Tuesday, October 7th, 2014 12:00 PM
AKRON, Ohio -- DANCECleveland, in conjunction with The University of Akron's EJ Thomas Hall, kicked off its 2014-2015 with the return of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Sunday.
The 11-member touring company, last seen in the region in 2010, brought with it to the former home of the Ohio Ballet -- another troupe known for its touring popularity -- a program of three contemporary dance works including the Jiri Kylian masterwork "Return more › to a Strange Land".
Things got off to a rousing start with Boston Ballet resident choreographer Jorma Elo's latest work for ASFB, "Over Glow" (2011). Set to music by Beethoven and Mendelssohn, the piece bathed in a yellow-green hue began with a solo by a shirtless male dancer moving in tightly controlled choreography that seemed contrary in energy to the booming and sweeping classical music accompanying him.
Several other dancers then trickled onto the stage following suit, dancing self-absorbed solos filled with rippling arm movements, sharp hands gestures, wiggling torsos and high leg kicks. The abstract and quirky choreography interjected with moments of humor and consternation had its six dancers pausing at times to linger in stillness before resuming their dance riffs.
A talented choreographer whose work tends to either alienate or delight audiences, Elo embraces playful oddity in his choreographic movements and gestures, turning them into a collective thing of beauty.
The mood in "Over Glow" mood turned solemn midway through the piece as the dancers paired off into three male-female couples and moved through an array of gesture-infused phrases and partnered lifts. The work's most intriguing moments occurred when a male dancer intensely held his flat palm inches from his female partner's face, who the recoiled in fear as if being smothered.
Shuffling her feet backwards and gripping his arm, she arched slowly backward and slumped to the floor lifeless. A heady moment in an otherwise light-hearted work, the scene was followed with more humor as a different male dancer meandered onto the stage to the prostrate dancer and nudged at her limp body with his head like a dog trying to wake its master.
Elo's unusual and interesting piece was followed by Kylian's 1975 contemporary ballet marvel "Return to a Strange Land." Dense with intertwining partnered moves and set to a lulling piano score by Janacek, the beautifully danced work mesmerized.
A trio of dancers (two males, one female) opened the piece, holding hands and weaving in and around each other in clever patterns. In the second of the work's four parts, dancers Samantha Klanac Campanile and Joseph Watson engaged in a soft and lovely pas de deux built on choreography that seemed to pull the dancers upward.
Campanile, on pointe, was swept into leaps and soaring lifts by Watson and spun on one knee in a unique pirouette variation. The remainder of the expertly-crafted work continued the brilliance of the first two sections with more inventive choreography and partnering combinations, making it the highlight of the program.
The troupe's deft and inspired dancing continued in the final work on the entertaining program, "Square None" (2012), by up and coming choreographer Norbert De La Cruz lll. The Princess Grace Foundation Award-winner's first work for the company blended nicely constructed movement phrases with lighting designer Seah Johnson's dark and atmospheric lighting scheme featuring a grid of lighted squares.
Like the program's opening work, "Square None" began with its seven dancers moving in self-contained solos within individual lighted squares on the stage, each solo a spurt of energy ending in an elegant pose. Cone-like streams of light from overhead creating the squares along with stage fog and a wide-ranging musical score (Aphex Twin to Handel) gave the work a pulsing and dreamy feel.
Using the familiar contemporary dance movement language in vogue nowadays, Cruz created an enticing piece that fit well on ASFB's dancers and pointed to a bright choreographic future for the recent Juilliard School graduate.
The Plain Dealer, Steve Sucato
RELATED COMPANY: Aspen Santa Fe Ballet
Tuesday, October 7th, 2014 12:00 PM
Depending on whom you listened to after the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet performance at E.J. Thomas Hall in Akron this past Sunday afternoon, opinions ran from "excellent" to "just OK." So why is there such a disparity of opinions? Listening in on the comments of the younger audience members, they seemed absolutely enthralled and captivated by the performance while older patrons seemed somewhat disappointed. This seems to be the trend more ›
in audiences as more and more young people discover dance and dance companies adjust their repertoire to excite this newer generation.
