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When Lisset Santander bourréed onstage as Myrtha in BalletMet's Giselle this past February, her consummate portrayal of the Queen of the Wilis was marked by steely grace and litheness. The former Cuban National Ballet dancer had defected to the U.S. at 21, and after two years with the Ohio company, she's now closer to the dance career she says she always wanted: one of limitless possibilities.
The sudden end to Buffalo, New York–based LehrerDance—the city's lone professional touring dance company—recently came as a shock to many. Rumblings of the company's demise began when their website and Facebook page were taken down. Shortly after, on February 21, Buffalo's news media began reporting that the company has ceased operations.
The past few months have brought on a media storm surrounding accusations about the culture and employment practices at the Royal New Zealand Ballet. But it turns out, much of the reported information doesn't tell the whole story.
Caught up in the rumors has been newly hired artistic director Patricia Barker. The former Pacific Northwest Ballet star and concurrent director of Grand Rapids Ballet took over RNZB last June, and although the most troubling aspects of what has been reported, such as accusations of abusive behavior and other workplace grievances, pre-date her appointment, some complaints have been directed at her.
Named for the road-sign warning, slowdanger, unlike its moniker's admonition, has been anything but cautious in taking Pittsburgh by storm. Founded in 2014 by Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight, who met while studying dance at Point Park University, the multidisciplinary duo have become known for their atmospheric, multimedia experimental dance works. Their cerebral approach and ethereal movement quality have garnered the two 20-somethings critical praise. In 2015, they received a Pittsburgh BRAZZY Award, chosen by Pittsburgh dance writers.
Surrounded by 10 male dancers, Charlotte Ballet's Raven Barkley holds her own in a thrilling grand allégro combination filled with jumps, beats and tours en l'air. In the "Winter" section of Sasha Janes' The Four Seasons, she matches the electrifying intensity of Antonio Vivaldi's music.
For countless dancemakers without their own space, there is no place to call home. Enter the new National Center for Choreography at The University of Akron. Its mission: to support the research and development of new dance by providing choreographers, dance companies, arts administrators and dance writers access to the world-class facilities in the University's Guzzetta Hall and other venues on campus. With seven dance studios, two black-box theaters and main-stage theaters of two different sizes, NCCAkron will provide a place for choreographers to explore the full potential of their creative process.
When Dennis Nahat's Cleveland San Jose Ballet left Cleveland for Silicon Valley in 2000, northeast Ohio was left without a top-flight ballet company. Now, 15 years later, former Cleveland San Jose Ballet principal and artistic associate Gladisa Guadalupe has relaunched the troupe under the Cleveland Ballet name. “The former Cleveland Ballet was a great institution, and I am not in any way trying to replace or ride on the coattails of it," says Guadalupe. “The city deserves to have a great resident ballet company again."
Guadalupe says the new company will employ six dancers on nine-month contracts for its 2015–16 preview season. In October, Cleveland Ballet made its debut at Playhouse Square, and it will dance Coppélia in May. Going forward, Guadalupe plans to build the troupe to 18 dancers, and perform a mix of downsized story ballets and new contemporary work.
Robert Fairchild of NYCB in Justin Peck’s In Creases, the choreographer’s first NYCB commission, which premiered at SPAC last summer. Photo by Paul Kolnik, Courtesy SPAC.
There is a sense of reverence and nostalgia when people speak of New York City Ballet’s nearly half-century summer residency at Saratoga Performing Arts Center in Saratoga Springs, New York.
Former NYCB stars Patricia McBride and Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, who both performed there in the 1970s, remember Saratoga as “a wonderful experience. We were really a part of the community there,” says Bonnefoux. “We would premiere new ballets that Balanchine would choreograph there.”
Current NYCB star Daniel Ulbricht echoed Bonnefoux’s sentiments, saying that at SPAC he grew as a dancer and that the residency fostered bonding among company members.
