Tag Archives: Cincinnati Ballet

Cincinnati Ballet’s ‘Director’s Cut’ Amused, Charmed and Enthralled


Maizyalet Velázquez, Sirui Liu and Christina LaForgia Morse in Ma Cong’s “Near Light.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

Cincinnati Ballet
Director’s Cut
Procter & Gamble Hall at Aronoff Center
Cincinnati, Ohio
September 16, 2016

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

To kick off her 20th anniversary season as artistic director of Cincinnati Ballet, Victoria Morgan culled together seven diverse ballets for the program Director’s Cut, performed by Cincinnati Ballet, September 16-17, 2016 at the Aronoff Center’s Procter & Gamble Hall in downtown Cincinnati.

Performed in part to live music by the Cincinnati Ballet Orchestra conducted by Carmon Deleone, Director’s Cut amused, charmed and enthralled opening night, September 16 beginning with New York City Ballet resident choreographer Justin Peck’s “Capricious Maneuvers” (2013).

Presently, one of ballet’s “it” choreographers, Peck’s neoclassical ballet was a satisfying blend of classic NYCB style infused with contemporary ballet sensibilities. Danced to Lukas Foss’ “Capriccio for Cello and Piano” performed live by cellist Nathaniel Chaitkin and pianist Michael Chertock, the ballet for five had a relaxed feel to it.  Dancers paired off in partnered movement phrases, while others nonchalantly stood by watching. Peck’s breezy choreography was playful and sophisticated a la a Mark Morris work. And like a Morris work, its ease look belied its technical difficulty. Up to the challenge, newly promoted senior soloist Sirui Liu shined in the ballet with a combination of textbook form and silky-smooth port de bras.


Cincinnati Ballet dancers in Justin Peck’s “Capricious Maneuvers.” Photo by Peter Mueller.


James Cunningham and Sirui Liu in Justin Peck’s “Capricious Maneuvers.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

Next, petite powerhouse Chisako Oga teamed up with José Losada for “Black Swan Pas de Deux,” from Swan Lake choreographed by Morgan after Marius Petipa. In it, Oga was slow to immerse herself in the devilishly seductive Odile character. When she finally did her performance moved from decent to delicious. As “Black Swan” pairings go, Oga and Losada were overall technically solid but lacked chemistry which diminished the famous pas de deux’s emotional impact.

One of the program’s pleasant surprises was company soloist James Cunningham’s whimsical “Prohibition Condition.” Set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich, the solo for CB principal dancer Rodrigo Almarales proved an audience favorite. From the moment Almarales stumbled on to the stage in a comically drunken stupor, he endeared himself to the audience. His mugging and making fun of orchestra conductor Deleone’s movements in the pit elicited audience chuckles. For his part, Cunningham’s well-crafted choreography balanced clever, inebriation-inspired movement with bravura ballet fireworks in which Almarales tossed off series of jumps, pirouettes and attitude turns with relative ease.

Created for San Francisco Ballet in 2008, Yuri Possokhov’s “Fusion” (Excerpts), with music by Graham Fitkin, had a dreamlike atmosphere about it. It opened with dancer Sarah Van Patten performing a contemporary ballet solo on one end of the stage while behind her on the opposite side, a quartet of male dancers, backs to the audience in long skirts, stood with arms around each other’s waists in shadow. Van Patten was soon joined by Luke Ingham and the choreography took on a melancholy mood with bendy movements and those suggesting falling. Moving out from the shadows, the quartet of men then began to softly twirl like ghostly whirling dervishes. Perhaps seeing the ballet in its entirety would give one a better sense of it, nonetheless, the imagery and performances by the dancers in these excerpts related a sense of beauty that stirred internal emotions.


Sarah Hairston and Zack Grubbs (center) with CBII and Otto M. Budig Academy Students in Marius Petipa’s “Raymonda Grand Pas Hongrois.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

Rounding out the program’s first half, the “Grand Pas Hongrois” from the ballet Raymonda was bittersweet for Cincinnati Ballet fans. On the one hand it was a spectacle of classical ballet pomp and circumstance. On the other however, it was one of principal dancer Sarah Hairston and senior soloist Zach Grubbs last performances. The two audience favorites retired from the company with this production. They will remain with the organization however, taking on leaderships roles at Cincinnati Ballet’s Otto M. Budig Academy.

