Tag Archives: Max Richter

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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Grand Rapids Ballet’s Innovative ‘MOVEMEDIA’ Series Delights Yet Again


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Grand Rapids Ballet’s Steven Houser and Yuka Oba in Penny Saunders’ “In Frame.” Photo by Eric Bouwens.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Perhaps the best and most revealing showcase of Grand Rapids Ballet’s dancers’ talent and versatility, the company’s annual MOVEMEDIA contemporary dance series added yet another successful chapter March 10-12 at the company’s Peter Martin Wege Theatre in Grand Rapids.

In this latest iteration, MOVEMEDIA: World Premieres, artistic director Patricia Barker called on two of the series’ most celebrated choreographers, former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancers Robyn Mineko Williams and Penny Saunders as well as MOVEMEDIA first-timers Robert Dekkers and Vanessa Thiessen to create new works.

Opening the performance on March 11 was Dekkers and Thiessen’s ballet “Dear Light Along the Way to Nothingness.” Titled after a line from James Merrill’s poem Log, the ballet for 21 dancers was set to Caroline Shaw’s unconventional 2013 Pulitzer Prize-winning composition, “Partita for Eight Voices.” The 26-minute ballet had an intriguingly bizarre sci-fi feel to it driven home by costume designer Christian Squires’ scaly sea creature meets Medieval-period garb.  The dancers in the ballet vacillated from YouTube “mannequin challenge” stillness as a collective, to individual dancers or pairs of dancers, tossing off hyper-convulsive fits of movement.

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Grand Rapids Ballet in Robert Dekkers & Vanessa Thiessen “Dear Light Along the Way to Nothingness.” Photo by Eric Bouwens.

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Grand Rapids Ballet in Robert Dekkers and Vanessa Thiessen “Dear Light Along the Way to Nothingness.” Photo by Eric Bouwens.

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Grand Rapids Ballet’s Grace Haskins in Robert Dekkers and Vanessa Thiessen “Dear Light Along the Way to Nothingness.” Photo by Eric Bouwens.

A bit more show than go, Dekkers and Thiessen’s choreography for the ballet appeared to rely more on quirkiness over substantive dancing. That being said, the piece at times took over your interest like whatever force caused dancers to suddenly shake violently or twitch a leg uncontrollably and then dissipate. There was something to these characters/creatures and to this fantastical world, however intangible it was to discern. Standout performers included: Grace Haskins, Cassidy Isaacson, Nicholas Schultz, Matthew Wenckowski and Caroline Wiley who each danced with a level of energy, commitment and fervor that accounted for much of the ballet’s appeal.

Next, Williams’ “Gleam,” set to music by Chopin and others recalled the dreamlike atmosphere of her 2013 work for the company “One Take.”  A contemporary ballet for three male/female couples seemingly at different stages of the same romantic relationship, “Gleam” showcased Williams’ preferred choreographic movement style in which the dancers moved as if poured onto the stage; merging together, then apart, like flowing streams of liquid.

On a dimly lit stage to the sounds of rain, company trainee Adriana Wagenveld and partner Nicholas Schultz began a push-pull pas de deux along a band of white light. One dancer’s touch of a limb the other into motion as they gazed intently at one another conjuring up a sense of the beginning, “feeling out” stage of a romantic relationship. Soon Wagenveld and Schultz were replaced by dancers Cassidy Isaacson and company rising star Matthew Wenckowski in a more aggressive take on Williams’ sophisticated choreography perhaps suggesting the occasional turmoil that often comes in a relationship. The dramatic work concluded with a longer transition to a third couple as dancer Isaac Aoki’s entrance onstage overlapped Wenckowski’s exit. The two men danced to a scratchy recording of late 19th century Italian superstar tenor Enrico Caruso singing “Mi Par D’udir Ancora” from Georges Bizet’s opera I Pescatori Di Perle. Then veteran company star Yuka Oba joined Aoki onstage as composer Michael Galasso’s haunting “Angkor Wat Theme Finale” from the 2001 film In the Mood for Love began.  The pair was perhaps representative of a mature relationship, one that has lasted a lifetime. The dancers gave in fully to Williams’ heartfelt choreography that at work’s end left Oba standing alone struck by the apparent loss of Aoki.

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Grand Rapids Ballet’s Cassidy Isaacson and Matthew Wenckowski in Robyn Mineko Williams’ “Glean.” Photo by Eric Bouwens.

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Grand Rapids Ballet’s Yuka Oba and Isaac Aoki in Robyn Mineko Williams’ “Glean.” Photo by Eric Bouwens.

With “Gleam,” Williams created a surreal, dreamlike world of memory where characters appeared only in close-up and around them, like our own distant recollections, lay darkness and the fuzzy edges of details all but forgotten.

Having seen Williams’ works on other dance companies, it is clear she gets the best out of GRB’s dancers and vice versa. The same holds true for Saunders who produced another gem in “In Frame” to close the program.

Set to Max Richter’s reworked version of Antonio Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons” and using projected images of ink and watercolor paintings by artist (and Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancer) Alice Klock, Saunders, along with lighting designer Matthew Taylor and digital designers Sam Begich and Michael Auer, created a the look and feel to the work of an interactive art gallery where the artwork, as well as those viewing it, were alive with motion.

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Grand Rapids Ballet dancers in Penny Saunders’ “In Frame.” Photo by Eric Bouwens.

