Tag Archives: Columbus Symphony Orchestra

4th Annual ‘The Benefit’ Worth Every Cent and More


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Dancers in Christian Broomhall’s “Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 2.” Photo by Bullfrog Willard McGhee.

The Benefit
The Vern Riffe Center’s Jo Ann Davidson Theatre
Columbus, Ohio
May 21, 2017

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

When it comes to all-star dance benefits, few outside the nation’s major metropolises pack in as much talent and great dancing as Columbus, Ohio’s The Benefit. Curated by former BalletMet stars Jimmy Orrante and Attila Bongar, the annual event, now in its fourth year, benefits The Central Ohio Chapter of the National Hemophilia Foundation. It’s a charity close to Orrante’s heart as his son Isaac lives with the disease.

The expanded event on Sunday, May 21, 2017 was held for the first time at downtown Columbus’ newly renamed Jo Ann Davidson Theatre (formerly the Capitol Theatre) at the Vern Riffe Center and featured dancers and choreographers from Miami City Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, Rochester Ballet, BalletMet and Columbus Dance Theatre. In addition, Camarata, a multi-piece orchestra made up of musicians from the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and led by CSO principal cellist Luis Biava, played live accompanying many of the dance and music works on the program.

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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.

Milwaukee Ballet stars and husband and wife Nicole Teague Howell and Patrick Howell in the second act pas de deux from Michael Pink’s Swan Lake opened the program. Dancing to Tchaikovsky’s music for the ballet, the pair as Odette and Prince Siegfried moved crisply and with lovely command in Pink’s neo-classical choreography that was more akin to a pas de deux from Romeo & Juliet than Swan Lake.

Baritone singer Robert Kerr then performed an animated rendition of the aria “Non più andrai” from Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro. It was followed by “Regard,” the first of two ballets on the program by Orrante. Set to the second movement of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, which was famously used by singer Eric Carmen for his 1975 hit “All by Myself,” Orrante’s pas de deux featured Miami City Ballet principal soloist Lauren Fadeley and BalletMet’s Jarrett Reimers in back and forth choreography full of elegance and grace.  Fadeley and Reimers moved with the ease of spirits floating weightlessly about the stage and in and out of marvelously-crafted lifts, turns, and carries.

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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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Marcus Jarrell Willis in “A Caretakers Vow.” Photo by Bullfrog Willard McGhee.

Of the evening’s many magical moments, one of its most striking came courtesy of former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer Marcus Jarrell Willis’ solo “A Caretakers Vow” (Excerpt). Performed to recorded music by British soul singer-songwriter Laura Mvula, the solo, according to Willis, explores the uncertainty he felt about his future after leaving Ailey and how his friends encouraged and lifted him up. It began with Willis in spotlight on his knees and using a myriad of face, hand, arm, and body gestures in concert with Mvula’s song “Show Me Love” to convey his feelings and emotions. A tour-de-force of tightly contained brilliance, Willis’ dancing was fluid, dramatic and poignant.

Concluding the program’s first half was the 3-part “Voyager.”  The largest and most stylistically diverse of the on the program, it was inspired by music selections contained in NASA’s Golden Records included on the Voyager 1 and 2’s interstellar missions.  It began with Columbus’ COSI Science Center chief scientist Paul Sutter giving a brief overview of the Voyager missions and the Golden Records that led into the work’s first section; Orrante’s “Dark Was the Night Cold was the Ground” set to Blind Willie Johnson’s blues song of the same name performed live by North Carolina bluesman th’ Bullfrog Willard McGhee. In it, McGhee sat center stage on a stool as six female dancers surrounded him crisscrossing the stage in small waves of jumping, twisting and whirling movements.

More narration by Sutter then gave way to a thoughtful solo by kathak dancer/choreographer Mansee Singhi performed to “Jaat Kahan Ho” a traditional Indian song sung by Surshri Kesar Bai Kerkar, and “Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 2,” a new ballet by former Columbus Dance Theatre dancer Christian Broomhall.

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(l-r) BalletMet’s Jessica Brown, Columbus Dance Theatre’s Kerri Riccardi and BalletMet’s Karen Wing in Christian Broomhall’s “Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 2.” Photo by Bullfrog Willard McGhee.

Full of whimsy, Broomhall’s work was an ear-to-ear grin-inducing delight. Its eight dancers (5 men, 3 women) pranced and cavorted about in what felt like a contemporary dance jig. At times bird-like, the dancers flapped their arms and fluttered their hands as if to take flight and mimicked pecking at each other.  Broomhall, who impressed at 2016’s The Benefit with his ballet “She is,” once again showed why he is a choreographer to watch and one whose ballets need to be in the repertory of more professional dance troupes.

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

The program’s second half opened with a stirring interpretation of Edvard Grieg’s “Holberg Suite” by Camarata. It was followed by Bongar’s mini-story ballet “63,” set to music by composer Alexander Scriabin. In it, Bongar sought to capture the emotions he perceived from seeing a photo of Jacqueline Kennedy and her daughter standing in front slain President John F. Kennedy coffin in 1963. The ballet showed mother, father and daughter figures facing a similar type of emotional distress. It was danced by. And while Scriabin’s dark music and dancers Fadeley, BalletMet’s Michael Sayre and BalletMet Dance Academy student Isabelle LaPierre’s emotional outpourings of tumult captured Bongar’s intent, the choreography lacked originality and the ballet on the whole came off as overly melodramatic.

