Sunday, January 1st, 2012 6:00 AM
Dance makes its presence known in Cleveland only in spurts, but there was much to savor in 2011. Our local companies had a productive year -- several celebrated milestones -- and audiences were treated to everything from classical ballet to dance of the most contemporary kind.
Aszure Barton & Artists: The New York dance company, presented by DanceCleveland, made a disarming Cleveland debut in October with a program that revealed its more › artistic director's uncanny ability to devise works in which the dancers' personalities are key elements in the narrative scheme of things. In two pieces, "Les Chambres de Jacques" and "Busk," the company engaged in whimsical and dark scenarios sparked by striking images, daring physical feats and intriguing thematic ideas.
Dancing Wheels: The Cleveland company for dancers with and without disabilities celebrated its 30th anniversary with an action-packed extravaganza in June at the Agora that included an appearance by Gloria Gaynor performing her signature song, "I Will Survive" -- twice. But the evening's highlight was the world premiere of Dianne McIntyre's "Dancing on a Dream," an affectionate and exhilarating work saluting the life and career of the company's indomitable artistic director, Mary Verdi-Fletcher.
Eifman Ballet: Classical ballet doesn't make many appearances in downtown Cleveland these days. So it was startling to encounter the charismatic artistry of the Eifman Ballet of St. Petersburg, Russia, in May in artistic director Boris Eifman's grandiose full-length work, "Don Quixote, or Fantasies of a Madman." The production, set in an insane asylum, put a bizarre spin on Cervantes' beloved tale, but the dancing was so disciplined and animated that the company easily won over a ballet-deprived public.
GroundWorks DanceTheater: David Shimotakahara's modern-dance company can be counted on to come up with new and intriguing ideas in motion. Two works stood out in 2011: Shimotakahara's sensitive adaptation of Thornton Wilder's "Our Town" and Lynne Taylor-Corbett's "Hindsight," a tribute to Akron rocker Chrissie Hynde and her band, the Pretenders. The former condensed the beloved tale into a sweet and sweeping narrative. The latter used Hynde songs to evoke scenes of cheeky fun and poetic intensity.
Inlet Dance Theatre: The Cleveland dance company led by Bill Wade celebrated its 10th birthday in November with a program of revivals and a fine world premiere, "Let Go." To music by Ryan Lott, Wade's frequent collaborator, the piece explores issues of alienation and acceptance through a series of intimate and ensemble episodes. The work runs only 10 minutes, but its impact is powerful. The program included Wade's "Stone by Stone," a touching study of the need to connect and make a difference.
Joffrey Ballet: The noted Chicago dance company made its third summer appearance with the Cleveland Orchestra at Blossom Music Center in works by Julia Adam, Lar Lubovitch, Christopher Wheeldon and George Balanchine, whose "Stravinsky Violin Concerto" was particularly admired by freelance writer Mark Satola: "Balanchine's understanding of Stravinsky's playful and emotionally complex score resulted in a finale that was delightfully contrapuntal and, in the two pas de deux, profoundly moving."
Rioult: The New York dance company made a winning Cleveland debut in April in works set to music by Ravel and Bach. Artistic director Pascal Rioult's version of "Wien" (danced to Ravel's "La Valse") is a dark, expressionistic glimpse into a society on the verge of collapse, while his take on Ravel's "Bolero" treats the dancers as robots pining for liberation. States of nature are suggested in "Views of the Fleet World," a series of inventive pieces set to music from Bach's "The Art of the Fugue" that showed the Rioult dancers at their gleaming best.
Verb Ballets: The Cleveland modern-dance company had an exciting year in 2011, including the move to its first permanent home (Christ Episcopal Church in Shaker Heights). On the premiere front, Verb presented Antonio Brown's buoyant "Continuum" and Ginger Thatcher's feisty update of "Billy the Kid." The latter shared an American program with excellent revivals of Martha Graham's "Appalachian Spring" (set to music by Aaron Copland, also composer of "Billy the Kid") and Hernando Cortez's "Chichester Psalms" (with music by Leonard Bernstein).