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Grand Rapids Ballet’s Caroline Wiley in Penny Saunders’ “In Frame.” Photo by Eric Bouwens.

Said by Saunders to be about “the universal realities of love, life and death, creation and destruction, to the beauty and vulnerability of the creative process,” the work blended contemplative moments of reflection with rapid-fire bursts of movement. Those coupled with the aforementioned atmospheric lighting and projections, cultivated a look and mood to the work that proved mesmerizing. Nowhere was this more pronounced than in a quiet solo by Wiley in the work’s “Autumn” section. Crouched in a deep knee bend over a floor projection of one of Klock’s paintings, Wiley appeared to gather to her unseen elements from her surroundings and ball them up with her hands. A second year company member, Wiley, like Wenckowski, impressed throughout the program.

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Grand Rapids Ballet’s Caroline Wiley in Penny Saunders’ “In Frame.” Photo by Eric Bouwens.

Grand Rapids Ballet will next present the world-premiere of Brian Enos’ Alice in Wonderland with designs world-renowned visual artist Luis Grané. April 28-30 & May 5-7, 2017 at GRB’s Peter Martin Wege Theatre, 341 Ellsworth SW, downtown Grand Rapids, MI. Tickets are $44 and can be purchased by calling (616) 454–4771 ext. 10 or at grballet.com.

Copyright Steve Sucato – 2017. 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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Wendy Whelan’s ‘Restless Creature’ a sumptuous dance memory to cherish (review)


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Wendy Whelan and Alejandro Cerrudo in Cerrudo’s “Ego Et Tu.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

By Steve Sucato
Special to the Plain Dealer

CLEVELAND, Ohio — Following in the footsteps of other ballet stars like Mikhail Baryshnikov that made late-career transitions from ballet to contemporary dance styles, former New York City Ballet star Wendy Whelan, seeing the writing on the wall after 30-years with NYCB, launched her Wendy Whelan New Works Initiative.

What has been remarkable about Whelan’s transition more so than most, is rather than easing into the change, she cliff-dived into it. In short order, even before her official retirement from NYCB last October, she began crash courses with four different dancer/choreographers in four movement languages foreign to the way her body was used to moving to create “Restless Creature,” the first production in her New Works Initiative.

The hourlong program co-presented by DANCECleveland and Playhouse Square at the Ohio Theatre Saturday night more than lived up to its pre-show hype giving the assembled audience a sumptuous dance memory to cherish for some time.

The critically-acclaimed suite of four duets danced by Whelan and her four male dancer/choreographer partners began with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago resident choreographer/dancer Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Ego Et Tu” (2013).

Danced to music by Max Richter, Olafur Arnalds and others, Cerrudo entered the stage first pouring forth contemporary dance movement in a solo that had his outstretched limbs leading his body into swooping dips and rises, careening turns and liquidly smooth sways. Whelan then joined him dancing with similar fluidity.

While not quite as silky smooth as Cerrudo, the waif-like and powerful Whelan’s carriage seemed to have shed a fair amount of its ballet rigidity since “Restless Creature” premiered in 2013. Both dancers were magical. Their partnering was elegant and effortless in Cerrudo’s divine choreography that even gave a nod to Balanchine’s iconic “Serenade,” a ballet Whelan must have danced countless times.

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Wendy Whelan and Joshua Beamish in Beamish’s “Conditional Sentences.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Choreographer Joshua Beamish’s “Conditional Sentences” (2015) was perhaps the least stretch for Whelan in terms of movement language. The courtly duet was infused with ballet steps and poses along with some tricky off-count starts and stops. But while Beamish and Whelan performed the call and response choreography expertly, they seemed to lack onstage chemistry and the work seemed to drag out and repeat itself.

Kyle Abraham’s “The Serpent and The Smoke” (2013) proved the evening’s most dramatic and resplendent work. Set to music by Hauschka and Hildur Guanadottir, the piece began with Abraham, aflutter like a whirling dervish, launching himself into a sequence of rapid turns and arm movements.

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Wendy Whelan and Kyle Abraham in Abraham’s “The Serpent and The Smoke.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

As a dancer, Abraham has a most distinctive way of moving that blends modern, contemporary and hip hop styles into seemingly steroid fueled movement riffs counterbalanced by tender moments of graceful serenity. Whelan bought into Abraham’s movement language wholeheartedly in her performance, circling him at the outset as if stalking him as he looked on captivated by her wispy movement around him. The two, simpatico in their dancing brilliance, exuded strength, sensuality and rare beauty in the riveting duet.

The program concluded with the Brian Brooks gem “First Fall.” To a score by Philip Glass, Brooks and Whelan melted into each other’s arms moving up and down across the stage like on a rapidly moving stream. Brooks’ modern dance choreography a la choreographer Doug Varone, was exceedingly pleasant to watch as were the two dancers in it.

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Wendy Whelan and Brian Brooks in Brooks’ “First Fall.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

In its latter stages, the pair engaged in a repeated sequence where Whelan fell trusting backwards onto a crouched Brooks’ back and then he slowly rose up carrying Whelan with him. The effect, and the work, was spellbinding.

With the diverse and immensely gratifying “Restless Creature,” Whelan showed she hasn’t lost any of her star quality. She and her partners danced brilliantly. Most impressive and promising for her future after ballet though was her deft choices of partners and the works they created for her.

This article first appeared in The Plain Dealer online on April 27, 2015. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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