The program began with Jorma Elo's work "Over Glow," which used a fusion of contemporary ballet and classical ballet styles set to music by Mendelssohn and Beethoven. It consisted of a series of sharp staccato hand and foot movements that were not only in sync with the music by had each dancer perfectly mirroring each other's movements. The piece featured dancers Craig Black, Katherine Bolaños, Samantha Klanac Campanile, Peter Franc, Nolan DeMarco McGahan and Emily Proctor. The work highlighted the fine degree of movement coordination between the dancers as well as showing off some fine instances of dancing brilliance.
After a first intermission, dancers took to the stage for a work choreographed by Jiří Kylián titled "Return To A Strange Land." The piece was more in the vein of classical ballet with some astounding strength lifts and moves that wowed the crowd. Although the music was a bit unexciting, the dance moves more than made up for that deficit.
The afternoon of dance concluded after the second intermission with Norbert De La Cruz III's "Square None," which combined music by Alva Noto and Ryuichi Sakamoto, Michelle Ross, George Frederic Handel and Apex Twin. The dancers were Corwin Barnette, Sadie Brown, Paul Busch, Peter Franc, Emily Proctor, Seia Rassenti and Joseph Watson. This combination of musical styles frankly made the work seem disjointed. It seemed to be one of those "everything but the kitchen sink" types of works which may have been the alienating factor with the older audience members.
Dance seems to be in a state of transition as companies with the word "ballet" in their names are expected to be limited to classical ballet technique by the traditional audience members while the younger generation seems to crave more of the experimental and modern styles of dance. Aspen Santa Fe Ballet seems to be trying to put on a show that pleases everyone with the first work for "the Kids", the second work for "the Elders" and the third work for everybody. Unfortunately, some members of the old guard seem to feel that ballet means ballet (as in classical ballet) and anything different is not of interest to them.
In the end, half of the audience stood and cheered (the youngsters) while the other half of older patrons sat firmly in their seats awaiting the houselights so that they could make their way to the exits.
Shooting From The Lip (In My Opinion): The performance was technically exciting with some truly unique moves that truly impressed most of the crowd. The choice of music could have matched the superb dancing with more upbeat contemporary musical works and while the third piece, Square None was interesting, many considered it too disjointed in its mix of music and movement.
axs.com, Mark Horning
RELATED COMPANY: Aspen Santa Fe Ballet
Thursday, October 2nd, 2014 12:00 PM
Audiences loved seeing Aspen Santa Fe Ballet so much in Cleveland in 2010, DanceCleveland has brought the modern ballet company back to kick off the organization's dance season at E.J. Thomas Hall in Akron Sunday afternoon.
"People kept begging for us to bring them back," said Pam Young, executive director for DanceCleveland. "We always pick companies that can help expand the view of the students" and general audiences.
Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, more › founded in 1996, is well known for working with European choreographers that are rarely seen in the United States. The new works that ASFB commissions from these hot choreographers across the pond are created specifically for its athletic American dancers and are known for breaking the divide between classical ballet and modern dance.
Beginning Sunday, ASFB is going to spend some quality time in Akron, the most time a visiting dance company will spend on the ground in Northeast Ohio all season in DanceCleveland's five-company lineup. ASFB will begin with a master class before its show Sunday and then conduct a four-day residency at the University of Akron with its college students as well as Dance Institute and high school students.
That means the ballet company will take over all of UA's dance classes for the week, teaching several ballet classes as well as offering lecture/demos and giving students the opportunity to observe ASFB's company class and company rehearsal.
Normally, UA students spend a week in residency with a visiting company and then see their performance. This time, the schedule will be reversed, which artistic director Tom Mossbrucker said will allow students to delve more deeply into the company.
"You see it [the performance] onstage but then they'll get a week to see who we are as a company and as performers," said Mossbrucker, who will be in Akron with the company and executive director Jean-Philippe Malaty.
The teaching will go further than dance: ASFB lighting supervisor Seah Johnson and production stage manager Danny Bacheldor also will share their expertise with theater students Wednesday afternoon.
