Tuesday, October 8th, 2013 12:00 PM
DanceCleveland hit a home run with its season opener of BalletX Saturday night at the University of Akron's E.J. Thomas Hall. The contemporary ballet troupe from Philadelphia, in its Northeast Ohio debut, presented a memorable mixed repertory program of three engaging ballets performed adroitly by its versatile dancers.
The sold-out performance, co-sponsored by the university, led off with Amsterdam-based choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's "Still@Life" (2008), set to music by J.S. Bach more › and Wassenaer.
Inspired by still-life paintings and sculptures of Michelangelo, Ochoa's ballet opened on a tableau of a half-dozen male and female dancers costumed in black tops and skirts frozen in an action pose, with one female dancer gripping a green apple between her teeth. The tableau then dissolved, and the dancers set out on what would be a well-crafted journey filled with whimsy and great dancing.
Apples were tossed, rolled and passed among the dancers in playful choreography that had bodies twisting and turning as dancers' legs shot into high extensions and curled through elegant développés.
Ochoa's movement language for the ballet, characteristic of the familiar contemporary ballet language used by many of today's choreographers, had a freshness to its familiarity that was delightful.
Her choreography for the ballet was a mix of interesting dancer formations and clever movement phrases that, like the music it was danced to and the costumes, transitioned from dark to colorful as the ballet progressed. "Still@Life" proved full of life and was both entertaining and satisfying.
Next, former San Francisco Ballet dancer Alex Ketley's "Silt" (2009) adopted at its beginning an apathetic mood, as a male/female couple danced in silence, executing a sputtering succession of contorted body positions while four more dancers -- three seated in chairs -- looked on, appearing bored and disconnected.
As the ballet progressed, a music collage by Tar©JMB kicked in, creating a brooding atmosphere further enhanced by a dark lighting scheme from designer Drew Billiau. Ketley's complex choreography for the ballet's six dancers in this setting felt desolate and at times ceremonial. There was beauty in this, but it was often muted.
One of the ballet's finest moments occurred in a solo by dancer Richard Villaverde, performed to haunting piano music by Arvo Pärt. Looking emotionally tormented, Villaverde poured himself into a swirl of back-and-forth movement that was mesmerizing. That solo, along with a scant few other moments in the ballet, appeared as oases in an otherwise stark and forgettable landscape.
The program closed with BalletX co-artistic director Matthew Neenan's "The Last Glass" (2010). Utilizing the company's full complement of 10 dancers performing to a soundtrack by American indie-rock band Beirut, Neenan's ballet presented the audience with a scene out of a bus station or airport terminal.
As if splashing through puddles of emotion that covered the stage, the dancers kicked up anger, joy and sadness, which then clung to them, giving their characters an underlying motivation and exposing their imperfections.
They then carried out disparate personal stories that moved within the same space. The most revealing of these was a lone woman looking bereft, walking slowly across the stage with head in hand. Her story and sense of loss would become the focal point of the ballet.
"The Last Glass" was a cool ballet, blending Beirut's often-melancholy troubadour-esque tunes with a collection of quirky characters and dramatic mini storylines, along with really smart choreography from Neenan that smacked you in the face at every turn. Danced passionately by BalletX's dancers, the ballet was a fitting end to a superb evening of dance.
Steve Sucato is a writer and critic and chairman emeritus of the Dance Critics Association.
RELATED COMPANY: BalletX
Sunday, October 6th, 2013 12:00 PM
The experimental BalletX dance company performed three starkly different works in its Northeast Ohio debut Saturday at E.J. Thomas Hall, with the most accessible dance being The Last Glass, a joyful celebration set to the passionate, rowdy, high-spirited music of American indie-rock band Beirut.
The sold-out crowd at the University of Akron leapt to its feet for a standing ovation after The Last Glass, which ended the performance on a wonderfully more › lusty note.
Choreographer Matthew Neenan, co-artistic director for BalletX of Philadelphia, has taken eight songs from Beirut's album The Flying Club Cup that together sound like the music is almost careering out of control with its street parade sound. The full company creates the impression of wild freedom in this hearty yet nevertheless meticulously executed dance, which Neenan created in 2010.
Chloe Felesina, dressed in tan pantaloons and top that look like underclothes, is the outsider in this celebration, a solitary sad figure who moves with her shoulders hunched and her arms up near her shoulders, as if comforting herself. She brightens up when she pairs with William Cannon, who rubs her cheeks to make her smile. In surprising shifts in movement, they do a graceful dolphin dive on the floor together, break-dance style. We can believe he is the man of her dreams.
He leaves, she is sad again, and when they reconnect, as she reaches to kiss him, he runs off with the group.
