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Cuba’s Malpaso Dance Company Returns to Cleveland with Program of Quiet Brilliance


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Malpaso Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s “Tabula Rasa”. Photo by Nir Arieli.

Malpaso Dance Company
Playhouse Square’s Allen Theatre
Cleveland, Ohio
August 10, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

With previous performances in Cleveland in 2016 and 2017, Malpaso Dance Company’s return this past Saturday to Playhouse Square and the Allen Theatre felt like seeing a dear friend again.

Presented by DANCECleveland in collaboration with American Dance Festival to close out the third annual American Dance Festival in Cleveland, the Cuban contemporary dance company this time offered up a triple bill of quiet yet emotionally riveting dance works.  

Their evening program began with choreographer Sonya Tayeh’s 2017 commissioned work, “Face The Torrent”.  Choreographed in part during a creative residency provided by DANCECleveland, the work , said Tayeh in a Facebook live interview, was inspired by her recent concerns over “the state of the world” and an urge to “unify, rally and gather.”

Best known for her choreography for Broadway’s Moulin Rouge! The Musical and her Emmy Award-nominated work on TV’s So You Think You Can Dance, Tayeh brought some of that same rich emotional content that made her a darling of SYTYCD fans to “Face The Torrent”.

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Malpaso Dance Company in Sonya Tayeh’s “Face the Torrent”. Photo by Rose Eichenbaum.

Danced to music by cellist/composer Colette Alexander with folk duo The Bengsons, the 20-minute piece for 8 dancers began with the cast in a horizontal line across the back of the stage moving in a slow cautious walk forward evoking a feeling of impending doom in their demeanor, one that Tayeh says she incorporated into the work after having intense dreams of a huge body of water coming at her.  

Led by dancer Abel Rojo who appeared particularly struck by whatever dark forces were descending on the dancers, Rojo often broke from the dancers’ unison walks in lines across the stage to sink into pained cowering with his arms shielding his face and head.

The dancers’ straight line walking then gave way to embracing and intertwining movement with the cast pairing off in male/female couples as Alexander’s haunting cello music became invaded by distorted whispers of a female voice saying “I wonder how to cope with this?” Tayeh’s velvety partnered movement in this section was the picture of beauty and melancholy and Malpaso’s dancers radiated both. Stark, dramatic and carefully-crafted, “Face The Torrent” left a lasting impression.

Next was company dancer Beatriz Garcia’s debut work for Malpaso, “Being (Ser)” (2018). The 12-minute trio set music by Italian composer Ezio Bosso was danced by Garcia, Dunia Acosta and Armando Gomez.

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(L-R) Malpaso Dance Company’s Armando Gomez, Dunia Acosta and Beatriz Garcia in Beatriz Garcia’s “Being (Ser)”. Photo by Nir Arieli.

Costumed in all white and dancing in socks, the trio of performers spent the first part of the work repeatedly traversing the stage in idiosyncratic solo movement phrases that entered from one side of the stage and exited the other.  Those solo riffs then turned into duets and a trio as the work progressed. Garcia’s contemporary dance choreography favored movement that bent and twisted the dancers’ shoulders and torsos, and like “Face The Torrent”, had the trio bunching and intertwining their bodies in close-quartered movement phrases. The work was a fine effort for the promising choreographer that fit right in with the style and quality of the works in the company’s diverse repertory. One hopes to see more from Garcia as choreographer for the company in addition to her adroit dancing.

The program then closed with another thoughtful and atmospheric work, Ohad Naharin’s “Tabula Rasa”, set to music of the same name by composer Arvo Pärt.

Created on nearby Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 1986 (and who inexplicably haven’t performed it in over 20 years), the over 30-year-old, 30-minute modern dance piece whose title means “clean slate”, felt like a newly-minted work on Malpaso’s 10 dancers who appeared to own the former Batsheva Dance Company director’s “gaga” movement language as if it were a part of their upbringing.

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Malpaso Dance Company in Ohad Naharin’s “Tabula Rasa”. Photo by Nir Arieli.

