Tag Archives: Ohio Ballet

Verb Ballets Revisits the Work of Heinz Poll


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Verb Ballets’ Nathanael Santiago and Kate Webb rehearsing Andrew Carroll’s “3:00am.” Photo by Bill Naiman.

By Steve Sucato

Verb Ballets latest tribute program to former Ohio Ballet co-founder Heinz Poll entitled Verb Ballets Continues the Legacy of Heinz Poll, will be a homecoming of sorts for Akron-native Andrew Carroll. The former principal dancer with Poll’s Ohio Ballet in the 1980’s and later with Pennsylvania Ballet, returns to the region to restage his 2014 pas de deux “3:00am.” The ballet is one of four on the Friday, February 17 program at Akron, Ohio’s historic Akron Civic Theatre and kicks off Verbs’ 30th anniversary celebration.

Carroll, who is now an associate professor of dance at the University of South Florida, says he set “3:00am” on former student Antonio Morillo to use when auditioning for Verb. Artistic director Margaret Carlson liked both so much she hired Morillo and added Carroll’s 4 1/2-minute pas de deux set to Abel Korzeniowski’s “Satin Birds” from the 2011 film W.E., to the company’s repertory.

Carroll says with “3:00am” he wanted to create a ballet where the two people in it were happy and in love, basking in “that window of time when no one else exists in the world, 3 a.m. ─ it’s just you and the one you love,” says Carroll.  

Joining Carroll’s ballet on the program will be Poll favorite, 1975’s “Schubert Waltzes.” Set to more than a dozen brief Franz Schubert piano pieces performed live by former Ohio Ballet music director David Fisher, the 25-minute ballet for three male/female couples is Poll’s interpretation of Schubert’s music,” says Verb Ballets associate director Richard Dickinson. The ballet looks at the three couples’ individual personalities. Said Chicago Tribune entertainment writer Sid Smith in a 1987 review of the ballet, “For all its stern simplicity, ‘Waltzes’ is broadly emotional, from soaring romance to silliness, culminating in a breathtaking and inspirational stroll toward an offstage sunset…”

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Verb Ballets dancers rehearsing Michael Hinton’s “Broken Bridges.” Photo by Jocelyn Magons.

The lone new work on the program “Broken Bridges,” comes from Verb company member Michael Hinton. Set to Dmitri Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony in C minor Op. 110A, it is the third work Hinton (who is on a leave of absence) has created for Verb.

Inspired by Poll’s ballet “Elegiac Song” (1968) also set to music by Shostakovich, the 22-minute ballet for 8 dancers says Hinton, is a tribute to his grandmother (Bridgett Escovedo) who passed away recently.

“I wanted to honor her memory while still staying true to the person she was,” says Hinton.

According to Hinton, his grandmother suffered from mental illness which left relationships in the family strained, especially with his mother Shawna Hinton who became her caregiver after she developed Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

“Bridgette grew up in a time where these [mental] illnesses weren’t considered valid,” says Hinton. “Eventually these suppressed illnesses came out in fits of emotions and general psychotic behavior.”

“Broken Bridges” explores this family dynamic with a nod to the turbulent emotions found in Poll’s “Elegiac Song.”

Rounding out the program will be a reprise of Poll’s 1996 masterwork “Bolero.” Set to Maurice Ravel’s iconic score of the same name, the ballet combines the best of Poll’s integration of ballet and modern dance technique into a seemingly timeless display of choreographic beauty that sweeps one up in its relentless drive and carries you along to an exhilaratingly satisfying end.

Verb Ballets Continues the Legacy of Heinz Poll will be performed at 8 p.m., Friday, February 17, Akron Civic Theatre, 182 South Main Street Akron, Ohio. Single tickets are $32/Preferred, $27/Center, $22/Side or $12/ Student. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Akron Civic Box Office at 330-253-2488 or online at akroncivic.com. For more information visit 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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Verb Ballets’ Poll Tribute Faithful and First-Rate


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Verb Ballets’ Christina Lindhout, center and troupe in Heinz Poll’s “Bolero.” Photo by Bill Naiman.

