Tag Archives: Robert Wesner

Neos Dance Theatre’s ‘1940’s Nutcracker’ brings Nostalgia to a Beloved Holiday Tradition


Neos 1940 Nutcracker 2016 green1

Anna Trumbo in Neos Dance Theatre’s “1940’s Nutcracker.” Photo courtesy of Neos Dance Theatre.

By Steve Sucato

As holiday traditions go, The Nutcracker ballet ranks among this country’s most well known. German author E.T.A. Hoffmann’s classic tale reworked by French writer Alexandre Dumas (The Three Musketeers) into the saccharine version we know about the fantastical adventure to faraway lands of young girl with her beloved Nutcracker doll come to life, is one that has entertained audiences and sparked the imagination of young children for decades.

Memorable characters such as uncle Drosselmeyer, the Mouse King, Sugar Plum Fairy and of course Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart…wait…what…Bogie and Bacall? That’s right, in Northeast Ohio’s Neos Dance Theatre’s 1940’s Nutcracker the Hollywood stars are just a few of the unusual characters to appear in this unique, regionally-flavored production.

Perhaps the most re-interpreted ballet story in history, there are hundreds of versions of The Nutcracker at all levels from dance school productions to million dollar-plus extravaganza’s to choose from each holiday season across the country.

For choreographer and  founding artistic director of Neos, Robert Wesner, the idea for a Nutcracker set in the 1940’s came from his having performed various versions of the ballet upwards of a thousand times in his dance career and feeling he could improve on it.

“For me, I always felt the first and second acts of the ballet [as they are done traditionally] lacked a through line,” says Wesner. “I wanted better storytelling and a fuller representation of the main character’s journey.”

Neos_2904_alt

Neos Dance Theatre’s Kassandra Lee as Marie in the “1940’s Nutcracker.” Photo courtesy of Neos Dance Theatre.

Wesner says in thinking about his vision for a Nutcracker production he began to look at how we as a culture [in the U.S.] celebrate Christmas. “I feel as though our conceptions of the holiday are pretty rooted in old Christmas-themed movies from the 1940’s such as “Miracle on 34th Street” and “It’s a Wonderful Life,” says Wesner. “What really sealed the deal for me that this concept could work for a Nutcracker production was the time period was within arm’s reach of the memory of a lot of audience members.”

Currently there are three different versions of Neos’ 2-hour 1940’s Nutcracker specific to regions in northern Ohio. This year the company will perform two of them with a cast of upwards of fifty dancers. The first, at the Renaissance Theatre in Mansfield, Ohio December 8 & 9 is themed to Richland County circa the 1940s. The second, December 14-16 at Lorain County Community College’s Stocker Arts Center in Elyria is themed to Lorain County during that period.

While the dance elements for each version and Tchaikovsky’s iconic score for the ballet are basically the same in each, the video backdrops used in the ballet gleaned from historical photos and imagery specific to each region changes.

“The experience for an audience member to be able to look at their own history and see a bit of themselves in it is impactful,” says Wesner.

With this approach Neos’ 1940’s Nutcracker not only seeks to deliver the magic of the Nutcracker story to its younger audience members, but also a familiarity and sense of nostalgia for those members young at heart.

Nutcracker_Photo2

Neos Dance Theatre dancers in “1940’s Nutcracker.” Photo courtesy of Neos Dance Theatre.

Neos’ Nutcracker maintains the ballet’s familiar structure in telling the dreamstate story of young Marie (Clara in other productions) adventures and budding romance.  Where it most differs from others is in its substitution of familiar characters from the original with those from the 1940’s. Johnny, Maries’ next door neighbor becomes the Nutcracker Prince, Bogie and Bacall take the place of the Sugar Plum Fairy and her Cavalier, Marie’s WWII soldier father becomes Drosselmeyer and Mae West and Rosie the Riveter make appearances in the place of other second act characters.

In a holiday landscape littered with cookie-cutter Nutcracker productions, Neos’ 1940’s Nutcracker is a wonderfully refreshing change for those seeking something different without giving up any of the charm and magic the Nutcracker story carries with it.

Akr3-4x6

Neos Dance Theatre dancers in “1940’s Nutcracker.” Photo courtesy of Neos Dance Theatre.