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Dancers in Cincinnati Ballet soloist James Cunningham’s “Mordent.” Photo by Bullfrog Willard McGhee.

Next, Cincinnati Ballet soloist James Cunningham’s trio “Mordent” lifted the mood with a ballet that was chock-full of thrilling choreography and adroit dancing. Set to Beethoven’s Piano Trio in C minor, Op.1 No.3 and titled after the musical term meaning a melodic embellishment, the ballet’s trio of dancers from Cincinnati Ballet each sported an unusual costume embellishment. Corps de ballet dancer Taylor Carrasco wore one black glove and a blood red handprint on his shirt, apprentice dancer Michael Mengden wore one red glove and face paint, and senior soloist Melissa Gelfin was outfitted with two different colored pointe shoes and wore one white sock. Whatever the intended meaning of those embellishments, they further added to a ballet dense with visual marvels.

Following in quick succession were McGhee performing his gravely-great vaudeville tune “Bullfrog,” Rochester Ballet’s Ben Rabe showing of his leaping ability in the Cossack dance “Gopak,” choreographed by R. Zakharov and pianist Tyrone Boyle dazzling in his composition “Carousel in C Major”.

The first of two ballets to close out the 2-hour program was Kristopher Estes-Brown’s group ballet “The Sum of,” danced to music performed live by Columbus indie rock band The Wind and the Sea.  Estes-Brown’s choreography for it, while not particularly inventive, matched the drive of music and gave the ballet a rock-show feel.  Capping The Benefit in style was Bongar’s powerfully beautiful version of the pas de deux from the ballet Spartacus. Performed with passion by BalletMet’s Jessica Brown and Romel Frometa, the pas de deux epitomized the program’s high level of artistry on all counts.

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‘The Benefit’ organizers Jimmy Orrante and Attila Bongar. Photo by Bullfrog Willard McGhee.

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Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s Luis Biava conducts Camarata. Photo by Bullfrog Willard McGhee.

With its diversity in dance and music styles, types of choreographic works, entertaining and skilled performers as well as post-performance reception with the performers, The Benefit was a steal at $30 a ticket. Add to that the money raised going to worthy cause and you have a program that no dance lover in their right heart and mind should miss.

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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Benz a Consummate Juliet in BalletMet’s Superb ‘Romeo and Juliet’


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BalletMet’s David Ward and Adrienne Benz in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet with Columbus Symphony Orchestra – Romeo and Juliet
Ohio Theatre
Columbus, Ohio

April 28-30, 2017 

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Since taking over BalletMet’s artistic leadership in 2010, Edwaard Liang has molded the company into more of a contemporary ballet powerhouse with ballets by himself, Christopher Wheeldon, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano, Ma Cong and others. With the Columbus premiere of his Romeo and Juliet, April 28-30 at the Ohio Theatre however, Liang asserted BalletMet’s might in classical story ballets as well with a next-level production usually reserved for ballet companies twice its size.

Originally created on Tulsa Ballet in 2012, the 3-act production had opera house-style sets and costumes by David Walker to go with the rich playing of Sergei Prokofiev’s iconic score for the ballet by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra conducted by Peter Stafford Wilson and some of the best classical dancing I’ve seen from the company. In the ballet’s final performance on April 30 however, one light shone above the rest, that of retiring company star Adrienne Benz whose moving performance as Juliet stands with any given anywhere in recent years.

True to Shakespeare’s play and the storyline structure found in most high-level ballet productions of Romeo and Juliet, Liang’s adaptation moved briskly in choreography that was engaging and descriptive. The ballet’s scenes not only told the star-crossed lovers’ familiar story, but captured nicely the atmosphere of Shakespeare’s fictional Verona, Italy setting and its colorful renaissance-era inhabitants.

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(L-R) BalletMet’s Andres Estevez, David Ward and Kohhei Kuwana in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

In typical fashion, Act I introduced us to the feuding Capulet and Montague families including male protagonist Romeo (David Ward), his friend Mercutio (Andres Estevez) and his cousin Benvolio (Kohhei Kuwana) as well as to Juliet’s cousin and antagonist Tybalt, portrayed with icy malice by first-year company member Austin Moholt-Siebert.

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(L-R) BalletMets’ Sarah Wolf, Karen Wing and Kristie Latham in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

Frivolity, swordplay and the flirtations of young men and women made for a vibrant opening scene. Most interesting were Liang’s use of three gruff but sexy harlots danced by Kristie Latham, Karen Wing and Sarah Wolf who, when they weren’t pushing around the villagers, fawned over Romeo and his compatriots and even engaged in some of the sword fighting.

