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Fourth Annual ‘The Benefit’ Offers Up World-Class Music and Dance to Aid Hemophilia Foundation


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Carolina Ballet’s Marcelo Martinez and Lara O’Brien in Robert Weiss’ “Meditation from Täis.” Photo by Ira Graham.

By Steve Sucato

As humans we pride ourselves in turning negatives into positives. Following the proverbial phrase “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” we make lakes of the stuff in an effort to ease suffering and find cures for the countless ills life throws at us. So when former BalletMet star Jimmy Orrante’s son Isaac was born with hemophilia ─ a condition in which the ability of the blood to clot is severely reduced ─ Orrante began formulating how he could use his art to help others make lemonade out the lemons life dealt them.

In 2013, he and fellow former BalletMet dancer Attila Bongar organized The Benefit (formerly Dancing for the Cure), a charity event that featured music and dance performances from top flight dancers and musicians from the Columbus area and across the United States.

“The first year we did The Benefit it was to fight cancer and benefitted Nationwide Children’s Hospital of Columbus,” says Orrante. “Me being a part of the hemophilia family and knowing the people in that community, it made more sense for us to link up with The Central Ohio Chapter of the National Hemophilia Foundation.”

Now in its fourth year the all-volunteer event ─ which annually raises over $25,000 for the Hemophilia Foundation ─ will be even bigger and better. The event, Sunday, May 21, will be held for the first time at The Riffe Center’s newly renamed Davidson Theatre (formerly Capitol Theatre) offering attendees a more theatrical experience.

One of the premiere dance events in the region, this year’s production features dancers and choreographers from Miami City Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, Rochester City Ballet, BalletMet, Columbus Dance Theatre and others, along with live music by Camarata (a multi-piece orchestra made up of musicians from the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and led by CSO principal cellist Luis Biava), Columbus ambient alternative band The Wind and the Sea, and North Carolina bluesman th’ Bullfrog Willard McGhee. In addition, following the performance there will be a meet and greet with the performers that includes food and a silent auction.

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From 2016’s ‘The Benefit’: BalletMet’s Adrienne Benz and Carolina Ballet’s Marcelo Martinez in Jimmy Orrante’s “Imperfections.” Photo by Ira Graham.

The 90-minute program will open with Milwaukee Ballet leading artists Patrick Howell and Nicole Teague-Howell in the Act 2 pas de deux from the ballet Swan Lake with choreography by Milwaukee Ballet artistic director Michael Pink. After a musical selection from baritone singer Robert Kerr, Miami City Ballet soloist Lauren Fadeley and BalletMet’s Jarrett Reimers will perform the first of two works by Orrante on the program; a brand new pas de deux danced to an excerpt from Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor. Says Orrante of the pas de deux, it will be a reaction to the music and to the relationship Fadeley and Reimers develop dancing together.

In “A Caretaker’s Vow” (Excerpt) a solo by dancer/choreographer Marcus Jarrell Willis, the former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer explores his uncertainty about his future after leaving Ailey and how his friends encouraged and lifted him up. Set to music by British soul singer-songwriter Laura Mvula, the solo, says Willis, “takes you into my innermost thoughts.”

Next, COSI Science Center chief scientist Paul Sutter narrates “Voyager,” a new work in three stylistically diverse movement sections by three different choreographers inspired by and titled after music selections contained in NASA’s  messages from earth Golden Record included on Voyager 1 and 2’s interstellar missions.

The work opens with Orrante’s second piece on the program, a contemporary ballet for 6-women set to Blind Willie Johnson’s song “Dark Was the Night, Cold Was the Ground” sung live by McGhee. “Voyager’s” second part is a new solo by kathak dancer/choreographer Mansee Singhi danced to “Jaat Kahan Ho,” a traditional Indian song sung by Surshri Kesar Bai Kerkar that Singhi says is “related to Lord Krishna’s tales.”

Concluding the work is a new ballet for 12-dancers by Columbus Dance Theatre’s Christian Broomhall set to Bach’s “Brandenburg Concerto No. 2 in F.”  Says Broomhall, my piece is “wholly inspired by the images and feelings that the music evoked within me. It’s very quirky and whimsical.”

