Tag Archives: Dmitri Shostakovich

Verb Ballets Revisits the Work of Heinz Poll


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Verb Ballets’ Nathanael Santiago and Kate Webb rehearsing Andrew Carroll’s “3:00am.” Photo by Bill Naiman.

By Steve Sucato

Verb Ballets latest tribute program to former Ohio Ballet co-founder Heinz Poll entitled Verb Ballets Continues the Legacy of Heinz Poll, will be a homecoming of sorts for Akron-native Andrew Carroll. The former principal dancer with Poll’s Ohio Ballet in the 1980’s and later with Pennsylvania Ballet, returns to the region to restage his 2014 pas de deux “3:00am.” The ballet is one of four on the Friday, February 17 program at Akron, Ohio’s historic Akron Civic Theatre and kicks off Verbs’ 30th anniversary celebration.

Carroll, who is now an associate professor of dance at the University of South Florida, says he set “3:00am” on former student Antonio Morillo to use when auditioning for Verb. Artistic director Margaret Carlson liked both so much she hired Morillo and added Carroll’s 4 1/2-minute pas de deux set to Abel Korzeniowski’s “Satin Birds” from the 2011 film W.E., to the company’s repertory.

Carroll says with “3:00am” he wanted to create a ballet where the two people in it were happy and in love, basking in “that window of time when no one else exists in the world, 3 a.m. ─ it’s just you and the one you love,” says Carroll.  

Joining Carroll’s ballet on the program will be Poll favorite, 1975’s “Schubert Waltzes.” Set to more than a dozen brief Franz Schubert piano pieces performed live by former Ohio Ballet music director David Fisher, the 25-minute ballet for three male/female couples is Poll’s interpretation of Schubert’s music,” says Verb Ballets associate director Richard Dickinson. The ballet looks at the three couples’ individual personalities. Said Chicago Tribune entertainment writer Sid Smith in a 1987 review of the ballet, “For all its stern simplicity, ‘Waltzes’ is broadly emotional, from soaring romance to silliness, culminating in a breathtaking and inspirational stroll toward an offstage sunset…”

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Verb Ballets dancers rehearsing Michael Hinton’s “Broken Bridges.” Photo by Jocelyn Magons.

The lone new work on the program “Broken Bridges,” comes from Verb company member Michael Hinton. Set to Dmitri Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony in C minor Op. 110A, it is the third work Hinton (who is on a leave of absence) has created for Verb.

Inspired by Poll’s ballet “Elegiac Song” (1968) also set to music by Shostakovich, the 22-minute ballet for 8 dancers says Hinton, is a tribute to his grandmother (Bridgett Escovedo) who passed away recently.

“I wanted to honor her memory while still staying true to the person she was,” says Hinton.

According to Hinton, his grandmother suffered from mental illness which left relationships in the family strained, especially with his mother Shawna Hinton who became her caregiver after she developed Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

“Bridgette grew up in a time where these [mental] illnesses weren’t considered valid,” says Hinton. “Eventually these suppressed illnesses came out in fits of emotions and general psychotic behavior.”

“Broken Bridges” explores this family dynamic with a nod to the turbulent emotions found in Poll’s “Elegiac Song.”

Rounding out the program will be a reprise of Poll’s 1996 masterwork “Bolero.” Set to Maurice Ravel’s iconic score of the same name, the ballet combines the best of Poll’s integration of ballet and modern dance technique into a seemingly timeless display of choreographic beauty that sweeps one up in its relentless drive and carries you along to an exhilaratingly satisfying end.

