Tag Archives: Nicolo Fonte

BalletX Marked the Spot for Great Dance at ADF in CLE

BalletX_Express 1000 px

BalletX in Lil Buck’s “Express”. Photo courtesy of BalletX.

Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre
Cleveland, Ohio
July 27, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Philadelphia’s BalletX opened DANCECleveland’s 2019-2020 season this past Saturday as part of year three of the annual American Dance Festival in Cleveland. The contemporary ballet company founded in 2005 by former Pennsylvania Ballet dancers Christine Cox and Matthew Neenan, made its Cleveland debut at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre in a program featuring three diverse works that by its end, brought the audience to its feet in appreciation.

Known as a breeding ground for new works by contemporary choreographic voices from around the globe, much has happened with BalletX since its last visit to Northeast Ohio back in 2013. Neenan has moved on from company leadership to concentrate fully on his burgeoning choreographic career and BalletX in 2018 opened its new Center for World Premiere Choreography, moving into a new 5,000 square foot studio and administrative home in Philadelphia.

What hadn’t changed since 2013, was the ability of the company and its 10 dancers (including former GroundWorks Dance Theater dancer Blake Krapels) from knocking an audience’s socks off with world class dancing in world class dance works.

The program opened with choreographer Nicolo Fonte’s latest ballet for the company “Steep Drop, Euphoric” (2019) set to music by Ezio Bosso and Ólafur Arnalds. The 25-minute piece began with the jolting screech of string instruments to usher in the first of many traveling dancer tableaus that would be integral to the look of the ballet beginning with dancer Chloe Perkes being lifted to stand atop the shoulders of several other dancers.

Fonte’s choreographic style for the ballet had BalletX’s full complement of dancers flowing from one smoothly formed tableau of dancers being lifted or melting into one another’s arms a la the works of choreographers Lar Lubovich and Doug Varone.  The lush movement was characterized by the dancers swaying and sinking into close-quartered interactions with each other, arms often suspended in air briefly. Fonte alternated the  pace of the ballet with quick bursts of movement by individual dancers mixed in with slower group dance phrases.


BalletX in Nicolo Fonte’s “Steep Drop, Euphoric”. Photo courtesy of BalletX.

At one end of the rear of the stage, a long piece of what looked to be Marley dance floor (the slip-resistant surface the dancers perform on) hung from the rafters and was unrolled to the stage floor, suggesting a road to the heavens. The image jived with Fonte’s thoughts on the ballet contained in the program notes that read: “Perhaps the only places left unexplored are the canyons of your interior geography, the dark alleys of your consciousness – one of which might lead you to your road to bliss.”

That interior geography and potential road to bliss appeared to belong to Perkes’ character who throughout the ballet stepped in and out of dancing with the others to stand on the Marley road and gaze back at her fellow performers as if reflecting on her life.

In a later section of the ballet, dancers Andrea Yorita and Zachary Kapeluck launched into the first of two successive pas de deuxs. Yorita, a diminutive powerhouse, burst about the stage with spritely energy showing off her beautiful extension, turning ability, and footwork.  A second pas de deux immediately followed with dancers Skyler Lubin and Stanley Glover continuing the barrage of beautiful choreography that culminated in the dancers forming a quartet spiced with partnered lifts.  After a heartfelt solo danced by Perkes in spotlight moving along the Marley road, the ballet ended as it began with her standing atop several dancers’ shoulders reaching out. This time not toward the Marley road leading out on to the stage, but the one leading upward.

Next the company switched its stylistic gears in Charles “Lil Buck” Riley’s “Express” (2018), danced to jazz music by The Late Show with Stephen Colbert bandleader Jon Batiste.  Lil Buck, a dancer, actor and model from Memphis, Tennessee, burst onto the dance scene in a big way in the past few years in large part due to his “Memphis jookin” hip hop dance version of Michel Fokine’s ballet classic “The Dying Swan” that went viral.

For the 16-minute “Express,” the choreographer fused his mostly improvised jookin movement language with ballet and jazz movement to create a hybrid style that fit nicely on BalletX’s dancers.  Costumed in streetwear and sneakers for the men, pointe shoes for the women (at least to begin with), the work was overall a fun, flirty, and jazzy play on male/female relationship banter.


Stanley Glover in Lil Buck’s “Express”. Photo courtesy of BalletX.

The work’s finest moment came in a solo by featured dancer Glover to Batiste’s melancholy dirge “Saint James Infirmary Blues.” The silky smooth Glover moved with the freedom of Lil Buck himself in the jookin-flavored solo.

By work’s end the women had swapped their point shoes for red Nike sneakers, and the entire cast of 10, especially dancer Cali Quan, let their funk flag fly in a frenetically fabulous finale to the Jon Batiste and Stay Human song “Express Yourself (Say Yes)” capped by Batiste asking the question, “What is Jazz?”

