Tag Archives: Philip Glass

North Pointe Ballet Production Celebrates The ‘Why’ Of What They Do


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North Pointe Ballet in “What’s Your Why?”. Photo by Paul Lender, Left of Center photography.

By Steve Sucato

Why artists do what they do is a constant source of curiosity for many.  It is perhaps in trying to understand their motivations that we gain a better understanding of them and their art.  In North Pointe Ballet’s program What’s Your Why?, March 14 and 15 at the Lorain Palace Theater, the West Side ballet company seeks in part to answer those questions of understanding for themselves and audiences.

“The whole show is a reflection on what motivates us as artists and people,” says NPB’s founding director Janet Strukely-Dziak.

An encore performance of the 90-minute repertory program in 3-acts that the company premiered last October at Cleveland’s Near West Theatre, What’s Your Why? begins with Strukely-Dziak’s frenetically-paced group ballet “The Chase” (2009).

Performed to music from the soundtrack of the 2004 movie National Treasure by former YES guitarist Trevor Rabin, “The Chase” gets its inspiration from a young ballet dancer’s constant drive toward perfection,” says Strukely-Dziak.

Next, the company will perform excerpts from Arthur Saint-Leon’s 1870 comedic ballet “Coppelia”, adapted and staged for the company by NPB assistant director Melaina Kampf.

Rounding out the program’s first act will be “Quiet Chaos” (2003) choreographed by former Mercyhurst University Dance Department chair Tauna Hunter, a former mentor of Strukely-Dziak’s. Set to music by Philip Glass and Canadian singer-songwriter Jennifer Berezan, the ballet for 8-dancers is about escaping life’s day-to-day chaos and finding peace.

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North Pointe Ballet dancer in Tauna Hunter’s “Quiet Chaos”. Photo by Paul Lender, Left of Center photography.

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North Pointe Ballet in “Swan Lake”. Photo by Paul Lender, Left of Center photography.

Act 2 of the program coincidentally showcases Act II of Marius Petitpa and Lev Ivanov’s ballet “Swan Lake” (1895) to music by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky. It features NPB principal dancer Elizabeth Radachi as Odette, the White Swan and Matthew Robinson, formerly of Cleveland’s Dancing Wheels, as Prince Siegfried.  In a recent rehearsal of the ballet at Jillian Rian’s Dance School in North Ridgeville, the statuesque Radachi, partnered by Robinson, showed a quiet and steady confidence in her dancing while leading a young corps de ballet of dancers of varying skill as swans.

Act 3 contains the most personal of the ballets on the program in the form of Strukely-Dziak’s “Because of You,” which tells of the motivations behind her founding NPB in 2016 and of the company’s underlying mission to make classical ballet accessible to the community it serves by offering family-friendly, easy-to-understand, professional ballet productions in the western suburbs of Cleveland.

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Janet Strukely-Dziak and son Lucas in “Because of You”. Photo by Paul Lender, Left of Center photography.

Set to an eclectic mix of rock and dance music from Guns N’ Roses, The Doors, Michael Jackson, Justin Timberlake and others performed live by the NPB band, the emotional ballet stars Strukely-Dziak and her 9-year-old autistic son Lucas and looks back on their lives at the genesis of North Pointe Ballet. In addition to the pair, the cast will include NPB company and student ensemble dancers as well as performers from Lorain’s Spectrum Resource Center & School.

“The ballet and the program are a reflection of what North Pointe Ballet is all about” says Strukely-Dziak. “We are all in this together; let’s share our love of dance with everyone”.

North Pointe Ballet presents encore performances of What’s Your Why?, 7 p.m., Saturday, March 14 and 2 p.m., Sunday, March 15; Lorain Palace Theater, 617 Broadway Ave., Lorain, OH. Tickets are $15-20 and available at northpointeballet.org, lorainpalace.org or by calling (440) 245-2323.