Verb Ballets Continues the Legacy of Heinz Poll will be performed at 8 p.m., Friday, February 17, Akron Civic Theatre, 182 South Main Street Akron, Ohio. Single tickets are $32/Preferred, $27/Center, $22/Side or $12/ Student. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Akron Civic Box Office at 330-253-2488 or online at akroncivic.com. For more information visit verbballets.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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Cincinnati Ballet’s ‘Director’s Cut’ Amused, Charmed and Enthralled


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Maizyalet Velázquez, Sirui Liu and Christina LaForgia Morse in Ma Cong’s “Near Light.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

Cincinnati Ballet
Director’s Cut
Procter & Gamble Hall at Aronoff Center
Cincinnati, Ohio
September 16, 2016

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

To kick off her 20th anniversary season as artistic director of Cincinnati Ballet, Victoria Morgan culled together seven diverse ballets for the program Director’s Cut, performed by Cincinnati Ballet, September 16-17, 2016 at the Aronoff Center’s Procter & Gamble Hall in downtown Cincinnati.

Performed in part to live music by the Cincinnati Ballet Orchestra conducted by Carmon Deleone, Director’s Cut amused, charmed and enthralled opening night, September 16 beginning with New York City Ballet resident choreographer Justin Peck’s “Capricious Maneuvers” (2013).

Presently, one of ballet’s “it” choreographers, Peck’s neoclassical ballet was a satisfying blend of classic NYCB style infused with contemporary ballet sensibilities. Danced to Lukas Foss’ “Capriccio for Cello and Piano” performed live by cellist Nathaniel Chaitkin and pianist Michael Chertock, the ballet for five had a relaxed feel to it.  Dancers paired off in partnered movement phrases, while others nonchalantly stood by watching. Peck’s breezy choreography was playful and sophisticated a la a Mark Morris work. And like a Morris work, its ease look belied its technical difficulty. Up to the challenge, newly promoted senior soloist Sirui Liu shined in the ballet with a combination of textbook form and silky-smooth port de bras.

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Cincinnati Ballet dancers in Justin Peck’s “Capricious Maneuvers.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

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James Cunningham and Sirui Liu in Justin Peck’s “Capricious Maneuvers.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

Next, petite powerhouse Chisako Oga teamed up with José Losada for “Black Swan Pas de Deux,” from Swan Lake choreographed by Morgan after Marius Petipa. In it, Oga was slow to immerse herself in the devilishly seductive Odile character. When she finally did her performance moved from decent to delicious. As “Black Swan” pairings go, Oga and Losada were overall technically solid but lacked chemistry which diminished the famous pas de deux’s emotional impact.

One of the program’s pleasant surprises was company soloist James Cunningham’s whimsical “Prohibition Condition.” Set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich, the solo for CB principal dancer Rodrigo Almarales proved an audience favorite. From the moment Almarales stumbled on to the stage in a comically drunken stupor, he endeared himself to the audience. His mugging and making fun of orchestra conductor Deleone’s movements in the pit elicited audience chuckles. For his part, Cunningham’s well-crafted choreography balanced clever, inebriation-inspired movement with bravura ballet fireworks in which Almarales tossed off series of jumps, pirouettes and attitude turns with relative ease.

Created for San Francisco Ballet in 2008, Yuri Possokhov’s “Fusion” (Excerpts), with music by Graham Fitkin, had a dreamlike atmosphere about it. It opened with dancer Sarah Van Patten performing a contemporary ballet solo on one end of the stage while behind her on the opposite side, a quartet of male dancers, backs to the audience in long skirts, stood with arms around each other’s waists in shadow. Van Patten was soon joined by Luke Ingham and the choreography took on a melancholy mood with bendy movements and those suggesting falling. Moving out from the shadows, the quartet of men then began to softly twirl like ghostly whirling dervishes. Perhaps seeing the ballet in its entirety would give one a better sense of it, nonetheless, the imagery and performances by the dancers in these excerpts related a sense of beauty that stirred internal emotions.

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Sarah Hairston and Zack Grubbs (center) with CBII and Otto M. Budig Academy Students in Marius Petipa’s “Raymonda Grand Pas Hongrois.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

Rounding out the program’s first half, the “Grand Pas Hongrois” from the ballet Raymonda was bittersweet for Cincinnati Ballet fans. On the one hand it was a spectacle of classical ballet pomp and circumstance. On the other however, it was one of principal dancer Sarah Hairston and senior soloist Zach Grubbs last performances. The two audience favorites retired from the company with this production. They will remain with the organization however, taking on leaderships roles at Cincinnati Ballet’s Otto M. Budig Academy.

