Tag Archives: Playhouse Square Center

Vertigo’s ‘One, One & One’ Leaves Heads Spinning with Delight


Vertigo Dance Company in “One, One & One”. Photo by Rune Abro.

Vertigo Dance Company – One, One & One
Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre
Cleveland, Ohio
March 9, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

The theme of the individual versus the group is nothing new in dance. Countless works have explored some aspect of it. Choreographer Noa Wertheim’s hour-long One, One & One (2017) performed by her Vertigo Dance Company Saturday night at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre, however, offered up a rather unique take on it.

Presented by DanceCleveland, the contemporary dance work by the Jerusalem-based company in their Ohio debut had the visual aesthetics and movement characteristics of works seen regularly on Israeli and European stages. For area audiences who see less of that, it was refreshingly brilliant.

Sound effects of surf and storm, a shovel repeatedly digging in the earth and the distant sound of a dog barking ushered in dancer Daniel Costa slowly pouring a line of dirt from a bucket across the front of the stage to open the work.  As he did, dancer Shani Licht began a slow, dreamlike solo in place, her measured movements lifting and stretching one limb at a time.  Then, joining the two on the bare, stark white stage containing two long bench areas on either side, others began to filter in to lift Licht skyward and move her about the stage — the scene set the tone for a carefully-crafted abstract work ripe with imagery one could read into its theme, but also left open countless interpretations.

Like Wertheim’s fabulous 2015 work Reshimo for the company, One, One & One found lingering beauty in the ordinary. The work’s dancers in grey pants and dark colored shirts executed multiple variations on pedestrian movement such as little shimmies, shakes and butt wiggles along with modern dance head stands and bursts of bending and swooping moment to Avi Balleli’s cinematic original score for the work.

Vertigo Dance Company in “One, One & One”. Photo by Rune Abro.

The atmospheric piece then switched gears as Licht and dancer Hagar Shachal squared off facing each other with arms high in the air and mirroring each other’s movements.  Another metaphor as to “the one” in relationship to a larger concept of “one,” the two women pushed into each other looking like a bird-like courtship dance, brushing the air space mere inches from the other without making contact.

As the work progressed, Wertheim’s choreography painted many more pictures of “the one” in solos, duets, trios and group dancing. The choreography constantly morphed, adding new elements such as hints of Israeli folk dance. For the most part, the movement flowed from the dancers’ bodies in a seamless succession of disparate movement phrases that felt connected. Only a scant few times did some phrases appear forcibly adjoined.

After more dirt was spread covering the stage, repetitive loud bangs in the score like gun shots invaded the theater space and jarred the senses. During this the dancers moved about drawing patterns in the dirt with their feet and kicking up dust clouds that, as in choreographer Pina Bausch’s famous The Rite of Spring (1975) with its dirt covered stage, the visual effect was dramatic but caused some audience members in the front rows to cough and a few to head for the exits.

Vertigo Dance Company in “One, One & One”. Photo by Rune Abro.
Vertigo Dance Company in “One, One & One”. Photo by Rune Abro.

Then, as another visual element of stage fog rolled in from above, below it dancers Korina Fraiman and Costa began a tender duet where the petite Fraiman was lifted and flipped about by Costa as if he were a gust of wind sweeping her up. The duet culminated in him grabbing her by the wrists as you would a child and spinning her round and round for a seemingly head-spinning eternity. 

Wertheim’s clever choreography also juxtaposed lively group dancing with near slow-motion solos. One such example saw Licht move around the perimeter of a quirky and athletic men’s group dance.

One, One & One hit its intensity height when Shachal began to try to separate herself from the other dancers. Turning on her as a group or perhaps seeking to save her from herself, the others surrounded Shachal, who darted and lunged desperately to escape their grasps.  They, like cats with a bird under paw, only reacted to her frantic attempts at escape and all was calm when she lay still on the stage floor resigned to her fate.

The engaging work then ended as quietly as it began, but perhaps with the dancers as a group more as “one” and with the audience of one appreciative mind, standing and applauding.

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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GroundWorks’ Fall Triple Bill Offers Up Two World Premieres


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GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Michael Marquez in Beth Corning’s “At Once There Was a House.” Photo courtesy of GroundWorks DanceTheater.

By Steve Sucato

Writing about the three choreographers on GroundWorks DanceTheater’s 2016 Fall Dance Series is familiar ground for me. I’ve known and published articles and reviews about dancer/choreographer Beth Corning and GroundWorks’ artistic director David Shimotakahara and their works for well over a decade. The other, former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago company member Robyn Mineko Williams, for just a handful of years including profiling her for Dance Magazine’s prestigious 2015 “25 to Watch” issue. All are gifted and experienced professionals with diverse artistic voices and approaches to creating dance works. So to include works by each on one program offers the potential for pure magic.

