Dancers Trending
Lisset Santander is adding more contemporary works to her repertoire. Here with Jarrett Reimers in Christopher Wheeldon's Fools Paradise. Photo by Jennifer Zmuda, Courtesy BalletMet.

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.

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LehrerDance performing at Jacob's Pillow in 2014. Photo by Jaime Kraus, Courtesy Jon Lehrer.

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.

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Patricia Barker in class with Royal New Zealand Ballet. Photo by Stephen A'Court, Courtesy RNZB.

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.

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25 to Watch
Knight and Thompson in their memory 4. Photo by Renee Rosensteel, Courtesy slowdanger.

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.

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25 to Watch
Barkley and James Kopecky in Dwight Rhoden's The Groove. Photo by Jeff Cravotta, Courtesy Charlotte Ballet

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.

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Career Advice
Carrie Hanson/The Seldoms participated in a pilot residency at NCCAkron in July 2015. Courtesy NCCAkron.

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.

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Cleveland Ballet had its first performances in October. Photo by Mark Horning, courtesy Cleveland Ballet.

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).


Patricia Barker reinvents Michigan’s ballet troupe.



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
Pittsburgh, PA
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.

BalletMet Columbus
Capitol Theatre
Columbus, OH
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.

Corning Works
The Glue Factory Project:

A Seat at the Table
New Hazlett Theater
Pittsburgh, PA
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
Byham Theater
Pittsburgh, PA
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.

Bebe Miller Company
Ohio State University
Wexner Center
Columbus, OH
October 5, 2008
Reviewed by Steve Sucato
Photo by Michael Mazzola.
Bebe Miller's Necessary Beauty
in its world premiere at Ohio
State University.

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.

Doug Varone and Dancers
E.J. Thomas Hall, The University of Akron
Akron, Ohio
October 4, 2008
Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Photo by Richard Termine.

Dancers from back to front:

Stephanie Liapis, Belinda 

McGuire Eddie Taketa,

and Doug Varone in Lux.

Doug Varone showed he is the master of delicacy in athletic movement, as his company presented three works, including a world premiere, rife with visions of quiet physical beauty, joy, and anguish.

The 90-minute program—co-presented by DANCECleveland, EJ Thomas Hall and The University of Akron—began with Julia Burrer and Erin Owen brushing against and stepping around one another in Tomorrow (2001) to the ethereal operatic music of Reynaldo Hahn. The stately pairing gave way to other groupings, in which the toss of an arm or kick of a leg pulled surrounding bodies into the same momentum. The work took on a deeply soothing atmosphere, as dancers succumbed to gravity in dipping and sweeping motions across the stage. Tomorrow had the effect of watching an infant’s crib mobile softly twist overhead, like a lullaby beckoning drowsy sleep.

A pale moon rose slowly along a black backdrop in Lux (2006), conjuring up a sense of nocturnal happenings. Set to Philip Glass’ “The Light,” Lux was an uplifting and buoyant work that embodied Varone’s signature movement style. Dancers jogged, tumbled, bounded backwards, and melted into lifts and couplings that were delivered as though with the broad brush strokes of a painter. Cascading like water over stones, the choreography was refreshing, vibrant, and thoroughly enjoyable as was the performance of its dancers.

Inspired by and set to Steve Reich’s “Daniel Variations”— a tribute to slain journalist Daniel Pearl—Alchemy, a world premiere, made a powerful statement about the human toll of conflict in the Middle East. The 30-minute work ebbed and flowed with the somber themes of the score, which referenced Pearl’s words along with passages from the biblical book of Daniel.

Alchemy’s eight dancers alternated between victim and aggressor, presenting stark and unnerving images, such as captives kneeling in fear with hands clasped behind their heads. Regrettably, though, the work suffered from an overkill of suffering. Like the almost desensitizing news coverage of violence in that region, Alchemy’s incessant images of brutality and anguish served only to stagnate the work. Yet despite its failings, the piece was genuinely moving at times. And coupled with heartfelt dancing, along with a hopeful ending, Alchemy merited the standing ovation it received.

