Tag Archives: Courtney Muscroft

BalletMet’s Orrante Takes Final Bow in a Program Brimming with Memorable Moments


BalletMet dancers in Edwaard’s Liang's

BalletMet dancers in Edwaard’s Liang’s “The Art of War.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet – American Masters
Ohio Theatre
Columbus, Ohio
May 2 & 3, 2015

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

In his first full season as artistic director of Ohio’s BalletMet Columbus, Edwaard Liang orchestrated a landmark collaboration with Opera Columbus and the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Chorus in the wildly successful production Twisted, and treated audiences to 11 world premieres from choreographers such as Val Caniparoli, Ma Cong and Gustavo Ramirez Sansano. In the process, he transformed the 26-member troupe from a good contemporary ballet company into a great one.

That evolution was apparent this past May at Columbus’ Ohio Theatre, where Liang assembled a stylistically diverse and engaging program entitled American Masters to close the company’s 37th season. The bill featured world premieres by Liang himself, who was born in Taiwan but raised in California, and Canadians James Kudelka and David Nixon, along with the company premiere of the Jerome Robbins masterwork Fancy Free. The “American” in the program’s title refers not only to Robbins, but also to the American composers featured — Michael Torke, Aaron Copland, Caroline Shaw and Leonard Bernstein.

BalletMet dancers in Edwaard’s Liang's

BalletMet dancers in Edwaard’s Liang’s “The Art of War.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

The program opened with a bang with Liang’s The Art of War, set to a driving score by Torke. In a nod to Jirí Kylián’s Petite Mort, two dancers pulled a large billowy sheet of fabric from the front of the stage to the rear, obscuring the entrance of BalletMet’s dozen dancers. The magical reveal delighted the audience who let out a collective gasp.

A star-field backdrop twinkled as the dancers moved through Liang’s crisp contemporary choreography. A shirtless Adam Still, with a bodybuilder physique, set an aggressive tone, powering through a solo dense with bravura jumps and turns.

Local audiences have had a heavy dose of Liang’s ballets since his arrival in 2013, including his popular Wünderland, but The Art of War proved his finest yet. Liang cast the ballet with many of the company’s best dancers and as a group they shone in his sharp and sophisticated choreography, said to be inspired by the art of calligraphy. It was the ballet’s pas de deux, however, that really impressed. The first, danced by Adrienne Benz and Gabriel Gaffney Smith, was an exquisite procession of lifts. The most stunning featured a move where he pulled her by her feet between his legs into a tabletop position behind him at his waist. A second pas de deux was danced by Caitlin Valentine-Ellis and David Ward, who ripped through precision turns and lifts that balanced grace with movement attack.

BalletMet dancers Emily Gotschall and Jimmy Orrante in David Nixon's

BalletMet dancers Emily Gotschall and Jimmy Orrante in David Nixon’s “Thinking of You.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet dancers in David Nixon's

BalletMet dancers in David Nixon’s “Thinking of You.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

Thinking of You by Nixon (a former BalletMet artistic director and current director of England’s Northern Ballet) was a loving tribute to retiring dancer Jimmy Orrante. The popular Orrante spent 19 years with BalletMet as a leading dancer and more recently as its de facto resident choreographer. For much of the neoclassical ballet, set to Copland’s Symphony No. 3, Orrante played the role of onlooker. He sat on the stage floor watching his fellow dancers, was held aloft by them in an iron-cross lift, and stood staring contemplatively down into his open palm as if seeing something there, perhaps images from his dance career.

At the end, he stared into his palm again, then, as he moved offstage, swept his arm away as if discarding something he no longer needed. When Orrante did dance, he was smooth and commanding, as in a breezy pas de deux with Emily Gotschall. Also of note were the adroit performances of fellow retiring dancers Courtney Muscroft and Jackson Prescott Sarver in a buoyant pas de deux.