Verb Ballets – Tribute to Heinz Poll
Akron Civic Theatre
Akron, OH
February 19, 2016

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

It’s been a nearly a decade since the passing of Northeast Ohio dance icon Heinz Poll and the closing of the company he co-founded, Akron-based Ohio Ballet. Poll loomed large on the area dance scene, bringing national recognition to it and leaving behind a lasting legacy contained within those he taught, his former dancers, and his over sixty ballets created for Ohio Ballet.

In honor of the 90th anniversary of Poll’s birth, Cleveland-based Verb Ballets presented a Tribute to Heinz Poll, February 19, 2016 at Ohio’s historic Akron Civic Theatre. The program featured four of Poll’s most cherished ballets including the first ballet he created for Chamber Ballet (later re-named Ohio Ballet), 1968’s “Elegiac Song.”

The program kicked off with Soaring, a 13-minute documentary about Poll and the Ohio Ballet featuring interviews with the German choreographer, commentary by New York Times dance critic Jennifer Dunning and archival footage of Poll and the Ohio Ballet. It was followed by “Elegiac Song,” restaged for Verb by former Ohio Ballet dancer and current director of Akron’s Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, Jane Startzman.

On a darkened stage, a narrow shaft of light spread horizontally across the rear stage scrim diminishing in intensity with length. In front of it Verb’s Megan Buckley and six other female dancers costumed in long skirts and black capes moved through solemn choreography. A distraught-looking Buckley seemed to be being ignored by the others who traveled in tandem in and out of deep pliés across the stage.

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Verb Ballets’ Megan Buckley in Heinz Poll’s “Elegiac Song.” Photo Credit Susan Bestul.

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Verb Ballets’ Nicholas Rose and Megan Buckley in Heinz Poll’s “Elegiac Song.” Photo Credit Susan Bestul.

Set to melancholy music by Russian composer Dmitri Shostakovich, the ballet, said Poll in his 2008 autobiography A Time to Dance, is about “women who are left alone in time of war.” It was the first of two ballets on the program inspired by Poll’s memories of wartime Germany.

The beautifully-crafted, somber ballet was also inspired by the dark and disturbing wartime images of German artist Käthe Kollwitz (1867–1945). And as the program notes indicated, Poll’s movement vocabulary and look for the ballet was noticeably “indebted to Martha Graham.” As such, the piece had a different feel to it than the other ballets on the program; more in the modern dance mold of Graham’s 1930 solo “Lamentation.”

Brinkley was captivating as a grieving war “widow” searching for solace from the others and in her memories of her beloved danced by Nick Rose (replacing an injured Omar Humphrey). The ballet’s corps of women made up of Verb company members and dancers from the community also performed solidly.

Of the select nineteen ballets which Poll bequeathed to live on past him, “Elegiac Song” is one of his very best.

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Verb Ballets’ Lieneke Matte and Michael Hinton in Heinz Poll’s “Duet.” Photo by Susan Bestul

In contrast, Poll’s “Duet” (1979) that followed, was a dull, stiff exercise in neo-classical technique. Danced to live Bach organ music by former Ohio Ballet music director David Fisher, the duet, although skillfully presented by Verb’s Lieneke Matte and Michael Hinton, had the appeal of a funeral dirge.

Next, the second ballet inspired by Poll’s personal experiences with oppression and war, 1982’s “Songs Without Words,” dealt with the run-up to the Holocaust in Germany.

Set to Felix Mendelssohn’s piano score of the same name played expertly live by Fisher, the ballet smartly balanced the sense of fear, panic and horror Poll witnessed in the lives of Jews of all classes at the hands of the Nazis with their everyday lives before they were upended.

A pair of young lovers danced by Matte and former Ohio Ballet dancer Brian Murphy expressed their feelings for one another and looked to a future together, a quartet of youth reveled in what it was like to be young and carefree, a love triangle perhaps between two affluent sisters in love with the same man played out, and a street tough danced by last minute replacement for Humphrey, Neos Dance Theatre’s Ethan Michael Lee, was willfully defiant till the end.

The heartbreaking and beautifully-crafted ballet was danced with care and conviction by the entire cast, especially Kate Webb, Christina Lindhout and Stephaen Hood who made real the emotional and tension-filled love triangle.

The ballet ended with the striking image of all the dancers, having been herded and huddled together, collapsing to the ground, signaling their tragic demise.

