Tag Archives: BalletMet Columbus

BalletMet’s Orrante Takes Final Bow in a Program Brimming with Memorable Moments


BalletMet dancers in Edwaard’s Liang's

BalletMet dancers in Edwaard’s Liang’s “The Art of War.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet – American Masters
Ohio Theatre
Columbus, Ohio
May 2 & 3, 2015

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

In his first full season as artistic director of Ohio’s BalletMet Columbus, Edwaard Liang orchestrated a landmark collaboration with Opera Columbus and the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in the wildly successful production Twisted, and treated audiences to 11 world premieres from choreographers such as Val Caniparoli, Ma Cong and Gustavo Ramirez Sansano. In the process, he transformed the 26-member troupe from a good contemporary ballet company into a great one.

That evolution was apparent this past May at Columbus’ Ohio Theatre, where Liang assembled a stylistically diverse and engaging program entitled American Masters to close the company’s 37th season. The bill featured world premieres by Liang himself, who was born in Taiwan but raised in California, and Canadians James Kudelka and David Nixon, along with the company premiere of the Jerome Robbins masterwork Fancy Free. The “American” in the program’s title refers not only to Robbins, but also to the American composers featured — Michael Torke, Aaron Copland, Caroline Shaw and Leonard Bernstein.

BalletMet dancers in Edwaard’s Liang's

BalletMet dancers in Edwaard’s Liang’s “The Art of War.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

The program opened with a bang with Liang’s The Art of War, set to a driving score by Torke. In a nod to Jirí Kylián’s Petite Mort, two dancers pulled a large billowy sheet of fabric from the front of the stage to the rear, obscuring the entrance of BalletMet’s dozen dancers. The magical reveal delighted the audience who let out a collective gasp.

A star-field backdrop twinkled as the dancers moved through Liang’s crisp contemporary choreography. A shirtless Adam Still, with a bodybuilder physique, set an aggressive tone, powering through a solo dense with bravura jumps and turns.

Local audiences have had a heavy dose of Liang’s ballets since his arrival in 2013, including his popular Wünderland, but The Art of War proved his finest yet. Liang cast the ballet with many of the company’s best dancers and as a group they shone in his sharp and sophisticated choreography, said to be inspired by the art of calligraphy. It was the ballet’s pas de deux, however, that really impressed. The first, danced by Adrienne Benz and Gabriel Gaffney Smith, was an exquisite procession of lifts. The most stunning featured a move where he pulled her by her feet between his legs into a tabletop position behind him at his waist. A second pas de deux was danced by Caitlin Valentine-Ellis and David Ward, who ripped through precision turns and lifts that balanced grace with movement attack.

BalletMet dancers Emily Gotschall and Jimmy Orrante in David Nixon's

BalletMet dancers Emily Gotschall and Jimmy Orrante in David Nixon’s “Thinking of You.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet dancers in David Nixon's

BalletMet dancers in David Nixon’s “Thinking of You.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

Thinking of You by Nixon (a former BalletMet artistic director and current director of England’s Northern Ballet) was a loving tribute to retiring dancer Jimmy Orrante. The popular Orrante spent 19 years with BalletMet as a leading dancer and more recently as its de facto resident choreographer. For much of the neoclassical ballet, set to Copland’s Symphony No. 3, Orrante played the role of onlooker. He sat on the stage floor watching his fellow dancers, was held aloft by them in an iron-cross lift, and stood staring contemplatively down into his open palm as if seeing something there, perhaps images from his dance career.

At the end, he stared into his palm again, then, as he moved offstage, swept his arm away as if discarding something he no longer needed. When Orrante did dance, he was smooth and commanding, as in a breezy pas de deux with Emily Gotschall. Also of note were the adroit performances of fellow retiring dancers Courtney Muscroft and Jackson Prescott Sarver in a buoyant pas de deux.

BalletMet dancers in James Kudelka's “Real Life.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet dancers in James Kudelka’s “Real Life.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet dancers in James Kudelka's “Real Life.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet dancers in James Kudelka’s “Real Life.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

The program’s second half opened with Kudelka’s Real Life. Like a Picasso cubist painting among Monets and Rembrandts, Real Life was an aesthetic jolt. Danced to Shaw’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning Partita for 8 Voices, Kudelka’s choreography had the feel of a mechanized square dance. The eight dancers in unitards deftly promenaded through a tricky series of alternating handshake holds, snaking around one another in delicious patterns. The dancing not only fit Shaw’s layered avant-garde vocal music perfectly, but gave one the sense of glimpsing how the universe works in dance form. Like his The Man in Black, created for BalletMet in 2010, Kudelka developed a unique movement language based on familiar movement that he took to new and ingenious places.