Neos Dance Theatre performs 1940’s Nutcracker:

8 p.m., Saturday, December 8 and 2 p.m., Sunday, December 9 at the Renaissance Theatre, 138 Park Avenue West, Mansfield, Ohio. Tickets are $15-50 (Veterans with valid IDs are eligible for two free tickets for either performance when reserved in advance at the Renaissance box office).  To purchase tickets or for more information visit neosdancetheatre.org, mansfieldtickets.com or call (419) 522-2726.

11 a.m., Friday, December 14 (Student Matinee), 7:30 p.m., Saturday, December 15 and 2 p.m., Sunday, December 16. Lorain County Community College’s Stocker Arts Center – Hoke Theatre, 1005 N Abbe Rd, Elyria, Ohio.  Tickets are $5-35. To purchase tickets or for more information visit neosdancetheatre.org, lorainccc/stocker.edu or call (440) 366-4040.

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.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under Airings

New Dance-centric Fringe Festival Invites Audiences to ‘Lose Their Marbles’ Over a Plethora of Dance and Performance Art


Photo1 Holly Handman-Lopez

Holly Handman-Lopez. Photo courtesy of the artist.

By Steve Sucato

Dance-centric fringe festival Lose Your Marbles at the Trolley Barn in Akron this Saturday, June 10, is the latest in an impressive glut of summer dance events in Northeast Ohio that most areas of the country would be envious of. Joining the venerable Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival in Akron, plus a boatload of summer dance in nearby Cleveland, Lose Your Marbles takes a somewhat different artistic approach to the rest of the region’s offerings with more experimental and avant-garde dance artists and dance works.

Founded by Neos Dance Theatre’s Robert Wesner with the support of a $100,000 Knight Foundation grant, Lose Your Marbles ─ which Wesner says takes its name from the colloquial phrase about losing one’s mental faculties and Akron’s history as a marble making behemoth in the late 1800s ─ will take its cue from other fringe festivals across the globe in allowing artists to take risks and inviting audiences into the creative process.

“With it being a fringe festival model we really are going to push work that lives on the fringe of what we might think of as a normal dance presentation,” says Wesner.

Wesner says while he wants to differentiate Lose Your Marbles from the region’s other summer dance offerings, he also wants the festival to be a partner with the others in bringing great art to the area. To that end, he has been working closely with the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival and the City of Akron in the development of Lose Your Marbles.

Wesner says the festival will adhere to a few guiding principles such as what he terms as “a good mix of tried [artists who have had their work seen by audiences] and untried artists [those who haven’t or are just beginning to].”

Another guiding principle is programming a mixture of local, statewide and national acts. Wesner feels this is important so that the festival has culls influence from as broad a spectrum of the dance and performance art communities as possible.

The goal is to serve a wide-variety of audiences with varying interests says Wesner. For this pilot year, Wesner says the festival has been curated by him and his staff. So unlike some other fringe festivals, at least this year, Lose Your Marbles will be very PG and approachable to families. In future, when Wesner plans on opening artist entry into the festival to an application process, he says future audiences might see artist-sponsored performances whose works may be more risqué or controversial.

NEOS-1-0716

“Lose Your Marbles” festival founder Robert Wesner of Neos Dance Theatre. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“I am very open to people wanting to explore dance and performance art in the widest range,” says Wesner. “I think it is really important we don’t censor artists, but that we give them an opportunity to explore what they need to explore and hopefully get some feedback from the audience that is valuable to them.”

Wesner hopes to see future festivals spread out into pop-up spaces, alternative performance spaces, theater spaces and other outdoor and indoor spaces all over Akron.  Giving audiences the opportunity to explore the city while binge-watching dance and other performances.

This year, in addition to watching the performances, audience members will also be given the opportunity to vote on what they liked best with best-of-show awards given out at festival’s end.

The Knight Foundation’s funding for Lose Your Marbles is for 3-years and after that Wesner hopes to have in place a self-sustaining model based mostly on ticket sales. For this initial launch however, Wesner says he doesn’t know what to expect in terms of turnout. “We are taking a great risk at doing this in terms of what flies and doesn’t,” says Wesner. “That is part of the fun. Akron has a great reputation for supporting dance and music and we are hoping they will embrace this festival.”

Here’s a breakdown of what’s on tap (times approximate): 

 

Photo Gangi

Dr. Jonathan Gangi. Photo courtesy of the artist.