Danced to music by Alexander Glazunov, Hairston and Grubbs led a corps of eight male-female couples from CB’s academy in Raymonda’s celebratory wedding scene which alternated between sweeping group dances and showy solo variations for Hairston and Grubbs.

A 15-year company veteran, Hairston brought elegance, energy and sass to the role of Raymonda and her dancing, typifying her performing career. As Jean de Brienne, Grubbs was regal and a steady partner to Hairston.

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Melissa Gelfin and Cervilio Miguel Amador in Victoria Morgan’s “Patriotic Pas.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

After the world-premiere of Morgan’s “Patriotic Pas,” a jaunty duet danced by Melissa Gelfin and Cervilio Miguel Amador to familiar tunes contained in Morton Gould’s American Suite such as “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” Director’s Cut concluded with the gem of the evening, the world-premiere of Ma Cong’s “Near Light.”

Amidst a blanket of stage fog and in spotlight, a red rose fell from a woman’s hand into those of a male kneeling before her. Was this a memory or a premonition? The rose was then then passed from one dancer to another who came onstage until finally it disappeared from our sight along with the stage fog.

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Patric Palkens in Ma Cong’s “Near Light.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

Set to a haunting collection of works by composer Ólafur Arnalds, Cong’s contemporary ballet spoke to the viewer on multiple levels. Visually, the combination of Trad A. Burns’ atmospheric lighting and Cong’s velvety movement for the dancers imprinted images of bodies in beautiful motion intertwining, cascading and melting into each other. Emotionally, Arnalds’ aching music and the dancers’ passionate response to it, left one breathtakingly silent. As in “Capricious Maneuvers,” Liu mesmerized. So too did Abigail Morwood whose stellar performance overflowed with intensity, drama and grace.

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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Verb Ballets’ Poll Tribute Faithful and First-Rate


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Verb Ballets’ Christina Lindhout, center and troupe in Heinz Poll’s “Bolero.” Photo by Bill Naiman.

Verb Ballets – Tribute to Heinz Poll
Akron Civic Theatre
Akron, OH
February 19, 2016

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

It’s been a nearly a decade since the passing of Northeast Ohio dance icon Heinz Poll and the closing of the company he co-founded, Akron-based Ohio Ballet. Poll loomed large on the area dance scene, bringing national recognition to it and leaving behind a lasting legacy contained within those he taught, his former dancers, and his over sixty ballets created for Ohio Ballet.

In honor of the 90th anniversary of Poll’s birth, Cleveland-based Verb Ballets presented a Tribute to Heinz Poll, February 19, 2016 at Ohio’s historic Akron Civic Theatre. The program featured four of Poll’s most cherished ballets including the first ballet he created for Chamber Ballet (later re-named Ohio Ballet), 1968’s “Elegiac Song.”

The program kicked off with Soaring, a 13-minute documentary about Poll and the Ohio Ballet featuring interviews with the German choreographer, commentary by New York Times dance critic Jennifer Dunning and archival footage of Poll and the Ohio Ballet. It was followed by “Elegiac Song,” restaged for Verb by former Ohio Ballet dancer and current director of Akron’s Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, Jane Startzman.

On a darkened stage, a narrow shaft of light spread horizontally across the rear stage scrim diminishing in intensity with length. In front of it Verb’s Megan Buckley and six other female dancers costumed in long skirts and black capes moved through solemn choreography. A distraught-looking Buckley seemed to be being ignored by the others who traveled in tandem in and out of deep pliés across the stage.

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Verb Ballets’ Megan Buckley in Heinz Poll’s “Elegiac Song.” Photo Credit Susan Bestul.

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Verb Ballets’ Nicholas Rose and Megan Buckley in Heinz Poll’s “Elegiac Song.” Photo Credit Susan Bestul.