Danced to music by Alexander Glazunov, Hairston and Grubbs led a corps of eight male-female couples from CB’s academy in Raymonda’s celebratory wedding scene which alternated between sweeping group dances and showy solo variations for Hairston and Grubbs.

A 15-year company veteran, Hairston brought elegance, energy and sass to the role of Raymonda and her dancing, typifying her performing career. As Jean de Brienne, Grubbs was regal and a steady partner to Hairston.


Melissa Gelfin and Cervilio Miguel Amador in Victoria Morgan’s “Patriotic Pas.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

After the world-premiere of Morgan’s “Patriotic Pas,” a jaunty duet danced by Melissa Gelfin and Cervilio Miguel Amador to familiar tunes contained in Morton Gould’s American Suite such as “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” Director’s Cut concluded with the gem of the evening, the world-premiere of Ma Cong’s “Near Light.”

Amidst a blanket of stage fog and in spotlight, a red rose fell from a woman’s hand into those of a male kneeling before her. Was this a memory or a premonition? The rose was then then passed from one dancer to another who came onstage until finally it disappeared from our sight along with the stage fog.


Patric Palkens in Ma Cong’s “Near Light.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

Set to a haunting collection of works by composer Ólafur Arnalds, Cong’s contemporary ballet spoke to the viewer on multiple levels. Visually, the combination of Trad A. Burns’ atmospheric lighting and Cong’s velvety movement for the dancers imprinted images of bodies in beautiful motion intertwining, cascading and melting into each other. Emotionally, Arnalds’ aching music and the dancers’ passionate response to it, left one breathtakingly silent. As in “Capricious Maneuvers,” Liu mesmerized. So too did Abigail Morwood whose stellar performance overflowed with intensity, drama and grace.

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.

Leave a comment

Filed under Dance Reviews 2016

BalletMet and Cincinnati Ballet Joint Production a Delectable Treat


BalletMet dancers in Edwaard Liang’s “Age of Innocence.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet and Cincinnati Ballet – Inspired
Ohio Theatre
Columbus, OH
March 11-13, 2016

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Extoling the latest joint production of BalletMet and Cincinnati Ballet is like lauding the pleasures of chocolate; everyone knows them. But for those who sadly missed Inspired, March 11-13 at Columbus’ Ohio Theatre, let me unwrap some of its velvety goodness for you.

Opening night’s performance on March 11 began with BalletMet performing artistic director Edwaard Liang’s signature ballet “Age of Innocence.” Set to music by Philip Glass and Thomas Newman, the ballet, originally created on Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet in 2008, was inspired by the late 18th century and early 19th century romantic fiction of English novelist Jane Austin.

The ballet for eight women and eight men had the pedigree of one created for an elite troupe like the Joffrey.  The understated, yet rich looking backdrop of crimson drapes along with costume designer Maria Pinto’s modern take on period formalwear (both courtesy of Joffrey Ballet), presented the viewer with a contemporary vision of a bygone era of formal balls, arranged marriages and women as second class citizens.

As if taking part in one such ball, BalletMet’s dancers streamed onto the stage, males to one side, females to the other, lined up across from and facing one another in preparation to dance. The men bowed and the women curtsied.

With “Age of Innocence” Liang captured the prim and proper demeanor of those depicted in Austin’s novels. The regimented group choreography had a geometric beauty and grace to it. Male and female rows of dancers crossed lines, came together to hold hands and then moved apart in an elegant courtship ritual. Dancers’ sweeping arms and scooped hands wrapped around their heads, bodies cocked to one side at odd angles and legs shot out into arabesques. As intricate as Liang’s group choreography was, the ballet shone brightest in several scrumptious pas de deuxs contained within it.


