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Fifth Annual ‘The Benefit’ Set To Wow Audiences Again With World-Class Music and Dance  


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From 2017’s ‘The Benefit’: Dancers in Cincinnati Ballet soloist James Cunningham’s “Mordent.” Photo by Bullfrog Willard McGhee.

By Steve Sucato

One of the region’s premiere arts events, The Benefit returns for the fifth year running on Sunday, May 20 at downtown Columbus’ Jo Ann Davidson Theatre at the Riffe Center. Produced and curated by former BalletMet dancers Jimmy Orrante and Attila Bongar, the talent-packed evening of dance and music benefits The Central Ohio Chapter of the National Hemophilia Foundation.

Joining The Benefit’s returning music groups Camarata (a multi-piece orchestra made up of musicians from the Columbus Symphony Orchestra led by CSO principal cellist Luis Biava) and Columbus ambient alternative band The Wind and the Sea playing live, will be dancers from BalletMet, Cincinnati Ballet, Dayton Ballet, Grand Rapids Ballet and Miami City Ballet.

The 90-minute program kicks off with Bongar’s “Concerto in A Minor,” titled after the music it is set to by Johann Sebastian Bach played live by Camarata. The work for 6 women is an homage to the movement style of father of American ballet, George Balanchine.  Says Bongar: “I’ve spent most my career dancing his [Balanchine’s] ballets or in his style. It shaped me as an artist and I have a huge appreciation of how he impacted American Ballet.”

Next, The Benefit regular Cincinnati Ballet soloist James Cunningham debuts his new ballet “Ristretto,” set to the 4th movement of Dmitri Shostakovich’s “Sonata for Cello and Piano in D minor IV Allegro,” also played live by Camarata. Named after the concentrated espresso drink, the 4-minute contemporary ballet for 4 dancers patterns its movements after another meaning for “ristretto” in Italian — restricted, says Cunningham.

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From 2017’s ‘The Benefit’: Dancers in Christian Broomhall’s “Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 2.” Photo by Bullfrog Willard McGhee.

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From 2017’s ‘The Benefit’: Milwaukee Ballet’s Nicole Teague Howell and Patrick Howell in the second act pas de deux from Michael Pink’s “Swan Lake.” Photo by Bullfrog Willard McGhee.

Premiered by BalletMet in 2015, Canadian choreographer James Kudelka’s “Real Life has the feel of “a mechanized square dance,” I wrote in a review of work’s debut. Danced to Caroline Shaw’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning Partita for 8 Voices, BalletMet dancers Caitlin Valentine-Ellis, Jessica Brown, Martin Roosaare and Peter Kurta will perform an excerpt of the unique dance work that will have them “promenading through a tricky series of alternating handshake holds and snaking around one another in delicious patterns.”

The Benefit first-timer, Russell Lepley’s 5-minute “The Things That I Knew,” is a contemporary dance work set to music by Joanna Newsom (performed live) whose concept says Lepley “is to transcribe the music directly to dancers’ bodies.”  A former dancer with Les Grand Ballet Canadians and co-founder of Columbus’ Flux + Flow Dance and Movement Center, Lepley’s piece for 6 dancers, he says “was created by generating detailed movements which oscillate between abstract shapes and the familiar lines of classical ballet to create a whimsical, refined movement vocabulary.”

After a choreographer Kristopher Estes-Brown’s pas de deux “Little Bird” for BalletMet dancers Jessica Brown and Michael Sayre, kathak dancer/choreographer Mansee Singhi will perform her 5-minute solo “Sangam-Confluence of Music and Dance.” Says Singhi, the dance is “a Tarana (a musical composition) in which words and syllables are based on Persian phonemes and “showcases rhythmic footwork on fast beats…music and singing.”

Closing the program’s first half will be BalletMet 2 dancer Allison Perhach and BalletMet company member Sean Rollofson in Balanchine’s iconic “Tchaikovsky Pas de deux.”

After an intermission, the jam-packed program’s second half will open with the musical interlude “Akhnaten” (Excerpt) by composer Philip Glass performed by Camarata, The Wind and The sea and baritone Robert Kerr.

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From 2017’s ‘The Benefit’: Miami City Ballet principal soloist Lauren Fadeley and BalletMet’s Michael Sayre in Attila Bongar’s “63.” Photo by Bullfrog Willard McGhee.

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From 2017’s ‘The Benefit’: Marcus Jarrell Willis in “A Caretakers Vow.” Photo by Bullfrog Willard McGhee.

Then, former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer Marcus Jarrell Willis will perform his 7 ½-minute contemporary modern solo “Beyond Reach.”  Danced to music by Richard Goode, the work, like last year’s “A Caretaker’s Vow,” encapsulates Willis’ emotional state during an important transition in his life/career; this time just after joining Ailey.

Like compatriot Bongar, Orrante’s new 5-minute ballet “Arc” is set to a composition by Bach that will be played live by Luis Biava (cello) and Suzanne Newcomb (piano). The neo-classical/contemporary ballet for 6 dancers takes its inspiration from Bach’s “Ave Maria,” which will be performed twice in succession.

Next, former Pennsylvania Ballet dancers and current Miami City Ballet principal soloists Lauren Fadeley and Alexander Peters will reprise choreographer Matthew Neenan’s “La Chasse”.  The pair premiered the pas de deux in 2014 as part of Pennsylvania Ballet’s program A 50th Finale: The Ultimate Celebration.

BalletMet company dancer Leiland Charles then makes his The Benefit choreographic debut with “Too Real,” set to music by, and played live by The Wind and The Sea. The 4 ½-minute contemporary dance work for 6 dancers says Charles, has “an otherworldly atmosphere to it.”

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From 2017’s ‘The Benefit’: Miami City Ballet principal soloist Lauren Fadeley and BalletMet’s Jarrett Reimers in Jimmy Orrante’s “Regard.” Photo by Bullfrog Willard McGhee.

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From 2017’s ‘The Benefit’: Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s Luis Biava conducts Camarata. Photo by Bullfrog Willard McGhee.

After another musical interlude featuring baritone Robert Kerr in Mozart’s “Hai già vinta la causa!” from The Marriage of Figaro, and Camarata performing Béla Bartók’s “Divertimento Molto Adagio No. II,” the program concludes with Gabor Toth’s interpretation of Jozsef Janek’s work “Train.” The 5-minute piece based in Hungarian folk dance uses the metaphor of a train to symbolize humanity’s journey through life. Says Toth: “Just like a train we all have a journey while we depart and arrive in different stages in our lives.”

Following the performance there will be a meet and greet with the performers that includes refreshments and a silent auction that is open to all ticket-holders.

Joan Wallick presents the fifth annual The Benefit, 5:30 p.m., Sunday, May 20, 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 or https://www1.ticketmaster.com/event/05005442FF8CAA11

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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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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