Tag Archives: Milwaukee Ballet

4th Annual ‘The Benefit’ Worth Every Cent and More


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Dancers in Christian Broomhall’s “Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 2.” Photo by Bullfrog Willard McGhee.

The Benefit
The Vern Riffe Center’s Jo Ann Davidson Theatre
Columbus, Ohio
May 21, 2017

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

When it comes to all-star dance benefits, few outside the nation’s major metropolises pack in as much talent and great dancing as Columbus, Ohio’s The Benefit. Curated by former BalletMet stars Jimmy Orrante and Attila Bongar, the annual event, now in its fourth year, benefits The Central Ohio Chapter of the National Hemophilia Foundation. It’s a charity close to Orrante’s heart as his son Isaac lives with the disease.

The expanded event on Sunday, May 21, 2017 was held for the first time at downtown Columbus’ newly renamed Jo Ann Davidson Theatre (formerly the Capitol Theatre) at the Vern Riffe Center and featured dancers and choreographers from Miami City Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet, Rochester Ballet, BalletMet and Columbus Dance Theatre. In addition, Camarata, a multi-piece orchestra made up of musicians from the Columbus Symphony Orchestra and led by CSO principal cellist Luis Biava, played live accompanying many of the dance and music works on the program.

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Milwaukee Ballet’s Nicole Teague Howell and Patrick Howell in the second act pas de deux from Michael Pink’s “Swan Lake.” Photo by Bullfrog Willard McGhee.

Milwaukee Ballet stars and husband and wife Nicole Teague Howell and Patrick Howell in the second act pas de deux from Michael Pink’s Swan Lake opened the program. Dancing to Tchaikovsky’s music for the ballet, the pair as Odette and Prince Siegfried moved crisply and with lovely command in Pink’s neo-classical choreography that was more akin to a pas de deux from Romeo & Juliet than Swan Lake.

Baritone singer Robert Kerr then performed an animated rendition of the aria “Non più andrai” from Mozart’s opera The Marriage of Figaro. It was followed by “Regard,” the first of two ballets on the program by Orrante. Set to the second movement of Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 2, which was famously used by singer Eric Carmen for his 1975 hit “All by Myself,” Orrante’s pas de deux featured Miami City Ballet principal soloist Lauren Fadeley and BalletMet’s Jarrett Reimers in back and forth choreography full of elegance and grace.  Fadeley and Reimers moved with the ease of spirits floating weightlessly about the stage and in and out of marvelously-crafted lifts, turns, and carries.

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Miami City Ballet principal soloist Lauren Fadeley and BalletMet’s Jarrett Reimers in Jimmy Orrante’s “Regard.” Photo by Bullfrog Willard McGhee.

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Marcus Jarrell Willis in “A Caretakers Vow.” Photo by Bullfrog Willard McGhee.

Of the evening’s many magical moments, one of its most striking came courtesy of former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer Marcus Jarrell Willis’ solo “A Caretakers Vow” (Excerpt). Performed to recorded music by British soul singer-songwriter Laura Mvula, the solo, according to Willis, explores the uncertainty he felt about his future after leaving Ailey and how his friends encouraged and lifted him up. It began with Willis in spotlight on his knees and using a myriad of face, hand, arm, and body gestures in concert with Mvula’s song “Show Me Love” to convey his feelings and emotions. A tour-de-force of tightly contained brilliance, Willis’ dancing was fluid, dramatic and poignant.

Concluding the program’s first half was the 3-part “Voyager.”  The largest and most stylistically diverse of the on the program, it was inspired by music selections contained in NASA’s Golden Records included on the Voyager 1 and 2’s interstellar missions.  It began with Columbus’ COSI Science Center chief scientist Paul Sutter giving a brief overview of the Voyager missions and the Golden Records that led into the work’s first section; Orrante’s “Dark Was the Night Cold was the Ground” set to Blind Willie Johnson’s blues song of the same name performed live by North Carolina bluesman th’ Bullfrog Willard McGhee. In it, McGhee sat center stage on a stool as six female dancers surrounded him crisscrossing the stage in small waves of jumping, twisting and whirling movements.

More narration by Sutter then gave way to a thoughtful solo by kathak dancer/choreographer Mansee Singhi performed to “Jaat Kahan Ho” a traditional Indian song sung by Surshri Kesar Bai Kerkar, and “Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 2,” a new ballet by former Columbus Dance Theatre dancer Christian Broomhall.

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(l-r) BalletMet’s Jessica Brown, Columbus Dance Theatre’s Kerri Riccardi and BalletMet’s Karen Wing in Christian Broomhall’s “Bach Brandenburg Concerto No. 2.” Photo by Bullfrog Willard McGhee.