Naharin’s simply structured unison movement phrases for the work full of leans and sways was an adept counterpoint to Pärt’s passionate string music that tore at one’s soul with a desperate longing.  And while Naharin’s clever choreography did not parallel the music’s aching, the choreographer did incorporate into it a few heartbreaking moments. One such scene had the dancers pairing off with one dancer charging into the other’s arms in desperate embraces. Ms. Acosta made such a charge only to have her male partner turn his back on her at the last moment causing her to crash to the floor stunned and dejected.

“Tabula Rasa” is prime example of Naharin’s early genius as a choreographer. A precursor to his often performed masterwork “Minus 16” (1999), it is itself masterful and was a fitting closer to Malpaso’s program that wowed the Allen Theatre audience with its emotion and exquisite music and thoughtful dancing. A standing ovation was given from the appreciative audience signaling a hope that Malpaso will continue to make Cleveland a regular stop on future U.S. tours.

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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BalletX Marked the Spot for Great Dance at ADF in CLE


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BalletX in Lil Buck’s “Express”. Photo courtesy of BalletX.

BalletX
Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre
Cleveland, Ohio
July 27, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Philadelphia’s BalletX opened DANCECleveland’s 2019-2020 season this past Saturday as part of year three of the annual American Dance Festival in Cleveland. The contemporary ballet company founded in 2005 by former Pennsylvania Ballet dancers Christine Cox and Matthew Neenan, made its Cleveland debut at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre in a program featuring three diverse works that by its end, brought the audience to its feet in appreciation.

Known as a breeding ground for new works by contemporary choreographic voices from around the globe, much has happened with BalletX since its last visit to Northeast Ohio back in 2013. Neenan has moved on from company leadership to concentrate fully on his burgeoning choreographic career and BalletX in 2018 opened its new Center for World Premiere Choreography, moving into a new 5,000 square foot studio and administrative home in Philadelphia.

What hadn’t changed since 2013, was the ability of the company and its 10 dancers (including former GroundWorks Dance Theater dancer Blake Krapels) from knocking an audience’s socks off with world class dancing in world class dance works.

The program opened with choreographer Nicolo Fonte’s latest ballet for the company “Steep Drop, Euphoric” (2019) set to music by Ezio Bosso and Ólafur Arnalds. The 25-minute piece began with the jolting screech of string instruments to usher in the first of many traveling dancer tableaus that would be integral to the look of the ballet beginning with dancer Chloe Perkes being lifted to stand atop the shoulders of several other dancers.

Fonte’s choreographic style for the ballet had BalletX’s full complement of dancers flowing from one smoothly formed tableau of dancers being lifted or melting into one another’s arms a la the works of choreographers Lar Lubovich and Doug Varone.  The lush movement was characterized by the dancers swaying and sinking into close-quartered interactions with each other, arms often suspended in air briefly. Fonte alternated the  pace of the ballet with quick bursts of movement by individual dancers mixed in with slower group dance phrases.

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BalletX in Nicolo Fonte’s “Steep Drop, Euphoric”. Photo courtesy of BalletX.

At one end of the rear of the stage, a long piece of what looked to be Marley dance floor (the slip-resistant surface the dancers perform on) hung from the rafters and was unrolled to the stage floor, suggesting a road to the heavens. The image jived with Fonte’s thoughts on the ballet contained in the program notes that read: “Perhaps the only places left unexplored are the canyons of your interior geography, the dark alleys of your consciousness – one of which might lead you to your road to bliss.”

That interior geography and potential road to bliss appeared to belong to Perkes’ character who throughout the ballet stepped in and out of dancing with the others to stand on the Marley road and gaze back at her fellow performers as if reflecting on her life.

In a later section of the ballet, dancers Andrea Yorita and Zachary Kapeluck launched into the first of two successive pas de deuxs. Yorita, a diminutive powerhouse, burst about the stage with spritely energy showing off her beautiful extension, turning ability, and footwork.  A second pas de deux immediately followed with dancers Skyler Lubin and Stanley Glover continuing the barrage of beautiful choreography that culminated in the dancers forming a quartet spiced with partnered lifts.  After a heartfelt solo danced by Perkes in spotlight moving along the Marley road, the ballet ended as it began with her standing atop several dancers’ shoulders reaching out. This time not toward the Marley road leading out on to the stage, but the one leading upward.

