Tuesday, February 21st, 2012 10:00 PM
On my recent trip to Minnesota, you might recall, I stopped in for a Saint Paul City Ballet performance and lamented Cleveland's lack of ballet. I was overlooking, it seems, Dance Cleveland's presentations bringing the acclaimed Ballet Memphis to Cleveland for two performances on Saturday, March 10th (8p) and Sunday, March 11th (3p) in PlayhouseSquare's Ohio Theater
While Cleveland hasn't had a company in residence since San Jose Cleveland Ballet more › dropped Cleveland in a dozen years ago -- preceding my arrival in Cleveland -- Dance Cleveland is promising that "If Northeast Ohio still had a classical ballet company in residence, it might look and feel like Ballet Memphis"
The company, now in its 25th year, is headed by Memphis native Dorthy Gunther Pugh has been said to serve as a cultural ambassador for that city's unique cultural heritage.
During their brief stay in Cleveland, the troupe will be presenting a bit of that heritage with a nod to another famous Tennessean: Roy Orbison's voice and six of his most popular songs provides the musical backdrop for Trey McIntyre's "sometimes dark, always passionate" In Dreams, described by the New York Times simply as "Exceptional".
Choreographed by Jane Comfort with music by Memphis saxophonist Kirk Whalum, S'epanouir comes to an end "with a hand-clapping gospel celebration". Though the piece "tells the story of a woman in the depths of an emotional crisis" aided in a transformation by community it is said that the piece has a more joyful quality than is typical for that choreographer's works.
Featuring the rondo finale from the rondo finale Beethoven's Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in D Major, Op. 61 dancer-choreographer Steven McMahnon's Being Here With Other People is said to be an expression of gratitude for the "'home-away from home' atmosphere that Steven McMahnon finds in Memphis"
Rounding out the announced program, Curtain of Green by Juila Adam is inspired by Eudora Welty's story of the same time and is an "abstract retelling of lost love, fear, and madness" revolving around a widow who obsessively tends to a tangled garden and whose rage nearly boils over.
I'm certainly looking forward to the unique expression of ideas that only dance offers.
Ticket prices range from $30-$45 and can be purchased at playhousesquare.org, via phone at 866-546-1353, or to avoid fees in person at the PlayhouseSquare Box Office on Euclid Avenue.
RELATED COMPANY: Ballet Memphis
Monday, February 13th, 2012 12:00 PM
Ballet Memphis Makes Cleveland Debut March 10-11 Company recognized for ties to South's rich musical, literary heritage
Spring will arrive in Cleveland early this year when Ballet Memphis heats up the stage at the Ohio Theatre March 10-11 for the company's debut appearance in Ohio, presented by DANCECleveland.
Tickets for this groundbreaking troupe can be purchased by calling 216-241-6000 or online at www.playhousesquare.org for the Saturday evening performance on March 10 at 8 pm and the matinee on Sunday, March 11 at 3 pm. For the more › matinee, DANCECleveland has a special ticket offer – a Family Four Pack for $60. Purchasers can use the code FAM4 online or by phone to receive the discount.
Known for its thought-provoking repertory, Ballet Memphis will present a program featuring acclaimed work by four choreographers, including the award-winning ballet S'Epanouir by Jane Comfort, set to a gospel tradition score by Kirk Whalum, an eight-time Grammy nominated musician. In Dreams, by Trey McIntyre (former resident choreographer of the company) is set to a score of Roy Orbison love songs. Being Here with Other People, a joyous romp set to Beethoven's Violin Concerto in D Major, was created by company dancer Steven McMahon. Curtain of Green, inspired by the short story of the same name by Eudora Welty, was created by Julia Adam, the company's artistic associate and former dancer with San Francisco Ballet.
Founded in 1986 by Dorothy Gunther Pugh, who continues to serve as artistic director, the establishment of Ballet Memphis was a bold move to redefine the city's cultural landscape. It has evolved into a nationally renowned ballet company performing original dances and classics with a fresh face.
Identified as a "national treasure" by the Ford Foundation, Ballet Memphis has performed in such prestigious locales as Jacob's Pillow Dance Festival, the Joyce Theatre in New York City and the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., among others.
"If northeast Ohio still had a classical ballet company in residence, it might look and feel like Ballet Memphis," says Pam Young, DANCECleveland executive director.
DANCECleveland is one of a handful of presenters nationally that are dedicated solely to the presentation of modern dance. The centerpiece of DANCECleveland's programming is its annual performance series that is always surrounded by an array of educational outreach events designed to break artistic boundaries and provide community access to the dance aesthetic and dance luminaries that DANCECleveland brings to northeast Ohio.
