Verb Ballets dancers rehearsing Kate Webb’s “envisage”. Photo by Jennifer Garlando.
By Jennifer Garlando
Cleveland Public Theatre presents Verb Ballets in, Fresh Inventions, at DanceWorks 2018 May 17-19, 2018 with vibrant performances that highlight bold artistry through the dancer’s creative lens. Fresh Inventions is built on the talent of company members and provides the opportunity to tap into a new realm of artistic development by experiencing the choreographic side of creation. Verb Ballets presents premieres of new works by Verb Ballets’ Associate Director, Richard Dickinson, MFA, company dancers Kate Webb, Michael Escovedo, Lieneke Matte and trainee, Jocelyn Magons.
The works in Fresh Inventions are a result of explorations in the process of integrating new technology, music and virtual reality into the choreographic effort. These premieres are the result of a choreographic initiative supported by an Ohio Arts Council Arts Next grant. Verb Ballets led field trips to NASA, New Territory Virtual Reality Arcade and Case Western Reserve University to investigate new technology applications with dance. The National Center of Choreography Akron led a community panel on innovation and facilitated audience feedback to works in progress. Fresh Inventions reflects Verb Ballets’ vision to be recognized as a catalyst to promote learning and encourage dialogue about dance as an art-form.
Verb Ballets is honored to return to Cleveland Public Theatre’s DanceWorks for its 18th year. Verb Ballets will perform May 17-19, 2018 in the Gordon Square Theatre. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. Single tickets on Fridays and Saturdays are $30 for general admission and $12 for all tickets on Thursdays. Purchase seats by calling 216-631-2727 ext. 501, online at www.cptonline.org or buy in person at the Cleveland Public Theatre box office, located at 6415 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland, Ohio 44102. For more information on the DanceWorks 2018 series and to purchase tickets, visit www.cptonline.org.
Choreographer, Richard Dickinson, MFA explores universal connections in his newest work “Beyond Graces” inspired by the famous painting by Sandro Botticelli.
Tell us a bit about your piece?
Like most choreographers, I like to leave the interpretation up to the individual audience member. I had many ideas roaming around in my head as I created the work, #1: a work using the Verb Ballets Trainees , #2: a work interpreting the music,#3: a work relating to a famous painting (Botticelli’s “Three Graces”). Then I added the ball which took the work to another level: is it an energy source, is it the sun, are the goddesses creating the universe represented by the ball? The ball could represent money, greed, family tensions, the earth (making it a piece about global catastrophes) almost anything depending upon who you are and where your thinking is on the particular day you watch the dance.
As a long time established dancer how did you transition in the role of choreographer?
Choreography is hard for me, it is like turning your insides/out and saying to everyone, THIS IS ME! I am a private person, and exposing myself by choreographing is a way of expressing who and what I am.
What’s your approach to creating work – do you have it all worked out before going in the studio?
Yes and No: I have it worked out like a storyboard for a movie, the general idea of how the work should flow is there, and most of the individual steps are created beforehand, but as the work progresses and I see how the dancers react to the piece, I change things to make it “read” better for me, and also to make it more organic for the dancers.
How has technology been an inspiration and accomplice in the development of this work?
Technology came as an after. How can I make technology work? It has developed from using a drone (which a choreographer consultant said not to use); to using a video. There was no ball at the beginning and now there is. I try not to place myself into a pigeon hole and say that’s the end. Things can grow and develop as they emerge into a solid work.
Do you feel like a ballet choreographer? Or a choreographer?
How does your work connect to the larger world?
As Balanchine said, “The work isn’t a success until the audience says it is.” So I’ll wait and see. What is a larger world? Is there a larger world? I am my own mandala, which is the center of my world and we go out from there. Metaphysical thinking, I see your mandala is part of my mandala.