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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Grand Rapids Ballet’s ‘Extremely Close’, Extremely Good [REVIEW]


Alexander Meister-Upleger in James Sofranko's The Sweet By and By. Photo by Scoot & Kate Rasmussen 500px

Alexandra Meister-Upleger (center) in James Sofranko’s “The Sweet By and By”. Photo by Damion Van Slyke.

Grand Rapids Ballet – Extremely Close
Peter Martin Wege Theatre
Grand Rapids, MI
April 12-14, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

In the company’s first season under new artistic director James Sofranko, Grand Rapids Ballet appears to be continuing on the path of upward trajectory begun by former artistic director Patricia Barker now the director of The Royal New Zealand Ballet.

The company’s program Extremely Close, on Saturday, April 13 at their in-house Peter Martin Wege Theatre, was varied, well-balanced and top notch. GRB’s dancers never looked better with adroit performances rivaling some seen in the finest dance companies in North America.

The program opened with veteran dance maker Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House” created for San Francisco Ballet (where Sofranko was a soloist) in 2008.

Caniparoli, one of the most consistently brilliant dance-makers working today, created with “Ibsen’s House,” a choreographic jewel.  The ballet was inspired by five female characters taken from Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen’s plays; A Doll’s House (1879), Ghosts (1881), Rosmersholm (1886), The Lady from the Sea (1888), and Hedda Gabler (1890). Said Caniparoli, in an interview about the ballet, “Ibsen’s radical ideas about marriage, gender roles, and family relations shocked and outraged many of his contemporaries, and still hold resonance today.”

Cassidy Isaacson and Steven Houser in Val Caniparoli's Ibsen's House. Photo by Ray Nard 500px

Cassidy Isaacson and Steven Houser in Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House”. Photo by Ray Nard.

Danced to excerpts of Antonín Dvořák’s “Piano Quintet in A Major, Op 81” played live, the ballet had as a partial backdrop a large window frame with the dancers costumed in rich-looking, buttoned-up Victorian dresses for the cast’s five women and equally stiff suits for its five men by designer Sandra Woodall that suggested persons of privilege.

The ballet, an amalgamation of the aforementioned Ibsen plays’ themes and attitudes towards their heroines, unfolded as a series of vignettes expressing the emotions and attitudes each of the women with regard to the important personal relationships written about in the plays they appear in.

While it might be helpful in knowing these women’s stories in Ibsen’s plays, in some ways, it may also have been better not to as to not bring to the ballet expectations of the women’s character portrayals and those of others in the ballet.  Caniparoli’s choreography spoke volumes on its own.

Cassidy Issacson in Val Caniparoli's Ibsen's House. Photo by Ray Nard 500px

Cassidy Issacson in Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House”. Photo by Ray Nard.

“Ibsen’s House” began with a series of solos introducing each of the five women and laying out their particular demeanor starting with dancer Cassidy Isaacson as Hedda Gabler from Ibsen’s play of the same name.

Isaacson was riveting as the cold and callous Gabler who appeared determined to fight back the boredom and disappointments in her life. Costumed in a mauve and black dress, Isaacson performed Caniparoli’s sharp, illustrative ballet choreography with soul withering intensity. Her deliciously superior attitude then gave way to the worried nervousness of Yuka Oba as Nora Helmer from A Doll’s House.  Oba’s solo, like Isaacson’s, was expertly-crafted with a high level of technique and phrasing. Caniparoli, who choreographed GRB’s The Nutcracker, creates the types of ballets that GRB and its dancers can only benefit from in taking the company to the next level in its upward trajectory.

Alexander Meister-Upleger in Val Caniparoli's Ibsen's House. Photo by Ray Nard 500px

Alexandra Meister-Upleger in Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House”. Photo by Ray Nard.

