Tag Archives: Neos Dance Theatre

Ballet Legato’s Debut Production a Bold Take on a Familiar Storybook Character


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Artwork courtesy of Ballet Legato.

By Steve Sucato

With the popularity of recent movies and television shows taking familiar storybook characters and inventing new storylines such as Hansel & Gretel being witch hunters and Peter Pan being an evil lad looking to harvest the “heart of the truest believer” on the TV series Once Upon a Time, it was only a matter of time before the dance world got onboard the alternate storyline train.  Perhaps the first to do so in Northeast, Ohio is its newest professional dance company, Ballet Legato with their debut production, Red Riding Hood & the White Witches, an original take on the Brothers Grimm “Little Red Riding Hood” character. The company performs the ballet February 15 & 16 at Saint Ignatius High School’s Breen Center for the Performing Arts.

Founded in 2019 by former Ohio Dance Theatre principal dancer Jennifer Muselin, the mission of the North Ridgeville, Ohio-based troupe she says is to “introduce artistic and innovative repertoire from classical to contemporary works and connect with our community and familiarize them with the depth and relevance of dance as an art form.”

“Starting a professional ballet company has been on my bucket list for years,” says Muselin, Ballet Legato’s executive artistic director. “After leaving Ohio Dance Theatre I took a long hiatus from dance and now wanted to return to my passion.”

Conceived and choreographed by Muselin, the 2-act ballet is set in a small Irish village in the 1200’s and tells a story of manslaughter, human sacrifice and an eternal curse — You know, family-friendly entertainment…in a dark, Brothers Grimm kind of way.

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(L – R) Richard Oaxaca, Domonique Glover, Dijon Kirkland, Kassandra Lee and Caleb Waybright in a rehearsal of “Red Riding Hood & the White Witches”. Photo by Joan Lederer.

“Our goal was to make sure the ballet wasn’t too scary and was appropriate for young audience members,” says Muselin.

Set to a music score Muselin compiled from movie soundtracks and video game tunes, the ballet incorporates a few themes found in Catherine Hardwicke’s 2011 motion picture Red Riding Hood such as taking place during a Blood Moon and involving Scarlett’s (Red Riding Hood) father Bron being a part time wolf.

In the ballet, Bron accidentally kills one of three white witches while hunting in the forest near his village and is cursed by the remaining witches to turn into a wolf with every full moon. To remain human the rest of the time he must sacrifice a young girl from the village to the witches. If he fails to do so, he then must sacrifice Scarlett, and failing that he will remain a wolf forever. The ballet then moves through various attempts to save Scarlett and her father from their unpleasant fates. Through plot twists that include Scarlett’s love interest Liam, the tale ramps up the tension and drama before coming to unexpected ending.

With this ballet audiences shouldn’t come expecting to see the familiar “Red Riding Hood” tale. The only thing they will recognize from the traditional tale is that “there will be a Red Riding Hood and she has a cape,” joked Muselin.

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(L – R) Dijon Kirkland, Kassandra Lee and Domonique Glover in a rehearsal of Ballet Legato’s “Red Riding Hood & the White Witches”. Photo by Joan Lederer.

The 90-minute ballet will be performed by Ballet Legato’s 4-member troupe of Point Park University grads Natalie Atman, Megan Carcioppolo and Jennifer Milani along with former Dancing Wheels Company dancer Caleb Waybright. They will be joined by guest dancers Kassandra Lee, from Neos Dance Theatre as Scarlett, former Toledo Ballet dancer Domonique Glover as Bron and Wisconsin’s Kanopy Dance dancer Richard Oaxaca as Morrigan the Raven of Death along with 16 student dancers from Muselin’s JAM Dance Academy.

For a brand new ballet company having their introduction to audiences be a story ballet with the heart of a horror movie is a gutsy move. Nonetheless, Ballet Legato is forging a unique path forward for itself that is rather refreshing in an industry dominated by the rehashing of the same (albeit often great) tales over and over again.

Ballet Legato performs Red Riding Hood & the White Witches, 7 p.m., Saturday, February 15 and 2 p.m., Sunday, February 16. Saint Ignatius High School’s Breen Center for the Performing Arts, 2008 W. 30th St., Cleveland. Tickets are $15-25. Tickets and information at balletlegato.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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Neos Dance Theatre’s Robert Wesner Talks About His New Job, The Future Of Neos And The Company’s New Production, ‘Home for the Holidays, a Big Band Christmas’


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Neos Dance Theatre’s Brooke Wesner. Photo courtesy of Neos Dance Theatre.