Full of whimsy, Broomhall’s work was an ear-to-ear grin-inducing delight. Its eight dancers (5 men, 3 women) pranced and cavorted about in what felt like a contemporary dance jig. At times bird-like, the dancers flapped their arms and fluttered their hands as if to take flight and mimicked pecking at each other.  Broomhall, who impressed at 2016’s The Benefit with his ballet “She is,” once again showed why he is a choreographer to watch and one whose ballets need to be in the repertory of more professional dance troupes.

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Miami City Ballet principal soloist Lauren Fadeley and BalletMet’s Michael Sayre in Attila Bongar’s “63.” Photo by Bullfrog Willard McGhee.

The program’s second half opened with a stirring interpretation of Edvard Grieg’s “Holberg Suite” by Camarata. It was followed by Bongar’s mini-story ballet “63,” set to music by composer Alexander Scriabin. In it, Bongar sought to capture the emotions he perceived from seeing a photo of Jacqueline Kennedy and her daughter standing in front slain President John F. Kennedy coffin in 1963. The ballet showed mother, father and daughter figures facing a similar type of emotional distress. It was danced by. And while Scriabin’s dark music and dancers Fadeley, BalletMet’s Michael Sayre and BalletMet Dance Academy student Isabelle LaPierre’s emotional outpourings of tumult captured Bongar’s intent, the choreography lacked originality and the ballet on the whole came off as overly melodramatic.

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Dancers in Cincinnati Ballet soloist James Cunningham’s “Mordent.” Photo by Bullfrog Willard McGhee.

Next, Cincinnati Ballet soloist James Cunningham’s trio “Mordent” lifted the mood with a ballet that was chock-full of thrilling choreography and adroit dancing. Set to Beethoven’s Piano Trio in C minor, Op.1 No.3 and titled after the musical term meaning a melodic embellishment, the ballet’s trio of dancers from Cincinnati Ballet each sported an unusual costume embellishment. Corps de ballet dancer Taylor Carrasco wore one black glove and a blood red handprint on his shirt, apprentice dancer Michael Mengden wore one red glove and face paint, and senior soloist Melissa Gelfin was outfitted with two different colored pointe shoes and wore one white sock. Whatever the intended meaning of those embellishments, they further added to a ballet dense with visual marvels.

Following in quick succession were McGhee performing his gravely-great vaudeville tune “Bullfrog,” Rochester Ballet’s Ben Rabe showing of his leaping ability in the Cossack dance “Gopak,” choreographed by R. Zakharov and pianist Tyrone Boyle dazzling in his composition “Carousel in C Major”.

The first of two ballets to close out the 2-hour program was Kristopher Estes-Brown’s group ballet “The Sum of,” danced to music performed live by Columbus indie rock band The Wind and the Sea.  Estes-Brown’s choreography for it, while not particularly inventive, matched the drive of music and gave the ballet a rock-show feel.  Capping The Benefit in style was Bongar’s powerfully beautiful version of the pas de deux from the ballet Spartacus. Performed with passion by BalletMet’s Jessica Brown and Romel Frometa, the pas de deux epitomized the program’s high level of artistry on all counts.

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‘The Benefit’ organizers Jimmy Orrante and Attila Bongar. Photo by Bullfrog Willard McGhee.

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Columbus Symphony Orchestra’s Luis Biava conducts Camarata. Photo by Bullfrog Willard McGhee.

With its diversity in dance and music styles, types of choreographic works, entertaining and skilled performers as well as post-performance reception with the performers, The Benefit was a steal at $30 a ticket. Add to that the money raised going to worthy cause and you have a program that no dance lover in their right heart and mind should miss.

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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Re-established Chamber Dance Project to make Washington debut at the Kennedy Center


Chamber Dance Project dancers Francesca Dugarte and Luis R. Torres  in Diane Coburn  Bruning's "Berceuse".  Photo by Paul Wegner.

Chamber Dance Project dancers Francesca Dugarte and Luis R. Torres in Diane Coburn Bruning’s “Berceuse”. Photo by Paul Wegner.

By Steve Sucato

Conventional wisdom dictates that bigger is better and that more trumps less. Not so when it comes to watching dance says Chamber Dance Project founder and artistic director Diane Coburn Bruning.  “I don’t want people seeing my work from a football field away,” she says on the phone from our nation’s capital. “The closer the audience can be the better.”

Coburn Bruning says the idea to start her now Washington D.C. based project-based troupe came about from her dissatisfaction at audience members choosing to use opera glasses to watch her choreographic works at larger venues.  “It was one of those seminal experiences that made me want to draw an artistic line in the sand and start a company where the intimacy of the performance experience was paramount,” says Coburn Bruning.