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From 2016’s ‘The Benefit’: BalletMet’s Caitlin Valentine-Ellis atop dancers in Atilla Bongar’s “Forced March: Second Eclogue.” Photo by Ira Graham.

Following a performance of Edvard Grieg’s “Holberg Suite, Op. 40,” performed by Camarata, will be the first of two ballets by Bongar. Yet to be titled, the ballet, set to Alexander Scriabin’s “Fantasie in B minor, Op. 28,” is a trio for Fadeley, BalletMet’s Michael Sayre and BalletMet Dance Academy student Isabelle LaPierre. Says Bongar, the ballet takes inspiration from Jacqueline Kennedy and her emotional state after husband, President John F. Kennedy died. “I saw a touching image of her and her daughter standing in front of JFK’s coffin and wondered what was going on inside her beneath her composed manner,” says Bongar.

Cincinnati Ballet soloist James Cunningham returns to The Benefit with his new ballet “Mordent.” Set to an excerpt from Beethoven’s “Piano Trio in C minor, Op.1 No.3” played live, the neo-classical ballet for two men and one woman says Cunningham, “connects heavily to the musicality of the trio.”

After a piano solo by BalletMet music director Tyrone Boyle, the program’s second-to-last offering comes from choreographer Kristopher Estes-Brown. Danced to live music by The Wind and the Sea, the new contemporary ballet for 6-dancers entitled “Somewhere, Something,” says Estes-Brown, is about “distance, time and human connection.”

Rounding out the program will be Bongar’s pas de deux “Spartacus,” set to Aram Khachaturian’s music from the ballet of the same name and will be danced by BalletMet’s Jessica Brown and Romel Frometa.

One of the easiest and best choices in helping make a difference in the lives of those with hemophilia, their families, and to help find a cure, The Benefit, is a win-win for anyone who enjoys world-class arts entertainment and making lemonade out of life’s lemons.

The fourth annual The Benefit takes place 5 p.m., Sunday, May 21, The Riffe Center’s Jo Ann Davidson Theatre, 77 S. High Street, Columbus, OH. Tickets: Adult – $30, VIP Priority Seating – $55, Student/Child – $15. (614) 902-3965, (614) 469-0939 or https://www1.ticketmaster.com/event/0500527BD2F4CC36#efeat4212

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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‘The Benefit’ Triumphs with Choreographic Gems and Delectable Dancing


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BalletMet’s Adrienne Benz and Carolina Ballet’s Marcelo Martinez in Jimmy Orrante’s “Imperfections.” Photo by Ira Graham.

The Benefit
BalletMet Performance Space
Columbus, Ohio
May 22, 2016

Reviewed By Steve Sucato

There’s nothing like a noble cause to bring out the best in artists and artistry. That was certainly the case for the third annual The Benefit (formerly Dancing for the Cure) dance concert, May 22 at BalletMet’s Performance Space in Columbus, Ohio. Produced by former BalletMet star Jimmy Orrante and current company member Attila Bongar, The Benefit was a sold-out, jam-packed evening of music and dance whose proceeds went to supporting The Central Ohio Chapter of the National Hemophilia Foundation and Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Donating their time and talents to the event were dancers from BalletMet, Carolina Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, Rochester City Ballet and elsewhere performing classical and contemporary ballet works from George Balanchine, Marius Petipa, BalletX’s Matthew Neenan, Carolina Ballet artistic director Robert Weiss and more.  Joining the dancers onstage were Camarata, a 23-member orchestra made up of musicians from the Columbus Symphony Orchestra led by principal cellist Luis Biava.

Easily amongst the very best dance productions in Columbus this year, The Benefit kicked off with the “Diamonds” pas de deux from Balanchine’s ballet Jewels (1967), performed by husband and wife pair Lauren Fadeley, currently a soloist with Miami City Ballet, and Francis Veyette, a former principal dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet.

