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Curiouser and curiouser: Grand Rapids Ballet’s “Alice” overcomes early flaws to delight


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Grand Rapids Ballet’s Cassidy Isaacson and Levi Teachout in “Alice in Wonderland.” Photos by Eric Bouwens.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

For a long time, it’s been a common speculation that iconic novel “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” was the product of mind-altering drugs. The world premiere of Grand Rapids Ballet (GRB)’s production of “Alice in Wonderland” Friday night based on that tale by Lewis Carroll’s (the pseudonym for Charles Lutwidge Dodgson), feeds into that notion. The mind-blowing visual spectacle has the feel of a cross between 1960s psychedelia and Disney’s “Fantasia.” But where award-winning Argentinian visual artist Luis Grané’s colorful and cartoon-like costumes and scenic design was a highlight of the production, slow character development early on in the ballet proved problematic.

Known for his illustration work on such films as “The Matrix” (1999), “Ratatouille” (2007), “Hotel Transylvania” (2012) and “The Boxtrolls” (2014), Grané’s bold visual effects and projections acted as a moving scenic backdrop to the 90-minute multimedia production choreographed by Brian Enos. “Alice” was the first ever full-length story ballet Enos has choreographed. He was up to the challenge for the most part, employing a strategic blend of movement styles that helped illustrate each of the ballet’s characters. The artistic director of St. Louis’ The Big Muddy Dance Company, local audiences may remember Enos from his other ballet created on GRB, 2013’s Scottish-flavored “Nae Regrets.”

Family-friendly (although skewing more toward younger audiences), the ballet was set to a well thought out score of existing music by composers Alfred Schnittke, Dmitri Shostakovich, Sergei Prokofiev and others compiled by Brendan Hollins. Although not set in the usual Victorian era in favor of a more contemporary look, for the most part Enos followed Carroll’s universally known storyline.

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Filed under cultured.GR, Dance Reviews 2017

Drugs, Butoh and ‘Events Leading Up to My Death’


Antaeus Dance. Photo by Bob Christy.

Antaeus Dance. Photo by Bob Christy.

By Steve Sucato

Cleveland’s longest running annual dance series DanceWorks, presented by Cleveland Public Theatre, opens the second half of its 4-week run with a double bill featuring Tremont-based Antaeus Dance and Erie, Pennsylvania’s Shen & Bones Performance Group, April 24-26 at CPT’s  Gordon Square Theatre.

Antaeus Dance will open the double bill with two premieres.  Dancer/choreographer Heather Koniz’s 10-minute trio “Let My Hero In” features an original score by Cleveland composer Greg D’Alessio. The work, says Antaeus artistic director Joan Meggitt: “dives into the world of addiction, depicting both the inner struggle and the outward consequences of it”.  The work, based on Koniz’s personal experience with a family member, has each of its three dancers representing a different role in the addiction cycle; the drug, the addict, and those affected by the addict’s habit.

Founded in 2001, Antaeus Dance takes its name from the mythological figure Antaeus, son of Poseidon, an athletic giant who gained strength through his contact with the earth. The modern dance troupe has presented the work of more than 50 choreographers, dance artists, composers, visual artists and filmmakers to Cleveland stages and beyond, including a tour to Estonia.

Antaeus’ second premiere, also, set to original music by D’Alessio, will be Meggitt’s “Events Leading Up to My Death”. The 22-minute work for four dancers says Meggitt: “explores transformation, with ‘death’ as the metaphor”. The dance, using 30 chairs as set elements, concentrates more on the struggle before death, rather than its aftermath. The work also continues an area of interest for Meggitt in her choreography, exploring the dynamic between the individual and the group.

Shen & Bones Performance Group's Laura Swedenborg and Kerrylee Hinkson in “Sketch #1″. Photo by Amasa Smith.

Shen & Bones Performance Group’s Laura Swedenborg and Kerrylee Hinkson in “Sketch #1″. Photo by Amasa Smith.

The program’s second half will feature Shen & Bones Performance Group’s 55-minute dance-theater piece Betweens, a collection of vignettes featuring some of the company’s best known repertory works culled together into a singular dance experience.

Founded in 1999 by and directed by Arizona State University graduate Lani Weissbach, Shen & Bones Performance Group blends contemporary Japanese dance form butoh with western contemporary dance styles. The company has performed throughout Pennsylvania as well as in New York City, Washington, D.C. and Chicago.

Set to an eclectic mix of music by J.S. Bach, Aphex Twin, Brian Eno and others, Betweens features choreography by Weissbach in collaboration with the dancers and Philadelphia choreographer Robert Bingham.  Weissbach says the work is built around the Japanese spatial concept of “Ma”, referring to the “between” space, a consciousness of place via the imagination.

Betweens implies space, but more specifically, the space that completes the whole,” says Weissbach.

Antaeus Dance and Shen & Bones Performance Group perform as part of DanceWorks 2014, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, April 24 – Saturday, April 26. Cleveland Public Theatre’s Gordon Square Theatre, 6415 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland, OH. Tickets $12-28. (216) 631-2727 ext. 501 or cptonline.org.

 

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