Tag Archives: Verb Ballets

Verb Ballets’ All-Female Choreographer Program Delivers Mixed Results

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Verb Ballets Elizabeth “Betsie” Schaeffer and Antonio Morillo in Kay Eichman’s “Mendelssohn Italian Symphony”. Photo by Jackie Sajewski.

Verb Ballets – 4X4: Four Works by Female Choreographers
Breen Center for the Performing Arts
Cleveland, OH
February 8, 2020

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

No doubt Verb Ballets production of 4X4: Four Works by Female Choreographers is to be commended for giving more opportunities to female choreographers. As a production however, it delivered mixed results with those opportunities.

Dedicated to the memory of Millie Carlson, the mother of Verb Ballets artistic director Margaret Carlson, the program led off with a reprise of Kay Eichman’s neo-classical ballet “Mendelssohn Italian Symphony” (2018) that was set to music of the same name by Felix Mendelssohn. Inspired by its invigorating music Eichman’s ballet in 3 sections was awash in musicality and Verb’s dancers performed it with enthusiasm and effervescence. Skirting the line between an academic look and feel to the choreography and that of a truer artistry, Eichman’s ballet had its four male/female couples executing lovely group movement patterns, engaging phrases and changes in dancing pace that was a delightful beginning to the stylistically varied program.

And while Eichman’s ballet served to illuminate Verb’s dancers, the next work, Verb principal dancer Kate Webb’s “Stellar Syncopations” (2019), was more earthbound in its effect.


Verb Ballets in Kate Webb’s “Stellar Syncopations”. Photo by Kolman Rosenberg.

A relative newbie as a choreographer, Webb’s ballet showed she is still finding her way as a choreographer in terms of craft and editing. The ballet, said to visualize the life-cycle of a star, was further hampered by the music it was set to. Commissioned for Verb’s 2019 joint program with the Chamber Music Society of Ohio entitled Akron Legends of Jazz and Dance, Webb set “Excursions” by jazz pianist Pat Pace that was used for choreographer Heinz Poll’s 1982 ballet of the same name. And while Pace’s score had its own musical merits, the forced marriage of the less than dance friendly and dated composition with Webb as choreographer resulted in a ballet that was a bit clunky at times and had trouble holding interest. Kudos however to Verb artistic director Margaret Carlson for giving her artists other opportunities to create, and to Webb for her efforts, but the ballet overall proved itself not ready for prime time. I look forward however to seeing the promising Webb’s evolution as choreographer in future works.


Lieneke Matte and Benjamin Sheppard in Agrippina Vaganova’s “Diana y Acteon Pas de Deux”. Photo by Kolman Rosenberg.

Next, Verb dancers Lieneke Matte and Benjamin Sheppard performed Agrippina Vaganova’s 1935 showpiece “Diana y Acteon Pas de Deux”. Restaged by Cuba’s Laura Alonzo, the 8-minute classical pas de deux, a favorite of ballet competitions, got the most out of Matte and Sheppard as dancers. The pair turned in a respectful performance of the technically difficult and somewhat flashy pas de deux full of lifts, jumps and pirouettes to the delight of the Breen Center audience.


Verb Ballets in Stephanie Martinez’s “Wandering On”. Photo by Kolman Rosenberg.


(L-R) Daniel Cho, Antonio Morillo, Benjamin Shepard and Hunter Hoffman in Stephanie Martinez’s “Wandering On”. Photo by Kolman Rosenberg.

The program concluded with Chicago-based choreographer Stephanie Martinez’s Wandering On (2017).  The contemporary dance work for 4 men and 7 women set to music by composers Lars Meyer, Ezio Bosso and others on a theme of traveling to another realm in search of freedom and enlightenment had the most comfortable fit on Verb’s dancers. A vibrant work with snappy movement, Verb’s dancers appeared to kick their performance energy and stage presence into overdrive.  Of particular note in the atmospheric work was a men’s section bursting with jumps, leaps and aggressive turns and the performances of dancers Emily Dietz, Daniel Cho and newcomer Elizabeth “Betsie” Schaeffer.

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 Program to Feature the Works of Female Choreographers

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Verb Ballets in Kate Webb’s “Stellar Syncopations.” Photo courtesy of Verb Ballets.