BalletMet dancers in Edwaard Liang’s “Age of Innocence.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

The first, danced by Karen Wing and Michael Sayre, built in momentum like the music to which it was danced.  Dense with partnered lifts, Wing was wrapped around Sayre’s waist like a fanny pack and then dipped into a “Fish” pose.  The second, and the ballet’s finest, came in its penultimate 4th movement. Caitlin Valentine-Ellis and David Ward dazzled in a breathtaking display of grace, power and daring.  Valentine-Ellis appeared to float on air in Liang’s spellbinding choreography that produced a wow lift where she executed an arabesque penché at Ward’s side and was grabbed by her extended leg from behind Ward who pulled her upside down and over him as he bent forward to land seated on his now flattened back. The clever move elicited gasps from the delighted audience that resonated throughout the theater.

“Age of Innocence” drove home once again how fortunate Columbus dance audiences are to have a world-class choreographer leading BalletMet. The level of ballets and dancer talent Liang has assembled since his arrival in 2013 far exceeds the company’s mid-size budget.

Next it was Cincinnati Ballet’s turn to shine in choreographer Trey McIntyre’s brilliant and funny “Wild Sweet Love.” Originally created for Sacramento Ballet in 2007, “Wild Sweet Love” was a delightfully quirky and athletic work set to disparate music by The Zombies, Roberta Flack, Felix Mendelssohn and others, and featured principal dancer Sarah Hairston as a downtrodden woman unlucky in love. Looking like a depressed Mary Katherine Gallagher, the fictional Saturday Night Live character portrayed by comedienne Molly Shannon, Hairston wonderfully sulked around the stage creating sad, but endearingly humorous moments throughout the ballet.

Delivered as a series of adroitly danced vignettes that included multiple costume changes, “Wild Sweet Love” explored the range of emotions being in love and lacking love in your life can bring.


Cincinnati Ballet’s Sarah Hairston in Trey McIntyre’s “Wild Sweet Love.” Photo by Peter Mueller.


Cincinnati Ballet’s Sirui Liu and Romel Frometa in Trey McIntyre’s “Wild Sweet Love.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

Highlighting the ballet was the effervescent and spunky performances of corps de ballet dancer Jaqueline Damico and principal dancer Cervilio Miguel Amador in a duet danced to The Partridge Family’s 1974 hit “I Think I Love You.” All smiles, Damico and Amador blazed through playful choreography that had them darting about, twisting and turning in an infectious groove that the viewer couldn’t help but be swept up in.

Also of note was a trio in which an envious, somewhat vengeful Hairston looked on as soloist Sirui Liu and senior soloist Romel Frometa engaged in a bizarre pas de deux in which Liu took swings at Frometa with clenched fists in-between fondly embracing him.

After another depressingly funny solo by Hairston, who pulled her shirt over her face, the ballet concluded with the cast (including a few BalletMet 2 dancers as extras) coming together in a rollicking group dance to Queen’s 1976 anthem “Somebody to Love.”  In it, Hairston, encircled by the others was triumphantly lifted skyward like a cheerleader only to come back down to earth literally and figuratively disappearing into the middle of the crowd of dancers, her tutu having been pulled up over her face.

The stellar program ended with a joint performance of George Balanchine’s 1970 masterwork “Who Cares?.”

Set to seventeen Broadway musical songs by George Gershwin, orchestrated by Hershy Kay, including “Strike Up The Band!,” “‘S Wonderful” and “I Got Rhythm,” the high-stepping, high-energy neo-classical ballet was Balanchine at his Broadway-esque best.

The two companies meshed perfectly in it, and unlike their last collaboration in Balanchine’s “Symphony in C” in 2014, the much improved BalletMet was every bit the equal of Cincinnati Ballet in classical technique and artistry.


BalletMet and Cincinnati Ballet in George Balanchine’s “Who Cares?” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.