RELATED COMPANY: Aszure Barton and Artists
Sunday, December 18th, 2011 1:00 PM
The Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company from Israel, a colorful troupe featuring ballet, contemporary dance, mime and acrobatics, will perform at the Ohio Theatre on Saturday, Jan. 28, and Sunday, Jan. 29.
The show is presented by Dance Cleveland with support from the Jewish Federation of Cleveland.
Through corporate and private donations, the federation last month established a program to help bring Israeli arts to Cleveland, working with the city's more › academic and art venues.
So far it has helped bring the following artists from Israel: singer Yasmin Levy, who performed at the Cleveland Museum of Art; the Alon Yavnai jazz quintet, which performed at Severance Hall; and novelist Amos Oz, who lectured at Oberlin College and Case Western Reserve University.
In March, the Cleveland International Film Festival will feature films from Israel.
"We want to let our neighbors know that Israel is a very culturally vibrant place," said federation President Stephen Hoffman. "It's not just about the headlines you see about the conflict."
For ticket information on the Israeli dance troupe, call the PlayhouseSquare box office at 216-241-6000 or 1-866-546-1353.
RELATED COMPANY: Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company (Israel)
Monday, December 12th, 2011 2:00 PM
NEW YORK (JTA) -- Cleveland has gained an unlikely new patron of the arts: the local Jewish federation.
As part of a new project to help showcase Israeli artists, the Jewish Federation of Cleveland is helping to facilitate Israeli performances at some of the city's major museums, concert halls and theaters. The program launched earlier this fall aims not just to boost Israel but the Israeli arts with the message that more › Israeli culture isn't just for the JCC anymore.
"The mission is to project Israel as a source of world-class art and culture," said Erica Hartman-Horovitz, an art appraiser who co-chairs the program, the Cleveland Israel Arts Connection. "When most people think of Israel they're thinking of the conflict, maybe the incredible efforts that Israel goes through to survive. We want to illustrate the Israel arts and culture world as something that is more than that for those who might not be interested in Israel for other reasons."
Made up of volunteers from the Cleveland arts, performance, music and literary communities, the program's committee has helped bring Ladino singer Yasmin Levy to the Cleveland Museum of Art; brought the Alon Yavnai jazz quintet to Severance Hall, the home of the Cleveland Orchestra; supported a sold-out performance of "My Name is Asher Lev" at the Cleveland Play House; and sponsored talks from Israeli novelist Amos Oz at Oberlin College and Case Western Reserve University.
In March, the Cleveland International Film Festival will feature films from Israel.
The program to boost Israel is unusual both for its partnerships with non-Jewish institutions and its ambition to bring Israeli culture to a city with a relatively modest Jewish population of about 80,000 and few Israelis.
"You don't need to do this in New York because New York -- and probably L.A., Washington and Miami -- has regular presentations, and because you have a large Jewish and Israeli population and these things can play there successfully even competing against other cultural options," said Stephen Hoffman, CEO of the Cleveland Jewish federation. "But once you leave the largest Jewish population centers, you have to work at it. Some of these performers might come to Cleveland anyway, some might not, but some need more help."
The help includes funding of $50,000 in corporate and private donations, as well as manpower help from the federation. Among the components of the program is a part-time Israeli scout for talent who comes to Cleveland every couple of months to suggest collaborations with particular artists or groups.
Meanwhile, non-Jewish venues in Cleveland are turning to the committee for help.
Pam Young, the executive director of DANCECleveland, said she had wanted to bring the Israeli Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak Dance Company to the city a few years ago to perform its new work at the time, "Oyster," but to do so would have been cost prohibitive.
When Young heard recently that the dance company would be reprising "Oyster" during a U.S. tour, she turned to the federation and the shidduch was made. In late January, the Israeli company will perform for two days at PlayhouseSquare, the country's second-largest performing arts center after New York's Lincoln Center.
"Federation leadership was essential," Young told JTA. "It gave us confidence to move forward with the project."