By Steve Sucato

The novelty of an all-female choreographer dance program shouldn’t be a thing for many reasons, not the least being the disproportionately greater number of females in dance than males. That it still is, is nonetheless a commendable early step along the journey when the need to tout giving opportunities to female choreographers will be rendered unnecessary and artistic directors programming female choreographers’ works will be as an unconscious a move as muscle memory is to any dancer.

Joining other dance company’s recent efforts in highlighting female choreographers’ works is Cleveland’s own Verb Ballets.  Their latest production 4X4: Four Works by Female Choreographers, Saturday, February 8 at Saint Ignatius High School’s Breen Center for the Performing Arts is a program solely of works by female choreographers. The mixed repertory evening will feature reprises of ballets by former Cleveland Ballet dancer Kay Eichman and Verb dancer Kate Webb, along with a classic pas de deux by ballet icon Agrippina Vaganova and the company premiere of Chicago-based choreographer Stephanie Martinez’s “Wandering On” (2017).

The newest of the choreographers featured, Webb’s “Stellar Syncopations” (2019) is set to an improvisational jazz score by Akron musician, Pat Pace entitled “Excursions” that was originally created for Heinz Poll’s 1982 ballet of the same name. Webb describes Pace’s composition as challenging to choreograph dance steps to because of its unusual counts but fitting for her ambitious idea of a ballet visualizing the life-cycle of a star.

“I grew up loving science and wanted to be an astronomer after my dance career,” says Webb. While that may or may not happen, Webb says she enjoyed researching and creating the 30-minute abstract ballet.

Where Webb’s ballet takes its inspiration from the cosmos, a reworked version of Martinez’s “Wandering On” takes its inspiration from the spiritual and metaphysical aspects of the human life-cycle. The 12-minute contemporary dance work derives its concept from the Sanskrit word Samsara that translates as wandering through the constant cycle, or circuitous changes, of life. Martinez says it was her yoga teacher husband who introduced her to the term and the concept behind it.

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Choreographer Stephanie Martinez rehearsing Verb Ballets’ dancers in “Wandering On.” Photo courtesy of Verb Ballets.

In the work for 4 men and 7 women set to music by composers Ezio Bosso, Max Richter and others, Martinez creates interweaving worlds leading toward enlightenment.

“I wanted to physicalize getting to another realm,” says Martinez. “You are where you want to be in the end and there is freedom.”

In creating choreography for her works Martinez says she first thinks about movement for herself emanating from the inside out. “I let something happen that informs my arm to move, I don’t move my arm first per se,” says Martinez. “I also think about structure and texture. I go through many cycles to get to what it turns into.”

In a rehearsal of “Wandering On” at Verb Ballets’ Shaker Heights studios, Martinez pushed the dancers to find grit in their performances. In coaching Verb’s Emily Dietz in a solo from the work, Martinez told her to “just break all the rules” and to “go out and kick it.”

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Verb Ballets in Kay Eichman’s “Mendelssohn Italian Symphony.” Photo courtesy of Verb Ballets.

Where Martinez encouraged Verb’s dancers to let go the preciousness of ballet in her work, Eichman’s “Mendelssohn Italian Symphony” (2019) has them fully embracing it and much more. The neo-classical ballet in 3 sections for 4 couples is set to, and is in response to, the first, second and fourth movements of the Mendelssohn’s “Symphony No. 4 in A Major, Op. 90” (Italian Symphony). Premiered last February, the ballet (the first for Eichman on a professional company) bubbled with enthusiasm in its debut despite some dancer missteps. It should prove even better in its second go round.

Completing the program will be a legendary pas de deux by one of the biggest names in classical ballet, Agrippina Vaganova. Vaganova perfected the teaching methods of Russia’s Imperial Ballet into one of the world’s leading ballet techniques that bears her name. In 1935 she choreographed the showpiece “Diana y Acteon Pas de Deux”.  Restaged by Cuba’s Laura Alonzo and performed by Verb’s Lieneke Matte and Benjamin Sheppard, the 8-minute pas de deux will be full of ballet fireworks.

Verb Ballets performs 4X4: Four Works by Female Choreographers, 8 p.m., Saturday, February 8 at Saint Ignatius High School’s Breen Center for the Performing Arts, 2008 W. 30th St., Cleveland. Tickets are $10-35 (Student ticket discount is available). Tickets can be purchased through Eventbrite at 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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Akron’s ‘Lose Your Marbles’ Festival Returns with a Decidedly Different Approach

Neos Dance Theatre. Photo by Dale Dong.