Next, newcomer this season, Alexandra Meister-Upleger portrayed Helene Avling from Ibsen’s “Ghosts”.  The former Nashville Ballet dancer moved a bit like a prancing horse in a gesture-laden solo that the veteran dancer performed superbly. She was followed by Connie Flachs as the unfulfilled Ellida Wangel from “Lady of the Sea” in a swooping and swaying solo and GRB up and comer Madison Massera as the manipulative Rebecca West from “Rosemersholm”.

Yuka Oba and Nathan Young in Val Caniparoli's Ibsen's House. Photo by Ray Nard. 500px

Yuka Oba and Nathan Young in Val Caniparoli’s “Ibsen’s House”. Photo by Ray Nard.

The second half of the ballet paired the women with their male counterparts and sources of consternation in Ibsen’s plays. A series of dark and troubled pas de deuxs then further fleshed out the relationships between these characters. Most memorable was that of Oba and Nathan Young as the stern Torvald Helmer, her character’s husband in “A Doll’s House” who has found out she has been secretly stealing from him. The perfectly danced pas de deux filled with tension and peril left one  gripping at their seat watching it unfold.

Switching stylistic and emotional gears, the world-premiere of Sofranko’s “The Sweet By And By,” danced to lively jazz music by New Orleans’ Preservation Hall Jazz Band, was a charming spirit-lifter.

Levi Teachout, Nathan Young, and Adriana Wagenveld in James Sofranko's The Sweet By and By. Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen 500px

Levi Teachout, Nathan Young, and Adriana Wagenveld in James Sofranko’s “The Sweet By and By”. Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen.

The ballet followed main character Steven Houser as a carefree, life-of-the-party gent in a parade of bubbly dances with his large group of friends to the songs “When the Saints Go Marching In,” “Down by the Riverside,” “By and By” and others.

Looking like frolicking characters from F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Sofranko infused the ballet’s choreography with an energy and bravura that was pleasing.

Interjected into this world of glee were moments of melancholy. Houser’s flirty and infectiously positive character was, underneath that exterior, quite lonely for companionship and a meaningful romantic relationship. After several tries in the ballet, he found that companionship in a female friend portrayed by dancer Gretchen Steimle.

Steven Houser and Gretchen Steimle in James Sofranko's The Sweet By and By. Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen 500px

Steven Houser and Gretchen Steimle in James Sofranko’s “The Sweet By and By.” Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen.

Truly a vehicle for Houser’s wide-ranging talents as a dancer, he simply killed it and received a rousing ovation at ballet’s end.

The program concluded with its namesake work “Extremely Close” by former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancer and resident choreographer, Alejandro Cerrudo.

Choreographed in 2008 (and making the rounds to several regional ballet companies next season), the contemporary dance work was Cerrudo’s second-ever and smacked of a young dance-maker looking to make a big impression — He did.

Emily Reed and Isaac Aoki in Alejandro Cerrudo's Extremely Close. Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen 500px

Emily Reed and Isaac Aoki in Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Extremely Close.” Photo by Scott & Kate Rasmussen.

Set to music by Philip Glass and Dustin O’Halloran, the work began in silence with white feathers slowly drifting down from the rafters and piling up on the stage floor like fluffy snow. A cast of 8 dancers in socks cut paths in the feathers with their dancing, launching into prolonged slides across the floor as if ice lay below the surface of feathers. Into this scenic dreamland, Cerrudo also added door-sized moving walls that the dancers then appeared and disappeared from behind as they glided in lines across the stage. GRB’s dancers were brilliant in their timing pulling off these visual effects.

Yuka Oba and Matthew Wenckowski in Alejandro Cerrudo's Extremely Close. Photo by Damion Van Slyke 500px

Yuka Oba and Matthew Wenckowski in Alejandro Cerrudo’s “Extremely Close”. Photo by Damion Van Slyke.

Led by dancers Yuka Oba and Matthew Wenckowski, GRB’s dancers performed Cerrudo’s grounded movement language that is so associated with his works and that of Hubbard Street, marvalously. The breathtaking work ended with Wenckowski at the front of the stage pulling up the stage floor over his head and running toward the rear of the stage a la the billowing fabric effect used in choreographer Jiri Kylian’s masterwork Petite Mort.