But fiscal realities care little about reverence and nostalgia. So when SPAC announced that NYCB’s residency, which began at four weeks in 1966, would be reduced from the two weeks it had been since 2009 to five days (July 9–13) because of financial considerations, there was a public outcry.
“Our joint [SPAC and NYCB] decision to present one week of the New York City Ballet in 2013 was a financially necessary choice, born not out of a desire to end the residency, but to preserve it,” says SPAC president and executive director Marcia White. “The New York City Ballet is our heritage.”
Last summer SPAC lost $1.1 million on the residency. Its costs have also taken their toll on NYCB, says the company’s executive director Katherine Brown. “Unfortunately, for many years, the engagement has involved a significant financial shortfall that New York City Ballet can no longer sustain.”
The hope, says White, is to restore the residency to two weeks in 2014. In NYCB’s stead this summer, SPAC will present National Ballet of Canada in a mixed program and in Giselle (July 16–18), Aspen Santa Fe Ballet in works by Elo, Kylián, Cerrudo, and others (July 24–25), and MOMIX in Botanica (Aug. 1).
GRBC in Olivier Wevers’ The Sofa. Photo by Ron McKinney, Courtesy GRBC.
Grand Rapids Ballet Company is experiencing a renaissance. An ambitious new repertoire, record-breaking sold-out performances, and a renewed local buzz have revitalized the 41-year-old company. Its resurgence came about with the arrival of former Pacific Northwest Ballet star Patricia Barker as the company’s new artistic director in 2010. In just a few seasons, the first-time director has taken GRBC from a little-known regional ballet company to one making inroads into the national and international dance scene.
Barker built on the foundation laid by her predecessor, Gordon Peirce Schmidt, that included a troupe of 14 dancers (now 24), a thriving school, and the Meijer-Royce Center for Dance that houses studios, administrative offices, and the 300-seat Peter Martin Wege Theatre. When Schmidt left, he took with him the 50-plus ballets he created for the company, so Barker has focused her attention on building a new repertoire. Her well-received mix of cutting-edge contemporary ballets by choreographers like Brian Enos and Olivier Wevers, and masterworks by Balanchine, Taylor, and Parsons, has allowed her to accelerate her vision for the company. As Michigan’s only professional ballet company, GRBC has also become a touring ambassador for the city of Grand Rapids and the state. This past July, GRBC dancers performed in Austria in a joint production with Balet Bratislava.
Continuing the high caliber of the new repertoire, GRBC’s upcoming programs include a Romeo & Juliet by Mario Radacovsky, former director of the Ballet of the Slovak National Theatre; Balanchine’s Who Cares? and Four Temperaments; and Gerald Arpino’s exhilarating Light Rain, along with several new works.
GroundWorks DanceTheater // Trinity Cathedral // Cleveland, OH // November 12–13, 2010 // Reviewed by Steve Sucato
GroundWorks DanceTheater in Just Yesterday by Dianne McIntyre and Olu Dara. Photo by Dale Dong. Courtesy GroundWorks.
A wall of gilded pipes from Trinity Cathedral’s 18th century–style great organ rose above dancer Sarah Perrett as she moved along a diagonal corridor of light as if walking a tightrope. Three other dancers joined her on the portable stage, briskly walking to collide into one another with jolting chest bumps. This opening volley of non-traditional dance movement set the tone for choreographer Jill Sigman's new work Split Stitch.
Set to a score by composer Gustavo Aguilar, Sigman’s Split Stitch unfolded as a non-narrative collage of eclectic movement that had the GroundWorks dancers’ heads in the air, walking about smacking their lips like goldfish in search of a meal, twitching and convulsing, powering through riffs of classical ballet phrases, and popping themselves off the floor in rigid prone positions while dancer Damien Highfield shouted out counts. Despite its disparate movement phrases, Split Stitch never appeared chaotic. Through her expert arrangement of stylistically schizophrenic choreography, Sigman built tension as if holding us witness to dancers gone mad. The work concluded with dancer Felise Bagley repeatedly lifting one leg in retiré and eerily whispering the words “lovely, gently and nice” over and over.