By Steve Sucato

After taking a year off in 2018, Akron’s dance-centric Lose Your Marbles festival is back with a smaller, regionally focused event taking place Friday, March 1 at the Akron Civic Theatre.

Founded by Neos Dance Theatre artistic director Robert Wesner with the support of a three-festival, $100,000 John S. and James L. Knight Foundation grant, Lose Your Marbles (a reference to Akron’s history as a marble making center in the late 1800s), first go round in the summer of 2017 was an ambitious undertaking that featured a diverse group regional and national music and dance acts.

With the initial goal of presenting more experimental and avant-garde artists in traditional and alternative performance spaces a la the many “Fridge” festivals seen around the country, Wesner says although the pilot festival was a success in many ways, he and his fellow festival organizers felt more evaluation was needed to develop a sustainable path forward for the event.

“It was decided [for Lose Your Marbles II] to dial back the numbers of different groups and really focus on local artists so we could further develop relationships with existing dance audiences in the area and survey their interest in seeing other types of contemporary artists in future, says Wesner.”

This year’s scaled down festival is part of a strategy to get future festivals to a place where the initial goal of presenting tried and untried local, state and national artists in varying performance spaces around Akron can be realized.  

“The third year is going to be a continuation of what we have done in these first two festivals,” says Wesner. “This is a full on exploration of what Lose Your Marbles is and can be and the audience is in it with us.”  

Returning for Lose Your Marbles II are 2017 festival participants GroundWorks DanceTheater, Inlet Dance Theatre, Neos Dance Theatre and Verb Ballets.  Familiar to area dance goers, three out of the four troupes annually perform at the City of Akron’s Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival.

GroundWorks DanceTheater. Photo courtesy of Lose Your Marbles.

GroundWorks DanceTheater will open the one-night-only event with company artistic director and former Ohio Ballet star David Shimotakahara’s “LUNA” (2012).  Set to an original score by Oberlin Conservatory of Music grad Peter Swendsen, the work, says Shimotakahara “explores the nature of desire and its deeply held and often conflicting motivations. These polarities developed into a series of physical relationships that reveal many facets in a cycle of experience. That cycle is like the moon, as unknown and primal as it is familiar.”

“LUNA’s” celestial motif will fit in nicely with Akron Civic Theatre’s Moorish castle decor complete with an atmospheric twinkling starlit sky and moving clouds ceiling display.  

Inlet Dance Theatre. Photo courtesy of Lose Your Marbles.

Next, highlighting the humanitarian crisis of over 60 million refugees fleeing war, famine, violence and persecution worldwide, Inlet Dance Theatre’s work “Sojourn” offers up a message of compassion, empathy and grace for those in desperate need. Choreographed by Inlet founder/artistic director Bill Wade in collaboration with the company’s dancers, the work in five-section is danced to music by Max Richter.

Neos Dance Theatre. Photo by Dale Dong.

Wesner’s Neos Dance Theatre then reprises choreographer Joseph Morrissey’s “Near Light” that premiered at last summer’s Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival. Performed to music by composer Ólafur Arnalds, Wesner describes the ballet as being a dynamic and fairly aggressive work movement-wise with a lot of twists and turns in its partnering sequences.

Verb Ballets. Photo by Bill Naiman.

The roughly two hour program will close with Verb Ballets in choreographer Adam Hougland’s “K281” (2007). Originally created on Cincinnati Ballet, the 14-minute ballet gets its name from Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in B-flat major, K. 281 that it is danced to.  Staged by Jill Marlow Krutzkamp and original cast member, the ballet for three male-female couples is full of quirky contemporary dance movement. Each couple has their own distinct personality says Marlow; the first has a fun, free relationship, the second’s mood is somber and the third has a peculiar relationship where the woman moves like a rag doll.

Neos Dance Theatre with the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation presents Lose Your Marbles II, 8 p.m., Friday, March 1, Akron Civic Theatre, 182 South Main Street, Akron. Tickets are $23 for reserved seating, $18 general admission, and $5 for students with ID and available online at loseyourmarbles.org and at the door that evening.

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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