The program ended most satisfyingly with a reprise of Neenan’s signature ballet for the company, “The Last Glass”(2010) that the company performed in Akron in 2013.

Inspired by what Neenan referred to as “wild street-parade,” the 25-minute ballet all 10 dancers was set to suite of 8 tunes by American indie-rock band Beirut, and whose emotional lyrics Neenan took to heart in his choreography.


BalletX in Matthew Neenan’s “The Last Glass”. Photo courtesy of BalletX.

I wrote of the ballet in 2013:  As if splashing through puddles of emotion that covered the stage, the dancers kicked up anger, joy and sadness, which then clung to them, giving their characters an underlying motivation and exposing their imperfections.

Masterfully-crafted in its dancer formations, group movements on and off the stage, and its transitions between dance phrases, Neenan wrapped a clever tapestry of contemporary ballet movement and beauty around several very relatable human stories contained within the ballet.  None so emotionally penetrating than that of characters portrayed by Perkes and Krapels in which Perkes seemed to be recalling the joys and heartache of being with Krapels, a lover she lost.  The haunting image of a heartbroken Perkes walking slowly across the stage, head in hand as the carnival of humanity carried on all around her, was one that could be universally felt.

It is perhaps fitting BalletX and DANCECleveland chose to repeat Neenan’s “The Last Glass,” as the ballet warrants repeated viewings to take in its full glory. One can only marvel at Neenan’s ability to conjure up such an exquisite creation.

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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Aspen Santa Fe Ballet returns with three commissioned ballets to launch Pittsburgh Dance Council’s season

Nicolo Fonte's "The Heart(s)pace".   Photo by Sharen Bradford.

Nicolo Fonte’s “The Heart(s)pace”. Photo by Sharen Bradford.

By Steve Sucato

The last time Aspen Santa Fe Ballet performed in Pittsburgh, four years ago, the company was just becoming a staple on the U.S. touring circuit. Now, having built its stalwart reputation on new contemporary-dance works by world-class choreographers, the small troupe of 11 dancers makes its long-anticipated return to the Byham Theater to kick off Pittsburgh Dance Council’s new season.

The Oct. 11 program features three commissioned ballets, beginning with Norbert de la Cruz III’s “Square None” (2012). ASFB artistic director Tom Mossbrucker says that at a 2011 performance by Juilliard dance students, he was taken by a work choreographed by de la Cruz. That led to the commission for “Square None,” which Mossbrucker describes as “thoughtful and pensive.” Set to a variety of music including Aphex Twin, the ballet explores themes of youth and naiveté.

Next, the company will perform Spanish choreographer Cayetano Soto’s “Beautiful Mistake” (2013). Mossbrucker says the movement is very aggressive and staccato, and the mood one of dark emotions.

Mossbrucker says some audiences might see similarities of movement vocabulary between “Square None,” “Beautiful Mistake” and the final work on the program, Nicolo Fonte’s “The Heart(s)pace” (2014). But each actually possesses a very different dynamic and feel, he says.

Cayetano Soto's "Beautiful Mistake".  Photo by Rosalie O'Conner.

Cayetano Soto’s “Beautiful Mistake”. Photo by Rosalie O’Conner.

Company dancer Samantha Klanac Campanile also sees the works as distinct. She describes “The Heart(s)pace” as “very much about community and opening your heart.”

“For me, of the seven ballets I have performed of his [Fonte’s], it’s the most enjoyable to dance,” says the 31-year-old native of Buffalo, N.Y., who’s in her 14th season with ASFB.

Campanile says she especially enjoys touring back East because it gives her a chance to connect with family who travel to see her dance. But she admits that being on tour half the year has its pluses and minuses.

“It’s a huge perk of the job to experience different places, but it’s hard to stay in shape on tour, and you don’t feel as good as when you are in your normal home routine,” she says.

Area dance fans, however, can be pleased ASFB’s tour is making another stop here, bringing with it the high level of dance we have come to expect from the company.

Nicolo Fonte's "The Heart(s)pace".   Photo by Sharen Bradford.

Nicolo Fonte’s “The Heart(s)pace”. Photo by Sharen Bradford.

Aspen Santa Fe Ballet performs: 8 p.m., Sat., Oct. 11. Byham Theater, 101 Sixth St., Downtown. $19-55. 412-456-6666 or www.trustarts.org

This article originally appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper October 8, 2014. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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Several Prominent Pittsburgh Dance Companies Mark Big Anniversaries As New Dance Season Begins

Taylor Knight and Kaylin Horgan of The Pillow Project, Nov. 8. Photo by Cassie Kay Rusnak.

Taylor Knight and Kaylin Horgan of The Pillow Project, Nov. 8. Photo by Cassie Kay Rusnak.

By Steve Sucato

The new dance season features milestones for several local companies. Attack Theatre, CorningWorks, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and the Pillow Project all celebrate major anniversaries. They, along with a bevy of other artists, promise even more memorable moments. Here’s a sampling.