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Miami City Ballet’s Lauren Fadeley and Francis Veyette in the “Diamonds” pas de deux from George Balanchine’s Jewels. Photo by Ira Graham.

Wowing the audience from the get go, the couple demonstrated skillful technique and an inviting stage presence that wonderfully aligned with Balanchine’s quintessential neo-classical choreography. Danced to music by Tchaikovsky thoughtfully performed by Camarata, Veyette was a steady and sturdy partner to the elegant and graceful Fadeley. The inspiring pas de deux acted as a harbinger for the wonderfully performed musical interludes, other choreographic gems and great dancing to follow.

After an adroit performance of Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude Op. 32 No. 12 in G sharp minor” by pianist Tyrone Boyle, five dancers (three women, two men) performed Cincinnati Ballet soloist James Cunningham’s “Meandering Heartbeat.” A talented young choreographer who has crafted well-received ballets for Cincinnati Ballet, this perhaps was not one of his best efforts.  Set to original music played live by Columbus ambient alternative band The Wind and the Sea along with Camarata, the contemporary “sock” ballet had the dancers darting about the stage in a mish-mash of arabesques, turns, rolls on the floor, and choppy partnering riffs that included dancer Margo Aknin stepping on partner Jarrett Reimers’ stomach to travel over him. Cunningham had some decent ideas and there were scant moments when those ideas were realized, but overall the ballet floundered.

Following an excerpt from the ballet Giselle performed tenderly by BalletMet’s Jessica Brown and Carolina Ballet’s Richard Krusch, and the sharply performed solo “Beat and Taal,” by kathak dancer/choreographer Mansee Singhi, the first of two new works by Orrante, “Imperfections,” took the stage. Danced by BalletMet’s Adrienne Benz and Carolina Ballet’s Marcelo Martinez to music by Josh Kramer, this was Orrante at his choreographic best. The superbly-crafted and danced pas de deux presented itself in waves of undulating and swirling unison dancing that was spellbinding. Equally ravishing partnered lifts sent Benz spinning skyward, her body open to the momentum and expressing fleeting moments of fragile beauty that followed one after another.  The dancers twisted, turned and gave into gravity, falling backwards only to catch themselves and then melt into another trance-inducing entwinement such as Benz, in a deep lunge supported by Martinez, stepping backwards across the stage as the tinkling of piano keys in Kramer’s music carried the dancers and the audience along in its melodic current to drift and dream.

The program’s first half closed with Bongar’s “Forced March: Second Eclogue.” Inspired by the poetry of Hungarian Miklós Radnóti who died in the holocaust and set to composer Charles Ives’ “The Unanswered Question,” Bongar’s ballet was haunting, thanks in large part to Ives’ music played with heartfelt emotion by Camarata.

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BalletMet’s Caitlin Valentine-Ellis atop dancers in Atilla Bongar’s “Forced March: Second Eclogue.” Photo by Ira Graham.

A cluster of five men in overcoats encircled and hid BalletMet’s Caitlin Valentine-Ellis from sight. Then spinning themselves outward they revealed her and became the objects she played off of, crashing into them, jumping on them, and cleaving to them. The men then spread out arms and legs opened wide, faces upward as if trees caught in a breeze that rocked them side-to-side as they basked in sunlight. Valentine-Ellis’ character appeared trapped in this melancholy world, surrounded by these men and somehow a part of them, her will no longer her own.

The program’s second half began with another musical interlude performed by Camarata that lead to Weiss’ soothing pas de deux “Meditation from Täis,” danced to music of the same name by Jules Massenet. Like Fadeley and Veyette in the program’s opening pas de deux, the dancing of Carolina Ballet principal dancers Lara O’Brien and Martinez was heavenly. Weiss’ neo-classical choreography had the pair delicately twirling like a wind sculpture with O’Brien enfolded in Martinez’s arms. The highly satisfying pas de deux earned hearty applause from the appreciative audience.

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Carolina Ballet’s Marcelo Martinez and Lara O’Brien in Robert Weiss’ “Meditation from Täis.” Photo by Ira Graham.