BalletMet dancers in James Kudelka's “Real Life.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet dancers in James Kudelka’s “Real Life.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet dancers in James Kudelka's “Real Life.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet dancers in James Kudelka’s “Real Life.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

The program’s second half opened with Kudelka’s Real Life. Like a Picasso cubist painting among Monets and Rembrandts, Real Life was an aesthetic jolt. Danced to Shaw’s 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning Partita for 8 Voices, Kudelka’s choreography had the feel of a mechanized square dance. The eight dancers in unitards deftly promenaded through a tricky series of alternating handshake holds, snaking around one another in delicious patterns. The dancing not only fit Shaw’s layered avant-garde vocal music perfectly, but gave one the sense of glimpsing how the universe works in dance form. Like his The Man in Black, created for BalletMet in 2010, Kudelka developed a unique movement language based on familiar movement that he took to new and ingenious places.

BalletMet dancers in Jerome Robbins'

BalletMet dancers in Jerome Robbins’ “Fancy Free.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet dancers in Jerome Robbins'

BalletMet dancers in Jerome Robbins’ “Fancy Free.” Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

Rounding out American Masters was the Columbus premiere of Robbins’ Fancy Free (1944). Set to an iconic Bernstein score, the classic Broadway-esque tale of three sailors on shore leave trying to impress three local dames is the perfect marriage of 1940s’ era chauvinistic humour with masterfully crafted choreography. Each of the two seven-member casts I saw brought their own personalities to the roles, especially the trio of sailors. The cast of Smith, Still and Ward had a jaunty skillfulness, while Martin Roosaare, Michael Sayre and Sarver displayed clever acting skills that gave their characters added depth. Fancy Free, like the rest of the program, was sheer delight.

This review first appeared in the 2015 Fall issue of Dance International magazine. Copyright Steve Sucato.

coverfall2015 (2)

Click here to subscribe to Dance International magazine

Leave a comment

Filed under Dance International

BalletMet’s Triple Bill of World Premiere Ballets Finds Beauty in Strange Situations


BalletMet dancers in Brian Enos' "Les Absents". Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet dancers in Brian Enos’ “Les Absents”. Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet Columbus – Innovations
BalletMet Performance Space
Columbus, OH
October 24 – November 8, 2014

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

One thing is clear about Edwaard Liang’s first full season as artistic director BalletMet Columbus; the honeymoon period with him as new director shows no signs of being over. On the heels of this past September’s landmark production of Twisted, Liang and company have kept the world-class performance vibe going with Innovations. The triple bill of world-premiere ballets at the company’s own intimate downtown Columbus performance space featured ballets from celebrated choreographers Brian Enos, Gustavo Ramirez Sansano and BalletX’s Matthew Neenan.

The sold-out Halloween night performance on October 31 began with Enos’ “Les Absents”. The ballet for four men and four women was danced to music from the documentary film Tabarly by Yann Tiersen. In it, the ballet’s female dancers began moving their arms up and down with the robotic precision of music box dancers. Their rigid balletic movement quickly melted away when their male counterparts joined them on stage.

Costumed like old world European peasants at a festival, the dancers then engaged in a series of delightful vignettes performed to French accordion music. Enos’ playful choreography led to a romantic storyline between two characters portrayed by dancers David Ward and Emily Gotschall. The happy coupe’s fairytale romance abruptly came to an end in a surprising twist as the mood of the ballet turned nightmarish and the pair were torn from each other’s arms by the other dancers in a slow motion scene that left the audience wondering if all that occurred before was a dream. Then left alone at opposites of the stage the pair reunited but with that came the realization their relationship was not as it was before. Approaching Ward, Gotschall leaned sideways, surrendering to gravity and falling into his arms as he guided her body to the floor. He then backed away from her leaving her to rise and stare emotionally defeated out into the audience to end the ballet.

That dramatic shift in the direction of Enos’ choreography served to add emotional depth to the ballet while jolting the audience’s perceptions on what they had just witnessed. Was this romanticized relationship all in Gotschall’s character’s mind?  And was what happened in the final scene a death knell to that romantic fantasy?