Richard Dickinson, MFA Verb Ballets’ Associate Director
A former dancer with Ohio Ballet in Akron, OH, Dickinson’s association with that company began in 1988. He later became ballet master and director of company touring. Richard has served as Artistic Associate for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. He currently is Associate Director for Verb Ballets. He was most recently the Artistic Director of Ballet Western Reserve, in Youngstown, OH and the Artistic Director of Great Lakes Festival Ballet (Warren, OH). Dickinson has also directed Boston Ballet II and was a soloist with Boston Ballet for eight years. At age fifteen, he joined the Pasadena Dance Theatre and was awarded a National Endowment for the Arts Emerging Choreographer Award for a work premiered by the same company. He performed in the PBS television production of “Frankie and Johnny” with the Chicago Ballet and danced principal roles in Asian, European and American tours with Rudolf Nureyev and the Boston Ballet. His other credits include principal and soloist roles with Ohio Ballet, Boston Ballet, Honolulu City Ballet, various regional companies and Chamber Dance Theatre in Milwaukee, where he was also Artistic Director. Dickinson has adjudicated four Regional Dance America festivals held throughout the United States. He received his Master of Fine Arts degree in Contemporary Dance from Case Western Reserve University in 2005.
Choreographer, Michael Escovedo explores the light and delicate energy of birds without compromising their strength in his new work “Aves”.
How do you use your dancers, and what do they contribute to your choreography?
I’m fortunate enough to get to choreograph on dancers that I work with every day. So every piece I make is usually created around what I already know my dancers can offer me. I picked these four particular dancers Kelly Korfage, Lieneke Matte, Antonio Morillo, and Nathaniel Santiago because they each show a light and delicate energy, without compromising their strength. And with a piece all about birds, that was an important quality to have.
Can you take apart a piece of the music and explain how that was countered to your choreography?
Actually every piece of music in the piece can be broken down to a different meaning. I wanted to show a similarity between human and animal emotions. Each song has a different situation, or a different story, that portrays an emotion that any human can relate too. For example, the first variation, done by Kelly Korfage, is supposed to represent a baby bird jumping from the nest for the first time. I played on the already clumsy and displaced nature of the song to show a weak, uncoordinated bird building up the bravery to make a scary jump. Each song has a different tone, and therefore has a different emotional situation attached.
You designed your won projections. Do you have a background in the visual arts also? How did you go about creating those?
I have absolutely no background in visual arts. In fact, I was a straight A student, except for art! For my projections I wanted to keep things minimal, so as to compliment the dancers and not overshadow them. I went on to Microsoft paint and played with the already made shapes to make some geometric and visually impactful images.
What influences your own inspiration?
I am a very internal person, and tend to spend a lot of time stuck in my own head. Because of this it has always been difficult for me to communicate emotions, ideas, and even just regular conversation. What inspires me the most about choreographing is that, through body language, I am able to say these things that I’ve had bottled up for my whole life! It’s almost like finally learning how to speak English after living in an English speaking country for two decades. Now that I can communicate through choreographing anything and everything inspires me! I have hundreds of playlists on my phone all dedicated to different ideas for future pieces. My main inspiration probably comes from emotional health, and different mental phenomenons. They have always been an interest of mine and there are so many different ways the mind can work.
What is something you learned from the field trips involved with the choreographic research project?
I learned that technology really is the future of the dance world. In an ever evolving technological world, the theater process is becoming outdated. I was able to learn all different ways to take dance from the stage, to peoples living rooms.
Whats my biggest dance wish?
In a perfect world I would be the new Head Master in Chief of New York City Ballet. But in the real world I would love to be a resident choreographer or a ballet master/rehearsal director of a ballet company. As long as I get to continue to choreograph I will be happy!
Michael Escovedo, Company Dancer
Michael Escovedo was born and raised in the small town of Broomfield, Colorado and started competitive gymnastics when he was 5. After three years of strict training and competitive successes within the USAG gymnastics program Michael decided to start ballet in order to improve his gymnastics routines. It took one class for Michael to decide to quit gymnastics and attend ballet class full time at Ballet Nouveau Colorado (BNC). At the age of 15, after seven years of training and performing at BNC, Michael moved to New York City to train with The School of American Ballet. Michael has also choreographed two company works for Verb Ballets. After his graduation in 2014, Michael joined Verb Ballets and has been featured in works such as “Tarantella” and “Ne Me Quitte Pas”.
Choreographer, Lieneke Matte explores her love of nature and the impact of actions on the environment through the music of In2ative for her new work, “Deforestation”.
Tell us a bit about you piece is there a story line?
My piece is quite simply entitled Deforestation. I have always had a love for nature and have admired environmental activists. Today’s society is plagued by political issues and is largely focused on problems that humans encounter; I wanted to bring attention to our environment and it’s destruction. Our actions impact our surroundings and we may not see the effects now but they are there nevertheless.