Later in the Act, the ballet shifted scenes to Juliet’s bedroom were we get our first glimpse of Benz as Juliet being playful with her nurse and confident (Leigh Lijoi) while making preparations for that evening’s masked ball. Benz appeared to have leapt from the pages of Shakespeare’s play. Her youthful exuberance and joy made you fall in love with her character instantly and her acting skills and technical prowess were stunning.

As in most Romeo and Juliet ballets, the ball was a lavish affair with the aforementioned costumes and sets to match. The trio of Romeo, Mercutio, and Benvolio looking to crash the ball were a bit like the three musketeers in their cocky, cavalier attitudes toward those arriving for the ball. Ward as Romeo appeared straight out of central casting. His princely looks and adroit dancing seemed to charm the audience almost as much as it did Juliet in the scene which played out as most do with the two meeting and falling for each other instantly and Romeo and cohorts clashing with Tybalt and Juliet’s would-be suitor Paris, danced with nobility by BalletMet dancer Attila Bongar who was also making his final appearance with the company.

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BalletMet’s David Ward and Adrienne Benz in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

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BalletMet’s David Ward and Adrienne Benz in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

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BalletMet’s David Ward and Adrienne Benz in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

Bathed in golden light and dreamlike, the famous “balcony scene” that followed to end Act I dripped with romance which Benz and Ward let wash over them as the two lovers who then got drunk on each other’s company.  Within this beautiful setting Liang choreographed a beauty of a pas de deux that contained a wellspring of fabulous lifts and carries to go with the character’s unbridled joy which Benz and Ward captured to perfection in their exquisite dancing of it.

Act II opened with us back in the village’s marketplace with the requisite frolicking and celebrations. Wing, as the village’s most brazen harlot, once again made her presence felt strutting about with the kind of aggressiveness she displayed in the lead role of Carmen in Sansano’s Carmen.maquia in 2016. The act continued with Romeo, Mercutio and Benvolio playfully teasing Juliet’s nurse who came to marketplace to deliver a note to Romeo from Juliet about meeting in secret with Friar Lawrence (David Spialter) to wed.  It was another charming scene in a ballet full of them that provided a wonderful counterpoint to the ballet’s drama and tragedy.

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(Center) BalletMet’s Karen Wing in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

As with any great tragedy, happiness comes at a cost and in one of the ballet’s most climactic moments Estevez as Mercutio, who was also making his final appearance with BalletMet, delivered a wonderfully acted and danced performance where he was both hero and jester battling and ultimately perishing at the hands of Tybalt in a swordfight. For his part, Moholt-Siebert as Tybalt nearly stole the scene with a “Joffrey Baratheon” from Game of Thrones kind of contemptibility.

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(Center) BalletMet’s Austin Moholt-Siebert and David Ward in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

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(Center) BalletMet’s Carly Wheaton and Austin Moholt-Siebert in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

The act then ended with Romeo taking revenge on Tybalt over Mercutio’s death in an unconscious fit of rage, and then guilt, as Lady Capulet (Carly Wheaton) crazed and bereft, stormed the stage and whipped her headdress into the wings in a somewhat over-the-top reaction to Tybalt’s death; suggesting perhaps there relationship was much more than just aunt and nephew.

The ballet’s third act continued the familiar tale with Romeo and Juliet waking in Juliet’s bedroom after assumingly consummating their secret marriage with Romeo still haunted by Mercutio and Tybalt’s deaths and Juliet not wanting Romeo to go. The pair engaged in another marvelously-crafted and passionate pas de deux.  Later in the scene, after Romeo’s departure, Juliet’s parents forced the issue of her marriage to Paris and Benz showed more of her brilliance conveying in her every step, gesture and heartbreaking tear, the very essence of Shakespeare’s words on the young heroine’s torn state of emotion.

After seeking solace from Friar Lawrence who gave her a potion to fake her own death, Juliet returned to her bedroom where she was visited by the ghosts of Mercutio, as sort of an angel one shoulder telling her not to take the potion, and Tybalt, the devil on her other shoulder urging to take it, which she does.

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BalletMet’s David Ward and Adrienne Benz in Edwaard Liang’s “Romeo and Juliet.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

The ballet’s final scene at the Capulet family tomb brought the tragic tale to its inevitable conclusion as Romeo and Paris faced off in a knife fight at the alter Juliet’s seemingly lifeless body lay with Romeo the lone survivor. Liang then wrapped up the story and the lover’s fates with a rarely used ending in U.S. productions where Romeo sees Juliet wake up from her fake-death coma seconds before he succumbs to the very real poison he just drank to be with her in the afterlife. What must he be thinking in that brief moment? Ward gave us both elation and resignation in seconds it took for that reunion to play out. Benz then true to her character’s grief and determination to forever be with Romeo grabbed Paris’ knife and ended her own life.

A triumph by most any standard of measure, BalletMet’s Romeo and Juliet with its brisk pacing, easy-to-follow story progression and relatable characters would surely resonate with even the most neophyte dance goer. Add to that finely constructed, world-class choreography, perhaps the best ballet score ever written played with heart by the Columbus Symphony Orchestra, rich looking sets and costumes and great dancing led by the spellbinding performances of Benz and Ward, and even the most persnickety of balletomanes would have a hard time resisting the production’s allure.

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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