Verb’s tribute program concluded with Poll’s most popular and most performed ballet, “Bolero” (1996).

The group ballet set to Maurice Ravel’s masterwork of the same name, paralleled the music’s progression building off dancer Lindhout’s opening solo and adding dancers and dramatic choreography to a repeating movement phrase.  The women costumed in long black dresses with the men shirtless in long black skirts, moved through unison choreography in which they circled their wrists, pointed fingers and ran through sequences of hand and arm movements that at times resembled that of classical Indian dance.

As Ravel’s music grew more intense, Poll’s choreography followed. And no matter how many times one may have seen the ballet, it was nearly impossible not to get caught up in its building excitement.

The latter stages of the ballet brought out a Spanish flair with the dancers removing a layer of their costumes and turning it into a toreador’s cape which they swirled around with verve.

If any of Poll’s signature ballets are deserving of the label “masterpiece,” “Bolero” certainly qualifies. Perhaps not the best rendition of it I have seen (it’s hard to surpass the memory of former Ohio Ballet star and the work’s rights holder Xochitl Tejeda de Cerda performing the lead role), nonetheless Lindhout and company were very respectable in it.

Faithful to Poll’s originals, Verb Ballet’s Tribute to Heinz Poll was a mostly engaging and satisfyingly entertaining evening of dance. Equally important, the program was a refresher of Poll’s genius and a reminder of his importance to the dance world, especially in Northeast, Ohio ─ something that should not be forgotten.

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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Northeast Ohio Summer Dance in Review


Ballet Hispanico dancers in Eduardo Vilaro's "Asuka".

Ballet Hispanico dancers in Eduardo Vilaro’s “Asuka”. Photo by Dale Dong.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

It’s a tale of two cities when it comes to summer dance in Northeast Ohio; two marquee, municipally run performance series, one in Akron and the other in Cleveland, count for the bulk of the region’s professional dance by local and nationally touring companies.

Billed as the oldest, free summer dance series in the United States, the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival in Akron was established in 1974 to honor the legacy of founding artistic director of now defunct Ohio Ballet, Heinz Poll. The family-friendly series held at four city parks and historical sites showcases dance to some 10,000 attendees each season. The 41st edition, which ran four consecutive weekends, opened with New York’s Ballet Hispanico at Goodyear Heights Metro Park.

Chairs and blankets stretched out far and wide in front of the portable stage as area residents of all ages settled in for an evening of dance under the stars, a scene repeated at all the festival’s venues. Ballet Hispanico artistic director Eduardo Vilaro’s Latin-infused contemporary Asuka (2011) kicked things off. Bursting with energy, the playful, hip-shaking piece for a dozen dancers celebrated the music of the late Cuban “Queen of Salsa” Celia Cruz. Next, Sombrerisimo (2013) was the first and best of two works by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa. Inspired by the surrealist paintings of Belgian artist René Magritte, the all-male cast of six — in untucked dress shirts, pants and black bowler hats — moved through well-crafted choreography full of leaps, jumps and dancer inter- weaving as they cleverly transferred hats from one to another.

Rounding out the program was a pas de deux from Tito on Timbales (1984), William Whitener’s tribute to percussionist Tito Puente, danced adroitly by Alexander Duval and Jessica Alejandra Wyatt, and Lopez Ochoa’s Mad’moiselle (2010), a wonderfully bizarre satire on the many images of “Maria” found in Latin culture, including West Side Story.

Neos Dance Theatre's Mary-Elizabeth Fenn and company in Penny Saunders' "Flight".  Photo by Dale Dong.

Neos Dance Theatre’s Mary-Elizabeth Fenn and company in Penny Saunders’ “Flight”. Photo by Dale Dong.

The second weekend featured Mansfield, Ohio-based Neos Dance Theatre, the rising regional company with national aspirations, which offered up three ballets, including festival standout, Penny Saunders’ Flight (2014).

Flight, set to an eclectic soundscape, opened on a group of dancers in uniform grey  tops and slacks moving in robotic unison to spooky music à la a Tim Burton film. The quirky dance work switched gears as Hank Williams Sr.’s Ramblin’ Man ushered in a trio of men in western-infused choreography that had them moseying through snaking movement patterns and arching lifts. In the last section, which emulated the work’s robotic beginnings, Mary-Elizabeth Fenn, moving like a dancer from a music box, stood atop the lone set piece, a wooden box, surrounded by dancers on their knees holding her in place by her ankles; Fenn’s beautifully danced movements evolved from calm and graceful to frantic.