Next the company switched its stylistic gears in Charles “Lil Buck” Riley’s “Express” (2018), danced to jazz music by The Late Show with Stephen Colbert bandleader Jon Batiste.  Lil Buck, a dancer, actor and model from Memphis, Tennessee, burst onto the dance scene in a big way in the past few years in large part due to his “Memphis jookin” hip hop dance version of Michel Fokine’s ballet classic “The Dying Swan” that went viral.

For the 16-minute “Express,” the choreographer fused his mostly improvised jookin movement language with ballet and jazz movement to create a hybrid style that fit nicely on BalletX’s dancers.  Costumed in streetwear and sneakers for the men, pointe shoes for the women (at least to begin with), the work was overall a fun, flirty, and jazzy play on male/female relationship banter.

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Stanley Glover in Lil Buck’s “Express”. Photo courtesy of BalletX.

The work’s finest moment came in a solo by featured dancer Glover to Batiste’s melancholy dirge “Saint James Infirmary Blues.” The silky smooth Glover moved with the freedom of Lil Buck himself in the jookin-flavored solo.

By work’s end the women had swapped their point shoes for red Nike sneakers, and the entire cast of 10, especially dancer Cali Quan, let their funk flag fly in a frenetically fabulous finale to the Jon Batiste and Stay Human song “Express Yourself (Say Yes)” capped by Batiste asking the question, “What is Jazz?”

The program ended most satisfyingly with a reprise of Neenan’s signature ballet for the company, “The Last Glass”(2010) that the company performed in Akron in 2013.

Inspired by what Neenan referred to as “wild street-parade,” the 25-minute ballet all 10 dancers was set to suite of 8 tunes by American indie-rock band Beirut, and whose emotional lyrics Neenan took to heart in his choreography.

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BalletX in Matthew Neenan’s “The Last Glass”. Photo courtesy of BalletX.

I wrote of the ballet in 2013:  As if splashing through puddles of emotion that covered the stage, the dancers kicked up anger, joy and sadness, which then clung to them, giving their characters an underlying motivation and exposing their imperfections.

Masterfully-crafted in its dancer formations, group movements on and off the stage, and its transitions between dance phrases, Neenan wrapped a clever tapestry of contemporary ballet movement and beauty around several very relatable human stories contained within the ballet.  None so emotionally penetrating than that of characters portrayed by Perkes and Krapels in which Perkes seemed to be recalling the joys and heartache of being with Krapels, a lover she lost.  The haunting image of a heartbroken Perkes walking slowly across the stage, head in hand as the carnival of humanity carried on all around her, was one that could be universally felt.

It is perhaps fitting BalletX and DANCECleveland chose to repeat Neenan’s “The Last Glass,” as the ballet warrants repeated viewings to take in its full glory. One can only marvel at Neenan’s ability to conjure up such an exquisite creation.

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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Physical Theater and Dance a Solid Presence at Inaugural ‘BorderLight International Theatre + Fringe Festival’


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Djapo Cultural Arts Institute. Photo by Janet Century.

By Steve Sucato

With Playhouse Square, the second largest performing arts center in the United States outside of New York, the Tony Award-winning Cleveland Playhouse, America’s first professional regional theatre, as well as one of the finest alternative theaters in the nation in Cleveland Public Theatre and others in the area, it is a wonder an international theater festival such as the new BorderLight International Theatre + Fringe Festival hadn’t come along sooner in Cleveland.

The inaugural event featuring 40 local, regional, national and international productions from 9 countries and over 100 performances on 11 stages, will take place July 24-27 at various venues/sites in Cleveland.

Founded in founded in 2016 by Dale Heinen and Jeffrey Pence, the lead up to the festival has included roundtables with community partners, fundraisers, mixers and special events, says festival associate producer/communications director, Cathleen O’Malley.

“Both Dale and Jeff aligned around a vision of European-style performance festival that would really make the most of Cleveland’s ample performing arts infrastructure and robust theater community we have here,” says O’Malley. “Cleveland is really built for an event of this kind.”

