnership with DANCECleveland to close out its 2018-19 dance season, Ailey’s program on Saturday, April 27 featured the Cleveland premieres of works by choreographer Jessica Lang, company artistic director Robert Battle, Ailey dancer Jamar Roberts and Alvin Ailey’s iconic “Revelations”.

The program opened with Lang’s dreamy ballet “EN” (2018) to an original score by NYC-based Polish composer Jakub Ciupinski. The ballet’s title is taken from a Japanese word with multiple meanings including circle, destiny, fate or karma. Lang says of the 21-minute piece, it “reflects on the universal experience of coming full circle and, as time passes, we recognize the people we meet along life’s journey who play a part in the fate and destiny of our lives.”

Those sentiments were driven home in Lang’s varied paced choreography that played into those notions of time passing and the circularity of life, offering up moments of motion with the feel of drifting sand and those tinged with idealism. Adding to that, the minimalist stage setting by Lang and lighting designer Nicole Pearce of a color-changing circular disc at the rear of the stage representing the sun and an overhead illuminated globe representing the moon (that was raised and lowered) both symbolized the passage of time from day to night and back.

AAADT in Jessica Langs EN. Photo by Paul Kolnik2

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Jessica Lang’s “EN”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

AAADT in Jessica Langs EN. Photo by Paul Kolnik3

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Jessica Lang’s “EN”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

An ensemble of 13 dancers led by Roberts costumed all in white moved through athletic choreography that melded together ballet, modern and jazz movements. The dancers came together in various groupings, formed circles and rendered a sequence of thematic poses and tableaus across the stage. At one point a group of dancers lifted and repeatedly tossed a female dancer in the air like a cheerleader.

Well-known to Northeast, Ohio-area audiences for her works performed by her now defunct company Jessica Lang Dance on DANCECleveland’s 2014 and 2017 seasons, “EN,” her debut ballet for the company, further stretched Ailey’s repertory range along with audience expectations of the types of works the company presents.

Next, Roberts’ “Members Don’t Get Weary” (2017) proved an impressive debut work for the company by the fledgling choreographer.  Danced to jazz music by John Coltrane, the 24-minute contemporary/modern work for 10 dancers was inspired by his watching disturbing world events on CNN that conjured the feelings of “having the blues”.  Titled after a 1968 Max Roach album and a Negro spiritual of the same name, the work says Roberts uses “the dancing body to inspire the audience, allowing them to transcend their own personal blues momentarily.”

AAADT in Jamar Roberts' Members Don't Get Weary Photo by Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Jamar Roberts’ “Members Don’t Get Weary”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

AAADT in Jamar Roberts Members Dont Get Weary. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Jamar Roberts’ “Members Don’t Get Weary”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Roberts’ idiosyncratic movement language was bold, fresh and inspiring to watch. The work began with the dancers in large-brimmed, disc-shaped straw hats that seemed to suggest the toiling of field hands. The dancers’ faces often obscured by the hats, moved through illustrative choreography and some imagery a la “Revelations” that spoke of a harsh existence.  As the work progressed the dancers removed the hats and the mood of the piece, along with Coltrane’s expansive music, began to spark optimism.  Danced beautifully from beginning to end, the piece was highlighted by a lively male quartet in which dancer Jacqueline Green chimed in with a marvelous solo full of abandon and grace.

AAADTs Jacqueline Green in Jamar Roberts Members Dont Get Weary Photo by Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Jacqueline Green in Jamar Roberts’ “Members Don’t Get Weary”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

AAADTs Ghrai DeVore _ Jeroboam Bozeman in Jamar Roberts Members Dont Get Weary Photo by Paul KolnikCrop

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Ghrai DeVore (front) and Jeroboam Bozeman in Jamar Roberts’ “Members Don’t Get Weary”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Also of note was a lover’s duet by dancers Jeroboam Bozeman and Ghrai DeVore in which the pair exchanged desperate embraces, one in which DeVore pulled down the top of Bozeman’s blue jumpsuit to reveal his bare chest. The duet ended with a downtrodden DeVore slumped on the stage floor with her back to the audience as the rest of the cast returned to the stage. DeVore’s brilliance in the role left a lasting impression.

Battle’s 2016 work “Ella” was then performed in its original form as a solo instead of the now more commonly seen male/female duet. The comedic piece was danced by Chalvar Monteiro to a live recording of Fitzgerald’s song “Airmail Special.” In it, Fitzgerald’s nonsensical jazz scatting that included lines from the songs the “Ballad of Davy Crockett” and “That’s Amore,” was matched in quirky, fun-loving playfulness by Monteiro who mugged and hammed it up for the appreciative audience.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Aileys Revelations. Photo by Paul Kolnik 13

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

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Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations”. Photo by James R. Brantley.

“Ella” proved a delectable appetizer for the closing meal that was Ailey’s “Revelations.” THE signature work of the company performed on almost all of their programs, “Revelations” is one of dance’s most beloved masterpieces. Volumes have been written on it leaving critics like myself with nothing more to say than perhaps comparing casts who have performed it since its debut in 1960.  Suffice it to say of the dozen times I have seen the work over the past few decades, this current cast acquitted themselves very nicely to the delight of all present.

Alvin Ailey Spring Gala 2018

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations”. Photo by Donna Ward.

Check out DANCECleveland’s 2019-2020 season offerings at dancecleveland.org  And if you unfortunately missed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s performances this weekend or would like to see them again, the company will be performing in nearby Pittsburgh on Tuesday, May 5, 2020 at the Benedum Center.

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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