Tag Archives: Cleveland

Verb Ballets’ All-Female Choreographer Program Delivers Mixed Results

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Verb Ballets Elizabeth “Betsie” Schaeffer and Antonio Morillo in Kay Eichman’s “Mendelssohn Italian Symphony”. Photo by Jackie Sajewski.

Verb Ballets – 4X4: Four Works by Female Choreographers
Breen Center for the Performing Arts
Cleveland, OH
February 8, 2020

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

No doubt Verb Ballets production of 4X4: Four Works by Female Choreographers is to be commended for giving more opportunities to female choreographers. As a production however, it delivered mixed results with those opportunities.

Dedicated to the memory of Millie Carlson, the mother of Verb Ballets artistic director Margaret Carlson, the program led off with a reprise of Kay Eichman’s neo-classical ballet “Mendelssohn Italian Symphony” (2018) that was set to music of the same name by Felix Mendelssohn. Inspired by its invigorating music Eichman’s ballet in 3 sections was awash in musicality and Verb’s dancers performed it with enthusiasm and effervescence. Skirting the line between an academic look and feel to the choreography and that of a truer artistry, Eichman’s ballet had its four male/female couples executing lovely group movement patterns, engaging phrases and changes in dancing pace that was a delightful beginning to the stylistically varied program.

And while Eichman’s ballet served to illuminate Verb’s dancers, the next work, Verb principal dancer Kate Webb’s “Stellar Syncopations” (2019), was more earthbound in its effect.


Verb Ballets in Kate Webb’s “Stellar Syncopations”. Photo by Kolman Rosenberg.

A relative newbie as a choreographer, Webb’s ballet showed she is still finding her way as a choreographer in terms of craft and editing. The ballet, said to visualize the life-cycle of a star, was further hampered by the music it was set to. Commissioned for Verb’s 2019 joint program with the Chamber Music Society of Ohio entitled Akron Legends of Jazz and Dance, Webb set “Excursions” by jazz pianist Pat Pace that was used for choreographer Heinz Poll’s 1982 ballet of the same name. And while Pace’s score had its own musical merits, the forced marriage of the less than dance friendly and dated composition with Webb as choreographer resulted in a ballet that was a bit clunky at times and had trouble holding interest. Kudos however to Verb artistic director Margaret Carlson for giving her artists other opportunities to create, and to Webb for her efforts, but the ballet overall proved itself not ready for prime time. I look forward however to seeing the promising Webb’s evolution as choreographer in future works.


Lieneke Matte and Benjamin Sheppard in Agrippina Vaganova’s “Diana y Acteon Pas de Deux”. Photo by Kolman Rosenberg.

Next, Verb dancers Lieneke Matte and Benjamin Sheppard performed Agrippina Vaganova’s 1935 showpiece “Diana y Acteon Pas de Deux”. Restaged by Cuba’s Laura Alonzo, the 8-minute classical pas de deux, a favorite of ballet competitions, got the most out of Matte and Sheppard as dancers. The pair turned in a respectful performance of the technically difficult and somewhat flashy pas de deux full of lifts, jumps and pirouettes to the delight of the Breen Center audience.


Verb Ballets in Stephanie Martinez’s “Wandering On”. Photo by Kolman Rosenberg.


(L-R) Daniel Cho, Antonio Morillo, Benjamin Shepard and Hunter Hoffman in Stephanie Martinez’s “Wandering On”. Photo by Kolman Rosenberg.

The program concluded with Chicago-based choreographer Stephanie Martinez’s Wandering On (2017).  The contemporary dance work for 4 men and 7 women set to music by composers Lars Meyer, Ezio Bosso and others on a theme of traveling to another realm in search of freedom and enlightenment had the most comfortable fit on Verb’s dancers. A vibrant work with snappy movement, Verb’s dancers appeared to kick their performance energy and stage presence into overdrive.  Of particular note in the atmospheric work was a men’s section bursting with jumps, leaps and aggressive turns and the performances of dancers Emily Dietz, Daniel Cho and newcomer Elizabeth “Betsie” Schaeffer.

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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North Pointe Ballet Production Celebrates The ‘Why’ Of What They Do

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North Pointe Ballet in “What’s Your Why?”. Photo by Paul Lender, Left of Center photography.

By Steve Sucato

Why artists do what they do is a constant source of curiosity for many.  It is perhaps in trying to understand their motivations that we gain a better understanding of them and their art.  In North Pointe Ballet’s program What’s Your Why?, March 14 and 15 at the Lorain Palace Theater, the West Side ballet company seeks in part to answer those questions of understanding for themselves and audiences.

“The whole show is a reflection on what motivates us as artists and people,” says NPB’s founding director Janet Strukely-Dziak.

An encore performance of the 90-minute repertory program in 3-acts that the company premiered last October at Cleveland’s Near West Theatre, What’s Your Why? begins with Strukely-Dziak’s frenetically-paced group ballet “The Chase” (2009).

Performed to music from the soundtrack of the 2004 movie National Treasure by former YES guitarist Trevor Rabin, “The Chase” gets its inspiration from a young ballet dancer’s constant drive toward perfection,” says Strukely-Dziak.

Next, the company will perform excerpts from Arthur Saint-Leon’s 1870 comedic ballet “Coppelia”, adapted and staged for the company by NPB assistant director Melaina Kampf.

Rounding out the program’s first act will be “Quiet Chaos” (2003) choreographed by former Mercyhurst University Dance Department chair Tauna Hunter, a former mentor of Strukely-Dziak’s. Set to music by Philip Glass and Canadian singer-songwriter Jennifer Berezan, the ballet for 8-dancers is about escaping life’s day-to-day chaos and finding peace.