This dance, which portrays a wild lust for life, has the full company dancing as five couples. Among them are fighting couple Richard Villaverde and Jaime Lennon, she wearing a flounced white party dress, struggling against him by kicking her legs out during lifts and making fists.
At the other extreme, Zachary Kapeluck and Francesca Forcella are closely in tune as a couple as she dances prettily on pointe. The dancers throw themselves into this high-energy street parade that grows in momentum, aided by the sounds of full-blooded brass.
To the carnival-sounding tune Elephant Gun, dancers rotate as couples in a line from right to left and Cannon joins the line with an invisible partner. Felesina, center stage in front of the parade, is shut out of the group festivities, but we see from her secret smile that this may be by design.
Much more difficult to digest was Alex Ketley's 2009 Silt, which started out with more than a minute of complete silence as two dancers gesticulated fervently with their arms as four others sat in near darkness. This dark, slow, modern dance changed as soon as the music started, with dancers Lennon and Villaverde instantly responding to each other in a much more sensual manner.
The musical soundscape was bizarre in this piece, with classical vocals set to a techno beat and a third, faint recording superimposed on both.
Odd repetitive movements included a wave of the arm from the elbow, a step forward with one foot and a hitch of the skirt. One dancer looked as if she was climbing up another's leg, and Andrea Yorita executed a cool, flat-footed arabesque while hanging onto Jesse Sani's waist backward with both arms.
Silt is a challenge to watch, and that's what BalletX wants for its audiences. This company, which is devoted almost solely to new works created for BalletX, has given 35 world premieres in its seven years and is committed to presenting new, experimental work.
A frolicsome, much easier to digest piece was Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's 2008 Still@Life, which had eight dancers posing en masse and then slowly coming to life in homage to Michelangelo's sculptures and paintings. The fun-loving dance, set to the music of Bach and Wassenaer, had a beautiful symmetry as both males and females danced in black skirts and vests.
Little by little, new elements of color were added to the dance with a dancer's top, vest or skirt, and by the end, a riot of color had broken out. Still@Life had humor, too, as dancers slapped their thighs and threw green apples to each other, sometimes putting them in their mouths in this still life run amuck.
You can count on getting a vast variety of tastes in a BalletX program. On Saturday, Still@Life was entertaining but the brilliant The Last Glass will remain indelible in Akron audience members' memories.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org
RELATED COMPANY: BalletX
Monday, September 30th, 2013 12:00 PM
Thank you, anonymous company that withdrew. If it hadn't been for you, the new DanceCleveland season might not be as attractive as it is.
But withdraw you did, and thus was Pam Young inspired to craft an American season pairing two of the nation's oldest, most respected dance companies with three of its youngest and most enterprising.
"We tried to create a balance," said Young, executive director of DanceCleveland, a presenting organization more › affiliated with the University of Akron and Cleveland's PlayhouseSquare. "If you don't like one, you may very well love the next.
"A person who attends the whole season will see the full breadth and range of this art form, and that it's diversifying in many ways."
DanceCleveland's 2013-14 Season
What: Philadelphia's BalletX.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 5.
Where: E.J. Thomas Hall, 198 Hill St., Akron.
Tickets: $10-$30. Go to uaevents.com or call 330-972-7570.
That's not all that person will see. Thanks again to the international troupe that was unable to plan a performance here, DanceCleveland also was able to structure a season around an ever-blurring stylistic line.
To a tee, the companies on the season beginning Saturday, Oct. 5, bear out the ongoing breakdown of the formerly ironclad border between classical ballet and modern dance.
"There's been a real transformation going on in dance," said Young. "Choreographers today, it's like that wall doesn't exist. They look at it all as one big toolbox."
Start, as Young did, with Paul Taylor Dance Company, slated to appear at PlayhouseSquare Nov. 9. Founded in 1954, the troupe stands as the elder statesman of American contemporary dance, renowned for its unique power to illuminate great works of music.
No less respected is the Trisha Brown Dance Company, a second representative of the elder generation of American modern dance, founded by a choreographer known for her openness to collaboration and rigorous sense of structure.
Last seen on DanceCleveland in 2001, the company appears here again March 8, perhaps for the last time. Earlier this year, in response to its founder's declining health, the performing branch of the organization decided to fold after a lengthy farewell tour.
"We realized we had to get them on our season," Young said.
The rest of the season explores newer threads in dance while attesting to the second theme Young described, to the fluid wall between classical and modern. Two of three companies even have the word "ballet" in their name.
The first company, BalletX, makes its Northeast Ohio debut Oct. 5 at the University of Akron. Co-artistic director Christine Cox said the Philadelphia-based troupe is "like a blank slate," composed of dancers trained in classical ballet but able to execute whatever maneuvers a choreographer might ask of them.