Nicholle Rochelle dances large. At 5' 7" she is a willowy, feminine presence onstage, drawing audiences in with her lucscious movement quality, extended line, and confident skill. “When I first saw her in an audition for the company I was taken by her physique—she reminded me of Sylvie Guillem,” says North Carolina Dance Theatre artistic director Jean Pierre Bonnefoux. “She eats up the space around her onstage,” says NCDT ballet associate artistic director Patricia McBride. “It is divine to watch. And she can do anything from classical to contemporary.” 

High praise for the 23-year-old Malibu, California, native who admits to being rather sickly her first season with NCDT’s second company. Now entering her fifth season with the main company, Rochelle is in peak form. Recognized as one of the company’s stars, she is drawing critical attention with bold performances at home and on tour. As a finalist at the New York International Ballet Competition in June, she wowed those who got to see her dance—including her partner at NCDT, Adam Stein.

“She is a ballerina who can really move,” says Stein. “In the beginning it was a bit intimidating partnering her because she is so good.” Stein says at times he would be late for his own music during a variation because he was fixated on Rochelle’s dancing. “She is mesmerizing to watch and a tough act to follow.”

Introduced to dance at age 6, Rochelle says she couldn’t stop moving as a child, so her mother, a former professional belly dancer, enrolled her in ballet and jazz classes at Malibu Civic Ballet. “At first I hated ballet,” says Rochelle. “Being sort of hyperactive, I preferred the freedom of jazz class.” At age 10, that changed. She found she had an affinity for the art form and by 12 knew she would make ballet her career. A product of Royal Academy of Dance training, Rochelle earned its highest honors on her annual exams and in 1999 qualified for the Adelene Geneé Awards in London where she became the first U.S.-trained dancer to place, taking home a bronze. After a brief stint as a trainee with Miami City Ballet, Rochelle joined NCDT. In 2002, she garnered a Princess Grace Award and this season was promoted to principal.

While the recognition of a promotion means a lot, Rochelle has already begun to feel the pressure. “All eyes are going to be on me now,” she says. “You have to act like it, look like it, be regal, and everything has to be polished and fine-tuned.” 

Rochelle was all that and more in a performance at New York’s Chautauqua Institution in July. In the opening volley of choreography in Alonzo King’s Map, she attacked the stage like a predator on the hunt, limbs slicing through the air with muscular aggression and near flawless technique. And in the grand pas de deux from Le Corsaire with Stein, her statuesque carriage, impeccable turning ability, and breathtaking classicism earned her a standing ovation.

In addition to dancing the Black Swan pas de deux and performing the lead in Balanchine’s Serenade this season, Bonnefoux expects Rochelle will figure prominently in next month’s production of The Nutcracker and in Dwight Rhoden’s new ballet for the company, slated for February. “She has a way of being loyal to the choreographer but making the choreography better than it is,” says Bonnefoux. “She loves to be challenged with different dance styles.”

Rochelle says for a long time she dreamed of dancing with American Ballet Theatre, but now feels fortunate to be where she is. She believes the repertoire and roles she has gotten to dance with NCDT over the years are invaluable. “You can give me a principal role one night and a corps role the next. I don’t mind, I just want to perform,” says Rochelle.

Ever ambitious, Rochelle is still very much on the hunt when it comes to her performance career, looking to feed her insatiable hunger for the stage. “I want to be famous, and dance in the grandest opera halls in the world,” Rochelle says. “Not for the attention, but for the thrill of it. I am going to dance for you and relish every moment of it!”

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned writer/critic. He is based in Erie, Pennsylvania and is a frequent contributor to several newspapers and national dance publications.