By Steve Sucato

On October 31st Neos Dance Theatre co-founder/artistic director Robert Wesner and Mississippi’s Belhaven University announced that he will be joining the Belhaven University Dance Department as senior instructor of dance and resident choreographer beginning in the fall of 2020. As he and the company prepare for their latest production, Home for the Holidays, a Big Band Christmas, December 21 & 22 at Lorain County Community College’s Stocker Arts Center, I talked with Wesner about his impending move, what it means for him and his family, and what it spells for the future of one of Northeast Ohio’s most beloved dance companies.

How did your new position at Belhaven University come about?

I had done some work as a guest choreographer and Neos had performed there before. The college is now really investing in the dance program and they wanted to expand their faculty and recruitment efforts. They knew of me and my work and reached out to me to see if I would be interested in joining the faculty.

What convinced you to take the job and move across the country?

As a small artist organization you are always living on the edge in terms of funding. It’s just difficult looking into the future to plan for our basic needs and those of the organization. This job came out of nowhere, but I really felt like the right thing to do for my family’s future.

What does this mean for the future of Neos Dance Theatre?

I am not quite ready to announce our plans for 2020, but I will have summers off and foresee programming for Neos in Northeast Ohio during those summer months as well as mounting other projects that are in the works.

Neos will no longer be a full-time dance company?

It will revert to how it began as a project-based company where we hire dancers as we need them and will rehearse and present work in the summer months. It will be a bittersweet ending to see the dancers we have been working with for so long transition out of Neos and look for other opportunities. I have been talking with the dancers and other directors about job placement for them.

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Photo courtesy of Neos Dance Theatre.

Was there any thought of maintaining the company and organization as is and handing it over to another artistic director?

The board of directors and me knowing the intricacies of how I work and the infrastructure of the organization didn’t think that was viable. We are still a fairly young organization, only 7-years old, and we just didn’t have the time to institutionalize the organization for long-term sustainability.

You are giving your 1940s-themed The Nutcracker production a rest this holiday season in favor of a new holiday-themed show, tell me about it.

I have done collaborations with a couple big bands in the past but this is the first time we [Neos Dance Theatre] will be doing a holiday production with classic Christmas songs everybody recognizes such as “Sleigh Ride,” “Run Run Rudolph,” “White Christmas” and “Silver Bells,” plus some great Christmas songs that haven’t been so overplayed.

Who are your musical collaborators for this?

Acclaimed area singer Kelly Knowlton will join a band of high-caliber live musicians from the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra and elsewhere assembled by band leader Paul Martin.

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Kelly Knowlton. Photo courtesy of Neos Dance Theatre.

Paul Martin

Paul Martin. Photo courtesy of Neos Dance Theatre.

I understand you and the company will be singing and tap dancing in this.

This production has that variety show feel and is a lot of fun. A couple of things that guided my decision making on what music we selected were how diverse of a range of movement genres I could choreograph in. We’re doing some classical ballet, some musical-theater style jazz, contemporary works, swing, tap dance and more. It has been really fun to artistically push the dancers.

It is also going to be a family-affair as well I hear.

All four of my daughters will be singing in it. I will be singing at least two songs and we will do one with the entire family in a sort Wesner/von Trapp number a la “The Sound of Music”.

While Wesner’s new post represents a big change for him and his family, he is keen to emphasize this is not the end of Neos Dance Theatre but a transition that will maintain its presence in Northeast Ohio at the minimum during the summer months. As for how that will look for the communities Neos has served in Akron, Ashland, Mansfield, Oberlin and beyond, and the future of the Neos Center for Dance as well as projects like the Akron-based dance-centric fringe festival Lose Your Marbles Wesner started in 2017, that remains to be seen.

Neos Dance Theatre presents Home for the Holidays, a Big Band Christmas, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, December 21 and 2 p.m., Sunday December 22 at Lorain County Community College’s Hoke Theatre of Stocker Arts Center, 1005 N. Abbe Road, Elyria. Tickets are $15-35. For Tickets and information call (440) 366-4040 or visit neosdancetheatre.org or lorainccc.edu/stocker.

