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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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New Dance-centric Fringe Festival Invites Audiences to ‘Lose Their Marbles’ Over a Plethora of Dance and Performance Art


Photo1 Holly Handman-Lopez

Holly Handman-Lopez. Photo courtesy of the artist.

By Steve Sucato

Dance-centric fringe festival Lose Your Marbles at the Trolley Barn in Akron this Saturday, June 10, is the latest in an impressive glut of summer dance events in Northeast Ohio that most areas of the country would be envious of. Joining the venerable Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival in Akron, plus a boatload of summer dance in nearby Cleveland, Lose Your Marbles takes a somewhat different artistic approach to the rest of the region’s offerings with more experimental and avant-garde dance artists and dance works.

Founded by Neos Dance Theatre’s Robert Wesner with the support of a $100,000 Knight Foundation grant, Lose Your Marbles ─ which Wesner says takes its name from the colloquial phrase about losing one’s mental faculties and Akron’s history as a marble making behemoth in the late 1800s ─ will take its cue from other fringe festivals across the globe in allowing artists to take risks and inviting audiences into the creative process.

“With it being a fringe festival model we really are going to push work that lives on the fringe of what we might think of as a normal dance presentation,” says Wesner.

Wesner says while he wants to differentiate Lose Your Marbles from the region’s other summer dance offerings, he also wants the festival to be a partner with the others in bringing great art to the area. To that end, he has been working closely with the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival and the City of Akron in the development of Lose Your Marbles.

Wesner says the festival will adhere to a few guiding principles such as what he terms as “a good mix of tried [artists who have had their work seen by audiences] and untried artists [those who haven’t or are just beginning to].”

Another guiding principle is programming a mixture of local, statewide and national acts. Wesner feels this is important so that the festival has culls influence from as broad a spectrum of the dance and performance art communities as possible.

The goal is to serve a wide-variety of audiences with varying interests says Wesner. For this pilot year, Wesner says the festival has been curated by him and his staff. So unlike some other fringe festivals, at least this year, Lose Your Marbles will be very PG and approachable to families. In future, when Wesner plans on opening artist entry into the festival to an application process, he says future audiences might see artist-sponsored performances whose works may be more risqué or controversial.

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“Lose Your Marbles” festival founder Robert Wesner of Neos Dance Theatre. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“I am very open to people wanting to explore dance and performance art in the widest range,” says Wesner. “I think it is really important we don’t censor artists, but that we give them an opportunity to explore what they need to explore and hopefully get some feedback from the audience that is valuable to them.”

Wesner hopes to see future festivals spread out into pop-up spaces, alternative performance spaces, theater spaces and other outdoor and indoor spaces all over Akron.  Giving audiences the opportunity to explore the city while binge-watching dance and other performances.

This year, in addition to watching the performances, audience members will also be given the opportunity to vote on what they liked best with best-of-show awards given out at festival’s end.

The Knight Foundation’s funding for Lose Your Marbles is for 3-years and after that Wesner hopes to have in place a self-sustaining model based mostly on ticket sales. For this initial launch however, Wesner says he doesn’t know what to expect in terms of turnout. “We are taking a great risk at doing this in terms of what flies and doesn’t,” says Wesner. “That is part of the fun. Akron has a great reputation for supporting dance and music and we are hoping they will embrace this festival.”

Here’s a breakdown of what’s on tap (times approximate): 

 

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Dr. Jonathan Gangi. Photo courtesy of the artist.

PRE-FESTIVAL EVENT (2:00 – 2:30pm)

Classical guitarist Dr. Jonathan Gangi warms up patrons at Akron gourmet ice cream shop Chill Ice Cream (21 Maiden Lane) with a pre-festival performance.

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Timbre Cierpke. Photo courtesy of the artist.

PERFORMANCE #1 (3:30 – 5:05pm)

Dr. Jonathan Gangi, assistant professor of music and arts entrepreneurship at Penn State University kicks off  Lose Your Marbles with a classical guitar performance. Then, Nashville-based harpist/singer-songwriter Timbre Cierpke who was recently featured on former White Stripes frontman Jack White’s album, Lazaretto, will play selections from her catalog including tunes from her latest album Sun & Moon.