Set to melancholy music by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, the ballet, said Poll in his 2008 autobiography A Time to Dance, is about “women who are left alone in time of war.” It was the first of two ballets on the program inspired by Poll’s memories of wartime Germany.

The beautifully-crafted, somber ballet was also inspired by the dark and disturbing wartime images of German artist Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945). And as the program notes indicated, Poll’s movement vocabulary and look for the ballet was noticeably “indebted to Martha Graham.” As such, the piece had a different feel to it than the other ballets on the program; more in the modern dance mold of Graham’s 1930 solo “Lamentation.”

Brinkley was captivating as a grieving war “widow” searching for solace from the others and in her memories of her beloved danced by Nick Rose (replacing an injured Omar Humphrey). The ballet’s corps of women made up of Verb company members and dancers from the community also performed solidly.

Of the select nineteen ballets which Poll bequeathed to live on past him, “Elegiac Song” is one of his very best.

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Verb Ballets’ Lieneke Matte and Michael Hinton in Heinz Poll’s “Duet.” Photo by Susan Bestul

In contrast, Poll’s “Duet” (1979) that followed, was a dull, stiff exercise in neo-classical technique. Danced to live Bach organ music by former Ohio Ballet music director David Fisher, the duet, although skillfully presented by Verb’s Lieneke Matte and Michael Hinton, had the appeal of a funeral dirge.

Next, the second ballet inspired by Poll’s personal experiences with oppression and war, 1982’s “Songs Without Words,” dealt with the run-up to the Holocaust in Germany.

Set to Felix Mendelssohn’s piano score of the same name played expertly live by Fisher, the ballet smartly balanced the sense of fear, panic and horror Poll witnessed in the lives of Jews of all classes at the hands of the Nazis with their everyday lives before they were upended.

A pair of young lovers danced by Matte and former Ohio Ballet dancer Brian Murphy expressed their feelings for one another and looked to a future together, a quartet of youth reveled in what it was like to be young and carefree, a love triangle perhaps between two affluent sisters in love with the same man played out, and a street tough danced by last minute replacement for Humphrey, Neos Dance Theatre’s Ethan Michael Lee, was willfully defiant till the end.

The heartbreaking and beautifully-crafted ballet was danced with care and conviction by the entire cast, especially Kate Webb, Christina Lindhout and Stephaen Hood who made real the emotional and tension-filled love triangle.

The ballet ended with the striking image of all the dancers, having been herded and huddled together, collapsing to the ground, signaling their tragic demise.

Verb’s tribute program concluded with Poll’s most popular and most performed ballet, “Bolero” (1996).

The group ballet set to Maurice Ravel’s masterwork of the same name, paralleled the music’s progression building off dancer Lindhout’s opening solo and adding dancers and dramatic choreography to a repeating movement phrase.  The women costumed in long black dresses with the men shirtless in long black skirts, moved through unison choreography in which they circled their wrists, pointed fingers and ran through sequences of hand and arm movements that at times resembled that of classical Indian dance.

As Ravel’s music grew more intense, Poll’s choreography followed. And no matter how many times one may have seen the ballet, it was nearly impossible not to get caught up in its building excitement.

The latter stages of the ballet brought out a Spanish flair with the dancers removing a layer of their costumes and turning it into a toreador’s cape which they swirled around with verve.

If any of Poll’s signature ballets are deserving of the label “masterpiece,” “Bolero” certainly qualifies. Perhaps not the best rendition of it I have seen (it’s hard to surpass the memory of former Ohio Ballet star and the work’s rights holder Xochitl Tejeda de Cerda performing the lead role), nonetheless Lindhout and company were very respectable in it.

Faithful to Poll’s originals, Verb Ballet’s Tribute to Heinz Poll was a mostly engaging and satisfyingly entertaining evening of dance. Equally important, the program was a refresher of Poll’s genius and a reminder of his importance to the dance world, especially in Northeast, Ohio ─ something that should not be forgotten.

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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