EDUCATION AND OUTREACH: DANCECleveland educational and outreach programming includes master classes, residency programs, student matinees and pre-performance lectures and post performance Q&A sessions.
For more information about Ballet Memphis, visit www.balletmemphis.org
ELECTRONIC PHOTOS AVAILABLE FROM PAM BARR AT 216-932-5060 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Wednesday, February 1st, 2012 1:00 AM
When Pam Young, the Executive Director of Dance Cleveland, went to Tel Aviv, Israel, to attend the International Exposure in Dance, she had an ulterior motive. Young was looking for companies for future programs. There were 40 dance troupes from 30 countries present. Young was drawn to Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company, an Israeli group. She set her sights on bringing them to Cleveland. Young not only succeeded more ›
in getting them to come, but to open their 2012 United States tour at PlayhouseSquare's Ohio Theatre.
Besides Dance Cleveland's usual corporate sponsors, the logistics of bringing in the troupe was provided by the newly formed Cleveland Israel Arts Connection, Jewish Federation of Cleveland, Mandel Jewish Community Center of Cleveland, and the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage.
An Israeli dance troupe. That translates to Klemzer and cantorial music and Sephardic and Ashkenazi folk dances. Right? Wrong!
The Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company blew away the capacity audience with the one-act, hour-long production of OYSTER, an ingenious creation which gives the illusion of a circus-world of wandering street people whose intimate artistic vision speaks of truths.
The full-length work is filled with dreamlike qualities which reminds the viewer of the works of Fellini and Tim Burton. It is set to the music of Piazzola, Leoncavallo, Harry James, Yma Sumac and the Tuvan throat singers. The latter is a variant of overtone singing practiced by the Tuva people of southern Siberia. The effect is mesmerizing and lends itself to an almost mystic-like involvement.
The troupe has 13 dancers who range in age from very young to 75 years of age, and are of diverse nationalities and backgrounds.
OYSTER is a series of scenes which are done with amazing fluidity. The movements require great physical control. It is both dramatic and comedic. According to the choreographers, the presentation is constantly being updated through rehearsal, performance, polishing and cast changes.
It's almost impossible to give a blow-by-blow description of OYSTER as it contains ballet, modern dance, gymnastics, mime, acrobatics, flying figures, illusion, dramatic lighting effects, shadow movements and the unexpected - all blending into a fascinating whole.
The printed program contained a column entitled "Dance Matters" by former Plain Dealer dance critic Wilma Salisbury. It was an interesting discussion, not only of Pinto/Pollack, but of why dance is important.
Capsule judgment: It's too bad that the Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company was only at the Allen for two performances. The positive word of mouth would have sold out many, many concerts. Let's hope that Dance Cleveland brings the company back… sooner, rather than later.
Sunday, January 29th, 2012 10:00 AM
A world of dizzying images fills "Oyster," the work with which Israel's Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company made a winning Cleveland debut Saturday at the Ohio Theatre in PlayhouseSquare.
We appear to be at some sort of circus (or asylum), with the cast in whiteface and crazy wigs, as if they're clowns on the loose. What unfolds is a smorgasbord of funny, endearing and grotesque vignettes, a mixture of more › commedia dell'arte, Fellini and Barnum & Bailey.
In "Oyster," the most frequently performed work in their company's repertoire, Pinto and Pollak use dance and theatricaI elements with inventive expertise. Many relationships are suggested in the interactions of the 12 tireless performers who keep the narrative on its topsy-turvy, and occasionally poignant, course.
A two-headed man in an enormous coat dominates much of the activity as the inhabitants grimace with Chaplin-esque whimsy or engage in child-like playfulness with a dour clown and a ballerina whose bottom is bedecked with a little chair.
Many of the characters in "Oyster" spend more than little time tethered or otherwise. The most captivating moment finds Noga Harmelin, a dancer of remarkable grace and dexterity, floating in the air thanks to a harness and a colleague who sends her aloft as if ringing a church bell. At one point, she inches her way on pointe along the arm of another dancer.
The dour clown, played with a marvelous poker face by Rina Rosenbaum, walks two ballerinas around with red ribbons, as if they're promenading poodles. The clown soon cuts their ribbons, leaving them free to go their way.
Details both fanciful and dark pervade "Oyster." The two ballerinas bend down and perform a pas de deux bearing only their bottoms. In one scene behind a false proscenium, the two-headed man, dour clown and chair-bedecked ballerina enact a tale of violence and love to the Intermezzo from Leoncavallo's "Pagliacci."