BalletMet dancers Karen Wing and Gabriel Gaffney Smith in Gustavo Ramirez Sansano's "Lovely Together". Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet dancers Karen Wing and Gabriel Gaffney Smith in Gustavo Ramirez Sansano’s “Lovely Together”. Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

This past April former Luna Negra artistic director Sansano made a positive impression on BalletMet audiences with his brilliant work “18+1”.  The premiere of his “Lovely Together,” had a similar effect.  The highlight of the evening, the “sock ballet” like“18+1” was fashioned with a European/Israeli contemporary dance aesthetic. Set to a variety of classical works including music from the Keller Quartet and The Stuttgart Piano Trio, “Lovely Together’s” fifteen dancers poured through mini-solos and interactions where they pawed at, clutched, and pulled away from one another. Heads bobbed in a slow, cinematic movement study to haunting music. At times the dancers froze in place looking like oddity shop figurines. Sansano’s choreography was delivered in fits of movement where the dancers acted squirrely creating a unique form of emotional beauty.

In a duet danced by Karen Wing and Gabriel Gaffney Smith, Wing pressed the top of her head into Smith’s back, supporting him when he stumbled in his locomotion.  The two nerdy characters then faced off and began jumping up and into each other when Smith tried to leave. Wing stared him down as if to say “you’re not leaving”; he shortly did in spite of her intense glares.

Then to music with sound effects of the turning pages of a book, the dancers zipped through more peculiar choreography characterized by athletic runs, sinking knees, and expressions of wanting.

The ballet ended with Smith and Wing’s characters reuniting. They two stared into each other’s eyes with naïve affection then fittingly turned in opposite directions and walked off the stage.

BalletMet dancers Caitlin Valentine Ellis and David Ward in Matthew Neenan's "On the Other Side".  Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

BalletMet dancers Caitlin Valentine Ellis and David Ward in Matthew Neenan’s “On the Other Side”. Photo by Jennifer Zmuda.

The program’s final offering was the premiere of Neenan’s “On the Other Side”. Set to music by Mendelssohn, the ballet for seven dancers was not the best ballet I have seen from Neenan but its fun and athletic choreography had its moments.

The ballet began with Smith standing still in spotlight as dancer Bethany Lee danced around him. Lee’s turn-filled solo gave way to a series of fine performances such as a plucky solo by dancer Caitlin Valentine-Ellis to galloping piano music; a speedy trio featuring Smith, Gotschall and Lee; a leggy pas de deux featuring dancer Courtney Muscroft and partner Attila Bongar and an introspective and beautifully danced pas de deux between Ward and Valentine-Ellis. The ballet came full circle at its end with Smith once again stationary in spotlight and Lee moving toward him.

Leave a comment

Filed under Dance Reviews 2014

Landmark Production One for the Ages


Photo by Jenifer Zmuda

Photo by Jenifer Zmuda

BalletMet Columbus, Opera Columbus and Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Chorus – Twisted: A Trio of Excellence
Ohio Theatre
Columbus, Ohio
September 25-28, 2014

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

It’s a wonderful thing when what sounds good in theory is even better in real life. Such was the case in the landmark collaboration Twisted: A Trio of Excellence featuring BalletMet Columbus, Opera Columbus and the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and chorus, September 27 at Columbus’ historic Ohio Theatre.

The world-premiere production combining dance, music and song proved to be the perfect meshing of all three with top-shelf performances by all involved.

Collaborations like these can be difficult to successfully mount for many reasons. Conflicting personalities, lack of artistic cohesion between the groups and production formatting that favors a singular discipline to the detriment of the others can sink a collaboration leaving the finished product uneven and uninteresting.  Fortunately, Twisted avoided those potential pitfalls and raised the bar on such collaborations with a stellar collection of truly artful moments. Mounting such an ambitious program, a rarity in Columbus, may have also been pushed along by the fact that all three organizations recently came under new artistic leadership (Edwaard Liang at BalletMet, Rossen Milanov at Columbus Symphony Orchestra and Peggy Kriha Dye at Opera Columbus), all of whom seem to be on board with taking artistic risks.

Photo by Jenifer Zmuda

Photo by Jenifer Zmuda

The program, hosted by the self-deprecating and amiable Christopher Purdy of WOSU-Classical 101, began with the Columbus Symphony, conducted by Peter Stafford Wilson, in the brooding “Prelude” to Act III from Wagner’s Lohengrin. The mood then quickly shifted to effervescent humor as an all-male cast of eleven BalletMet dancers along with Opera Columbus vocalist Justin Ryan joined the orchestra in Rossini’s “Largo al factotum” from The Barber of Seville. Dancing in humorously creative choreography by Val Caniparoli, BalletMet’s dancers costumed in dress shirts, pants and suit coats used their coats as both costume and prop; pulling them up onto their heads like hoods and pretending to fly around the stage like airplanes. The clownish but well-crafted mayhem had the dancers using the coats as capes and blankets to hide under while Ryan belted out “Figaro! Figaro!”.