On the program, she said, are three works from the company's repertory: a light, entertaining piece by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa called "Still@Life"; "Silt," a slower, darker and more thoughtful piece by Alex Ketley; and Matthew Neenan's "The Last Glass," a lengthier narrative setting of 10 songs by the indie-rock band Beirut.
"I could watch it constantly," Cox said of the latter. "It really stirs up a lot of feeling. You can really see the movement behind the thought, and you have the time to process it."
Two performances Jan. 25 and 26 have been reserved for New York's Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. That's because the 10-year-old company is in high demand and travels extensively, making U.S. engagements precious commodities.
Happily, said interim artistic director Alexandra Damiani, the program covers a lot of ground and should leave patrons with a clear sense of the company's range and versatility.
AT A GLANCE
Dance Cleveland's 2013-14 Season:
Saturday, Oct. 5
Paul Taylor Dance Company
Saturday, Nov. 9
Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet
Saturday, Jan. 25 and Sunday, Jan. 26
Trisha Brown Dance Company
Saturday, March 8
Jessica Lang Dance
Saturday, April 12
On the serious side will likely be two offerings, "Ten Duets on a Theme of Rescue," by Crystal Pite; and "Violet Kid," a work exploring the eternal teenager in all of us, choreographed and composed by Hofesh Shechter.
In stark contrast then will come "Necessity, Again," by Jo Stromgen, in which a speech by Jacques Derrida is playfully juxtaposed against French New Wave music.
"It's totally impossible to understand what he says, and it's totally on purpose," said Damiani. "With those dancers, it's just about the pleasure of moving and having a good time. You can almost hear the audience release and enjoy the ride."
The youngest company on the season is also the last. Jessica Lang Dance, founded in 2011, brings up the rear with a performance April 12.
Todd Burnsed, publicity manager, said choreographer Jessica Lang left Twyla Tharp Dance in order to develop her own ideas and pursue her interest in collaboration with visual artists and musicians. Now she's got nine dancers and a reputation as one of the most sought-after troupes on the modern-dance scene.
"She just said, 'I want my own crayons,' " he explained. "It was a way for her to expand her own creativity."
The audience also is bound to have its creativity expanded, given the works on the PlayhouseSquare program. Although the exact lineup is still being determined, Burnsed said the company is likely to present a work based on Piet Mondrian's paintings, a Japanese-influenced piece about two gods who only meet rarely, and the very work on which Burnsed himself became hooked on Jessica Lang.
Watching "I.N.K.," a collaboration with composer Jakub Ciupinski, at the Juilliard School in New York, Burnsed said he was moved not just to admire the choreographer but to join the company.
"You could definitely see a structure," he recalled. "She knew how to move the dancers around to make a great piece. We could all see that there was going to be more to come."
Zachary Lewis - The Plain Dealer
Thursday, September 26th, 2013 12:00 PM
"Visually compelling, powerful, beautiful"-The Philadelphia Inquirer
BalletX Makes Northeast Ohio Debut October 5
at University of Akron's E.J. Thomas Hall
DANCECleveland Opens with Innovative Contemporary Troupe
CLEVELAND (Aug. 30, 2013) –BalletX, Philadelphia's contemporary ballet company featuring a roster of world-class choreographers, will make its northeast Ohio debut at the University of Akron's E.J. Thomas Hall on October 5 at 8 p.m. to open DANCECleveland's 2013-14 season.
Co-presented by the University of Akron and more › E.J. Thomas Hall, BalletX was founded in 2005 by award-winning artistic directors Christine Cox and Matthew Neenan. The company challenges the boundaries of classical ballet by exploring the innovative possibilities of ballet in the 21st century.
In Akron, the company will perform a repertory program of three ballets: Still@Life (2008) with choreography by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa; "Silt" (2009) by Alex Ketley; and "The Last Glass" (2010) by Matthew Neenan.
Tickets starting at only $10 are available at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 330-972-7570. Visit www.dancecleveland.org for more information.
Since its inception, BalletX has acquired a repertory of works by renowned artists including Jorma Elo, Jodie Gates, Edwaard Liang, Adam Hougland, Helen Pickett, and Darrell Grand Moultrie, among others. Recognized worldwide for its unique repertory, BalletX participates in a growing number of national and international tours, including the Joyce Theater in New York City, Festival de Ballet in Colombia, Ballet EXPO in South Korea, Vail International Dance Festival in Colorado and Cerriots Center in California.
Co-Artistic Director Cox danced with BalletMet in Columbus, OH for five years before joining Ballet Hispanico as a guest dancer. She danced with Pennsylvania Ballet from 1993-2006. Her talent has been recognized with two Rocky Awards for outstanding achievement in the arts, as well as fellowships from the Independence Foundation and the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts.