PRE-FESTIVAL EVENT (2:00 – 2:30pm)

Classical guitarist Dr. Jonathan Gangi warms up patrons at Akron gourmet ice cream shop Chill Ice Cream (21 Maiden Lane) with a pre-festival performance.

Photo1 Timbre_27

Timbre Cierpke. Photo courtesy of the artist.

PERFORMANCE #1 (3:30 – 5:05pm)

Dr. Jonathan Gangi, assistant professor of music and arts entrepreneurship at Penn State University kicks off  Lose Your Marbles with a classical guitar performance. Then, Nashville-based harpist/singer-songwriter Timbre Cierpke who was recently featured on former White Stripes frontman Jack White’s album, Lazaretto, will play selections from her catalog including tunes from her latest album Sun & Moon.

PERFORMANCE #2 (5:20 – 6:10pm)

Oberlin College dance faculty member Holly Handman-Lopez joins forces with Lose Your Marbles founder and Neos Dance Theatre artistic director Robert Wesner in the duet “eleven years in”, choreographed and performed by the pair. Set to music by Mike Wall, the work evolved out of an experiment in entanglement of the dancer two bodies. Following every slip, spiral and slide Handman-Lopez says: “Our experiments evolved into a slippery ‘relationship piece’ that feels luscious and edgy to perform.”

Photo1 Robin Pritchardintimacy - Lianne and Whitney

Robin Pritchard. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Professor of dance at The University of Akron Robin Prichard likes to joke early in life she sold her soul to the devil in exchange for amazing dancing ability and is still waiting for the amazing dancing ability. While she is waiting that hasn’t stopped her from creating work that utilizes her god given abilities as a dance artist. In her “The Art of Making Dances (Not About Ferguson)” she responds to the Black Lives Matter movement and to the violence against African American men in 2016.  “It asks: what can artists do to respond to violence and injustice?” The dance uses 19th century minstrelsy, ballet, modern dance, and hip hop movement test and song  and pairs it with the sounds from the violent police encounters.

Photo1 Verb nemequittepic

Verb Ballets. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Verb Ballets will present two short pas de deuxs including choreographer Daniel Precup’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (2013) set to music by Jacques Brel and danced by Verb’s Kelly Korfhage  and  Antonio Morillo. The other, former Akron University and Ohio Ballet alum Andrew Carroll’s “3:00am” (2014),  danced by Verb’s Kate Webb and Michael Hinton to Abel Korzeniowski’s “Satin Birds” from the 2011 film W.E., tells of two people in love basking in “that window of time when no one else exists in the world, 3 a.m.,” says Carroll.

Photo2 Ashley Pavy Screen Shot 2017-05-05 at 9.21.01 AM

Ashley Pavy. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Rounding out Program #2 will be 2017 graduate from Wright State University Ashley Pavy and her work “Barakat”. The piece for 8-dancers says Pavy tells of the cycle of spiritual life. “You will see a cycle that begins with innocence and the idea of being ‘born again,’ to the feeling of eternal happiness…to melancholy, and finally to awareness and realization,” says Pavy.

PERFORMANCE #3 (6:20 – 7:00pm)

Photo1 Kaustavi

Kaustavi Sarkar. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Third year doctoral student at Ohio State University, dancer-choreographer Kaustavi Sarkar will present “Radhike,” a duet for her and dancer Julia Ayau that Sarkar sees and a “joint collaboration between Indian classical aesthetics and literary theory.” Danced to live music, the work expresses the mythological character Radha’s travels in love as she expresses the various hues of it in text, rhythm, and movement. Says Sarkar: “The dance has been adapted to twelfth century poet Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda that is a lyrical ballad describing the celestial love story between Radha and her eternal lover Krishna.”

Photo2 ME Fenn_Co2

Fenn & Company. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Neos Dance Theatre dancer/choreographer Mary-Elizabeth Fenn’s side-project Fenn & Company will present “Playing House,” two duets danced by Fenn and Molly Mingey that showcase a family’s peculiar interactions including a brother and sister fighting over a Barbie Doll head and a Mother and Father serving up flatulence and chicken drumsticks for dinner.

Also on the program will be a reprise of Holly Handman-Lopez duet “eleven years in” and a performance by host company Neos Dance Theatre.

