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.
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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.
April 23–May 1, 2010
Reviewed by Steve Sucato
Kudelka's The Man In Black. Photo by Catherine Proctor, courtesy BalletMet.
Three kings of American music got the royal treatment in BalletMet’s season-ending program “American Legends.”
The music of Stevie Wonder, Johnny Cash, and Sammy Davis, Jr. provided the soundtrack to a program of exquisite choreography and equally admirable dancing.
Maurice Hines’ Wonderful, set to an array of Wonder’s hits, is a jazz ballet loaded with energy and visual fireworks. BalletMet's dancers soared in lifts and leaps and rattled off a slew of multiple pirouettes.
In an all-female scene early in the ballet, to Wonder’s “Superstition,” seven tutu-clad dancers on pointe strutted, high-kicked, and turned on their feminine allure to drive their male counterparts wild. The men followed with a swaggering dance to Wonder’s 1970 hit “Signed, Sealed, Delivered I’m Yours.” They pumped their arms, gyrated their hips, and darted and leapt about with agile determination.
At times Wonderful bordered on the showiness of a pairs figure skating routine. Hines’ choreography, long on dancer tricks, often lacked substance in the transitions between them. Overall, though, the infectious feel-good ballet proved a winner.
Surprisingly simple in its approach and ingenious in its outcome, James Kudelka’s The Man In Black was the hit of the program and one of the finest works I've seen this season.
The quiet work, set mostly to cover tunes sung by Cash (such as Gordon Lightfoot's "If You Could Read My Mind" and Nine Inch Nails’ "Hurt"), utilized a movement language structured like that of country line dancing, only taken to much more intricate and poetic ends by Kudelka.
Dancers Olivia Clark, Jimmy Orrante, Jackson Sarver, and David Tlaiye, in Western attire and hands held, moved like a train, stamping their feet and shuffling along to The Beatles' “In My Life” as expressions of desolation washed over their faces. In five other smartly crafted and marvelously danced vignettes, Kudelka tied his choreography to the emotions expressed in Cash’s music. The late singer’s gravelly voice, with its haunting heartbeat, drove each of the soulful dance sections.
“American Legends” closed with a Broadway-esque bang in Darrell Grand Moultrie's Simply Sammy. An epic tribute that spanned the breadth of Sammy Davis Jr.'s singing career, the work blended ballroom dance elegance with the “boom-crash-pow” movement style of 1950s and ’60s Hollywood jazz routines. Of the ballet’s many memorable dancers, a few stood out. Courtney Muscroft offered a slinky, sexy, and slightly demented solo as a crazed showgirl dancing to Davis’s rendition of “Bye Bye Blackbird.” Adam Hundt, as a humorously perturbed character, à la Jack McFarland from the TV show Will & Grace, performed to the song “Candy Man.” Also entertaining was a feisty call-and-response duet to “The Lady Is a Tramp” by Adrienne Benz and brilliant guest tapper Marshall L. Davis Jr.
The Glue Factory Project:
A Seat at the Table
New Hazlett Theater
March 25–28, 2010
Reviewed by Steve Sucato
Photo by Frank Walsh Photography, Courtesy Corning Works.
For the first production of the newly formed Corning Works, dancer/choreographer Beth Corning returned to a familiar format. The former artistic director of Pittsburgh’s Dance Alloy Theater resurrected her Glue Factory Project, a series begun in Minneapolis more than a decade ago that features performers over the age of 40.
In her latest work for the Project, A Seat at the Table, Corning brought together an all-star cast of veteran dancers (including herself) along with lighting designer/performer David Covey to explore what it means to have a proverbial “seat at the table.”
The mostly abstract vignettes of this dance-theater work, set to music ranging from Donna Summer to Meredith Monk, delved into notions of inclusion, power, and the costs of garnering a "privileged" status.
Some of those risks were illustrated in Corning’s solo for former Martha Graham Dance Company principal Peter Sparling, performed to Rinde Eckert’s rendition of “Sitting on Top of the World.” Sparling took on the character of a businessman whose unabashed greed cost him in his personal and social life.
In another more humorous example, Corning, Sparling, and Covey—along with dancers Janet Lilly, Michael Blake, and Cathy Young—played a game of musical chairs, giggling and teasing one another like children while still maintaining a level of adult cynicism and competitiveness. The game came to its metaphoric end when Covey cheated to win and watched Corning storm off the stage.
For the most part Corning’s choreography played to each dancer's movement strengths. But like watching aging professional athletes, one noticed they had lost a few steps. In some of Corning's livelier dance sections the movement looked shaky and labored. What the dancers appeared to have lost in physical prowess, however, they more than made up for in artistic interpretation. Each of the performers was a sharp and engaging actor. Their small gestures and glances spoke volumes.
In one particularly poignant segment, Corning and Sparling, separated by a small tabletop, acted as a couple whose pride had robbed them of the ability to communicate with each other. Each gestured toward the other without ever looking at them. Equally moving was a tableau of defeated spirits, created by four dancers posed around a 24-foot-long table as Corning danced mournfully atop it.