I first saw Beth Corning’s “At Once There Was a House” when GroundWorks debuted it in 2004. Since then I have been witness to several iterations of it in Pittsburgh by Corning’s former company Dance Alloy Theater and her current project-based company, CorningWorks. The 30-minute dance-theater piece is a one whose bones essentially remain the same each iteration, but whose skin changes with each new cast of performers.

“It’s a piece you don’t reset,” says Corning.  “You have to rebuild the entire piece based on completely different characters. Audiences who have seen the work before may recall a particular section, but it will be done very differently.”

“At Once There Was a House” poses the question: What ever happened to Dick and Jane?  Those idealized elementary school educational icons used to teach children in the U.S. to read from the 1930’s through the 1970’s.

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Beth Corning rehearsing GroundWorks DanceTheater in “At Once There Was a House.” Photo by Beth Rutkowski.

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GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Lauren Garson rehearsing Beth Corning’s “At Once There Was a House.” Photo by Beth Rutkowski.

Set to a collage of music from classical to Tom Waits, the dark, often poignant, and sometimes humorous work, looks in on a group of current day Dicks and Janes whose lives barely resemble those of the idyllic storybook characters.

In adapting the critically-acclaimed work to GroundWorks’ current cast of five – including Felise Bagley who was an original cast member – Corning uses material derived in part from each of the dancer’s personal lives.

“It’s fun that way,” she says. “You don’t act this piece. It has to be real.”

Whereas Corning and dancers bring new life to older work, the world premiere of Shimotakahara’s “Chromatic” has him boldly going where he hasn’t gone before in terms of movement language.

Set to a suite of music by American composer Conlon Nancarrow (1912 –1997), the 20-minute work for the full company, says Shimotakahara, “is a response to his (Nancarrow’s) idiosyncratic sounding music more than anything else.”

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Conlon Nancarrow.

Nancarrow, who is best remembered for his studies for player piano that are un-performable by humans, says  Shimotakahara, layers various styles of music in his compositions to create an intriguing disconnect. “Chromatic,” he says, explores parallel ideas found in the music to develop a physical disconnect in the way the dancers move.

“I like this idea of things being a little off,” says Shimotakahara.

The result is a new movement vocabulary for Shimotakahara where elements from social dances like tango and others occupy the dancers’ lower bodies while a completely different movement vocabulary simultaneously occupies the dancers’ upper bodies.

The recipient of a 2013 Princess Grace Foundation Choreographic Fellowship and several other awards, Mineko Williams is a sought after contemporary dance choreographer. I first saw her work on Grand Rapids Ballet in 2014 and was impressed by her compositional clarity and her way of infusing fragility and heartfelt emotion into her choreography. For the world premiere of her “Part Way,” created for GroundWorks, Mineko Williams does more of the same but in a different way.

“A lot of how I approach a new works has to do with the dancers I am working with at the time,” says Mineko Williams. “Those individuals, their chemistry, and the way they work together drive the creation for me.”

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Choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams rehearses her new work “Part Way” with GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Michael Marquez. Photo by Beth Rutkowski.

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GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Michael Marquez and Stephanie Terasaki rehearse choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams’ new work “Part Way.” Photo by Beth Rutkowski.

The 15-minute, non-narrative dance work is stylistically more in the vein of those she has created for Hubbard Street and Visceral Dance Chicago. In a rehearsal of it I watched this past July, the choreography was detailed and gestural. The dancers twisted, turned and leaned into each other for support.

Says Mineko Williams, the work is in part inspired by the idea of perseverance and moving forward.

“To move on sometimes you need to access the help of your friends and family and the experiences you have had in the past,” says Mineko Williams.

In support that idea she says the dancers sometimes act as mirrors or echoes of the past.

“Part Way” is set to Sergei Rachmaninoff’s sorrowful “Trio (piano, violin and cello) Elégiaque No. 1 in G Minor.” Like Shimotakahara with regard to movement language, Mineko Williams says the choice of music is something new for her.

“I haven’t used an emotional, classical work like this before,” says Mineko Williams. “There is something cyclical about it. There are a lot of emotions…deep guttural feelings contained within the music.”

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GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Felise Bagley rehearses choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams’ new work “Part Way.” Photo by Beth Rutkowski.

Emblematic of the notion of perseverance, GroundWorks, now in its 18th season, continues to forge ahead as one of the region’s best and most forward-thinking dance troupes. This program is in keeping all those qualities.

GroundWorks DanceTheater performs its 2016 Fall Dance Series, 7:30 p.m., Friday, October 14 & Saturday, October 15 at the Allen Theatre at Playhouse Square, 1407 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. Reserved Seating $20-25, Children under 18 and students $10 (Use Promo Code 1STU), CSU Students with a Valid ID FREE. For tickets: (216) 241-6000, groundworksdance.org or playhousesquare.org.

The 2016 Fall Dance Series repeats 7:30 p.m., Friday, November 18 & Saturday, November 19 at the Akron-Summit County Public Library, 60 S High St, Akron. Reserved Seating $20-25, Children under 18 and students $10, University of Akron Students FREE with valid ID (available night of show only). For tickets: (216) 751-0088 or groundworksdance.org.