Mossbrucker, a principal dancer with the Joffrey Ballet for 20 years, said he's especially proud to have seen 28 new ballets created for ASFB by leading global choreographers in the last 18 years. That happened out of necessity, as the original six-member company was too small to perform big ballets and did not have a resident choreographer.
ASFB has enjoyed an exciting artistic partnership with Finnish-born choreographer Jorma Elo, whose Red Sweet became a signature work for the company that was toured all over the world. ASFB didn't know how Elo could top his sassy, sexy Red Sweet from 2008, but as the company begins its 19th season in Akron, it will perform a new signature work - Over Glow, commissioned from Elo in 2011.
"We love it so much we can't stop dancing it," Mossbrucker said of the bright, exuberant piece set to music by Mendelssohn and Beethoven.
Elo returned to ASFB just a few months ago to coach new company members on his Over Glow, helping them to feel like it was their own by adding stylistic changes that fit the new dancers.
Also on the Akron program is Czech choreographer Jiri Kylian's Return to a Strange Land, which Mossbrucker describes as simple, abstract, architecturally spacious yet emotional. Kylian created the on pointe piece, set to haunting piano music by Czech Leos Janacek, for the Stuttgart Ballet in 1975.
"It's a piece that's very special to me because I danced it at the Joffrey many, many years ago," Mossbrucker said.
Kylian, a pioneer in contemporary dance, was an important influence on Elo.
"Kylian is really one of the foremost living choreographers, along with [William] Forsythe," Mossbrucker said.
ASFB now has 11 dancers, six of whom are Juilliard graduates. One of them is 25-year-old Paul Busch, a Romanian-born dancer who grew up in Dayton and began dancing with the Dayton Ballet.
Busch said performing with just 10 other dancers means you're always either a principal dancer or soloist: "We don't have a corps de ballet. If you're on stage, it's for a reason. You really have to pull your own weight and you really have to be creative."
The ballet-trained Busch, a 2011 Juilliard graduate, said he had a breakthrough as a student when celebrated visiting Israeli choreographer Ohad Naharin told him this while teaching him his dance MAX: "Paul, you have to dance like you have rabies - go crazy."
"The light went off. It totally change my dancing," Busch recalled.
The young dancer is especially proud to be performing the 2012 Square None in Akron, created by Norbert De La Cruz III, who was one year ahead of Busch at Juilliard. ASFB was the first company ever to commission De La Cruz to create a dance, having discovered him during his senior choreographic program at Juilliard in 2010.
In Square None, a grid is created by tape onstage. Dancers move in and out of its boxes as the light is sharply focused on various parts of the grid. The work is set to an eclectic musical collage of five composers.
"It's one of the most favorite things I've ever danced," Busch said.
De La Cruz has a fun and wonderful knack for torquing impeccable dance technique in new ways, Busch said: "He's created his own world and it's really fabulous to be a part of [it]."
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org. She is also on Facebook at www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.
Kerry Clawson, Akron Beacon Journal
RELATED COMPANY: Aspen Santa Fe Ballet
Tuesday, September 30th, 2014 12:00 PM
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- Cleveland isn't just another city to Aspen Santa Fe Ballet. It's the place that inspired its founders.
Were it not for the experience and advice of the former Cleveland San Jose Ballet, in fact, the trailblazing troupe kicking off the DanceCleveland season Sunday might not even exist.
"I'm grateful we had people paving the way for us," said Jean-Philippe Malaty, the company's executive director. "The example of Cleveland Ballet more › gave us courage. Now it's integral to who we are."
Indeed, ASF didn't invent the concept of a two-city company. Long before Malaty and partner Tom Mossbrucker founded their company in Aspen in 1996, the Joffrey Ballet and Cleveland's former jewel were operating in two far-flung locales.
Neither did they set out to become the longest enduring. No, their original aim was not to demonstrate the benefits and potential of long-distance collaboration but rather to showcase cutting-edge choreography from Europe.
And yet here they are, in 2014, still standing as an national case study.