BalletMet and Cincinnati Ballet in George Balanchine’s “Who Cares?” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

Standouts included BalletMet’s Grace-Anne Powers and Attila Bongar dashing back and forth across the stage to Gershwin’s “Oh, Lady Be Good!,” and Valentine-Ellis with Miguel Anaya performing flawlessly in an emotionally dramatic pas de deux to “The Man I Love.”  The pas, first performed by New York City Ballet stars Patricia McBride and Jacques d’Amboise, had the feel of an old Hollywood movie production number and proved a real gem.

Also of note was the performance of Anaya, as a debonair ladies’ man, in several other pas de deuxs with different partners including he and BalletMet’s Adrienne Benz twirling to “Embraceable You,” and with Jessica Brown in a leisurely game of tag to the song “Who Cares?.”

The carefree ballet was a fitting end to a deliciously decadent evening of dance teeming with tasty performances to satisfy any ballet lover’s sweet tooth.


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.


Leave a comment

Filed under Dance Reviews 2016

Northeast Ohio Summer Dance in Review

Ballet Hispanico dancers in Eduardo Vilaro's "Asuka".

Ballet Hispanico dancers in Eduardo Vilaro’s “Asuka”. Photo by Dale Dong.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

It’s a tale of two cities when it comes to summer dance in Northeast Ohio; two marquee, municipally run performance series, one in Akron and the other in Cleveland, count for the bulk of the region’s professional dance by local and nationally touring companies.

Billed as the oldest, free summer dance series in the United States, the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival in Akron was established in 1974 to honor the legacy of founding artistic director of now defunct Ohio Ballet, Heinz Poll. The family-friendly series held at four city parks and historical sites showcases dance to some 10,000 attendees each season. The 41st edition, which ran four consecutive weekends, opened with New York’s Ballet Hispanico at Goodyear Heights Metro Park.

Chairs and blankets stretched out far and wide in front of the portable stage as area residents of all ages settled in for an evening of dance under the stars, a scene repeated at all the festival’s venues. Ballet Hispanico artistic director Eduardo Vilaro’s Latin-infused contemporary Asuka (2011) kicked things off. Bursting with energy, the playful, hip-shaking piece for a dozen dancers celebrated the music of the late Cuban “Queen of Salsa” Celia Cruz. Next, Sombrerisimo (2013) was the first and best of two works by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. Inspired by the surrealist paintings of Belgian artist René Magritte, the all-male cast of six — in untucked dress shirts, pants and black bowler hats — moved through well-crafted choreography full of leaps, jumps and dancer inter- weaving as they cleverly transferred hats from one to another.

Rounding out the program was a pas de deux from Tito on Timbales (1984), William Whitener’s tribute to percussionist Tito Puente, danced adroitly by Alexander Duval and Jessica Alejandra Wyatt, and Lopez Ochoa’s Mad’moiselle (2010), a wonderfully bizarre satire on the many images of “Maria” found in Latin culture, including West Side Story.

Neos Dance Theatre's Mary-Elizabeth Fenn and company in Penny Saunders' "Flight".  Photo by Dale Dong.

Neos Dance Theatre’s Mary-Elizabeth Fenn and company in Penny Saunders’ “Flight”. Photo by Dale Dong.

The second weekend featured Mansfield, Ohio-based Neos Dance Theatre, the rising regional company with national aspirations, which offered up three ballets, including festival standout, Penny Saunders’ Flight (2014).

Flight, set to an eclectic soundscape, opened on a group of dancers in uniform grey  tops and slacks moving in robotic unison to spooky music à la a Tim Burton film. The quirky dance work switched gears as Hank Williams Sr.’s Ramblin’ Man ushered in a trio of men in western-infused choreography that had them moseying through snaking movement patterns and arching lifts. In the last section, which emulated the work’s robotic beginnings, Mary-Elizabeth Fenn, moving like a dancer from a music box, stood atop the lone set piece, a wooden box, surrounded by dancers on their knees holding her in place by her ankles; Fenn’s beautifully danced movements evolved from calm and graceful to frantic.