She said performances like these are a great way for non-Jews to learn about Israel.
"The arts transcend a lot of things: They transcend age, race, they transcend stereotypes," Young said. "Israeli artists aren't always making art about Israeli experiences or Jewish experiences, but they're making work, interesting work."
Attempts to bring Israeli culture to secular venues haven't always gone smoothly. In 2009, the Toronto International Film Festival came under fire for including Israeli movies. But in Cleveland, organizers say they haven't encountered such opposition.
Young said bringing Israeli artists to town may be heartwarming for Jews, but it also gives non-Jews an opportunity to enjoy great art -- it just happens to be from Israel.
"There are going to be non-Jews in the audience," she said of the upcoming dance performance. "They'll be the first ones on their feet."
Thursday, November 17th, 2011 9:00 AM
DANCECleveland receives $25,000 NEA grant to support presentations of Pinto and Pollak and Ballet Memphis
The National Endowment for the Arts (NEA) Chairman Rocco Landesman today announced that the agency will award 863 grants to organizations and individual writers across the country. DANCECleveland is one of the grantees and will receive $25,000 to support upcoming performances. The 863 grant awards total $22.543 million, encompass 15 artistic disciplines and fields, more › and support projects in 47 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico.
DANCECleveland will receive $25,000 to support presentations of Israeli dance company Inbal Pinto & Avshalom Pollak on January 28 and January 29 and Ballet Memphis on March 10 and March 11, 2012. Funding from the NEA allows DANCECleveland to expand our engagement of these two companies to include matinee performances and extensive educational offerings. Area dancers will have access to free master classes and residency activities during which company members work with local dancers.
"Art Works is the guiding principle at the NEA," said agency Chairman Rocco Landesman. "And I'm pleased to see that principle represented through the 823 Art Works-funded projects included in this announcement. These projects demonstrate the imaginative and innovative capacities of artists and arts organizations to enhance the quality of life in their communities."
DANCECleveland Executive Director Pamela Young said, "Support from the National Endowment for the Arts enables us to continue presenting world-class modern and contemporary dance in Northeast Ohio."
In March 2011, the NEA received 1,686 eligible applications for Art Works requesting more than $84 million in funding. The resulting funding rate of 49 percent of eligible applications reflects both the significant demand for support and the ongoing vitality of the not-for-profit arts community despite current financial challenges. Art Works grants are awarded based on the applications received by the NEA and how those applications are assessed by the review panels.
For a complete listing of projects recommended for Art Works grant support, please visit the NEA web site at arts.gov.
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 question and answer sessions.
Visit www.dancecleveland.org or call 216.991.9000 for more information.
Wednesday, November 9th, 2011 12:00 PM
We've been decrying the dearth of professional ballet in Northeast Ohio for some time now, ever since Ohio Ballet folded in the summer of 2006, but recent developments in the local dance scene and the nature of ballet performance nationwide have rendered a change that we must acknowledge.
Is ballet dead? Nationally and locally that was the question. If ballet's not dead nationally, what - or who - is the next more › big thing? And if ballet isn't dead locally, where's the next professional local ballet company?
All was made clear last Saturday night at the Ohio Theatre where we watched Aszure Barton and Artists perform, a veritable epiphany.
The piece de resistance was Busk, an episodic piece whose world premiere had occurred only last December at the Barishnikov Arts Center. In its music - Gypsy violin by Ljova and the Kontraband and choral music in Swedish - and in much of its costuming, gesture, and set design, Busk evoked street performers, buskers.
In a kind of prologue, Barton herself entered wearing white gloves like a street mime. She performed an eclectic dance that borrowed from mime, among other forms, and referenced street performers.
As her prologue ended, the curtain started to come down; with precise, practiced timing Barton ran and slid under the curtain and waved to the audience from a spotlight on the apron. The gimmick, which brought smiles and applause from the audience, harked back to Barton's teenage years in dance competition and revealed her formula for the rest of Busk: throw the kitchen sink if necessary, but surprise and entertain.