BalletMet dancers in Jerome Robbins'

BalletMet dancers in Jerome Robbins’ “Fancy Free.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet dancers in Jerome Robbins'

BalletMet dancers in Jerome Robbins’ “Fancy Free.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

Rounding out American Masters was the Columbus premiere of Robbins’ Fancy Free (1944). Set to an iconic Bernstein score, the classic Broadway-esque tale of three sailors on shore leave trying to impress three local dames is the perfect marriage of 1940s’ era chauvinistic humour with masterfully crafted choreography. Each of the two seven-member casts I saw brought their own personalities to the roles, especially the trio of sailors. The cast of Smith, Still and Ward had a jaunty skillfulness, while Martin Roosaare, Michael Sayre and Sarver displayed clever acting skills that gave their characters added depth. Fancy Free, like the rest of the program, was sheer delight.

This review first appeared in the 2015 Fall issue of Dance International magazine. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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Pointe Magazine 2015 Stars of the Corps Profiles: Karen Wing, BalletMet & Marisa Grywalski, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre


Karen Wing. Photo by Zaire Kacz.

Karen Wing. Photo by Zaire Kacz.

By Steve Sucato

In a company loaded with talented female dancers, BalletMet newcomer Karen Wing sets herself apart. Whether portraying the obstinate half of a quirky couple in Gustavo Ramírez Sansano’s Lovely Together; the sexy, gypsy-like character Temptation in artistic director Edwaard Liang’s Cinderella; or the social-climbing Myrtle Wilson in Jimmy Orrante’s The Great Gatsby, her versatility and intensity make her a standout.

The 24-year-old from Petaluma, California, graduated magna cum laude from the University of California—Irvine’s dance department. She spent a season with Sacramento Ballet before coming to BalletMet in 2014. Click here to read more.

Marisa Grywalski. Photo by Duane Rieder.

Marisa Grywalski. Photo by Duane Rieder.

By Steve Sucato

You’d never know that Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Marisa Grywalski initially wasn’t supposed to dance the Angry Girl in Jerome Robbins’ comedic gem The Concert this past season. She was a natural as the moody, nerdy character. “At first I was shy, but I decided I was going to have fun onstage and then the audience would have fun, too,” said Grywalski. And they did.

The statuesque 24-year-old from Columbus, Ohio, has made quite an impression. Hired out of the PBT School Graduate Program, Grywalski’s line and technique act as beacons, drawing eyes to her in ballets like Swan Lake, La Bayadère and Balanchine’s Serenade. Click here to read more.

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Texture Contemporary Ballet opens its fifth season with works new and revisited


Dancers Kelsey Bartman & Brynn Vogel in Bartman's

Dancers Kelsey Bartman & Brynn Vogel in Bartman’s “Forget About Home.” Photo by Katie Ging.

By Steve Sucato

To open its fifth-anniversary season at the New Hazlett Theater, Texture Contemporary Ballet pays homage to World War II-era women in Kelsey Bartman’s new ballet “Forget About Home.” It’s one of six works on Texture’s July 16-19 Strength & Grace program. The 30-minute ballet for 16 dancers, with libretto by associate artistic director Bartman’s younger sister, Krysta Bartman, is set to 1940s-sounding arrangements of popular music by Maroon 5, Band of Horses and others, created by New Victorians frontman Ben Hardt.

Combining contemporary ballet with a musical-theater approach, “Forget About Home” offers snapshots of wartime women waiting for a sweetheart to come home, grieving over the loss of a son, and working in factories, a la “Rosie the Riveter.”

Also on the program is a reprise of Bartman’s 2012 solo “Hurts Like Heaven,” set to music by Coldplay and performed this time by company member Christina Sahaida.

Recurring guest choreographer Gabriel Gaffney Smith will present a reworked version of his 2013 neo-classical ballet “unaccompanied.” The BalletMet Columbus dancer’s 10-minute trio, set to music by Bach and Son Lux, deals with cause and effect in human relationships.

Dancers Alexandra Tiso & Alan Obuzor.  Photo by Katie Ging.

Dancers Alexandra Tiso & Alan Obuzor. Photo by Katie Ging.

Texture artistic director Alan Obuzor also dips into his choreographic past by restaging his first-ever group ballet, 2006’s “Feel of Fire.” The work was originally created for a Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School production. Obuzor describes the 15-minute ballet for a dozen dancers, with music by Astor Piazzola, as having a “sensual, sexy feel to it.”

Obuzor will also premiere his latest ballet for the company, “Inner Division of Existence.” The 35-minute abstract ballet in seven sections is set to music by Flemish Belgian composer Wim Mertens. Says Obuzor: “The music gave direction to the movement and feel of each section.”

Rounding out the program is Point Park University alum Darren McArthur’s untitled five-minute work-in-progress about trying to avoid the inevitable, danced to original electronic music by slowdanger’s Taylor Knight.

At 3 p.m. Sat., July 18, Texture will present a special matinee designed to expose young children to professional dance. It will feature a 20-30 minute excerpted version of Strength & Grace along with 20-minute interactive session. Tickets are $10 per family.

Texture Contemporary Ballet performs Strength & Grace, Thu., July 16 – Sun., July 19. New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side. $20-25. 888-718-4253 or newhazletttheater.org

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