PERFORMANCE #2 (5:20 – 6:10pm)

Oberlin College dance faculty member Holly Handman-Lopez joins forces with Lose Your Marbles founder and Neos Dance Theatre artistic director Robert Wesner in the duet “eleven years in”, choreographed and performed by the pair. Set to music by Mike Wall, the work evolved out of an experiment in entanglement of the dancer two bodies. Following every slip, spiral and slide Handman-Lopez says: “Our experiments evolved into a slippery ‘relationship piece’ that feels luscious and edgy to perform.”

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Robin Pritchard. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Professor of dance at The University of Akron Robin Prichard likes to joke early in life she sold her soul to the devil in exchange for amazing dancing ability and is still waiting for the amazing dancing ability. While she is waiting that hasn’t stopped her from creating work that utilizes her god given abilities as a dance artist. In her “The Art of Making Dances (Not About Ferguson)” she responds to the Black Lives Matter movement and to the violence against African American men in 2016.  “It asks: what can artists do to respond to violence and injustice?” The dance uses 19th century minstrelsy, ballet, modern dance, and hip hop movement test and song  and pairs it with the sounds from the violent police encounters.

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Verb Ballets. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Verb Ballets will present two short pas de deuxs including choreographer Daniel Precup’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (2013) set to music by Jacques Brel and danced by Verb’s Kelly Korfhage  and  Antonio Morillo. The other, former Akron University and Ohio Ballet alum Andrew Carroll’s “3:00am” (2014),  danced by Verb’s Kate Webb and Michael Hinton to Abel Korzeniowski’s “Satin Birds” from the 2011 film W.E., tells of two people in love basking in “that window of time when no one else exists in the world, 3 a.m.,” says Carroll.

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Ashley Pavy. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Rounding out Program #2 will be 2017 graduate from Wright State University Ashley Pavy and her work “Barakat”. The piece for 8-dancers says Pavy tells of the cycle of spiritual life. “You will see a cycle that begins with innocence and the idea of being ‘born again,’ to the feeling of eternal happiness…to melancholy, and finally to awareness and realization,” says Pavy.

PERFORMANCE #3 (6:20 – 7:00pm)

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Kaustavi Sarkar. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Third year doctoral student at Ohio State University, dancer-choreographer Kaustavi Sarkar will present “Radhike,” a duet for her and dancer Julia Ayau that Sarkar sees and a “joint collaboration between Indian classical aesthetics and literary theory.” Danced to live music, the work expresses the mythological character Radha’s travels in love as she expresses the various hues of it in text, rhythm, and movement. Says Sarkar: “The dance has been adapted to twelfth century poet Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda that is a lyrical ballad describing the celestial love story between Radha and her eternal lover Krishna.”

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Fenn & Company. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Neos Dance Theatre dancer/choreographer Mary-Elizabeth Fenn’s side-project Fenn & Company will present “Playing House,” two duets danced by Fenn and Molly Mingey that showcase a family’s peculiar interactions including a brother and sister fighting over a Barbie Doll head and a Mother and Father serving up flatulence and chicken drumsticks for dinner.

Also on the program will be a reprise of Holly Handman-Lopez duet “eleven years in” and a performance by host company Neos Dance Theatre.

PERFORMANCE #4 (7:15 – 8:00pm)

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Duane Gosa, a.k.a. Helen Highwaters. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Central Ohio native and 2008 University of Akron grad Duane Gosa, a.k.a. Helen Highwaters of drag company Ballet Trockadero will perform the first of his two solos at Lose Your Marbles, a variation from Marius Petipa’s ballet Paquita, about a Spanish gypsy girl. Also on Program #4 will be performances by Mansfield, Ohio-native and member of NYC’s Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Terk Lewis Waters, a reprise of Verb Ballets’ pas de deuxs and Neos Dance Theatre in a ballet by director of dance at Michigan’s Interlochen Center for the Arts, Joseph Morrissey.

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Terk Lewis Waters. Photo courtesy of the artist.

PERFORMANCE #4 (8:15 – 9:15pm)

Inlet Dance Theatre will present a reimagined version of “10”, a 2013 duet by Inlet artistic director/choreographer Bill Wade to celebrate dancers Joshua Brown and Elizabeth Pollert’s tenth season with company. The duet performed by Inlet’s Katie McGaha and Kevin Parker will feature a commissioned score by Sean Ellis Hussey and live interactive video projections by Mihaela Kavdanska.