The premiere of artistic director Bobby Wesner’s Slow Moving and Almost Stopped proved true to its title. Dancers spun one another in crouched, flat-footed circles that mesmerized like a figure skater’s effortless glide. Wesner’s nonchalant choreography, set to folksy music, had dancers giving into gravity’s pull and falling into one another’s arms while others engaged in tightly managed movement riffs. The program concluded with Wesner’s 2013 Spinning Plates.

In perhaps the most apropos pairing of dance and venue, Cleveland’s GroundWorks DanceTheater joined with ChamberFest Cleveland musicians to perform David Shimotakahara’s Ghost Opera (2014) at the historic Glendale Cemetery. Inspired by childhood memories of the shamanistic “ghost operas” found in Chinese peasant culture, Tan Dun’s 1994 composition Ghost Opera evoked a ceremonial feel of conjuring spirits and communing with the departed that Shimotakahara (GroundWorks’ artistic director) sought to capture in movement.

GroundWorks DanceTheater dancer Annika Sheaff in David Shimotakahara's "Ghost Opera". Photo by Dale Dong.

GroundWorks DanceTheater dancer Annika Sheaff in David Shimotakahara’s “Ghost Opera”. Photo by Dale Dong.

Water splashed, voices chanted and sang, and violins,  a cello  and  a Chinese  pipa  (a four-stringed lute) were played live, providing a haunting soundscape. Shimotakahara’s choreography ebbed and flowed between the dancers en masse huddling and cleaving to each other and duets and solos that spoke of earth, family and, oddly enough, the music of Bach and the writings of Shakespeare. An esoteric work compared to most summer dance fare, Ghost Opera was marvellously performed and well received.

GroundWorks’ double-bill program, which brought the living and the dead together in celebration of the 175th anniversary of the cemetery, began on a festive note with Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s Hindsight (2011), a tribute to the music of Akron native Chrissie Hynde and her band the Pretenders in a jazzy, Broadway-esque romp.

The series at Cleveland Heights’ Cain Park presented dance in two covered outdoor theatres. A ticketed series welcomed Cleveland-based Verb Ballets in four works that showcased the young dancers. Pamela Pribisco’s Tarantella (2005) provided an energetic boost to the classic dance staple. It was performed with spunk by Michael Hinton and last-minute injury substitution Megan Buckley. Buckley’s charm and effervescence captured the hearts of the audience, leading to cheering at the ballet’s end.

Photo courtesy of Verb Ballets.

Photo courtesy of Verb Ballets.

The program’s gem was the company premiere of former Cincinnati Ballet principal dancer Anthony Krutzkamp’s Similar (2012). Set to piano music by Chad Lawson and Brian Crain, the well-crafted contemporary ballet opened on three male-female couples engaged in angular, elongated unison choreography. Confident and polished, Verb’s dancers shone, especially Stephaen Hood and Lieneke Matte in a delicate pas de deux.

A few days later, Inlet Dance Theatre doled out a pleasing dose of artistic director Bill Wade’s message-driven, Pilobolus-style dance works, including his athletic, amusing duet A Close Shave (2006). The work, which involved the mirror image of a man shaving come to life, was danced with wit, precision and strength by Joshua Brown and Dominic Moore-Dunson. The jam-packed program of eight uplifting works also featured Wade’s signature body sculpture wonder, Ascension (2006).

Capping the performances was Philadelphia hip-hop troupe Illstyle & Peace Productions in Same Spirit Different Movement II: IMpossible IZZpossible & KINGZ. The positive spirit pro- gram featured 19-year-old spoken word artist Syreeta, whose hard-hitting poems spoke of small-town poverty and prejudice, along with a potent mix of deejaying, gospel music and magnificently performed old-school locking, popping, breaking, tap and house dancing. Company founder and dancer Brandon “Peace” Albright and dancer Reggie TapMan Myers captivated in the party atmosphere collection of dance.

This review first appeared in the 2014 winter issue of Dance International magazine. Copyright Steve Sucato.

To subscribe to Dance International magazine  Click here.

Click here to subscribe to Dance International magazine

Leave a comment

Filed under Dance International, Dance Reviews 2014