Tag Archives: Felix Mendelssohn

Verb Ballets Program to Feature the Works of Female Choreographers

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Verb Ballets in Kate Webb’s “Stellar Syncopations.” Photo courtesy of Verb Ballets.

By Steve Sucato

The novelty of an all-female choreographer dance program shouldn’t be a thing for many reasons, not the least being the disproportionately greater number of females in dance than males. That it still is, is nonetheless a commendable early step along the journey when the need to tout giving opportunities to female choreographers will be rendered unnecessary and artistic directors programming female choreographers’ works will be as an unconscious a move as muscle memory is to any dancer.

Joining other dance company’s recent efforts in highlighting female choreographers’ works is Cleveland’s own Verb Ballets.  Their latest production 4X4: Four Works by Female Choreographers, Saturday, February 8 at Saint Ignatius High School’s Breen Center for the Performing Arts is a program solely of works by female choreographers. The mixed repertory evening will feature reprises of ballets by former Cleveland Ballet dancer Kay Eichman and Verb dancer Kate Webb, along with a classic pas de deux by ballet icon Agrippina Vaganova and the company premiere of Chicago-based choreographer Stephanie Martinez’s “Wandering On” (2017).

The newest of the choreographers featured, Webb’s “Stellar Syncopations” (2019) is set to an improvisational jazz score by Akron musician, Pat Pace entitled “Excursions” that was originally created for Heinz Poll’s 1982 ballet of the same name. Webb describes Pace’s composition as challenging to choreograph dance steps to because of its unusual counts but fitting for her ambitious idea of a ballet visualizing the life-cycle of a star.

“I grew up loving science and wanted to be an astronomer after my dance career,” says Webb. While that may or may not happen, Webb says she enjoyed researching and creating the 30-minute abstract ballet.

Where Webb’s ballet takes its inspiration from the cosmos, a reworked version of Martinez’s “Wandering On” takes its inspiration from the spiritual and metaphysical aspects of the human life-cycle. The 12-minute contemporary dance work derives its concept from the Sanskrit word Samsara that translates as wandering through the constant cycle, or circuitous changes, of life. Martinez says it was her yoga teacher husband who introduced her to the term and the concept behind it.

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Choreographer Stephanie Martinez rehearsing Verb Ballets’ dancers in “Wandering On.” Photo courtesy of Verb Ballets.

In the work for 4 men and 7 women set to music by composers Ezio Bosso, Max Richter and others, Martinez creates interweaving worlds leading toward enlightenment.

“I wanted to physicalize getting to another realm,” says Martinez. “You are where you want to be in the end and there is freedom.”

In creating choreography for her works Martinez says she first thinks about movement for herself emanating from the inside out. “I let something happen that informs my arm to move, I don’t move my arm first per se,” says Martinez. “I also think about structure and texture. I go through many cycles to get to what it turns into.”

In a rehearsal of “Wandering On” at Verb Ballets’ Shaker Heights studios, Martinez pushed the dancers to find grit in their performances. In coaching Verb’s Emily Dietz in a solo from the work, Martinez told her to “just break all the rules” and to “go out and kick it.”

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Verb Ballets in Kay Eichman’s “Mendelssohn Italian Symphony.” Photo courtesy of Verb Ballets.

Where Martinez encouraged Verb’s dancers to let go the preciousness of ballet in her work, Eichman’s “Mendelssohn Italian Symphony” (2019) has them fully embracing it and much more. The neo-classical ballet in 3 sections for 4 couples is set to, and is in response to, the first, second and fourth movements of the Mendelssohn’s “Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Op. 90” (Italian Symphony). Premiered last February, the ballet (the first for Eichman on a professional company) bubbled with enthusiasm in its debut despite some dancer missteps. It should prove even better in its second go round.

Completing the program will be a legendary pas de deux by one of the biggest names in classical ballet, Agrippina Vaganova. Vaganova perfected the teaching methods of Russia’s Imperial Ballet into one of the world’s leading ballet techniques that bears her name. In 1935 she choreographed the showpiece “Diana y Acteon Pas de Deux”.  Restaged by Cuba’s Laura Alonzo and performed by Verb’s Lieneke Matte and Benjamin Sheppard, the 8-minute pas de deux will be full of ballet fireworks.

Verb Ballets performs 4X4: Four Works by Female Choreographers, 8 p.m., Saturday, February 8 at Saint Ignatius High School’s Breen Center for the Performing Arts, 2008 W. 30th St., Cleveland. Tickets are $10-35 (Student ticket discount is available). Tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite at 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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Cleveland Ballet’s Season-Opener Promises to be an Eye-Opener


Cleveland Ballet’s Nashializ Gomez and Rainer Diaz in Gladisa Guadalupe’s “Provocativo.”