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Inlet Dance Theatre. Photo by Alexandru Patatics.

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GroundWorks DanceTheater. Photo courtesy of the artist.

GroundWorks DanceTheater will reprise artistic director/choreographer David Shimotakahara’s “Chromatic,” a work the company performed at the Akron-Summit County Library last November. Danced to a suite of player piano roll music by American composer Conlon Nancarrow, the work mixes opposing dance movements by the dancers from the waist up and down.

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Ma’Sue. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Akron-based theatre company Ma’Sue will present “Body Memories,” a theatre/movement piece engaging in a dialogue about the concept of the mother/son bond. The work looks at how this relationship grows and changes over time.

Closing out the program will be the second of Duane Gosa as Helen Highwaters’ solos, dancing a humorous interpretation of Michel Fokine’s legendary ballet “The Dying Swan” with music by Camille Saint-Saens.

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Lucky Plush Productions. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The festival’s performances conclude at 9:30pm with headliners Lucky Plush Productions from Chicago and their work “Cinderbox 2.0” which company artistic director Julia Rhoads says “explores the comedy and anxiety in our hyper-networked culture through a fragmented narrative, witty commentary, and a performance that blurs the distinctions between observer and observed, personal and presentational, scripted and off-the-cuff.”

The first annual Lose Your Marbles fringe festival then concludes at 10:00pm with the audience-voted Best of Show Awards and closing remarks by Wesner and staff.

Lose Your Marbles Fringe Festival takes place 3:30pm-10pm, Saturday, June 10 at the Trolley Barn, 47 N. Main  Street, Akron, Ohio. Tickets $10-25. Visit loseyourmarbles.org for a full listing of ticket options and to purchase as well as get detailed information on the artists performing and up-to-date scheduling.

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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Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival presents Ofer Ben-Amots’ ‘The Dybbuk: Between Two Worlds’


Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival.

Photo courtesy of Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival.

Pittsburgh – Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival presents The Dybbuk: Between Two Worlds, the classic tale of love and mystical possession in a new adaptation April 25 and 28 at 7:30pm at the New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square, Northside.

A young woman, Leah, near-death, awakens to the whisper of a clarinet.  She slowly realizes the sound is the spirit of her dead lover Hannan.  As the rest of the opera unfolds in flashback, she must choose between life with a man she does not know and death with her beloved, who has possessed her as a Dybbuk; a deceased soul who takes possession of a living body.

The music intertwines folk elements with contemporary textures to create a haunting, self-contained world, while multiple video projections and dance combine to tell a powerful story of faith, mysticism, and passion between two ill-fated lovers.

Part of the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra’s “Music for the Spirit Festival”,  the multimedia chamber opera composed by Ofer Ben-Amots and inspired by the timeless Yiddish play The Dybbuk: Between Two Worlds features Yahli Toren, soprano; Gilad Harel, clarinet; Guenko Guechev, baritone, actor Leon S. Zionts and the Pappert Women’s Chorale, Children’s Festival Chorus as well as members of Pittsburgh’s Texture Contemporary Ballet. The Dybbuk is sung in Hebrew, with English supertitles.

 “…transcendent” – Houston Arts Week

Production Credits:

Composer: Ofer Ben-Amots
Stage direction: Aron Zelkowicz
Choreography: Joan Wagman
Video Art: Sheri Wills
Lighting design: J.R. Shaw 

Texture Contemporary Ballet
Alan Obuzor, Artistic Director, Dancer, and Resident Choreographer
Kelsey Bartman, Associate Artistic Director, Dancer, and Resident Choreographer

Pappert Women’s Chorale, Children’s Festival Chorus
Christine Jordanoff, Music Director

The Dybbuk: Between Two Worlds marks the 10th Anniversary production of the Pittsburgh Jewish Music Festival, an annual concert series devoted to improving cultural life for Pittsburgh’s Jewish and artistic communities at large.

TICKETS NOW ON SALE at www.pittsburghsymphony.org/dybbuk or call (412) 392-4900. More information at the Festival’s website: www.pjmf.net

 

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