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North Pointe Ballet dancer in Tauna Hunter’s “Quiet Chaos”. Photo by Paul Lender, Left of Center photography.

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North Pointe Ballet in “Swan Lake”. Photo by Paul Lender, Left of Center photography.

Act 2 of the program coincidentally showcases Act II of Marius Petitpa and Lev Ivanov’s ballet “Swan Lake” (1895) to music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It features NPB principal dancer Elizabeth Radachi as Odette, the White Swan and Matthew Robinson, formerly of Cleveland’s Dancing Wheels, as Prince Siegfried.  In a recent rehearsal of the ballet at Jillian Rian’s Dance School in North Ridgeville, the statuesque Radachi, partnered by Robinson, showed a quiet and steady confidence in her dancing while leading a young corps de ballet of dancers of varying skill as swans.

Act 3 contains the most personal of the ballets on the program in the form of Strukely-Dziak’s “Because of You,” which tells of the motivations behind her founding NPB in 2016 and of the company’s underlying mission to make classical ballet accessible to the community it serves by offering family-friendly, easy-to-understand, professional ballet productions in the western suburbs of Cleveland.

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Janet Strukely-Dziak and son Lucas in “Because of You”. Photo by Paul Lender, Left of Center photography.

Set to an eclectic mix of rock and dance music from Guns N’ Roses, The Doors, Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake and others performed live by the NPB band, the emotional ballet stars Strukely-Dziak and her 9-year-old autistic son Lucas and looks back on their lives at the genesis of North Pointe Ballet. In addition to the pair, the cast will include NPB company and student ensemble dancers as well as performers from Lorain’s Spectrum Resource Center & School.

“The ballet and the program are a reflection of what North Pointe Ballet is all about” says Strukely-Dziak. “We are all in this together; let’s share our love of dance with everyone”.

North Pointe Ballet presents encore performances of What’s Your Why?, 7 p.m., Saturday, March 14 and 2 p.m., Sunday, March 15; Lorain Palace Theater, 617 Broadway Ave., Lorain, OH. Tickets are $15-20 and available at northpointeballet.org, lorainpalace.org or by calling (440) 245-2323.

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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Compagnie Hervé KOUBI’s ‘What the day owes to the night’ takes Audience on an Unforgettable Dance Journey [REVIEW]

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Compagnie Hervé KOUBI in “What the day owes to the night.” Photo by Karim Amar.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

The second to last production of DANCECleveland’s 2019-2020 season, French troupe Compagnie Hervé KOUBI arrived in Cleveland to a sold-out show last Saturday, February 15 at Playhouse Square’s Mimi Ohio Theatre.  Those attending got what they came for as the all-male company (for this production) of 15 mostly former street dancers from Algeria, Morocco France, Italy, Israel and Slovenia eagerly lived up to audience expectations in a dazzling performance of choreographer Hervé Koubi’s 2013 work What the day owes to the night.

Presented by DANCECleveland and Tri-C Performing Arts, What the day owes to the night gets its title and a bit of inspiration from Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra’s 2010 novel of the same name about a boy moved from one family to the next. Koubi, who grew up in Cannes, France, took that idea and applied it to his own personal journey of discovery of his Algerian heritage that the abstract contemporary dance piece explores. Anchored in capoeira, gymnastics, parkour and breakdance movement, What the day owes to the night took the audience along for a ride of extremes in athleticism and grace.

The company’s physically-ripped bare-chested and barefoot dancers in long white flowing skirts atop white pants tempered the rawness of North African/Mediterranean street dance with the well-rehearsed stage choreography of Koubi that made for a potent combination that was both mesmerizing and awe-inspiring.

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Compagnie Hervé KOUBI in “What the day owes to the night.” Photo by Olivier Soulie.

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Compagnie Hervé KOUBI in “What the day owes to the night.” Photo by Nathalie Sternalski.

Danced to a wide-ranging atmospheric score comprised of original music by Belgian musician/sound designer Maxime Bodson along with music by Hamza El Din, Jean-Sébastien Bach, Sufi music and silence, the mood of the work shifted from high-energy to dreamlike and mystical and back again.  Within that, the dancers performed an array of upside down whirling dervish spins on their heads and hands, gymnastic tumbling runs and various capoeira-inspired jumps and leg sweeps. The dancer’s high-flying machismo-fueled antics at times gave way to periods of lush, slow movement reminiscent of butoh dance troupe Sankai Juku with the occasional dancer coming to a dead stop to take in his surroundings and the efforts of his fellow dancers or marching in rows like some kind of street dance clergy on the move to sacred choral music.

The non-stop piece sans intermission appeared to follow no central figure along this journey, instead showcasing a bevy of solos, duets and group dances that gave each of the company’s dancers room to shine.

One of many visually bold movement sequences repeated a few times in the work found long-dreadlock-haired dancer El Houssaini Zahid lifted backwards onto the shoulders of several fellow dancers and falling backwards to the ground, taking the entire company of dancers onstage with him like collapsing dominoes — the effect was spiritual.

What the day owes to the night concluded with dancer Bendehiba Maamar emerging from the full company of dancers to the front of the stage to quietly recite in Arabic a poem by Koubi as the stage lights gradually dimmed. He repeated the phrase “I went there” followed by those places that were perhaps reflected in the dance work’s journey. Fittingly, as the curtain closed on the troupe, the audience erupted with a well-deserved standing ovation.

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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