Co-Artistic Director and Choreographer Neenan danced with Pennsylvania Ballet from 1994 to 2007, when he was named Choreographer in Residence at the company. In 2009, Neenan was the first recipient of the Jerome Robbins NEW Program Fellowship for his work "At the Border" for Pennsylvania Ballet.
The BalletX performance will be preceded by a week of educational programming by the company with students from the University of Akron's School of Dance and Dance Institute, as well as local community dance students and students from Akron's Firestone High School and Mill-South Visual and Performing Arts Middle School. This programming builds on the momentum of DANCECleveland's six-year relationship with the Akron community that helps build dance audiences and spur economic opportunities.
DANCECleveland, a Cleveland, Ohio based non-profit, is one of a handful of presenters nationally that is dedicated solely to the presentation of modern and contemporary dance. The centerpiece of the organization's programming is its annual performance series. The performances are surrounded by an array of educational outreach events including artist-run master classes, residency programs, student matinees, pre-performance lectures and post-performance Q&A sessions, designed both to break artistic boundaries and provide community access to the dance aesthetic and dance luminaries that DANCECleveland brings to Northeast Ohio.
For more information about BalletX, visit:
For more information about DANCECleveland's presenting partners for BalletX visit:
www.uaevents.com and click on E. J. Thomas Hall.
ELECTRONIC PHOTOS AVAILABLE FROM PAM BARR AT 216-932-5060 or email@example.com
Generous support for BalletXprovided by:
This project is partially supported by a grant from Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour, a program developed and funded by The Heinz Endowments; the William Penn Foundation; the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency; and The Pew Charitable Trusts; and administered by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.
This presentation is supported by the Arts Midwest Touring Fund, a program of Arts Midwest that is funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, with additional contributions from the Ohio Arts Council and General Mills Foundation.
Additional funding for DANCECleveland and this performance provided by:
The Mary S. and David C. Corbin Foundation, Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, The George Gund Foundation, The George W. Codrington Charitable Foundation, John P. Murphy Foundation and Target.
Friday, May 3rd, 2013 12:00 PM
What a bunch of charmers take to the stage -- and sometimes the audience -- in "The Better Half," the antic and acrobatic look at relationships that the Chicago dance-theater company Lucky Plush Productions is performing this weekend at the Allen Theatre.
Four of the five cast members amble on from the wings and stare into the house, as if they're in awe of the space. One of the men more › becomes the stage manager, who races through the script and assigns characters in what appears to be a tweaking of the 1944 film noir "Gaslight."
But Lucky Plush artistic director Julia Rhoads and Leslie Buxbaum Danzig, who co-created and co-directed "The Better Half," have something much more madcap and subversive up their sleeves. Working closely with the cast, they've devised a winsome and inventive, if slight, study of marriage and, as Stephen Sondheim puts it, the art of making art.
Everything happens as if the cast is making it all up on the spot. The narrative -- 70 minutes without intermission -- evolves from variations on "Gaslight" to crash course in pop-culture references, including tidbits from "The Bourne Identity" and "Scenes from a Marriage."
Lucky Plush Productions
What: The Chicago dance-theater company performs "The Better Half" by Julia Rhoads and Leslie Buxbaum Danzig, presented by DanceCleveland and Cleveland Play House.
When: 8 p.m. today and Saturday.
Where: Allen Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, Cleveland.
Tickets: $25 and $45. Go to playhousesquare.org or call 216-241-6000.
Patterns of dialogue and movement are repeated, supplemented and intensified, often to merrily twisted effect. The plot thickens and switches gears as the performers become more deeply invested in their duties, which toe the line between wacky and perplexing.
The work's principal thematic device emanates from "Gaslight," in which a psychotic husband tries to drive his wife bonkers. In this version, Mr. Manningham (Adrian Danzig) and Mrs. Manningham (Rhoads) test one another both on emotional and physical levels, at several points hurling one another over their respective shoulders in bursts of frustration.
The narrator (Timothy Heck) becomes a caffeinated Detective Rough. The housekeeper, Elizabeth (Meghann Wilkinson), grows bored and heads into another script. Most screwball of all is the maid, Nancy, who is portrayed, to his (and our) initial surprise, by the impish and nimble Francisco Avina.
In its cheeky melding of dance, dialogue, lighting effects, video and music (Mikhail Fiksel's suspenseful pizzicato motifs are especially zany), the mild-mannered "Better Half" pays affectionate and deadpan tribute to myriad sources without coalescing into something that sticks.
But the cast couldn't be more ideal. Rhoads is adorable and intrepid as the wife, and her equally tireless colleagues meet her on the same mirthful wavelength.
Donald Rosenberg, The Plain Dealer
RELATED COMPANY: Lucky Plush