Tag Archives: Cincinnati Ballet

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


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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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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