Dance Alloy Theater's Fragile
The New Hazlett Theater, Pittsburgh, PA
April 13-16, 2007
Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Pictured: Dance Alloy Theater
Photographer: Frank Walsh
Courtesy: Dance Alloy Theater

Pittsburgh’s Dance Alloy Theater has presented a number of memorable dance works in its 31-year history. Perhaps none has been more powerful and moving as Donald Byrd’s No Consolation, which premiered in April as part of DAT’s riveting program “Fragile.”

The first chapter in a multi-part national project concerning human stories cut short, Bryd’s No Consolation was a graphic account of humans processing grief.

Wooden folding chairs sat arranged around three sides of an otherwise bare stage. Five dancers (three women, two men) one after another walked to the front of the stage and began muttering, in whispered tone, accounts of personal tragedy. Adopting anguished and despondent facial expressions, the dancers began what would be a gut-wrenching insight into the disintegration of will. Dancing to traditional Irish music, the ensemble let loose an outpouring of Irish step dance-influenced movement that was taken to violent and exhaustive extremes. Some collapsed to the floor, others slumped into another’s embrace or receded into a hunched position on a chair. Masterfully crafted, and danced with uncompromising passion by DAT’s dancers, the work captured the very essence of shattered lives. Particularly convincing was the performance of Stephanie Dumaine, whose inconsolable character fully inhabited her as she pushed away efforts by partner Michael Walsh to comfort her. She leveled the brunt of her blame and guilt for the loss of their child in pounding fists and a malicious slap to Walsh’s face.

Preceding Byrd’s work was Susan Marshall’s signature duet Arms (1984). Set to a tension-filled original score by Luis Resto, dancers Scott Lowe and Maribeth Maxa tightly bonded to each other. Hands and arms curled around the napes of necks and cradled head and cheeks. Marshall’s choreography for Arms varied sharply between the soft giving in of flesh and soul and the forceful lashing out of emotional hunger and disdain.

“Fragile” closed with DAT artistic director Beth Corning’s Flight, a lively migration of undulating modern dance movement meant to suggest birds on the wing. Costumed in rumpled white linen with long trains of fabric, DAT’s five dancers looked to be challenging the bonds of gravity as they swept over and leapt off of two wooden ramps. At times some paused to teeter at ramp’s edge or, in the case of dancer Adrienne Misko, to cling precariously to the top of a ramp turned upright, exemplifying life’s tenuous nature born out in all of “Fragile’s” dance works.

BalletMet Columbus and the Ohio State University Department of Dance
Mershon Auditorium, Ohio State University, Columbus, OH
May 12–15, 2005
Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Tradition met with reinterpretation as BalletMet Columbus and Ohio State University’s Department of Dance partnered in “Firebird and The Rite of Spring: A Russian Revolution.” The program opened with the world premiere of choreographer Stanton Welch’s Firebird, a 20-minute ballet set to Igor Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite. Within a monochromatic setting of grays and blacks, a sinister, birdlike minister (Hisham Omardien) stirred to religious fervor a congregation of Puritan-like followers, some costumed in long, hooded coats and others resembling the undead. Welch’s captivating, theatrical opening and the somber atmosphere of this unique take on the story immediately engaged the audience. However, what followed was a clichéd tale of individuality overcoming oppression.

Instigated by a passerby (Jimmy Orrante) in a bright green coat and the flitting of a spritelike Firebird (Luz San Miguel), which appeared to emerge from the womb of one of the village’s chaste women (Carrie West), the bleak village is thrown into upheaval. The Firebird and the passerby fall in love during a heartfelt classical pas de deux. Swept by a wave of newfound courage, the inspired congregants unveil brightly colored clothing beneath their drab outer garments. The ballet culminates in a trite, Rothbart-like demise of the minister and the congregation staring hopefully out into the audience.

Ann Hutchinson Guest and Claudia Jeschke offered a faithful reconstruction of Nijinsky’s L’Après-midi d’un faune, performed by OSU students. Graduate student Scott Lowe turned in a solid performance as the Faun, capturing the work’s two-dimensional look and slow pace.