By Steve Sucato

To open its fourth season Cleveland Ballet will take audiences on a journey from a high-flying pirate adventure to a late night Argentinean café awash in the tango of love. The company’s Fall Collection, October 19 & 20 at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre, will feature classical, neo-classical and contemporary ballet works including a world-premiere by artistic director Gladisa Guadalupe.

Since its founding in 2014, Cleveland Ballet has grown in size and dancer skill level every year. This season the company takes another leap forward by adding several high-caliber male dancers to its roster. They include Argentinean Luciano Perotto and Cubans Andy Sousa and Alfredo Rodriguez who, along with company veteran Rainer Diaz, may represent the finest male ballet dancer corps Cleveland has seen in over a decade. For the women, the recent departure of company star Luna Sayag is mitigated by the addition of Brooklyn-native Nicole Fedorov, who previously danced with Nevada Ballet, Moscow Classical Ballet and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens. She joins a strong female corps that includes company veterans Lauren Stenroos, Madison Campbell and Anna Dobbins. They, along with the rest of the company, will take to the stage first Guadalupe’s full-company ballet “Momentum.”

Set to Felix Mendelssohn’s “Piano Concerto No. 1 in G minor” performed live by pianist Ralitsa Georgieva Smith, the up-tempo ballet in three movements was inspired by Mendelssohn’s music says Guadalupe.  Seeing a recent rehearsal of the ballet, I found, like the music, the dancing came in vibrant back and forth runs. And while the choreography was fast paced, the dancing retained softness and grace to it.

Next, several of the aforementioned new company dancers will show off their considerable technical skills in excerpts from two ballet classics beginning with the bravura pas de trois from the ballet Le Corsaire (The Pirate) followed by the fiery Spanish pas de deux from Don Quixote.


Cleveland Ballet’s Alfredo Rodriguez and Elena Cvetkovich in Gladisa Guadalupe’s “Provocativo.”

The program will then shift gears from classical ballet fireworks to late night seduction in the form of Guadalupe’s new 25-minute ballet “Provocativo.” Set in an Argentinean café where love and lust permeate the air and danced to the music of Astor Piazzolla performed live by a quintet of musicians including bandoneonist Julien Labro, bassist Dan Finn and Russian tenor Mikhail Urusov, the ballet seeks to capture the desirous attitude of tango without being a tango piece.

Inspired by her memories of being in such a café in Argentina while on tour as a young professional dancer, Guadalupe has populated this café with a cast of colorful characters including a wealthy socialite, an painter, a Casanova and woman dreaming of her lost lover. In watching Cleveland Ballet’s dancers in a rehearsal of the jazz and tango infused contemporary ballet work, I found it to be a playfully evocative and entertaining ballet.

For those still unfamiliar with the new Cleveland Ballet, the company’s Fall Collection program may just be the introduction needed to make you a fan of this company on the rise.

Cleveland Ballet performs Fall Collection, 8 p.m., Friday, October 19 and 1 p.m. & 7 p.m., Saturday, October 20; Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre, 1511 Euclid Avenue, Cleveland. Tickets are $25-79. Also available on October 21 is a Ballet & Brunch Package at $41 that includes a pre-show brunch at Playhouse Square’s RJF Presidents’ Club starting at 11 a.m. followed by the 1p.m. performance. For tickets, visit playhousesquare.org or call (800) 801-7407. More information at clevelandballet.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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‘Wild Sweet Love’ to usher in Sofranko-Era at Grand Rapids Ballet


(L-R) Grand Rapids Ballet dancers Matthew Wenckowski, Isaac Aoki, Gretchen Steimle and StevenHouser rehearsing Penny Saunders’ “Ghost Light”. Photo by Jade Butler.

By Steve Sucato

For Grand Rapids Ballet’s season opening program, the first under new artistic director James Sofranko, the company will present Wild Sweet Love, October 19-21 at GRB’s ’ Peter Martin Wege Theatre. The diverse program including ballets by George Balanchine, Trey McIntyre, GRB resident choreographer Penny Saunders and a world premiere by Sofranko has audience-pleaser written all over it.

The production will also be the first opportunity for area audiences to see several new dancers Sofranko added to the company. They are former Nashville Ballet dancers Alexandra Meister-Upleger (Aurora, Ohio) and Nathan Young (Little Rock, Arkansas), Emily Reed (Monee, Illinois) formerly with Minnesota Ballet, Israel Garcia Chenge (Mexico), Nicholas Gray (Milwaukee, WI), William Shearstone (Atlanta, Georgia) and Cuban Josue Justiz a former dancer with National Ballet of Cuba.

