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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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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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New Look Groundworks Dancetheater Launches 20th Anniversary Season With Two New Dance Works On Opposite Ends Of The Stylistic Spectrum


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GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Gemma Freitas Bender and Tyler Ring. Photo courtesy of GroundWorks DanceTheater.

By Steve Sucato

With the retirement of longtime company members Felise Bagley and Damien Highfield plus the departure of dancer Taylor Johnson and the addition of three new dancers, Cleveland-based contemporary dance troupe GroundWorks DanceTheater is essentially a brand new company.  And after their upcoming Summer Series performances at Cain Park, July 20-22 and at Glendale Cemetery in Akron, August 3 & 4 as part of Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, star dancer Gemma Freitas Bender will also be departing the company leaving only Tyler Ring as the lone returning dancer from last season.

For followers of the 5-member tiny troupe with the big reputation for quality work, many of the faces may be new entering the company’s 20th Anniversary season, but the guiding force behind it founder and resident choreographer David Shimotakahara remains the same.

“I’m loving this new group,” says Shimotakahara. “Their spirit and energy is right on. They are very generous, curious and it feels right.”

New to the company this season are Columbus-native Alexis Britford who trained at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts’ high school classical ballet program and at Wright State University before dancing professionally with Dayton Contemporary Dance Company,  Robert Rubama, a recent graduate of George Mason University who hails from Virginia Beach, Virginia and is the founder of his own project-based dance troupe Terre Dance Collective, and Birmingham, Alabama-native Annie Morgan a recent graduate of Pittsburgh’s Point Park University.  While at Point Park, Morgan was the recipient of the Loti Falk Scholarship and was highlighted by Pittsburgh City Paper as one of eight local standout performances in 2017 for her mesmerizing performance in Adam Hougland’s “Cold Virtues”.

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(L-R) GroundWorks dancers Robert Rubama, Gemma Freitas Bender, Annie Morgan, Alexis Britford and Tyler Ring. Photo by Beth Rutkowski.

The new look troupe will perform two new works as part of their 2018 Summer Series program at Cain Park and in Akron.

Half of that program will be comprised of a reprise of Shimotakahara and GroundWorks’ latest collaboration with ChamberFest Cleveland featured in ChamberFest’s June 30 concert at the Maltz Performing Arts Center entitled Dawn of a Revolution.  The two groups previously collaborated in 2015 on Tan Dun’s Ghost Opera (see video below). The theme of Dawn of a Revolution says Shimotakahara was organizing a program around the progression of ideas in the chamber music canon throughout time. ChamberFest’s Frank and Diana Cohen assembled several touchstone musical moments in that canon and connected them via solo piano sections from György Ligeti’s “Musica Ricercata” that was used in director Stanley Kubrick’s final film the 1999 erotic drama, ”Eyes Wide Shut”.

“It intrigued me that the spine of the work would be these solo piano moments,” says Shimotakahara.

In “al-one,” which is a play on words meaning “all” and “one” at the same time, Shimotakahara created movement for all five of GroundWorks’ dancers to seven of the eleven compositions included in the piece. Those stylistically diverse compositions include works by Beethoven, Ravel, Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera, and Arvo Pärt’s melancholy work “Spiegel im Speigel”.

Shimotakahara says his choreography for “al-one,” began with ideas related to the moment of inspiration and creation for an artist.  “That spark, is a revolutionary thing in my thinking,” he says; “A moment of change when something shifts in one’s perceptions and in the possibility of what can be.”  Expanding on that idea, the 50-minute abstract dance work then delves into the processes of creation from trial and error to how information and ideas are passed along to inspire new creative ideas.

Attending the June 30 premiere of the work, I found Shimotakahara’s choreography to be dialed back and more reserved than usual. It was as if Shimotakahara was purposefully giving over the spotlight to ChamberFest’s musicians and the music.  His back and forth choreography for the dancers, which had an ease and simple beauty to it, was delivered in small chunks and in various dancer configurations from solos to all five dancers performing as a group.

Audiences at Cain Park and in Akron will see and hear a different group of ChamberFest musicians perform the work live than had premiered it. One of those musicians will be dancer Freitas Bender’s husband William Bender who was recently appointed assistant principal violist with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London led by music director Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Says the soon-to-be-departing Freitas Bender, a Buffalo-native:  “It has been a wonderful blessing coming to Cleveland to be with my husband, and finding my way into Groundworks. David [Shimotakahara] provides his dancers with such a consistent work environment and a plethora of opportunities to work with well-known choreographers. I feel I have been enriched by the experience and will really miss the people and the community.”

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GroundWorks’s dancers with Banning Bouldin (center). Photo by Beth Rutkowski.

The other half of GroundWorks Summer Series program will be Nashville-Based choreographer Banning Bouldin’s commissioned work for the company, “Chronos”.

A 2002 graduate of Juilliard, Bouldin formerly danced with Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, Sweden’s Cullberg Ballet, Aszure Barton and Artists and Portland’s Rumpus Room Dance.  As a choreographer, she has created works for Nashville Ballet, Visceral Dance Chicago, Seattle’s Whim W’Him and her own contemporary dance company, New Dialect.

Stylistically on the other end of the dance spectrum to Shimotakahara’s “al-one,” Bouldin’s “Chronos” will follow somewhat in the choreographic footsteps of her previous catalog of highly physical dance-theater works.  Although she calls “Chronos” the most “concert dance” piece she has made in a long time, it will also challenge GroundWorks’ dancers’ physicality.

Inspired by the sudden death of a close family member as well as perhaps her own recent health issues, Bouldin says she has been thinking a lot lately about time and how we relate to it.

“We recognize the most meaningful moments in our lives through hindsight,” says Bouldin. “The pressure of keeping up with the clock can also cause us to miss meaningful moments as they are passing.”

Set to a varied soundscape including selections from Andrew Bird’s nature field recordings, “Echo Locations” and music by German composer Nils Frahm, the 25-minute work says Bouldin evolved into a non-narrative piece using a dance vocabulary illustrative of those themes of time and loss.

Of Banning working with GroundWorks Shimotakahara says: “It was quite astonishing to see somebody be able to articulate their ideas and the physicality of those ideas so clearly. It was also great for the new company to work in such an intensive way creating a positive bonding experience.”

GroundWorks DanceTheater performs its 2018 Summer Series dance program, 7 p.m., Friday, July 20 & Saturday, July 21 and 2 p.m., Sunday, July 22. Cain Park’s Alma Theater, 14591 Superior Rd., Cleveland Heights, Ohio. $25 Advance, $28 Day of show. groundworksdance.org/tickets, cainpark.com or (216) 371-3000. Post- Show Receptions: Free Beer Friday – Following Friday’s performance, free beer, wine and soft drinks will be offered. Dessert Reception Saturday – Following Saturday’s performance, a dessert reception featuring sweet treats will be offered. Ice Cream Sunday – Following Sunday’s performance, Mitchell’s Ice Cream will be offered.

The program repeats as part of the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival at dusk (8:45 p.m.), Friday, August 3 and Saturday, August 4. Glendale Cemetery, 150 Glendale Ave, Akron, Ohio.  Admission is Free. More information at groundworksdance.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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