Which composer will you be working with and how is it all going?
I am using the music of a Cleveland based flute and cello duo named In2ative. I had started my piece before I encountered their music. However, after hearing one of their works live in our studio I decided to use that instead. Remounting some of the choreography with the new music was a bit challenging in terms of timing and recounting phrases, but I am so happy I got to collaborate with them. They were terrific to work with, accommodating my desire for certain tempos and extending the piece a bit.
Can you take apart a piece of the music and explain how that was countered in your choreography?
I counted most of the choreography in 8’s, which happens in a lot of dance. It’s good to catch people off guard and have layers of movement so sometimes I try to create phrases without the music.
When did you start dancing?
I started dancing when I was 6 years old. My parents put me in a ballet class and I slowly began taking more and more lessons. Luckily I was in the right place at the right time and got to train at some amazing dance schools.
As a choreographer and as a dancer, who are your influences? Whose work do you really like?
I love a wide variety of choreographers and the works of multiple dance companies. A few works that have been memorable for me include pieces by Raphael Bonachela for Sydney Dance Company, the works of Richard Alston, Malandain Ballet’s Cinderella, and Netherlands Dance Theater always has intriguing works. I enjoy watching pieces where the movement is smooth and flows and that also incorporates beautiful lines. I love dances that use sweeping melodies and classical instrumentation. Rather than being influenced by those works and choreographers, I would say I am inspired by them. Every person has their own organic way of moving, so I definitely don’t try to mimic what they created.
I understand this was your first time choreographing. What lessons did you learn to make you a stronger dancer?
This was my first time choreographing for our performance Fresh Inventions series at Cleveland Public Theatre. Choreographing is out of my comfort zone, but it was a great learning experience. You only grow as an artist when you are challenged in new ways. I did become aware of a few skills to make the rehearsal process more successful as a dancer;These skills include paying more attention to detail, dynamics, and focus. Something as small as a the turn of the head or the difference between a tense or open hand can completely change what the audience perceives.
Lieneke Matte, Company Dancer
Lieneke Matte grew up in the Bronx and received her early training at Ballet Tech and the School of American Ballet. She then attended Fiorello H. La Guardia High School for the Performing Arts in New York. Lieneke studied for a semester at the Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts and graduated summa cum laude with a B.F.A in dance from SUNY Purchase College in May of 2013. There she also received the President’s Award for the dance conservatory. She has performed in works by George Balanchine, Paul Taylor, Lar Lubovitch, Merce Cunningham, Martha Graham, Nicolo Fonte, Nicholas Villeneuve and Xiao-Xiong Zhang. Lieneke also was a dancer in the documentary No Dominion: The Ian Horvath Story which included re-stagings featuring dancers from Verb Ballets, Pacific Northwest Ballet, The Joffrey Ballet, Boston Ballet and Ballet Tucson. Lieneke joined Verb Ballets in 2013 and has been featured in works such as “Duet” and “Laura’s Women”.
Choreographer Kate Webb explores innovative digital techniques overlaid within traditional stage performance newest work “envisage”.
What does the title of your new work mean?
en·vis·age ~ contemplate or conceive of as a possibility or a desirable future event.
How would you describe your movement style?
Swirling movement cast upon a geometric structure (with some groove thrown in).
How do you begin making a dance?
Finding music. I believe the relationship between music and movement is sacred and indisputably interdependent.
You are utilizing video projections in your work. How did you go about creating those?
I filmed footage of the dancers in the studio, outside, and in the theater. I then used various movie editing apps to slow them down, adjust their coloring, crop them, and reverse them. Finally, I imported them into iMovie and edited the full projection into one cohesive file including all 3 music tracks.
How would you define innovation?
The golden stuff that comes from using an unconventional perspective as the source for thinking/doing.
Which of the field trips involved with the choreographic research project inspired or sparked creativity?
As much as I loved going to NASA, (outer space is the neatest🤓!) working with Gary Galbraith at Case Western Reserve University was the most inspiring for this specific dance/tech mission. One of my favorite things is finding out how much I know absolutely nothing about. It keeps me humble and thinking. Holograms in dance? Infrared light sensors? …So much to discover!
What you are looking forward to in 2018 as a dancer and choreographer?