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(L-R) Jarrett Reimers, Michael Sayre, Ben Rabe and Jimmy Cunningham in Christian Broomhall’s “She is.” Photo by Ira Graham.

Switching gears, Columbus Dance Theatre’s Christian Broomhall’s ballet “She is,” interjected a bit of levity into the program. Another talented new choreographer, Broomhall’s contemporary dance work for four men and four women set to a suite of music sung by Billy Holiday was deliciously charming and clever. Dancing to Holiday’s rendition of the song “All of Me,” the work’s four male dancers engaged in quirky, gesture-laden choreography that had them marching about in unison choreography, dropping to the stage floor to move like inchworms, gyrating their hips and wildly waving their arms in the air, and walking on their knees, hearts aflutter toward imagined girlfriends. BalletMet’s Karen Wing and Michael Sayre then paired up in an endearing, touchy-feely duet to Holiday singing “Until The Real Thing Comes Along.” Next, it was the ladies’ turn as the work’s four women continued Broomhall’s regimented movement patterns dancing to “I’ll Be Seeing You.” The wistful dance was another example of Broomhall’s inventiveness and innate ability to make sophisticated movement choices in his choreography. The work left you wanting more.

Another Fadeley/Veyette pas de deux followed. In the vein of Broomhall’s playfully descriptive contemporary choreography, Neenan’s “11:11” (Excerpt), generously tapped into the couple’s affections for each other delightful choreography that had the pair rocking back and forth in a lullaby of warm feelings and artful dancing.

After another piano solo by Boyle playing Mendelssohn, former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer Marcus Jarrell Willis performed his powerful solo “Distance Between,” set to Debussy’s “Claire de Lune.” Willis began seated in a chair, staring across the stage at another empty chair. He then rose and began inching his way toward that chair and what it seemed to represent to him, gradually adding pace to his movements until skittering to halt in front of it. Sitting in the chair, Willis then lit into a succession of rapid arm, hands and upper torso movements a la Donald Byrd’s “White Man Sleep” (2002). Willis’ conflicted and poignant solo proved touching.

The Benefit concluded with Orrante’s “For Fun” a rollicking group ballet in the mold of Balanchine’s Western Symphony (1954) sans the costuming. Set to Don Gillis’ expansive Symphony No. 5 ½, the ballet, like the music, conjured the spirit of a hoedown scene from cowboy movie musical, only Orrante swapped the knee-slapping yeehaw’s and high stepping waltzes for refined and pretty ballet steps.

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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The Skinny on Second Companies: Benefits, Logistics and Costs


By Steve Sucato

Second companies are nothing new in dance. Some, like Ailey II and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s HS2, have been around for decades while others like Joffrey II have long gone by the wayside. In recent years, however, more and more dance organizations are seeing the value of adding a second unit to bolster their dancer ranks as well as provide an invaluable learning experience for talented young dancers to bridge the gap between student and professional.

Like their professional counterparts, second companies can come in a variety of shapes and sizes with varying goals and missions. To take a closer look at what makes a second company tick, five dance organizations with old and new second companies — BalletMet, Boston Ballet, Houston Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, and Kansas City Ballet — weighed in about the benefits, costs, logistics, and concerns involved with starting and maintaining one.

“One thing we have to understand is that what one company calls a second company, another calls something else,” says Boston Ballet artistic director Mikko Nissinen. “San Francisco Ballet apprentices are like our second company [Boston Ballet II] and our trainees are like Houston Ballet’s second company. It’s a little confusing.”

Whatever the moniker, “second company,” “studio company,” or some other variation, dance organizations give several common reasons for having one.

Education Through Performance

One main reason to build a second performing troupe is to provide talented young dancers, not quite ready for a main company contract, a place to hone their stagecraft and learn what it is like to be a professional dancer. Typically those dancers fall between the ages of 18 and 22. Some can be as young as 16, or as old as 24 if joining from a college dance program.