PERFORMANCE #4 (7:15 – 8:00pm)

Photo3 DUANE_GOSA_ballerina_photo-credit-Zoran_Jelenic

Duane Gosa, a.k.a. Helen Highwaters. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Central Ohio native and 2008 University of Akron grad Duane Gosa, a.k.a. Helen Highwaters of drag company Ballet Trockadero will perform the first of his two solos at Lose Your Marbles, a variation from Marius Petipa’s ballet Paquita, about a Spanish gypsy girl. Also on Program #4 will be performances by Mansfield, Ohio-native and member of NYC’s Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Terk Lewis Waters, a reprise of Verb Ballets’ pas de deuxs and Neos Dance Theatre in a ballet by director of dance at Michigan’s Interlochen Center for the Arts, Joseph Morrissey.

Photo3 Terk Lewis Waters IMG_0723 crop

Terk Lewis Waters. Photo courtesy of the artist.

PERFORMANCE #4 (8:15 – 9:15pm)

Inlet Dance Theatre will present a reimagined version of “10”, a 2013 duet by Inlet artistic director/choreographer Bill Wade to celebrate dancers Joshua Brown and Elizabeth Pollert’s tenth season with company. The duet performed by Inlet’s Katie McGaha and Kevin Parker will feature a commissioned score by Sean Ellis Hussey and live interactive video projections by Mihaela Kavdanska.

Photo1 Inlet 1V5A3914_by Alexandru Patatics

Inlet Dance Theatre. Photo by Alexandru Patatics.

Photo1 Groundworks Chromatic_DSC5435

GroundWorks DanceTheater. Photo courtesy of the artist.

GroundWorks DanceTheater will reprise artistic director/choreographer David Shimotakahara’s “Chromatic,” a work the company performed at the Akron-Summit County Library last November. Danced to a suite of player piano roll music by American composer Conlon Nancarrow, the work mixes opposing dance movements by the dancers from the waist up and down.

Photo1 MaSue Body Memories-3

Ma’Sue. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Akron-based theatre company Ma’Sue will present “Body Memories,” a theatre/movement piece engaging in a dialogue about the concept of the mother/son bond. The work looks at how this relationship grows and changes over time.

Closing out the program will be the second of Duane Gosa as Helen Highwaters’ solos, dancing a humorous interpretation of Michel Fokine’s legendary ballet “The Dying Swan” with music by Camille Saint-Saens.

LuckyPlushCinderbox2.0HiRes-62 (2)

Lucky Plush Productions. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The festival’s performances conclude at 9:30pm with headliners Lucky Plush Productions from Chicago and their work “Cinderbox 2.0” which company artistic director Julia Rhoads says “explores the comedy and anxiety in our hyper-networked culture through a fragmented narrative, witty commentary, and a performance that blurs the distinctions between observer and observed, personal and presentational, scripted and off-the-cuff.”

The first annual Lose Your Marbles fringe festival then concludes at 10:00pm with the audience-voted Best of Show Awards and closing remarks by Wesner and staff.

Lose Your Marbles Fringe Festival takes place 3:30pm-10pm, Saturday, June 10 at the Trolley Barn, 47 N. Main  Street, Akron, Ohio. Tickets $10-25. Visit loseyourmarbles.org for a full listing of ticket options and to purchase as well as get detailed information on the artists performing and up-to-date scheduling.

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.

1 Comment

Filed under Airings

‘Count …The Legend of Dracula’ Frightfully Entertaining Despite Flaws


12247782_947826828625807_7585433732872042923_o

Jose Soares in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .” Photo by Ashlyn Duke.

Lake Erie Ballet with Neos Dance Theatre – Count …The Legend of Dracula
Lake Erie Ballet Performance Studios
Erie, Pennsylvania
November 5, 2015

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

For Lake Erie Ballet’s inaugural production in its new 1020 Holland Street facility that will soon be home to the 59-year-old dance school, its professional company and a Black Box Theater, LEB, in conjunction with Mansfield, Ohio-based Neos Dance Theatre, presented Neos artistic director Robert Wesner’s Count …The Legend of Dracula.

The ballet created in 2010 took on an added air of spookiness in LEB’s dark, semi-raw, pre-renovation performance space that will soon be  transformed into dance studios.

