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Of Gods and Mortals: Elu Dance Company Remounts their Acclaimed 2016 Production ‘barefaced’


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Elu Dance Company’s (L-R) Mikaela Clark and Mackenzie Valley in “barefaced.” Photo by Lauren Stonestreet.

By Steve Sucato

One of the best local dance productions of the 2015-16 season, Elu Dance Company‘s barefaced was a thoughtful, poignant and smartly conceived dance-theater work based on C. S. Lewis’ 1956 novel “Till We Have Faces” — a retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche from The Golden Ass of Apuleius.

Now, after a 3-year hiatus, a newly enhanced and expanded version of barefaced returns to the stage, Saturday, September 14 at Playhouse Square’s Hanna Theatre in downtown Cleveland.

Directed, choreographed and performed by Elu company founders Mikaela Clark and Mackenzie Valley, the 90-minute production tells the harrowing and heartbreaking tale of Psyche and her older sister Orual and their loving bond as sisters that transcends gods and realms.

Told from the perspective of Orual, as an accusation against the gods, barefaced is set in the fictive kingdom of Glome where the beautiful Psyche has been sentenced as a human sacrifice to the unseen “God of the Mountain”. But instead of meeting her fate on the mountain, Orual discovers her sister is very much alive and is now the bride of “God of the Mountain”. A fantastical tale of deception and devotion ensues spanning lifetimes that Clark and Valley play out onstage in contemporary dance movement.

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Elu Dance Company’s (L-R) Mackenzie Valley and Mikaela Clark in “barefaced.” Photo by Lauren Stonestreet.

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Elu Dance Company’s (L-R) Mikaela Clark and Mackenzie Valley in “barefaced.” Photo by Lauren Stonestreet.

Set to music composed, performed and recorded by Ken and Patt Wadenpfuhl from Cleveland-based non-profit Ancient Path, the dance-theater piece also uses recorded narration of excerpts from C.S. Lewis’ novel to help drive the story line.

Clark and Valley will also once again share the stage with local artist and sculptor Mark Sugiuchi’s mixed-medium mountain sculpture and for this updated production. What has changed for this production is Clark and Valley say they have almost entirely re-choreographed the work. They have also added another layer to their storytelling in the form of dance film snippets created by Mark Valley that are weaved throughout the production and depict additional scenes from the Lewis’ tale performed by 10 area professional dancers.

“We wanted to make the storytelling more concrete,” says Valley.

The hope for Clark and Valley is that the changes made to the production will make an already great production more readable for audiences. Suffice it to say, if that is the case this new barefaced production may be one of this new dance season’s early hits.

Elu Dance Company presents barefaced…inspired by C. S. Lewis’ “Till We Have Faces,” 7:30 p.m., Saturday, September 14; Playhouse Square’s Hanna Theatre, 2067 E 14th Street, Cleveland; Tickets are $22–45 and available online at playhousesquare.org or by calling (216) 241-6000.

 

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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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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With its Second Season Production ‘Collide,’ Deos Contemporary Ballet Looks to Up its Visibility around Western Michigan


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Deos Contemporary Ballet dancers Kristen Hammer, Christine Settembrino, and Kathryn Tokar rehearsing Tess Sinke’s “Remembrance.” Photo by Jon Clay.

By Steve Sucato

Tess Sinke’s Deos Contemporary Ballet enters its sophomore season with a new mixed repertory program of dance works and bit of growth as an organization. The Grand Rapids, Michigan-based, summer-only troupe consisting of local professional dancers and those from around the country, will not only be returning to downtown Grand Rapids’ Peter Martin Wege Theatre for performances of its latest production Collide on August 2 & 3, but will also repeat the production in nearby Muskegon on August 9 & 10 at the Frauenthal Center’s Beardsley Theater.

For a company still looking to get a foothold with Grand Rapids dance audiences, the move to add performances in a second city is an ambitious step forward. One Sinke hopes will pay off in higher visibility for the company going forward.

As with last summer’s inaugural production An Evening of Brahms, this summer’s Collide will predominately be a showcase of Sinke’s choreography along with a new ballet by former Grand Rapids Ballet star Cassidy Isaacson, and a reprise of Attila Mosolygo’s “Brahms Trio” from last season.