In interviews and press releases, Barton insisted that the title, Busk, referred back to the Spanish word buscar, to seek. Questionable etymology but apparently Barton's way of saying that - episodic and gimmicky though it is - Busk is an inquiry into the nature of performance.
After Barton's prologue, the curtain quickly went back up on the ensemble, only nine dancers in all, dancing in dark coats. Lighting design by Nicole Pearce (who did her undergraduate work in Theatre at Kent State University, where she graduated Cum Laude) suggested rainy streets. Choral music in Swedish provided motivation for the dancers to stand on the little staircase that Barton had entered on and mime multi-part singing. Remember Repertory Project performing Doug Varone's Bench Quartet? This was the same idea on a larger scale. Toward the end of this segment, one of the dancers rode across the stage on a unicycle, another amusing gimmick.
The street choir was followed by one of the men dancing to pizzicato violin, his solo punctuated by mad, cackling laughter.
The hooded ensemble lay down to sleep face down in a pile; the audience chuckled as the sleepers' hips waved side to side.
Temporarily abandoning the premise of here-we-are-on-the-street-sleeping-in-a-pile-to-keep-warm, one of the women - the redhead - entered in white shorts and halter-top and performed a solo full of back bends and splits.
Another acrobatic solo; a mirrored disco ball was lowered from the fly space and lit another solo and an ensemble dance; another white-gloved solo, this one by one of the men; a little juggling; a girl in white danced a solo referencing Dying Swan. As the final curtain came down a single white feather floated down from the fly space.
So, what is the nature of performance, according to Barton and artists? Beyond the continual dialogue between "What can we do next?" and "This will slay 'em!" there was a pervasive sense of energetic fun and lots of delicious, eclectic dancing.
The "delicious" dancing is much harder to talk about than the gimmicks. All Barton's dancers have notable facility and everything they did - no matter how technical or acrobatic, eclectic, idiosyncratic or balletic - everything got tossed off with great energy and finesse and flowed together both technically and choreographically.
The program opened with Les Chambres des Jacques, Jack-in-the-Box, a dance very similar to Busk but - if possible - even more overflowing with energy in its gestures, facial expressions, galumphing folk dance, and ballet steps.
And our epiphany is, the next big thing in the living world of ballet turns out to be - at least some of the time - small. The small company of first-rate dancers is the new performance model, small groups with choreography informed by ballet but not limited to it.
Big ballet companies will continue to exist - probably - and may continue to visit Northeast Ohio - occasionally - but for those like ourselves who need to see artistically adventurous choreography and skilled performers on a regular basis, this may be the year to savor good, small ballet ensembles. Counting Joffrey Ballet at Blossom last August (with 40 dancers that's a big company), and Aszure Barton and Artists last Saturday, DanceCleveland alone offers 4 companies with ballet chops this 2011 – 2012 season, reason enough for us to rejoice.
(Go to http://InbalPinto.com and see video of Oyster, DanceCleveland's next offering. Get tickets and see the whole season at http://DanceCleveland.org/subscriptions.)
Local companies have also stepped up to the plate. GroundWorks Dance Theatre continues to recruit and develop dancers with serious ballet skills. Last summer they pulled off a major programming coup, performing the world premiere of Hindsight by choreographer Lynn Taylor Corbett, fresh from her triumph reviving Seven Deadly Sins for New York City Ballet. (To see our interview with Taylor Corbett click here. Keep up with GroundWorks at http://NotSoObvious.com.)
Also last summer, Verb ballets performed Janis and Joe, not our favorite rock ballet but a showcase for the ballet skills of the Verb dancers, including the women's corps dancing very well en pointe! (To see our interview with choreographer Christopher Fleming click here. See what's next for Verb here.)
Aszure Barton and Artists performed at the Ohio Theatre on Sat 10/29/11 presented by DanceCleveland and Playhouse Square.
Victor Lucas and Elsa Johnson
RELATED COMPANY: Aszure Barton and Artists