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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Neglia Ballet Artists’ Star-Studded Spring Gala Dazzled with Great Performances [REVIEW]


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Colorado Ballet’s Dana Benton and Yosvani Ramos in Amy Seiwert’s “Traveling Alone”. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

Neglia Ballet Artists – Spring Gala
Nichols Flickinger Performing Arts Center
Buffalo, NY
May 10, 2018

By Steve Sucato

Buffalo’s premiere evening of dance each year, Neglia Ballet Artists’ 2018 Spring Gala was a smorgasbord of top flight dancing well worth the price of admission.  Once again NBA artistic director Sergio Neglia and executive director Heidi Halt culled together a stellar line-up of guest artists and dance works worthy of a professional dance company many times NBA’s size.

The program opened however with a solo variation from the ballet Raymonda by one of Neglia Conservatory’s own rising stars, Maggie Weatherdon.  The statuesque teenager from Grimsby, Ontario, despite some nerves, showed control in her technique and footwork on pointe in the briskly-paced solo.

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Neglia Conservatory dancer Maggie Weatherdon in a variation from “Raymonda”. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

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Vilia Putrius and Mindaugas Bauzys in Paul Meija’s “Romanza Andaluza”. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

Next, frequent guest dancers, husband and wife team Vilia Putrius and Mindaugas Bauzys, performed former New York City Ballet principal dancer Paul Meija’s pas de deux “Romanza Andaluza” to violin music by Pablo de Saraste.

The look of the pas de deux spoke of a matador and a señorita, while the close-quarter classical choreography evoked the feel of the “White Swan” pas de deux from Swan Lake.  Arms raised high over her head Putrius spun in and out of Bauzys’ arms and was lifted over his head in arabesque positions that had her lovingly looking down on him.  Both dancers radiated star quality in their dancing that combined grace and technical prowess.

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Neglia Conservatory’s Stephanie Waite in Victor Smalley’s “Under Her Skin”. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

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Colorado Ballet’s Dana Benton and Yosvani Ramos in the balcony scene pas de deux from “Romeo and Juliet” Photo by Gene Witkowski.

After the contemporary dance solo “Under Her Skin” by Victor Smalley danced by Neglia Conservatory student Stephanie Waite, Colorado Ballet principal dancers Dana Benton and Yosvani Ramos performed the balcony scene pas de deux from Romeo and Juliet with choreography by former English National Ballet artistic director Derek Deane.  One of the more emotionally rich choreographic versions of the ballet, Deane’s passionate choreography fit perfectly on the girlishly giddy Benton as Juliet and the dashing Ramos as Romeo. Sweeping runs into each other’s arms, soaring lifts and dizzying turn sequences left one believing in the pair’s over-the-moon young love.

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Dancers Eun-Kyung Chug (front) and Seyong Kim in Takehiro Ueyama’s “PUNG-GYEONG: Landscape”. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

The program then switched gears stylistically in choreographer Takehiro Ueyama’s contemporary dance work “PUNG-GYEONG: Landscape” performed by former Seoul Ballet Theater principal dancer Eun-Kyung Chug and former Metropolitan Opera Ballet dancer Seyong Kim.  Performed to a piano score by Johann Sebastian Bach, the gestural and calisthenic–like choreography for the pair appeared to outline a relationship between them that was fond yet distant.  The veteran pair danced solidly in the somewhat  unremarkable piece.

Weatherdon, who placed 1st in the Senior Contemporary Division at the 2018 Youth America Grand Prix dance competition, then returned to the stage this time in the  contemporary dance solo “Integer” by award-winning choreographer Viktor Plotnikov. Dancing to music by Zoe Keating, the rangy teen sliced through the air in fluid, angular dance moves that showed off her facility a dancer and gave a glimpse of her vast potential as a dance artist.