At the corps is touring international work of which all will be Cleveland premieres along with two North American premieres. The other major components of the festival are  collaborative projects between international artists and local theater organizations, and a fringe festival that champions non-traditional and experimental work.

For those who like their theater with a bit more physicality and a bit less dialogue (or none), several of the 40 productions being presented are grounded in dance and physical theater (a form of theater that emphasizes the use of physical movement such as in dance and mime for expression). Here is a brief rundown of some of the festival’s offerings that favor dance and physical theater to varying degrees:

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Hyeja Ju’s “Good at Heart”. Photo by Hyeja Ju.

GOOD AT HEART (North American Premiere)
Wed., July 24 @ 7:30 pm, Thu., July 25 @ 7:30 pm and Sat., July 27 @ 1:00 & 7:30 pm
Hermit Club (Great Hall), 1629 Dodge Ct.
Tickets: $18
Type of show: Cleveland + International, General Audiences (14+)

Produced by Raymond Bobgan and Cleveland Public Theatre, Good at Heart was created by and is directed by South Korean theatre-maker Hyeja Ju of B.K.G. Theatre, which translates to Actors, Audiences, and Spaces Theatre. B.K.G. Theatre creates new work seeking to explore the human essence through experimental theatre and actor-centered stagecraft. The 75-minute Good at Heart is a physical, non-verbal performance inspired by the story of Anne Frank, reminding us that genocide is a problem all people must be vigilant against. Contains: Violence / Violent Imagery, Racism, Antisemitism, Oppression, Violence.

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“Under Construction”. Photo by Ricardo Trejo

UNDER CONSTRUCTION (North American Premiere)
Thu., July 25 @ 6:30 pm, Fri., July 26 @ 6:00 pm and Sat., July 27 @ 1:00 & 9:00 pm
The Helen, Playhouse Square, 1501 Euclid Ave.
Tickets: $30
Type of show: International; General Audiences

An award-winning physical comedy, Under Construction is a zany look at three eccentrics sharing a crammed, run-down flat and the predicaments they get into trying to have tea.

“The universe of a clown is an exaggerated mirror of human condition,” say cast members Vitaly Azarin, Alexey Gavrielov, Fyodor Makarov of Israel’s DAVAI group. “In this realm EVERYTHING is a predicament because the clown has no idea of who he is, where he is, and how in the world to fulfill his simple desire to have a cup of tea!”

The 90-minute intermission-less work is performed to an animated soundtrack by Losha Gavrielov with lighting by Ilya Gerchikov that the cast says “is intimately linked to the performers and also has a level of unpredictability. In other words, the technicians are also live performers and can surprise the actors and the audience.”

Also a part of the non-verbal production will be 693 props that help bring this quirky and unusual production to life. Says The Jerusalem Post: “The show is hysterically funny – its creators showcase wild fantasy and virtuoso clownery…”

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“The Coitus Society Soiree”. Photo by Bob Perkoski.

THE COITUS SOCIETY SOIREE
Thu., July 25 @ 7:30 pm, Fri., July 26 @ 11:00 pm and Sat., July 27 @ 10:00 pm
Cibréo Privato, 1501 E 14th St.
Tickets: $12
Type of show: Fringe, Adults Only (18+)

An inexperienced young man stumbles into an establishment after receiving a mysterious invitation. He is met by the host of the venue and so begins his journey of self-awareness and lust. Will the bevvy of beauties entice him? Will they entice you? Featuring The Suga Shack Girls – professionally trained dancers and Cleveland’s only All Black Burlesque Troupe – “The Coitus Society Soiree” is an hour-long sensual dance production with pulse-pounding music and dazzling costumes. Come dressed in your sexiest attire! Guests are encouraged to indulge their dress up fantasies. Masquerade masks, BDSM apparel…show your dark side at the Soiree! A Lady Slay Production featuring Suga Shack Entertainment. Contains: Graphic Language, Nudity / Sexual Themes.

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“Table For Two”Photo by David Holcombe.