The program (subject to change) will open with Senke’s new 4-minute ballet “Martha” that she says was inspired by the many strong women in her life. The warrior-like ballet for 5 women costumed in red is set to Daniel Pemberton’s song “Jackeyes Tale,” from the soundtrack to the 2017 film, King Arthur: Legend of the Sword.

Next will be Isaacson’s debut work for Deos, “Happiness Does Not Wait” to music of the same name by Iceland’s Ólafur Arnalds. The 4-minute contemporary dance work looks at two different personal relationships juxtaposed together onstage. In one, a male-female couple struggles with a one-sided relationship while in the other, an all-female couple who are both fully invested in theirs thrives. Isaacson says she drew inspiration for the work from recent personal experience with her boyfriend who took a leap of faith in their relationship and moved with her to San Francisco after she accepted a dancer contract with Smuin Ballet.

A veteran dance studio competition choreographer, Isaacson says she ramps up the intensity and technical levels of her choreography when working with professional dancers. “I do very energetic and athletic works and I love pushing the boundaries in partnering and floor work,”  she says.

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Deos Contemporary Ballet dancers Michael Burke and Melissa Ludwig rehearsing Tess Sinke’s “Remembrance.” Photo by Jon Clay.

“Remembrance,” another new ballet by Sinke, also has its genesis in personal experience. This time stemming from Sinke’s recent devastating miscarriages.

“My husband and I have dealt with two miscarriages in the last 8 months and the ballet is about how society views miscarriage and infertility, and how it is still taboo to talk about,” says Sinke. “Most women deal with this struggle on their own, almost feeling like it is not something they are not allowed to grieve about.”

Also danced to music by Ólafur Arnalds, the 15-minute contemporary ballet in 4 movements is for 9 dancers (8 female, 1 male) including Kathryn Tokar of Virginia’s Charlottesville Ballet who says of Sinke’s approach to the ballet, “Tess is really good at creating emotional and gestural movement that isn’t too literal in conveying the work’s subject matter.”

In “Remembrance,” the dancers are seen reaching for a single light bulb suspended above them just out of reach. The lit bulb is meant to symbolize for those who have experienced a miscarriage the life they wanted to bring into the world but was lost.

The program then shifts moods to lighthearted with Sinke’s new ballet “Curiosity,” danced to music by London based singer-songwriter Ben Cocks. The 12-minute piece for 8 dancers costumed in all white says Sinke “is just that inner child in all of us coming out.”

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Deos Contemporary Ballet dancers Gracie Holway and David Sent rehearsing Tess Sinke’s “Unfinished.” Photo by Jon Clay.

Following Mosolygo’s aforementioned “Brahms Trio,” will be Sinke’s new 10-minute pas de deux “Unfinished” danced to Iskra String Quartet’s recording of composer Peter Gregson’s “Chorale (Five).” Taking its inspiration from the line “Do not look for healing at the feet of those who broke you,” contained in Canadian-Indian poet Rupi Kaur’s poetry collection Milk and Honey, the work features a male character that represents the darkness in a female character’s life that she ultimately chooses to move away from.

Rounding out the program will be Sinke’s re-worked ballet “Lord, Look Down.”  Created in 2012 while Sinke was a student at Mercyhurst University in Erie, Pennsylvania, the 15-minute multimedia ballet for 11 dancers to music by Dmitri Shostakovich, John Williams and others, features a 20-foot church pew set piece. Says Sinke of the ballet, “It is an inward look at ‘the church’ as being a place where we often feel we need to be perfect when in reality it is a place where people who are flawed and have made mistakes come together to love one another without judgement.”

Deos Contemporary Ballet performs Collide, 7:30 p.m., Friday, August 2 and on 2:00 & 7:30 p.m., Saturday, August 3 at the Peter Martin Wege Theatre, 341 Ellsworth Avenue SW, Grand Rapids, Michigan. Tickets are $35 and available at ticketmaster.com or by calling (800) 982-2787. The program repeats 7:30 p.m., Friday, August 9 and Saturday, August 10 at the Frauenthal Center’s Beardsley Theater, 425 W. Western Ave., Muskegon, Michigan. Tickets are $35/Advance, $40/Day of Show and are available at startickets.com or by calling (800) 585-3737. More information at deosballet.com.

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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