Wonderfully constructed and thoughtfully performed, A Seat at the Table was a delight. It proved that at dance's table, talented individuals, regardless of age, always deserve a seat.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre
Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project
November 12–15, 2009
Reviewed by Steve Sucato
Julia Erickson. Photo by Rich Sofranko, Courtesy PBT.
While art is said to mimic life, it is a bitter irony that often life’s greatest atrocities can inspire some of art’s greatest works. Such
is the case with the Holocaust.
It is through this tragic lens that Ballet Austin artistic director/choreographer Stephen Mills created his Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project (2005). The contemporary ballet, performed expertly by Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, took a mostly abstract approach to the subject. In doing so, it became a window into the breadth of humanity’s dark heartedness, allowing us not only to peer into the Holocaust’s past horrors but perhaps to relate those horrors with those existing in world today.
Set to an emotional score by composers Steve Reich, Arvo Pärt, and others, the movement style mixed modern ballet with contemporary movement à la Mats Ek and Ohad Naharin. Light’s seven sections began with the illumination of a sphere representing hope and a pas de deux conjuring images of Adam and Eve and the tree of life. The ballet’s remaining sections figuratively followed the journey of real-life Holocaust survivor Naomi Warren. Guest artist Janet Popeleski portrayed the mature Warren entering and exiting the stage as if moving through memories of that time. Her younger self was danced by PBT principal Julia Erickson, who projected an arresting vulnerability and expressiveness. This played out in scenes as diverse as Warren’s happier pre-war life and in brutal images of Kristallnacht and the forced removal of Jews from their homes.
A siren song of remembrance for what has been lost and what remains, Light was masterful and hauntingly beautiful at times. In one poignant scene, a dozen of PBT’s ensemble cast were called out, one by one, by an unseen aggressor who forced them to strip to their underwear and huddle into a small square of light, where they shook in fear. They climbed on top of and tumbled over one another while air raid sirens blared, giving the disturbing impression of Holocaust victims crammed into a boxcar, bound for a concentration camp.
Light’s most lasting images, however, came in the section entitled “Ashes” that depicted life in the camps. During Pärt’s gripping Tabula Rasa, PBT’s dancers clung desperately to one another and were at each others throats. Metaphoric images of death came into focus as some dancers rolled along the floor from light into darkness while others marched in a circle and took turns at its center, playing out end-of-life struggles. This scene climaxed in dancer Elysa Hotchkiss’ lissome and passionate demi-solo.
Fittingly Light concluded in relative hush as four couples, dancing to sublime music by Philip Glass, put to rest tragic images, leaving in their place heartfelt memories and a sense of hope for the future.
Ohio State University
October 5, 2008
Reviewed by Steve Sucato
Ghost-like ripples of light danced across two large rear-stage video screens. Six female dancers, engaged in tactile choreography, meandered slowly from a side wing of OSU’s Mershon Auditorium onto a white floor area center stage. Subtle movement united with dulcet music, video and animation wizardry, and brilliant stagecraft to create 80 minutes of serene dance-theater in the world premiere of Bebe Miller’s Necessary Beauty.
A collaborative sequel to Miller’s Bessie Award-winning Landing/Place (2005), Necessary Beauty used its plethora of multi-media elements to lull rather than scream its artistic intentions. The piece drifted from one thematic statement into another, exploring notions of everyday seen and unseen (or unnoticed) influences that trigger our perceptions of beauty. The most penetrating of those was writer Ain Gordon’s insightful text, used in recorded interviews with the dancers, in which the answers to questions like, “Do you recall when your mother stopped holding your hand to cross the street?” or “Describe the way your father sat in a chair,” were delivered in advance of the actual questions.
Throughout Necessary Beauty, its half-dozen dancers, including Miller, performed in athletic solos and small group dances that were at times playful and competitive and spoke of individuality and community. Of note were solos by an aggressive Kristina Isabelle and a red-jumpsuit-outfitted Kathleen Hermesdorf who approached the audience as if to vocalize something unutterable between sequences of gymnastic improvisation.
Migrating to and from the central stage area, the dancers traveled through expansive open wings where they lingered at times in chairs or scraped their bodies along side walls. Masterfully staged by Miller, they created human landscapes with depth and scale. Those landscapes were complemented by an ingenious video backdrop created by Maya Ciarrocchi and Vita Berezina-Blackburn that morphed outdoor and home-interior images. In the most captivating videographic moment, once-still images of a waterfall and clouded sky—from a photograph of Albert Bierstadt’s painting Among the Sierra Nevada Mountains—came to animated life.
The undercurrent guiding Necessary Beauty turned out to be Albert Mathias’ atmospheric music. Performed live on computer, it seemed to imperceptibly fade and resurface throughout the work.
In the end, Necessary Beauty delivered its own kind of beauty: subtle, enthralling, and ever so sensually satisfying.