TABLE FOR TWO
Fri., July 26 @ 8:00 pm and Sat., July 27 @ 1:30 & 8:30 pm
Miller Classroom, Idea Center at Playhouse Square (ground floor), 1375 Euclid Ave.
Tickets: $12
Type of show: Fringe; General Audiences (14+)

Once upon a time there was a woman and a man. For clarity’s sake, we will call them Mr. and Mrs. — This begins the premise behind Illinois-based Bare Theater’s 50-minute Table For Two, a work mixing dance, puppetry and Lecoq-based physical theater. Says the work’s co-creator Flora Bare, “Mr. and Mrs. are deeply in love and find so much joy being together but they always seem to be struggling to figure themselves and one another out. They want to make each other happy, but just can’t seem to get it right. Mr. and Mrs. decide to go on an adventure together on a boat, where a storm arises. They survive the storm, but something is left behind in those waters.”

Developed in 2017, Table For Two began as a series of movement pieces with some song and a bit of text created through improvisation says former gymnast Bare. Since its initial version, Bare says she “wanted to build up the dialogue to support the movement.” Bare hired a writer to create text based off of the existing movement to match the heightened style in which the movement was performed. “Indeed this show has dialogue, but I do believe that even if a person watching were not to understand the English language, they could understand the story being told,” says Bare.

“This show shifts in and out of memory, reality and the fantastical and at times,” says Bare. “It all seems to bleed together as one might experience when going through a loss.”

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“AntiCone”Photo by Nahm Darr.

ANTICONE
Fri., July 26 @ 7:30 pm and Sat., July 27 @ 2 pm & 7:15 pm
Old Stone Church (Chapel), 91 Public Square
Tickets: $12
Type of show: Fringe, General Audiences (13+)

Inspired by Sophocles’ Ancient Greek tragedy Antigone, Maryland-based Happy Theater’s AntiCone is the largely wordless story of an immigrant who is put to work building a wall against her country of origin. AntiCone was created by and is performed by Natasha Mirny and Tia Shearer. Says Mirny, who choreographed the 45-minute work, “initially we were just interested in a physical theatre piece centered on traffic cones but as we met to devise the work, we realized more and more that it was difficult to turn the traffic cone into a soft, friendly object. Traffic cones mean boundaries. At that time, there was a lot of talk about “the wall” in the media and from the President [Trump]. So, as devising artists seeking to make a piece for right now, we just naturally folded that in. This old story and these border-creating traffic cones just began speaking to our current [social and political] situation. It was, and is, still a dialogue that invigorates us to share with others.”

Set to a soundscape by Alexander Nikitin that uses percussion and chant, there are moments of text in the piece, says Mirny, but Tia and I “are most interested in what the body can say. That language can sometimes have even quicker and greater access to the heart than words can.”

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“Creatures by Roger Titley”. Photo by Alex Davies.

CREATURES BY ROGER TITLEY
Sat., July 27 from 1:00 – 3:45 pm
Cleveland Public Library Main Branch
FREE
Type of show: International, All Audiences

Presented in partnership with Cleveland Public Library’s 150th anniversary celebration, acclaimed South African puppeteer Roger Titley’s Creatures is a free public parade from 3:15-3:30 pm around the streets of downtown Cleveland of life-sized animal puppets powered by human volunteers beginning at Cleveland Public Library’s Main Branch, 325 Superior Avenue and ending at Public Square.  The procession will feature cheetah, kudu, elephants, birds and other puppets. Also a part of the festivities are an African drumming and dance performance of “Toukii – Journey” by Cleveland’s Djapo Cultural Arts Institute from 2:45-3:15 pm, free puppet workshops from 1:00-3:00 pm, and photo opportunities with the puppet “Creatures” on Public Square from 3:30 – 3:45 pm.

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“Love’s Lost Raree Box” (Chris_Seibert). Photo by Denis Griesmer.

Other productions containing elements of dance and physical theater are Chris Seibert’s free pop-up production, Love’s Lost Raree Box and Cleveland Public Theatre Student Theatre Enrichment Program (Step)’s free hour-long production in collaboration with Bolivian artist Diego Aramburo at Public Square on Saturday, July 27 at 2:00 & 4:30 pm.

For more information and a complete BorderLight International Theatre + Fringe Festival schedule visit borderlightcle.org.

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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