That intimate audience experience will be in full effect for CDP’s upcoming inaugural Washington season performances at the Kennedy Center’s 513-seat Terrace Theater, June 26-28.

The program, featuring two world premiere ballets, is a coming out party of sorts for Chamber Dance Project which Coburn Bruning began in New York City in 2000 but has been on hiatus since she relocated to Washington in 2010.

Coburn Bruning, a Guggenheim Fellowship recipient along with fellowships from The National Endowment for the Arts, the New York Foundation for the Arts, the Yale University School of Drama and the Sundance Film Festival, has choreographed for Atlanta Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Pennsylvania Ballet and Boston Ballet as well as for the Washington National Opera, Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company and the Shakespeare Theatre Company. She also received a Helen Hayes award nomination for her choreography in the musical Improbable Frequencies for Washington’s Solas Nua.

Diane Coburn Bruning.

Diane Coburn Bruning. Photo by Tim Coburn.

For CDP’s program at the Kennedy Center entitled Contemporary Ballet with an Edge, the 6-member company featuring principal dancers from Joffrey Ballet, Milwaukee Ballet and Washington Ballet along with CDP’s string quartet of top-flight area musicians, will present four contemporary ballet works (three by Coburn Bruning) and two music only performances.

CDP’s string quartet will be first up with a performance of Russell Peck’s “Don’t Tread On Me Or My String Quartet.” It will be followed by the Washington premiere of Coburn Bruning’s signature pas de deux “Berceuse”.  The 6 ½ minute, 20-year-old pas de deux was originally choreographed for two Juilliard graduate students who Coburn Bruning says chose Benjamin Godard’s music of the same name for it much to her dismay.

“When they played the music for me I thought I was just going to choke,” says Coburn Bruning. “It’s beautiful but squarely romantic and sappy; nothing I would have ever chosen myself.”

Romantic as it may be, the music inspired Coburn Bruning to create her most beloved work; one, having seen several times, I feel can stand with any in contemporary ballet.  It will be danced by Milwaukee Ballet’s Luz San Miguel and Davit Hovhannisyan.

Next will be the world premiere of Coburn Bruning’s “Time Has Come,” a tribute to the late legendary ballet teacher and coach David Howard.  

Set to nine pieces of music by Mozart, Scarlatti and Telemann, the ballet for the full company of dancers and musicians says Coburn Bruning, is abstract and celebrates Howard’s musicality as an artist.

Like choreographer Mark Morris, Coburn Bruning is a vocal advocate for live music whenever possible at dance performances. In order to make that happen she does admit sometimes having to use music in the public domain to save money as was the case for “Time Has Come”. But for Coburn Bruning the commitment to live music, however accomplished, is at the core of CDP.

Chamber Dance Project dancers Andile Ndlovu and Luis R. Torres in Diane Coburn  Bruning's "Exit Wounds".  Photo by Paul Wegner.

Chamber Dance Project dancers Andile Ndlovu and Luis R. Torres in Diane Coburn Bruning’s “Exit Wounds”. Photo by Paul Wegner.

The latest in her series of ballets she calls “prayers for peace,” the Washington premiere of Coburn Bruning’s “Exit Wounds: and then they come home” set to music by composer Philip Glass follows in the footsteps of like her emotional 2010 ballet “Boots”. The male duet to be danced by Joffrey Ballet’s Fernando Duarte and Washington Ballet’s Luis R. Torres came out of Coburn Bruning’s feeling helplessness in the face of war and her need to respond to it through dance.

After a performance by Claudia Chudacoff of Bach’s “Andante,” from his Sonata No. 2 in A Minor for Solo Violin, the program will conclude with the world premiere of Argentinian choreographer Jorge Amarante’s “Sur” (South), a ballet for the full company commissioned by CDP benefactors Deborah and Bruce Downey and set to music by composers Astor Piazzolla and Peteris Vasks.

Coburn Bruning says she first saw Amarante’s work five years ago when CDP toured to Colombia to perform at the International Ballet Festival in Cali.  She says she was fascinated by what she calls his “gutsy” tango-infused movement.  A style he is sure to bring to “Sur” which he had just begun creating at the time of my interview with Coburn Bruning.

Chamber Dance Project presents Contemporary Ballet with an Edge, 7:30 p.m., June 26 and 27, 2 p.m. & 7:30 p.m., June 28. $40-50. The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts Terrace Theater, 2700 F Street, NW Washington, DC 20566, Tickets and Information: 800-444-1324 or www.kennedy-center.org.

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