The premiere of artistic director Bobby Wesner’s Slow Moving and Almost Stopped proved true to its title. Dancers spun one another in crouched, flat-footed circles that mesmerized like a figure skater’s effortless glide. Wesner’s nonchalant choreography, set to folksy music, had dancers giving into gravity’s pull and falling into one another’s arms while others engaged in tightly managed movement riffs. The program concluded with Wesner’s 2013 Spinning Plates.

In perhaps the most apropos pairing of dance and venue, Cleveland’s GroundWorks DanceTheater joined with ChamberFest Cleveland musicians to perform David Shimotakahara’s Ghost Opera (2014) at the historic Glendale Cemetery. Inspired by childhood memories of the shamanistic “ghost operas” found in Chinese peasant culture, Tan Dun’s 1994 composition Ghost Opera evoked a ceremonial feel of conjuring spirits and communing with the departed that Shimotakahara (GroundWorks’ artistic director) sought to capture in movement.

GroundWorks DanceTheater dancer Annika Sheaff in David Shimotakahara's "Ghost Opera". Photo by Dale Dong.

GroundWorks DanceTheater dancer Annika Sheaff in David Shimotakahara’s “Ghost Opera”. Photo by Dale Dong.

Water splashed, voices chanted and sang, and violins,  a cello  and  a Chinese  pipa  (a four-stringed lute) were played live, providing a haunting soundscape. Shimotakahara’s choreography ebbed and flowed between the dancers en masse huddling and cleaving to each other and duets and solos that spoke of earth, family and, oddly enough, the music of Bach and the writings of Shakespeare. An esoteric work compared to most summer dance fare, Ghost Opera was marvellously performed and well received.

GroundWorks’ double-bill program, which brought the living and the dead together in celebration of the 175th anniversary of the cemetery, began on a festive note with Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s Hindsight (2011), a tribute to the music of Akron native Chrissie Hynde and her band the Pretenders in a jazzy, Broadway-esque romp.

The series at Cleveland Heights’ Cain Park presented dance in two covered outdoor theatres. A ticketed series welcomed Cleveland-based Verb Ballets in four works that showcased the young dancers. Pamela Pribisco’s Tarantella (2005) provided an energetic boost to the classic dance staple. It was performed with spunk by Michael Hinton and last-minute injury substitution Megan Buckley. Buckley’s charm and effervescence captured the hearts of the audience, leading to cheering at the ballet’s end.

Photo courtesy of Verb Ballets.

Photo courtesy of Verb Ballets.

The program’s gem was the company premiere of former Cincinnati Ballet principal dancer Anthony Krutzkamp’s Similar (2012). Set to piano music by Chad Lawson and Brian Crain, the well-crafted contemporary ballet opened on three male-female couples engaged in angular, elongated unison choreography. Confident and polished, Verb’s dancers shone, especially Stephaen Hood and Lieneke Matte in a delicate pas de deux.

A few days later, Inlet Dance Theatre doled out a pleasing dose of artistic director Bill Wade’s message-driven, Pilobolus-style dance works, including his athletic, amusing duet A Close Shave (2006). The work, which involved the mirror image of a man shaving come to life, was danced with wit, precision and strength by Joshua Brown and Dominic Moore-Dunson. The jam-packed program of eight uplifting works also featured Wade’s signature body sculpture wonder, Ascension (2006).

Capping the performances was Philadelphia hip-hop troupe Illstyle & Peace Productions in Same Spirit Different Movement II: IMpossible IZZpossible & KINGZ. The positive spirit pro- gram featured 19-year-old spoken word artist Syreeta, whose hard-hitting poems spoke of small-town poverty and prejudice, along with a potent mix of deejaying, gospel music and magnificently performed old-school locking, popping, breaking, tap and house dancing. Company founder and dancer Brandon “Peace” Albright and dancer Reggie TapMan Myers captivated in the party atmosphere collection of dance.

This review first appeared in the 2014 winter issue of Dance International magazine. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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