Tag Archives: Ma Cong

Neglia Ballet Artists’ Star-Studded Spring Gala Dazzled with Great Performances [REVIEW]


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Colorado Ballet’s Dana Benton and Yosvani Ramos in Amy Seiwert’s “Traveling Alone”. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

Neglia Ballet Artists – Spring Gala
Nichols Flickinger Performing Arts Center
Buffalo, NY
May 10, 2018

By Steve Sucato

Buffalo’s premiere evening of dance each year, Neglia Ballet Artists’ 2018 Spring Gala was a smorgasbord of top flight dancing well worth the price of admission.  Once again NBA artistic director Sergio Neglia and executive director Heidi Halt culled together a stellar line-up of guest artists and dance works worthy of a professional dance company many times NBA’s size.

The program opened however with a solo variation from the ballet Raymonda by one of Neglia Conservatory’s own rising stars, Maggie Weatherdon.  The statuesque teenager from Grimsby, Ontario, despite some nerves, showed control in her technique and footwork on pointe in the briskly-paced solo.

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Neglia Conservatory dancer Maggie Weatherdon in a variation from “Raymonda”. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

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Vilia Putrius and Mindaugas Bauzys in Paul Meija’s “Romanza Andaluza”. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

Next, frequent guest dancers, husband and wife team Vilia Putrius and Mindaugas Bauzys, performed former New York City Ballet principal dancer Paul Meija’s pas de deux “Romanza Andaluza” to violin music by Pablo de Saraste.

The look of the pas de deux spoke of a matador and a señorita, while the close-quarter classical choreography evoked the feel of the “White Swan” pas de deux from Swan Lake.  Arms raised high over her head Putrius spun in and out of Bauzys’ arms and was lifted over his head in arabesque positions that had her lovingly looking down on him.  Both dancers radiated star quality in their dancing that combined grace and technical prowess.

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Neglia Conservatory’s Stephanie Waite in Victor Smalley’s “Under Her Skin”. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

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Colorado Ballet’s Dana Benton and Yosvani Ramos in the balcony scene pas de deux from “Romeo and Juliet” Photo by Gene Witkowski.

After the contemporary dance solo “Under Her Skin” by Victor Smalley danced by Neglia Conservatory student Stephanie Waite, Colorado Ballet principal dancers Dana Benton and Yosvani Ramos performed the balcony scene pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet with choreography by former English National Ballet artistic director Derek Deane.  One of the more emotionally rich choreographic versions of the ballet, Deane’s passionate choreography fit perfectly on the girlishly giddy Benton as Juliet and the dashing Ramos as Romeo. Sweeping runs into each other’s arms, soaring lifts and dizzying turn sequences left one believing in the pair’s over-the-moon young love.

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Dancers Eun-Kyung Chug (front) and Seyong Kim in Takehiro Ueyama’s “PUNG-GYEONG: Landscape”. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

The program then switched gears stylistically in choreographer Takehiro Ueyama’s contemporary dance work “PUNG-GYEONG: Landscape” performed by former Seoul Ballet Theater principal dancer Eun-Kyung Chug and former Metropolitan Opera Ballet dancer Seyong Kim.  Performed to a piano score by Johann Sebastian Bach, the gestural and calisthenic–like choreography for the pair appeared to outline a relationship between them that was fond yet distant.  The veteran pair danced solidly in the somewhat  unremarkable piece.

Weatherdon, who placed 1st in the Senior Contemporary Division at the 2018 Youth America Grand Prix dance competition, then returned to the stage this time in the  contemporary dance solo “Integer” by award-winning choreographer Viktor Plotnikov. Dancing to music by Zoe Keating, the rangy teen sliced through the air in fluid, angular dance moves that showed off her facility a dancer and gave a glimpse of her vast potential as a dance artist.

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Neglia Conservatory dancer Viktor Plotnikov’s “Integer”. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

Waite then took the stage in another solo, this time a variation from the ballet La Bayadere to music by Ludwig Minkus.  While Waite powered through the technically challenging solo with relative ease, her performance felt a bit flat and lacked personality.

Next, Benton and Ramos took another turn on stage in an excerpt from Sacramento Ballet artistic director Amy Seiwart’s “Traveling Alone”.  The contemporary ballet pas de deux set to music by Max Richter had everything the earlier “PUNG-GYEONG: Landscape” lacked.  Seiwert’s captivating choreography was well-crafted, emotional,  and the chemistry and relationship between Benton and Ramos was anything but distant.  The pair had an ease to their dancing with Benton floating along in buoyant lifts and in dreamy turns on pointe.

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Vilia Putrius and Mindaugas Bauzys in Putrius’ “Avere”. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

Putrius and Bauzys also came back for an encore in Putrius’ “Avere”.  Danced to music by Baroque Italian composer Giulio Caccini, the heartfelt contemporary ballet pas de deux swirled with graceful spins and tender embraces with only a modicum of clunky choreographic moments. One being Putrius lying on her back and walking her feet up the side of Bauzys’ body and then waiting for him, legs hovering in the air, to complete a solo dance phrase before walking them down again which served to briefly interrupt the sensual flow of the duet.  That being said, the pair’s dancing was fabulous as always.

Brilliance continued in arguably the best performance of the evening, Tulsa Ballet soloists Jennifer Grace and Joshua Stayton dancing an excerpt from Tulsa Ballet resident choreographer Ma Cong’s “Glass Pieces”.

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Tulsa Ballet’s Jennifer Grace and Joshua Stayton Ma Cong’s “Glass Pieces”. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

The exquisite lover’s pas de deux to music by Philip Glass unfolded with Grace (a perfect moniker for her dancing) twisting about on the stage floor before Stayton engaged her reposed body, causing her to arch her back and flutter one leg from the sensation.  The pair then deftly moved through a sequence of picture-perfect balletic poses that riveted one’s attention squarely on them.  Both Grace and Stayton were razor sharp in their dancing and left the audience mesmerized and breathless.

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Michele Costa and Sergio Neglia in Viktor Plotnikov’s “La Vida”. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

The bountiful program concluded with an encore performance from 2017 of Plotinikov’s “La Vida,” a work loosely based on NBA artistic director Sergio Neglia’s life and family. The work traces Neglia’s feelings in losing and missing his fatherArgentinian ballet star Jose Neglia who tragically died in a plane crash in 1971 when Sergio was young. In it, Eun-Kyung Chung portrayed Neglia’s grieving mother, Sergio, his younger self and a puppet controlled by Michele Costa represented the memory of Jose.  The very personal work was playful and charming at times, poignant and memorable.

Neglia Ballet Artists perform their 20th Anniversary Spring Gala, 8 p.m., Saturday, May 18, 2019. Nichols Flickinger Performing Arts Center, 1250 Amherst Street, Buffalo. Tickets are $25/student, $75/general ($80 at door) & $100/patron and are available at http://negliaballet.org/gala/

Featured performances by:

Emily Bromberg & Ariel Rose  (Miami City Ballet)
– Former Neglia Conservatory student Adelaide Clauss & Tamas Krizsa (Washington Ballet)
– Vilia Putrius & Mindaugas Bauzys formerly of Festival Ballet in Providence
Sergio Neglia, Sherri Campagni, puppeteer Michele Costa and actor Nico Neglia in a new ballet inspired by Mozart and Salieri and choreographed by Viktor Plotnikov
– Current Neglia Conservatory Pre-Professional students Ava DiNicola, Adrien Malof, and Maggie Weatherdon

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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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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