Cleveland Repertory Project

Cleveland Public Theater
Cleveland, Ohio
February 7—9, 2003

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

The Cleveland debut of Cleveland Repertory Project, under newly appointed Artistic Director Hernando Cortez, introduced area audiences to Cortez as choreographer. It also revealed the quantum leap forward the sixteen-year-old Cleveland-based modern company has taken.

The program began with Cortez’s The Man and the Echo (2002), set to Grieg’s Holberg Suite for Piano. Influenced by William Butler Yeats’s poem of the same name, it featured seven of the company’s dancers in a barefoot ballet à la Paul Taylor. The work centered on Mark Tomasic as Yeats’s Man; he took the stage in a slow circling walk through shadowed areas of Chenault Spence’s lighting design, then danced an anguished solo that reflected his character’s struggle to maintain his marriage between body and soul–stretching and jumping skyward after something beyond his grasp. The remaining dancers served as the Echo, swaying and curving into lofty poses and moving through elegant phrases that delightfully skirted predictability and incorporated arms curled behind the dancers’ backs.

In Planet Soup (1999), the dancers were costumed in Edward Sylvia’s colorfully patterned sarongs (and halter tops for the women). Set to a melting pot of world music, Cortez’s modern choreography sampled several cultural dance styles and emphasized the liberating quality of movement. The dancers stomped their feet, pounded their fists on the stage, and whipped their bodies about in a joyously entertaining dance. Shannon Mulcahy was ardent and fabulous–her turns and accentuated dance movements commanded attention, as did Jason Ignacio’s athletic leaps and blindfolded hopscotching through crashing bamboo poles in a section incorporating a Filipino tinikling dance. Planet Soup’s visual feast and jazzy exuberance culminated with the dancers twirling large white sheets of fabric into what looked like giant flower petals caught in a gale.

The program ended with Cortez’s stirring remembrance of 9/11, Two Hours That Shook the World (2002). Edward Hillel’s installation of two floor-to-ceiling rectangular reams of white cloth dominated the stage, symbolizing the World Trade Center towers. The dancers performed the work live against a video, projected on the cloth, of their performance of the same work in the studio. Onstage, the dancers assumed pedestrian roles and were costumed in street clothes, including dancer Christopher Morgan, dressed in a business suit, who ran in slow motion, fleeing the shadow of the ominous towers, his movement unaffected by small groups of dancers sprinting across the stage in banked and panicked bursts. Danced to percussive club music, the choreography ranged from zombie-like staggering to refined chaos, with dancers such as the skillfully smooth Ellen Ressler Hoffman at times appearing suspended in the wake of the other dancers’ frenetic energy.

In the closing section of the work, set to Buffalo Springfield’s "For What It’s Worth," the movement became slightly clichéd, but not enough to diminish the work’s strong and lasting images. Throughout, Cortez’s choreography and the dancers’ performances were crisp and polished, and the program was an exciting debut for the newly revamped company.

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