The nine sections of the program’s first act continued with more from Caniparoli to music by Puccini and choreographer Ma Cong in a ballet to music by Mozart. It was however, BalletMet’s own Jimmy Orrante’s choreography for five dancers performed to the Met Opera-like quality singing of Opera Columbus’ Melisa Bonetti and Jennifer Cherest and the playing of the Symphony in Delibes’ “Viens, Mallika,…Dõme épais le jasmin” from Lakmé  that cemented the program as one for the ages.  Orrante’s delicate, feathery movement for the dancers perfectly complemented the angelic voices of Bonetti and Cherest resulting in a contrivance of beauty that caressed the senses.

After two more sections to music by Puccini and Mozart and some narration and shtick by Purdy, Orrante once again treated the audience to another bit of cleverness performed to Rossini’s “é lei: che gioja é questa!…Siete voi” from Cenerentola.  In the vignette, vocalists Bonetti, Cherest, Katherine Rohrer, Clay Hilley and Robert Kerr were paired with dancers Bethany Lee, Samantha Lewis, Courtney Muscroft, Andres Estevez, Jackson Prescott Sarver and Michael Sayre who acted in part as their dancing shadows. The singers enunciated each syllable of each word they sang in a syncopated manner while the dancers mimicked them and engaged in gestural and playful dancing.

Orrante has shown in his works for BalletMet that he has a talent for creating sophisticated, musically illustrative choreography that fits well on the company’s dancers and easily connects with audiences.

Photo by Jenifer Zmuda

Photo by Jenifer Zmuda

The program’s first act concluded with Liang’s choreography in Villa-Lobos’ “Bachianas Brasileiras No. 5 – Aria (Cantilena)” which told of a siren who seduces her prey through song.  Cherest, as the siren entranced dancer David Ward as a group of fourteen dancers swept through Liang’s bold and dramatic choreography.  The rousing dance concluded with Cherest appearing to pull a red scarf from Ward’s mouth as if pulling the life from his body as he collapsed to the floor.

Twisted’s second act continued the program’s entertaining and appealing mix of music, song and dance with eight more sections beginning with another Caniparoli choreographed ballet performed to Britten’s “Four Sea Interludes No. 4 Storm” from Peter Grimes.  The ballet, sans vocalists, featured a dozen BalletMet dancers along with lead couple, and new BalletMet power pairing, Ward and former Colorado Ballet soloist Caitlin Valentine-Ellis.  Ward, who seemingly was featured in just about every section, exuded a strong presence partnering the petite, technically adroit Valentine-Ellis.  The pair along with the rest of the dancers shone in Caniparoli’s engaging choreography.

Photo by Jenifer Zmuda

Photo by Jenifer Zmuda

Other memorable moments included:  the CSO along with the Columbus Symphony Chorus in Verdi’s “The Anvil Chorus” from Il Trovatore;  dancer Adrienne Benz partnered by four male dancers in a Cong choreographed ballet set to Bizet’s “L’amour est un oiseau rebelle” from Carmen; and dancers Ward and Muscroft along with vocalists Bonetti and Hilley in Orrante’s rendition of Saint-Saens  “Mon couer s’ouvre à ta voix” from Samson and Delilah, in which the leggy Muscroft en pointe in bourrée (small, quick, even steps) circled a scarfed Bonetti , unwrapping the scarf with each pass onto herself.

The sensational program concluded with Boito’s “Finale” from Act III from Mefistofoles. The Liang choreographed ballet included the entire triumphant cast of over 100 onstage dancing, singing and playing in a rousing spectacle ending which gold confetti raining down on them as the audience rose for a well-deserved standing ovation.

Photo by Jenifer Zmuda

Photo by Jenifer Zmuda

Leave a comment

Filed under Dance Reviews 2014