“The most important thing in bringing out greatness in a dancer is to put them on stage and put them on stage often,” says Hubbard Street 2 (HS2) director Terence Marling. “This … alters a person’s dancing more than anything that happens in the studio.”

In most second companies dancers augment the main company in corps de ballet roles. “A long time ago ballet companies hired inexperienced young dancers and after a few years they became well-functioning company members,” says Nissinen. “Today financial resources are so tight that nobody can afford to do that anymore, not even in Europe. So everybody needs dancers who are ready to dance. When they come from a school, they naturally don’t have professional experience and the likelihood they will survive in a company is less. If they go through a second company program, whether it is one year or two, they actually get all that experience and then when they join the company, they excel versus just get in.”

Kansas City Ballet artistic director Devon Carney, whose career began in the late 1970s as a member of Boston Ballet II (BBII), knows what being in a second company can mean to a young dancer. “It’s an invaluable internship to work in a professional company environment for a young dancer who has the ability but doesn’t have the experience yet,” says Carney.

Houston Ballet II (HB II) fields one of the largest and most successful second-company programs in the country, giving its 12 to 16 dancers from all over the globe the opportunity perform locally, regionally and nationally. They have even toured internationally to Canada, China, Hungary, Mexico and Switzerland. Houston Ballet artistic director Stanton Welch says he patterned the program after The Dancers Company, Australian Ballet’s second troupe, which his mother created when she was artistic director.  “I gained so much both as a dancer and choreographer through that company that I wanted to have the same for us in Houston.”

Dance organizations with second company dancers performing main company corps roles also benefit because it gives more opportunities for main company dancers to do soloist and principal roles says Carney. This “trickle up” effect is good for the entire company, allowing more dancers more opportunities to dance better roles and the added dancers can also allow the main company to do larger ballets.

In the case of HS2, which is essentially a second professional troupe with its own touring schedule, their dancers can be called up to the main company when needed, much like a farm club to a Major League Baseball team or the NBA’s D-league.

While in practice second company dancers are a source of cheap labor, all those I spoke to were adamant they not be treated as such, especially to the detriment of their careers. To that end, all those artistic directors I talked to limit the time a dancer can spend in their organization’s second company to one to two years. That time limit benefits both the dancer and the organization.

After one to three years, if a director will not offer a second company dancer a main company contract, “It is important to push them out of the nest,” says BalletMet artistic director Edwaard Liang. “We don’t want to them to feel complacent in a company they cannot stay in forever. It is crucial around age 21 or 22 that they go out and find a job.”

An additional benefit of the dancer turnover for the organization is it allows opportunities for other talented young dancers looking to join the second company.

Some organizations like BalletMet build in another safeguard against the unfair use of their second company dancers. If they are used in a main company leading role more than once, they automatically receive a first-year main company dancer contract.

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A former dancer turned writer/critic living in Ohio, Steve Sucato studied ballet and modern dance at the Erie Civic Ballet (Erie, Pa.) and at Pennsylvania State University. He has performed numerous contemporary and classical works sharing the stage with noted dancers Robert LaFosse, Antonia Franceschi, Joseph Duell, Sandra Brown, and Mikhail Baryshnikov. His writing credits include articles and reviews on dance and the arts for The Plain Dealer(Cleveland, Ohio), The Buffalo News, Erie Times-News (Erie, Pa.), Pittsburgh City Paper as well as magazines Pointe,Dance Studio Life, Dance Magazine, Dance International, Dance Teacher, Stage Directions, Dance Retailer News,Dancer and webzines Balletco, DanceTabs, Ballet-Dance Magazine/Critical Dance, and Exploredance.com, where he is currently associate editor. Steve is a chairman emeritus of the Dance Critics Association, an international association of dance journalists.  

Photos:
First image: Hubbard Street 2 Dancers Jade Hooper, left, and Elliot Hammans; photo by Todd Rosenberg, courtesy of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago.
Second image: Boston Ballet II’s Desean Taber and Boston Ballet’s Albert Gordon in Viktor Plotnikov’s Colloquial Dreams; photo by Liza Voll, courtesy of Boston Ballet.

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