The duet DnA, by artistic director David Shimotakahara and departing artistic associate Amy Miller, poignantly reflected on the pair’s 10-plus-year working relationship in the company. The piece revisited phrases from the pair’s prior works and touched on the emotions of their close friendship. In one moving scene, the two of them tussle and Shimotakahara blocks Miller’s forward motions as if saying to her “please don’t leave.”
The wonderfully performed program closed with Dianne McIntyre’s choreo-drama Just Yesterday. McIntyre integrated dance with spoken word and singing to form the work’s narrative, a powerful story about family and remembrance.
Set to an original composition for two guitars by Olu Dara, McIntyre’s longtime collaborator, the work's six dancers related childhood and family stories. Recalling memories of their parents’ hobbies and favorite foods, they mimicked riding motorcycles, rubbed their stomachs making “mmm…” sounds, and engaged in horseplay like oversized children.
The work’s most riveting recollection was of Shimotakahara’s grandfather, a Japanese immigrant, whose quest for the American dream came crashing down during World War II when he and his family were forced into an internment camp. Shimotakahara’s tortured solo, danced to narration of the story and Japanese song, was chilling.
Dance Alloy Theater
New Hazlett Theater
May 7–10, 2010
Reviewed by Steve Sucato
Robert Battle's Crossing. Photo by Renee Rosensteel, Courtesy Dance Alloy.
In her first season as artistic director of Pittsburgh’s Dance Alloy Theater, Greer Reed-Jones has begun opening up the 34-year-old company's repertory to include a wider array of modern dance aesthetics. In the group's season-ending program, “Alloy Unlocked…Part II,” Reed-Jones commissioned new works by Christopher Huggins and Robert Battle, artistic director designate of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater.
Huggins' The List (2010) opened Alloy's program on a dramatic note. Set to music from the soundtrack of Schindler's List, the Holocaust-inspired work made real the horror of genocide through the story of one fictional family in Krakow, Poland circa 1941. Four dancers were seated around a dinner table, when a knock at an imaginary door, followed by the delivery of a letter, sent the father of the family (Christopher Bandy) into a tortured frenzy. As if fighting with an imaginary foe, Bandy reeled and tossed about. Fists pounded the table in anguish, then resignation overtook each of the family members as news of their deportation sank in.
The story then traced the family’s journey to a concentration camp. Projected images of razor wire along with hanging metal shower heads painted a picture of impending peril, which played out in a final heartrending scene.
Huggins' choreography for The List was emotionally gut-wrenching, and Alloy's dancers convincingly portrayed the characters’ plight. While the work could easily have crossed the line from drama into melodrama, Huggins treated these heavy themes with sensitivity.
After a thoughtful performance of Pilobolus' Duet (2004), in which dancers Maribeth Maxa and Michael Walsh gracefully swam through a tango of embraces and cradled lifts, Battle's jazz music–inspired Crossing (2010) put forth drama of a different kind.
The slapping of palms to thighs created a syncopated cadence as a line of dancers with gritted teeth rocketed onto the stage to the recorded music of jazz trumpeter Sean Jones (Reed-Jones' husband). Battle's Horton-infused movement was fast-paced and aggressive. With the precision and driving intensity of a cheerleading dance routine, Alloy's performers, along with members of Pittsburgh’s August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble, flew through stiff-armed and gestural movement phrases that seemed to shadow Jones' musical scale-running trumpet riffs.
The frenzied pace was broken up by a slow, uneasy lovers’ duet in which a stern-faced James Washington (from AWCDE) enveloped Alloy's Adrienne Misko in cold embraces, never making physical contact. He seemed to hold a quiet dominance over her, but in the end, the two held hands.