Opening its fifth season, CorningWorks examines our growing disconnect with traditional interpersonal communication in Parallel Lives (Wed., Sept. 10-14), at the New Hazlett Theater. The Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, also celebrating a milestone anniversary, its 100th, opens with dance icon Carmen de Lavallade’s solo show As I Remember It (Fri., Sept. 12 and Sat., Sept. 13). The theater’s Alloy Studios then hosts Mark Conway Thompson‘s new movement-theater work Kimono (Sept. 19), followed by Casablanca-based Hind Benali/Fleur D’Orange in Identity/Identité (Oct. 10-11) and FreshWorks dance artist Anthony Williams in Loving Black (Oct. 17). The Kelly-Strayhorn then welcomes back TanzTheater André Koslowski performing its latest, A Cantankerous Wiegenlied (Nov. 7-8).

On Sun., Sept. 14, River City Artists Management continues its new SundaySeries at PointBreezeway with performances by Continuum Dance Theater and dancer/choreographer Jasmine Hearn in her latest, favoring consent. The series continues Oct. 12 with performances by Gia T. Presents international music/dance ensemble and the STAYCEE PEARL dance project.
Alan Obuzor and Kelsey Bartman of Texture Contemporary Ballet, Sept. 26-28. Photo courtesy of the company.

Alan Obuzor and Kelsey Bartman of Texture Contemporary Ballet, Sept. 26-28. Photo courtesy of the company.

Texture Contemporary Ballet finds Synergy (Sept. 26-28) at the Kelly-Strayhorn; the company heads to Pittsburgh Dance Center for its annual WIP (Works In Progress) Choreography Project (Nov. 22). And Carnegie Mellon University’s Miller Gallery hosts LightLab Performance Series 07 (Sept. 27), featuring new dance works by Maree ReMalia/merrygogo, Slowdanger and Jil Stifel.

Point Park University’s Conservatory Dance Company begins its season with the Student Choreography Project (Oct. 3-5). Then the troupe performs works by alum Luke Murphy and others in Contemporary Choreographers (Nov. 14-23); both productions are at the school’s George Rowland White Performance Studio. And Dec. 5-14, the company reprises Nicolas Petrov’s Romeo and Juliet at the Pittsburgh Playhouse.

Attack Theatre begins its 20th season with the world premiere of Are You Still There? (Oct. 3-10), at the Greater Pittsburgh Coliseum. And Dec. 5-6, at Pittsburgh Opera’s George R. White Studio, Attack presents its annual family-friendly program, Holiday Unwrapped.

Murphy/Smith Dance Collective’s Jamie Murphy and dancer/choreographer Shanna Simmons present works-in-progress showings at The Alloy Studios (Oct 5). Dancer/choreographer Moriah Ella Mason presents Contained (Oct. 11) at the New Hazlett.

Maria Caruso of Bodiography, Nov. 21 & 22.  Photo by Eric Rosé.

Maria Caruso of Bodiography, Nov. 21 & 22. Photo by Eric Rosé.

And Bodiography collaborates with La Roche College for Multiplicity (Nov. 21 and 22), at the Byham Theater.

Pittsburgh Dance Council opens its new season at the Byham with Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, featuring choreographer Nicolo Fonte’s luminescent ballet Heart(s)pace (Oct. 11). PDC’s season continues with innovative British dance troupe Michael Clark Company (Nov. 1).

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre opens its 45th season with The Sleeping Beauty (Oct. 24-26). And from Dec. 5-28, PBT’s holiday favorite The Nutcracker returns; both PBT productions are at the Benedum Center.

On Oct. 25, the Middle Eastern specialists at Khafif Music and Dance get spooky at their annual Halloween Hafla, at Wilkins School Community Center. And Murphy/Smith Dance Collective’s Renee Smith presents the world premiere of Belong Here at the Pittsburgh Dance Center.

Ashley Duke of Staycee Pearl dance project, Dec. 19. Photo by Mark Simpson.

Ashley Duke of Staycee Pearl dance project, Dec. 19. Photo by Mark Simpson.

Rounding out 2014: the Pittsburgh Bellydance Festival, featuring The Belly-Off competition, returns to Pittsburgh Dance Center (Nov. 7-9); The Pillow Project marks 10 years with In the Blink of a Decade (Nov. 8), at The Space Upstairs; Prague’s Cirk La Putyka brings a mixture of acrobatics, dance, puppetry and live music to the Hillman Center for Performing Arts in Slapstick Sonata (Nov. 15); newcomers Shana Simmons Dance present the site-specific work Passenger (Nov. 14-15), at the National Aviary; Firewall Dance Theater performs Uproar (Dec. 18-Jan. 10), at Off The Wall Theater;and on Dec. 19, STAYCEE PEARL dance project stages works-in-progress showings at PearlArts Studios.

This article originally appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper September 10, 2014. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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