As excited as I am for the continuously innovative dance scene of the future, the thing I’m looking forward to the most remains consistent and grows in intensity with every passing year—and that’s my love of dancing! I genuinely can’t wait to be immersed in another full year of movement, choreography, and performance. Every additional year I get to dance is a gift in countless ways. Cheesy but true!
Kate Webb, Company Dancer
Kate Webb grew up in Richmond, Virginia where she danced both as a student and as a trainee with Richmond Ballet. She trained around the country at numerous intensive programs such as Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet, Boston Ballet, and Complexions Contemporary Ballet. Upon graduating from Appomattox Regional Governor’s School for the Arts, she attended Butler University on both dance and academic scholarships. While dancing with Butler Ballet, she performed in Poland, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic. After fulfilling her degree in three years, she graduated cum laude in May of 2015 with a BS in Dance-Arts Administration and high departmental honors. Kate joined Verb Ballets in 2015 and has been featured in works such as Peter Pan and “Aposiopesis”.
Choreographer, Jocelyn Magons explores innovation by integrating reactive lighting controlled by the dancer to symbolize emotional state in her new work “Stolen Images”.
What inspires you to find your movement?
For this particular piece, certain memories I have with my family and friends inspired each step. I made a certain word or phrase into a movement that would reflect these different memories that I have with the people that are close to me.
Tell us a bit about you piece is there a story line?
The piece starts with a prelude where our main dancer, Lieneke Matte, is surrounded by a group of people I called the family. The family pressures the main character to the point where she feels so frustrated that she goes into an episode. The first section is what an episode looks like on the inside, while on the outside it looks as if she is just frozen. It starts off with a group I called the emotions, the emotions bring her around the stage leading her to an even darker state of mind. In the middle of this section main dancer’s thoughts of her emotions and family intertwine and become overwhelming. As the first section transitions into the second, the person I call the loved one, in real life comes and finds Lieneke after her episode which makes her darker thoughts go away. The second section is a pas de duex with the main character and the loved one, where she learns how to be comfortable with another person and trust that they will be there for her. At the end of the pas she learns that you can be uplifted by someone who has an understanding of what you’re going through.
How did the idea of utilizing light within movement come about?
My technology are ten circular push lights that are lined up horizontally along the back of the stage. The idea came about because I wanted to represent an internal feeling, with an external and physical technology. The lights symbolize how emotions the dancer feels the interaction with the lights allows the audience to see inside her mind.
How to the dancers speak to the mental frustration?
As the dancers pursue their roles, the family sees main character as if she’s not working hard enough, not as good as she could be, and shooting unnecessary negativity that fills her mind and mixes with her emotions. It’s almost as if she is numb from what they’ve said because she’s heard it time after time. The emotions lead main character further into her dark thoughts, throwing her around and taking advantage of her blank state of mind. The loved one, has a totally different view and has compassion that she is trying her hardest and deserves to be saved.
Which of the field trips involved with the choreographic research project inspired or sparked creativity?
All of the field trips gave me a good sense of how the worlds of dance and technology can combine. The one field trip that peaked my interest was the trip to NASA, that gave me a great sense of how the virtual, and physical world meet. For this specific piece, I wanted to bring a physical item into play and see how I could present what a mental thought or feeling was with a simple item.
Jocelyn Magons, Company Trainee
Jocelyn Magons was born in Cincinnati, Ohio. She began her pre-professional ballet training under the direction of Christina Foisie at the University of Akron Dance Institute where she also had the privilege of performing at the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, with the University of Akron Dance Company and with NEOS Dance Theatre. For three summers, Jocelyn trained at the Fort Wayne Ballet Summer Intensive under the direction of Karen Gibbons-Brown and Jeremy Blanton. She graduated from Miller South Middle School for the Visual and Performing Arts in Akron, majoring in both dance and violin and is now a senior at Wadsworth High School, enrolled as a Digital Academy student. She joined Verb Ballets as a trainee for their 2016-2017 season during which she performed works such as “Bolero”, Peter Pan and in The Nutcracker presented by Ohio Dance Theatre and Verb Ballets. Jocelyn is grateful for the opportunity to dance in her second season as a company trainee with Verb Ballets.
Verb Ballets – Fresh Inventions
May 17-19, 2018 at 7:30pm