Just a few months into the job, Sofranko says moving from being soloist with San Francisco Ballet for 18 seasons to now running a fulltime ballet company has been a bit of a shock to the system.  “There are a lot more demands on my time. You are needed in the studio, in meetings, in marketing discussions, dancers need to talk to you, choreographers need to talk to you, it’s a constant information overload,” says Sofranko. “You are the guy everyone wants to talk to so you have to be ‘on’ all the time.”

While balancing his time has been big challenge, Sofranko says he was surprised by the dancer in him still wanting to be in the studio to take class. “I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to just let that part of me go,” he says. “Being in the studio are the moments I cherish. The more I can be in there the better.”

Another hurdle Sofranko is facing that other former dancers turned artistic directors have also faced is coming to grips with not being one of the gang anymore. “You are the boss now and that is a different dynamic than being colleagues. That will definitely take some getting used to,” says Sofranko.

Also, like many new directors, Sofranko has had little time to do anything but prep for Wild Sweet Love since the dancers returned in September from their summer layoff. That includes creating his debut ballet for the company, “Ballade,” a 9-minute lighthearted classical piece to excerpts of Antonín Dvořák’s four “Romantic Pieces, Op. 75” for violin and piano (1887). In keeping with the love theme of the program, it features new dancers Meister-Upleger and Young along with Ednis Gomez and Gretchen Steimle as couples in more mature love relationships; one couple is awash in romance while the other has a more contentious relationship.


Grand Rapids Ballet dancers Josue Justiz and Yuka Oba rehearsing George Balanchine’s “Allegro Brillante”. Photo by Jade Butler.

Prior to “Ballade,” the company premiere of Balanchine’s “Allegro Brillante” (1956) will open the program. The choreographer said of his vibrant and expressive ballet for 10 dancers, “It contains everything I know about the classical ballet in 13 minutes.” Danced to Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 75, Sofranko sees the ballet as good test for the company and a great way for him to better get to know the dancers.

After a short intermission, the program will continue with Saunders’ “Ghost Light” (2014). Originally created on Kansas City’s Owen/Cox Dance Group, the work for 4 dancers (1 woman, 3 men) costumed in formalwear follows the mischievous antics of a group of theater ghosts inspired by famous figures Maria Callas, Harry Houdini, Fred Astaire and Duke Ellington at play after the living have gone home.

Saunders is familiar to GRB audiences having choreographed several of the company’s more popular ballets during Patricia Barker’s tenure as director including last season’s The Happy Prince & Other Wilde Tales. “Ghost Light” taps into the theatrical superstition that every theater is haunted and that the light or lights left lit onstage meant to keep stage hands and performers from falling into the orchestra pit when the theater is dark, also provides theater ghosts a spotlight to perform in once again.

Danced to an eclectic music mix from composer Alexandre Desplat, Devo’s Mark Mothersbaugh, David Hirschfelder, J. S. Bach and Traffic Quintet, the 18-minute work is a comedic romp tinged with a bit of melancholy.

Bravura classical dancing then follows in the bold, high flying pas de deux from the ballet Le Corsaire. Danced to music by Riccardo Drigo, the pas de deux made famous by Rudolf Nureyev will showcase company members Justiz and Meister-Upleger.


Grand Rapids Ballet dancers Ednis Gomez and Yuka Oba rehearsing Trey McIntyre’s “Wild Sweet Love”. Photo by Jade Butler.

After another brief intermission the program will close with its title work, McIntyre’s “Wild Sweet Love” (2007). Originally created for Sacramento Ballet, “Wild Sweet Love” is a delightfully quirky and athletic work set to disparate music by Queen, Lou Reed, Roberta Flack, Felix Mendelssohn, The Zombies and others.  It explores the range of emotions being in love and lacking love in your life can bring. Played out in a series of dance vignettes that follow a central female character, the ballet is full of humor, heartache, and songs like The Partridge Family’s 1974 hit “I Think I Love You” that will leave you smiling.

Eager to begin this next chapter in his career and the next in GRB’s 46-year history, Sofranko says of Wild Sweet Love: “I am feeling good about the show. I am happy where we are at and how the dancers and the pieces look.”

Grand Rapids Ballet performs Wild Sweet Love, 7:30 p.m., Friday, October 19 & Saturday, October 20 and 2:00 p.m., Sunday, October 21. Peter Martin Wege Theatre, 341 Ellsworth SW, Grand Rapids. Tickets are $52 each. For tickets or more information visit grballet.com or call (616) 454-4771 x10.

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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