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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Akron’s ‘Lose Your Marbles’ Festival Returns with a Decidedly Different Approach


Neos Dance Theatre. Photo by Dale Dong.

By Steve Sucato

After taking a year off in 2018, Akron’s dance-centric Lose Your Marbles festival is back with a smaller, regionally focused event taking place Friday, March 1 at the Akron Civic Theatre.

Founded by Neos Dance Theatre artistic director Robert Wesner with the support of a three-festival, $100,000 John S. and James L. Knight Foundation grant, Lose Your Marbles (a reference to Akron’s history as a marble making center in the late 1800s), first go round in the summer of 2017 was an ambitious undertaking that featured a diverse group regional and national music and dance acts.

With the initial goal of presenting more experimental and avant-garde artists in traditional and alternative performance spaces a la the many “Fridge” festivals seen around the country, Wesner says although the pilot festival was a success in many ways, he and his fellow festival organizers felt more evaluation was needed to develop a sustainable path forward for the event.

“It was decided [for Lose Your Marbles II] to dial back the numbers of different groups and really focus on local artists so we could further develop relationships with existing dance audiences in the area and survey their interest in seeing other types of contemporary artists in future, says Wesner.”

This year’s scaled down festival is part of a strategy to get future festivals to a place where the initial goal of presenting tried and untried local, state and national artists in varying performance spaces around Akron can be realized.  

“The third year is going to be a continuation of what we have done in these first two festivals,” says Wesner. “This is a full on exploration of what Lose Your Marbles is and can be and the audience is in it with us.”  

Returning for Lose Your Marbles II are 2017 festival participants GroundWorks DanceTheater, Inlet Dance Theatre, Neos Dance Theatre and Verb Ballets.  Familiar to area dance goers, three out of the four troupes annually perform at the City of Akron’s Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival.

GroundWorks DanceTheater. Photo courtesy of Lose Your Marbles.

GroundWorks DanceTheater will open the one-night-only event with company artistic director and former Ohio Ballet star David Shimotakahara’s “LUNA” (2012).  Set to an original score by Oberlin Conservatory of Music grad Peter Swendsen, the work, says Shimotakahara “explores the nature of desire and its deeply held and often conflicting motivations. These polarities developed into a series of physical relationships that reveal many facets in a cycle of experience. That cycle is like the moon, as unknown and primal as it is familiar.”

“LUNA’s” celestial motif will fit in nicely with Akron Civic Theatre’s Moorish castle decor complete with an atmospheric twinkling starlit sky and moving clouds ceiling display.  

Inlet Dance Theatre. Photo courtesy of Lose Your Marbles.

Next, highlighting the humanitarian crisis of over 60 million refugees fleeing war, famine, violence and persecution worldwide, Inlet Dance Theatre’s work “Sojourn” offers up a message of compassion, empathy and grace for those in desperate need. Choreographed by Inlet founder/artistic director Bill Wade in collaboration with the company’s dancers, the work in five-section is danced to music by Max Richter.


Neos Dance Theatre. Photo by Dale Dong.

Wesner’s Neos Dance Theatre then reprises choreographer Joseph Morrissey’s “Near Light” that premiered at last summer’s Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival. Performed to music by composer Ólafur Arnalds, Wesner describes the ballet as being a dynamic and fairly aggressive work movement-wise with a lot of twists and turns in its partnering sequences.

Verb Ballets. Photo by Bill Naiman.

The roughly two hour program will close with Verb Ballets in choreographer Adam Hougland’s “K281” (2007). Originally created on Cincinnati Ballet, the 14-minute ballet gets its name from Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in B-flat major, K. 281 that it is danced to.  Staged by Jill Marlow Krutzkamp and original cast member, the ballet for three male-female couples is full of quirky contemporary dance movement. Each couple has their own distinct personality says Marlow; the first has a fun, free relationship, the second’s mood is somber and the third has a peculiar relationship where the woman moves like a rag doll.

Neos Dance Theatre with the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation presents Lose Your Marbles II, 8 p.m., Friday, March 1, Akron Civic Theatre, 182 South Main Street, Akron. Tickets are $23 for reserved seating, $18 general admission, and $5 for students with ID and available online at loseyourmarbles.org and at the door that evening.

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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