After Heart Strings, a lively tango-esque ballet by hometown choreographer Maria Glimcher, the program concluded with Doug Varone’s powerful and disturbing Rite of Spring, set on 37 dancers from BalletMet and OSU. Engaged in Varone’s pedestrian movements, large groups of dancers ran, crawled, and crashed into each other. Thirty women in 1950s-era dresses, looking like wild sorority girls stricken with a primal bloodlust, swirled about the stage vying for a ceremonial bundle of wheat. Danced with verve to Stravinsky’s original score, the sacrificial theme was frighteningly brilliant in its brutality and detail. Orrante and Tracy Thayer were menacing as cruel sages, and Adrienne Benz shone as the tormented Chosen One.

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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.

Co-Artistic Directors Peter Kope and Michele de la Reza sparred in This Ain't The Nutcracker.
Sarah Higgins, courtesy Attack Theatre

Attack Theatre

Hazlett Theater
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
December 28, 2001–January 6, 2002

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

True to its defiant title, Attack Theatre's This Ain't The Nutcracker trampled on staid holiday dance fare with bare feet, combat boots, and stilts.

The ninety-minute multimedia event packaged several conceptually based repertoire works into a single story line whose premise involved the audience being able to eavesdrop on the apartment life of a fictitious Pittsburgh judge. Seeing what he saw as he changed channels on his television, the audience caught glimpses of what would be played out live onstage.

This Ain't The Nutcracker's distinctly diverse collection of works traversed through boxing analogies, the repetitive motions of old-fashioned switchboard operators, and a choreographic homage to Nijinsky, to name a few.

In "The Negotiation"—the second of six vignettes in the first half of the program—Attack Theater Co-Artistic Directors Peter Kope and Michele de la Reza were pitted against one another in a playful and aggressive struggle over control of a newspaper. The pair moved through release-technique modern choreography that had them lifting and leaning on each other and falling into clever positions that allowed one dancer to snatch the coveted newspaper from the other.

Another comedic work, "Kharmen Suites," integrated dancers and musicians in a lighthearted piece influenced by Georges Bizet's Carmen. Costumed in fishnet stockings and combat boots and equipped with a Carmen-like bravado, de la Reza and Perks DanceMusicTheatre dancer Rebecca Stenn orchestrated a succession of unusual dancer-musician couplings that had de la Reza carrying bassist Jay Weissman on her back and Kope lying flat on the stage supporting cellist Dave Eggar as he played excerpts of Bizet's score.

Adding to this unique palette of dance works, Stephen Petronio Dance veteran Kristina Isabelle—wearing mime makeup and costumed in a tutu—performed "The Waltz," a balletic solo danced on wooden stilts. Apart from the novel nature of the work, Isabelle's performance was captivating for the way it managed ballet's fluidity on unconventional footwear.

Of the production's many vignettes, two sections stood out for their emotional content and impact. In "Rhapsody," Stenn and Weissman portrayed a music-box maker and his lifesize mechanical dancer. Dressed in a wedding gown, Stenn moved with mechanical precision, violent upheaval, and melancholy grace to Weissman's music, which he played on a miniature piano that approximated the sound of a music box. The work explored an evolving relationship between the two characters that was heartfelt and poignant. Stenn's performance in "Rhapsody" was a splendid meshing of tender vulnerability and physical presence.

In "The Embrace," Kope and de la Reza engaged in a movement study of lovers as they revolved on a turntable within a pool of ambient light. The dancers bent and folded onto each other in subtle outpourings of human intimacy to a cello concerto by composer Olivier Messiaen, played with virtuosic brilliance by Eggar.

With This Ain't The Nutcracker, Attack Theater created a bold new form of holiday magic, an intelligent and inventive alternative to traditional holiday dance works.


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