Wesner’s version of the Dracula story differed from the many Dracula ballets currently in circulation by focusing on different aspects of Irish author Bram Stoker’s original 1897 Gothic horror novel. Wesner’s ballet excluded Count Dracula’s henchman Renfield, often seen in other productions and added a number of ancillary characters from townspeople to vampires in order to accommodate more roles for children and teens in the family-friendly ballet production. Perhaps most intriguing however, was Wesner’s choice to humanize the Dracula character by presenting him as not just a heartless, bloodthirsty monster, but a once caring man who still pined for his long dead wife Elizabetha.

(L-R) Francisco Aguilar and Izabelly Possatto in Robert Wesner's "Count …The Legend of Dracula ."

(L-R) Francisco Aguilar and Izabelly Possatto in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .” Photo by Ashlyn Duke.

The ballet in two acts opened with the introduction of English estate agent Jonathan Harker, danced by LEB’s Francisco Aguilar and his fiancée Mina, danced by LEB’s Izabelly Possatto in a love pas de deux. The pair had nice chemistry in Wesner’s smooth, flowing choreography set to soft music.

The mood then quickly turned from sweet to accosting as Harker arrived in Transylvania to meet with Count Dracula about purchasing land in England and was met on his way by a group of gypsies looking to rob him. With this scene, and subsequent others, Wesner, who piecemealed the ballet’s score together from a mix of classical, heavy metal and rock music, began to fully introduce the use of thematic music to represent each group of characters (gypsies, vampires etc.). It’s also where the problems with this approach became evident. Abrupt shifts from classical music to loud heavy metal were jolting and the back and forth between various musical styles was at times off-putting.

Escaping the gypsies, Harker finally met with Count Dracula portrayed by LEB’s Jose Soares. Seeing a photo of Mina who resembled his late wife Elizabetha, Dracula, flashed back to the incident that forever separated him from her. And after killing a gypsy in a vengeful fit of rage Dracula was cursed by another gypsy into a depraved immortal existence.

(center) Anna Trumbo and Theresa Holland in Robert Wesner's "Count …The Legend of Dracula ."

(Center) Anna Trumbo and Theresa Holland in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .”

Jose Soares in Robert Wesner's "Count …The Legend of Dracula ."

Jose Soares in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .” Photo by Ashlyn Duke.

Soares was a standout as the Count. His dancing had an ease to it with clean lines and an ability to emote the various states of his character’s psyche.

Fattened with added scenes to provide dancing opportunities for LEB’s student dancers, the ballet’s first act dragged at times but Wesner’s choreography overall proved a nice fit for the mixed ability cast of student dancers and professionals.

LEB Student dancers in Robert Wesner's "Count …The Legend of Dracula ."

LEB Student dancers in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .” Photo by Ashlyn Duke.

The ballet’s second act seemed to flow better and contained more action in advancing Stoker’s tale.

Recovering from his not-so-friendly encounter with Dracula at the home of Mina’s friend, Lucy, Jonathan joined Mina and friends for an engagement party for Lucy and her fiancé, Arthur (Ethan Lee). During the party a disguised Dracula and his minions lured Lucy away and turned her into a vampire. Once bitten, Neos’ Juliana Freude as Lucy was ravenous. She exuded intense swings of emotion and struck fear as Dracula’s latest vampire bride. It was a role her skills as a dancer and actress seemed perfect for.

(L-R) Juliana Freude and Ethan Lee in Robert Wesner's "Count …The Legend of Dracula ." Photo by Ashlyn Duke.

(L-R) Juliana Freude and Ethan Lee in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .” Photo by Ashlyn Duke.

(L-R) Izabelly Possatto and Jose Soares in Robert Wesner's "Count …The Legend of Dracula ."

(L-R) Izabelly Possatto and Jose Soares in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .” Photo by Christine Erin.

The second act’s action and drama built as Jonathan, Arthur and Mina sought to reclaim Lucy from the dark side to no avail.  The ballet concluded with the men having to drive a stake through the heart of the now undead Lucy, Dracula abducting Mina, and Jonathan, Arthur and a band of gypsies cornering and killing Dracula and saving Mina.

While Count …The Legend of Dracula had its flaws, in the end it was a fine community production. LEB’s trio of professionals especially Soares were splendid, as were Neos’ Freude, Lee and dancers Theresa Holland, Anna Trumbo and Mary-Elizabeth Fenn.

(Center) Jose Soares in Robert Wesner's "Count …The Legend of Dracula ."

(Center) Jose Soares in Robert Wesner’s “Count …The Legend of Dracula .” Photo by Ashlyn Duke.

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Dance Reviews 2015