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Cleveland Ballet Takes Next Big Step With New Coppélia Production


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Photo By New Image Photography.

By Steve Sucato

Things are progressing nicely for Gladisa Guadalupe’s Cleveland Ballet. The fledgling company with the familiar name, was introduced to local audiences last October at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre in a mixed repertory program with Neos Dance Theatre as part of its preview season. The production  ignited interest in the city’s newest resident ballet company that Guadalupe and company hope to fuel with the world premiere of Ramón Oller’s Coppélia, the company’s first major standalone production.

The company, led and partially bankrolled by, Guadalupe and local businessman and Board Chairman Michael Krasnyansky, PhD, is a 10-member troupe of young professional dancers. Since last October the company has made a number of small appearances around the city including teaming up with The Cleveland Orchestra in April for its family concert Gotta Dance! Those performances had have helped prep the dancers for perhaps their biggest challenge to date, Oller’s technically demanding reinterpretation of Coppélia.

A native of Esparreguera in the province of Barcelona, Spain, Oller is an award-winning choreographer who has created ballets for Compañía Nacional de Danza, National Ballet of Spain and New York’s Ballet Hispánico, which is reviving his 1998 work “Bury Me Standing” this season.

The comic ballet Coppélia, originally choreographed by Arthur Saint-Léon to music by composer Léo Delibes in 1870, is based on two tales by E. T. A. Hoffmann that tell the story of eccentric inventor Dr. Coppélius who makes life-size dancing dolls including his beloved Coppélia who he desperately desires to bring to life. Seeing the lifelike doll Franz, a village youth, becomes infatuated with it to the detriment of his relationship with his intended Swanilda. Through a series of ludicrous events the unlikely trio become embroiled in a humorous case of mistaken identity, misdirection and mayhem that by ballet’s end once again confirms that true love conquers all.

Oller’s new 80-minute, multi-media version of Coppélia, also set to Delibes’ music, he says was inspired by the 1966 film El fantástico mundo del doctor Coppelius. It starred Walter Slezak as Dr. Coppelius and featured the ballet company and orchestra of the Gran Teatro del Liceo of Barcelona along with Dame Alicia Markova who was an artistic consultant on the film.

Like Paris Opera Ballet’s 1996 version choreographed by Patrice Bart, Oller condenses the ballet from its usual three acts to two. For the most part he says his version will follow the ballet’s original storyline, especially in the first act. Where things differ is that the ballet is set in the middle part of the 20th century instead of the early 19th and plays up more Dr. Coppélius’ longing for a family of his own and the idea of real versus imagined love.

The biggest changes come in the ballet’s second act with the addition of a dream sequence in which the style of ballet’s dancing transitions from classical ballet to more contemporary dance movement.

Starring as the sweet but feisty Swanilda will be Bath-native Lauren Stenroos. She describes Oller as a very gifted choreographer who can identify and utilize each individual dancer’s strengths.

“He saw things in my dancing I didn’t,” says Stenroos. “He wants us to dance with no inhibitions and not think about the movement but feel it from an emotional place.”

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Cleveland Ballet company members. Courtesy of Cleveland Ballet.

Dancing the role of  Swanilda’s mischievous love interest Franz, will be Nicholas Montero. The Spaniard is one of a handful of guest dancers from New York City’s Joffrey Ballet Concert Group. The pre-professional troupe ─ not to be confused with Joffrey Ballet of Chicago ─ regularly tours the United States and in 2013 opened the Florence Dance Festival in Italy. Another JBCG dancer to watch is Lüna Sayag. The talented Parisian who understudies Stenroos, will dance the role of one of Swanilda’s friends. Oller will perform the role of Dr. Coppélius with Elena Cvetkovich as Coppélia. The cast also includes some 30-dancers from the School of Cleveland Ballet and its Youth Ballet Company in supporting roles.

In keeping with Guadalupe’s vision for the new Cleveland Ballet as being a lean and mean troupe with a diverse repertory suitable for touring, Oller’s Coppélia will forego bulky wooden sets and expensive painted drops in favor of tour-friendly lighting effects and images created by nationally known lighting designer Trad A. Burns.

In many ways Coppélia represents the new Cleveland Ballet’s first big test.  The production is an ambitious one. In watching rehearsals of it, Oller doesn’t pull any punches when it comes to challenging Cleveland Ballet’s young dancers with his choreography. Further intriguing is unlike other familiar story ballets (The Nutcracker, Swan Lake, The Sleeping Beauty) that have seen countless reinterpretations, a new interpretation of  Coppélia is a rarity in this country. It’s something area dance fans will not want to miss.

Cleveland Ballet performs Ramón Oller’s Coppélia, 7 p.m., Friday, May 13 and 1 p.m., Saturday, May 14; Ohio Theatre at Playhouse Square, 1501 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. $20-$49. (216) 241-6000 or playhousesquare.org. For group sales: (216) 640-8603. More information at clevelandballet.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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