The impeccable use of music extends to the work's other sections. A trio that becomes a quintet of bobbing clowns dances to a bit of Harry James. Another quintet of wigged-out circus denizens shimmy and shake to the strange, stratospheric vocals of Yma Sumac. One hot number, set to "Jalousie" played by Werner Muller and his Orchestra, features a couple dancing what amounts to a tango interruptus.
"Oyster" is such an intoxicating blend of movement, costumes (by Pinto and Pollak) and lighting (by Yoann Tivoli) that it's almost a let-down when the two untethered ballerinas amble tenderly upstage as the curtain falls only an hour after the work has begun.
But what could serve as an apt appetizer or dessert on a program with "Oyster"? As catapulted with exceptional energy, sophistication and personality by the Israeli company, the piece is a hearty theatrical dish that stands – and often performs pratfalls – on its own.
RELATED COMPANY: Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company (Israel)
Thursday, January 26th, 2012 12:00 PM
In the dazzling circus world of "Oyster," Noga Harmelin dances the role of a tiny, acrobatic doll. With her delicate face painted white beneath a wig of unruly blond hair, she is a whimsical and tragic clown. She jumps, she gesticulates and she even floats (with the help of a harness) high into the air, tiptoeing her feet along the outstretched arm of her dance partner below. Harmelin dances while more ›
being pulled by marionette strings, forced to succumb to the characters and forces around her.
In the real world, the petite Harmelin is a veteran performer who pulls her own strings. For 10 years she has danced this role, and many others, with the Tel Aviv-based Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company. While Pinto and Pollak have worked together since 1992, producing a diverse repertory, "Oyster" is their most famous creation. Currently celebrating more than 400 performances, the piece, which last came to America in 2010, returns in January, for a tour starting in Cleveland and visiting New Brunswick, N.J.; Boston, and Philadelphia.
"When I saw 'Oyster' for the first time, I knew I wanted to be a part of the company," Harmelin said in a recent interview with the Forward. "Now, after a decade, I am still mesmerized by its enchanting characters."
Premiering in 1999 as part of a commission from the Maison de la Danse in Lyon, France, "Oyster" was the first large-scale collaboration between Pinto and Pollak.
Immersed in the arts from a young age, the co-directors are both seasoned performers. Pinto studied at the Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and danced with Batsheva Dance Company, and in 1990 started doing her own choreography. Pollak, son of well-known Israeli actor Yossi Pollak, was classically trained in theater.
"We had worked together earlier, but this was our first big international project," Pollak told the Forward in a recent phone interview. "'Oyster' combined our artistic sensibilities in a whole new way."
Moving through various connected scenes, the characters perform in different costumes throughout the piece. The show's imagery is humorous, clever and grotesque: The characters are a striking group of misfits. Wearing wild wigs, baggy suits and sparkling tutus, the eight dancers and four actors resemble a surrealistic sideshow.
In a bright-orange wig, Michal Almogi plays a tall ballerina clown who gallivants around the stage with a black turtleneck pulled up over her mouth. Zvi Fishzon and Rina Rosenbaum portray two older scheming clowns who emerge from the red curtains of a small proscenium built onto the stage. The spritely Harmelin is one of eight dancing dolls that bend and bounce like wind-up toys. The skilled dancers cleanly articulate the choreography, which combines elements from classical ballet, mime and gymnastics. The hour-long piece is composed of vignettes set to Pollak's own arrangement of recorded tango, opera and swing music.
Dance critics have noted various allusions to filmmakers Federico Fellini and Tim Burton, but Pinto and Pollak are hesitant to ascribe an overt influence or narrative to "Oyster." "We liked the name of the Tim Burton book ["The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy"], and that helped with the title," Pollak said. "But the ideas are from many sources - images from European street theater, puppetry and scenes from our own childhood dreams."
Pinto and Pollak fuse their stage design, costuming and choreography to create a unique performance experience. "Oyster" has engrossed audiences worldwide, compelling them to attend repeat performances. "Even looking at your favorite painting a hundred times, you may see something that you never saw before," Harmelin said. "'Oyster' has so much to explore. The piece is a playground, and even after so many shows, there are new games to play."
"We have taken 'Oyster' to four continents and have connected with so many diverse audiences," Pollak said. "'Oyster' has a language all its own. It communicates with the imagination."
Stacey Menchel Kussell is a culture writer. Her recent articles examine Israeli contemporary dance.
The "Oyster" tour begins at Cleveland's Ohio Theatre with performances on January 28 and 29. Other tour stops include New Jersey's State Theatre Regional Arts Center in New Brunswick on February 1; Boston's Paramount Theater on February 4 and 5, and Philadelphia's Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts from February 9 to 11.
Stacey Menchel Kussell
RELATED COMPANY: Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company (Israel)