"I think we're getting the record," Malaty said. "We've had to be creative and find a way to sustain ourselves. We have a sense of permanence."
Much of that success Malaty attributes to Dennis Nahat, Cleveland's former artistic director. On an early trip to Cleveland to meet with the company, he said Nahat was "generous" with tips that proved invaluable.
First, Malaty said, Nahat told him to choose locations with similar tastes in dance, and whose profiles nationally are comparable. Otherwise one will come to feel like a "stepchild," Malaty said. Hence the partnership with Santa Fe, a fellow city small in size but mighty in terms of culture.
No less pivotal: choose cities within driving distance of each other, to keep down costs. "That made a big difference," Malaty explained, "especially in the early years. We didn't have to incur big expenses."
When it came to choreography, of course, Malaty and crew needed no advice. That they were already doing – and continue to do – exactly right, by showcasing work by some of biggest names in contemporary ballet.
Their program here, itself a co-presentation with the University of Akron, is a case in point. On tap are works by three high-level choreographers, whose work is rooted in classical ballet but also pushes the art in new directions.
"Over Glow," by Jorma Elo, is a 2011 setting of Mendelssohn and Beethoven, and Jiri Kylian's "Return to a Strange Land" is founded on Janacek. Norbert De La Cruz III, meanwhile, goes in several directions in his 2012 "Square None," taking off from music by such diverse composers as Handel, Sakamoto and Aphex Twin.
In the beginning, ASF was something of an experiment, a quest whose outcome was uncertain. Now it's something of a legend, a source of inspiration rather than a group in need of it.
"It's definitely high maintenance, and I'm not sure what we've done could be duplicated," Malaty said. "But we know we're actually going to be around for more than the next season."
Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer
RELATED COMPANY: Aspen Santa Fe Ballet
Wednesday, September 24th, 2014 12:00 PM
Dance and Brass: Autumnal Offerings from the Region's Many Dance Companies and the Renowned Cleveland Orchestra
This past summer, Verb Ballets performed a series of duets in Tremont's Lincoln Park, filled with intricate choreography that likely enchanted even those with nary a recognized interest in the art. That's a noted trend among organizations highlighted here: bringing what might be perceived as niche artistic interests into the Northeast Ohio entertainment mainstream.
The rest of Verb Ballets' season includes several fall appearances (Twinsburg High School on Sept. 26, Green more › High School on Oct. 18) and leads to a robust winter that kicks off with a slot at the International Association of Blacks in Dance Showcase in January.
DanceCleveland starts its season Oct. 5 with the Aspen Santa Fe Ballet at Akron's EJ Thomas Hall. This is the sort of thing DanceCleveland does best: showcase top-notch companies from around the world. The Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company arrives in early November.
Dancing Wheels, a local company that features some dancers with disabilities, will perform Oct. 15 at Trinity Cathedral. The event is part of Trinity's "Brownbag Lunch Series," which is open to the public.
On Oct. 20, the national tour of So You Think You Can Dance (#SYTYCD) rolls into Playhouse Square. The show's 11th season finalists will perform the season's most popular routines -- plus a few new and original numbers.
Case Western Reserve University's department of dance will showcase Horizons from Oct. 31 to Nov. 8. The show features noted works from Mark Morris and Pascal Rioult.
Likewise, the Cleveland Orchestra is looking toward a busy season at Severance Hall in the coming months.
Here's the one that longtime supporters and rookies alike should be able to get behind: Franz Welser-Most conducts Beethoven's Sixth Symphony ("Pastoral"), Oct. 4 and 5. The performances will be grouped with selections from Ravel.
Renowned pianist Lang Lang, who spends most of his time traveling the globe, will bring his takes on Chopin and Strauss to Cleveland Oct. 9 through 12.
Beginning in late November, the Cleveland Orchestra will take to Playhouse Square and join Chicago's Joffrey Ballet for the annual Nutcracker performances. For most children -- families in general, really -- these shows afford the most accessible entry point for orchestral music in Cleveland.
It's probably worth a reminder that the Cleveland Orchestra is an internationally lauded institution. And Cleveland gets a front-row seat to the music.