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Neglia Conservatory dancer Viktor Plotnikov’s “Integer”. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

Waite then took the stage in another solo, this time a variation from the ballet La Bayadere to music by Ludwig Minkus.  While Waite powered through the technically challenging solo with relative ease, her performance felt a bit flat and lacked personality.

Next, Benton and Ramos took another turn on stage in an excerpt from Sacramento Ballet artistic director Amy Seiwart’s “Traveling Alone”.  The contemporary ballet pas de deux set to music by Max Richter had everything the earlier “PUNG-GYEONG: Landscape” lacked.  Seiwert’s captivating choreography was well-crafted, emotional,  and the chemistry and relationship between Benton and Ramos was anything but distant.  The pair had an ease to their dancing with Benton floating along in buoyant lifts and in dreamy turns on pointe.

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Vilia Putrius and Mindaugas Bauzys in Putrius’ “Avere”. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

Putrius and Bauzys also came back for an encore in Putrius’ “Avere”.  Danced to music by Baroque Italian composer Giulio Caccini, the heartfelt contemporary ballet pas de deux swirled with graceful spins and tender embraces with only a modicum of clunky choreographic moments. One being Putrius lying on her back and walking her feet up the side of Bauzys’ body and then waiting for him, legs hovering in the air, to complete a solo dance phrase before walking them down again which served to briefly interrupt the sensual flow of the duet.  That being said, the pair’s dancing was fabulous as always.

Brilliance continued in arguably the best performance of the evening, Tulsa Ballet soloists Jennifer Grace and Joshua Stayton dancing an excerpt from Tulsa Ballet resident choreographer Ma Cong’s “Glass Pieces”.

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Tulsa Ballet’s Jennifer Grace and Joshua Stayton Ma Cong’s “Glass Pieces”. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

The exquisite lover’s pas de deux to music by Philip Glass unfolded with Grace (a perfect moniker for her dancing) twisting about on the stage floor before Stayton engaged her reposed body, causing her to arch her back and flutter one leg from the sensation.  The pair then deftly moved through a sequence of picture-perfect balletic poses that riveted one’s attention squarely on them.  Both Grace and Stayton were razor sharp in their dancing and left the audience mesmerized and breathless.

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Michele Costa and Sergio Neglia in Viktor Plotnikov’s “La Vida”. Photo by Gene Witkowski.

The bountiful program concluded with an encore performance from 2017 of Plotinikov’s “La Vida,” a work loosely based on NBA artistic director Sergio Neglia’s life and family. The work traces Neglia’s feelings in losing and missing his fatherArgentinian ballet star Jose Neglia who tragically died in a plane crash in 1971 when Sergio was young. In it, Eun-Kyung Chung portrayed Neglia’s grieving mother, Sergio, his younger self and a puppet controlled by Michele Costa represented the memory of Jose.  The very personal work was playful and charming at times, poignant and memorable.

Neglia Ballet Artists perform their 20th Anniversary Spring Gala, 8 p.m., Saturday, May 18, 2019. Nichols Flickinger Performing Arts Center, 1250 Amherst Street, Buffalo. Tickets are $25/student, $75/general ($80 at door) & $100/patron and are available at http://negliaballet.org/gala/

Featured performances by:

Emily Bromberg & Ariel Rose  (Miami City Ballet)
– Former Neglia Conservatory student Adelaide Clauss & Tamas Krizsa (Washington Ballet)
– Vilia Putrius & Mindaugas Bauzys formerly of Festival Ballet in Providence
Sergio Neglia, Sherri Campagni, puppeteer Michele Costa and actor Nico Neglia in a new ballet inspired by Mozart and Salieri and choreographed by Viktor Plotnikov
– Current Neglia Conservatory Pre-Professional students Ava DiNicola, Adrien Malof, and Maggie Weatherdon

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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