BalletMet and Cincinnati Ballet – Inspired
March 11-13, 2016
Reviewed by Steve Sucato
Extoling the latest joint production of BalletMet and Cincinnati Ballet is like lauding the pleasures of chocolate; everyone knows them. But for those who sadly missed Inspired, March 11-13 at Columbus’ Ohio Theatre, let me unwrap some of its velvety goodness for you.
Opening night’s performance on March 11 began with BalletMet performing artistic director Edwaard Liang’s signature ballet “Age of Innocence.” Set to music by Philip Glass and Thomas Newman, the ballet, originally created on Chicago’s Joffrey Ballet in 2008, was inspired by the late 18th century and early 19th century romantic fiction of English novelist Jane Austin.
The ballet for eight women and eight men had the pedigree of one created for an elite troupe like the Joffrey. The understated, yet rich looking backdrop of crimson drapes along with costume designer Maria Pinto’s modern take on period formalwear (both courtesy of Joffrey Ballet), presented the viewer with a contemporary vision of a bygone era of formal balls, arranged marriages and women as second class citizens.
As if taking part in one such ball, BalletMet’s dancers streamed onto the stage, males to one side, females to the other, lined up across from and facing one another in preparation to dance. The men bowed and the women curtsied.
With “Age of Innocence” Liang captured the prim and proper demeanor of those depicted in Austin’s novels. The regimented group choreography had a geometric beauty and grace to it. Male and female rows of dancers crossed lines, came together to hold hands and then moved apart in an elegant courtship ritual. Dancers’ sweeping arms and scooped hands wrapped around their heads, bodies cocked to one side at odd angles and legs shot out into arabesques. As intricate as Liang’s group choreography was, the ballet shone brightest in several scrumptious pas de deuxs contained within it.
The first, danced by Karen Wing and Michael Sayre, built in momentum like the music to which it was danced. Dense with partnered lifts, Wing was wrapped around Sayre’s waist like a fanny pack and then dipped into a “Fish” pose. The second, and the ballet’s finest, came in its penultimate 4th movement. Caitlin Valentine-Ellis and David Ward dazzled in a breathtaking display of grace, power and daring. Valentine-Ellis appeared to float on air in Liang’s spellbinding choreography that produced a wow lift where she executed an arabesque penché at Ward’s side and was grabbed by her extended leg from behind Ward who pulled her upside down and over him as he bent forward to land seated on his now flattened back. The clever move elicited gasps from the delighted audience that resonated throughout the theater.
“Age of Innocence” drove home once again how fortunate Columbus dance audiences are to have a world-class choreographer leading BalletMet. The level of ballets and dancer talent Liang has assembled since his arrival in 2013 far exceeds the company’s mid-size budget.
Next it was Cincinnati Ballet’s turn to shine in choreographer Trey McIntyre’s brilliant and funny “Wild Sweet Love.” Originally created for Sacramento Ballet in 2007, “Wild Sweet Love” was a delightfully quirky and athletic work set to disparate music by The Zombies, Roberta Flack, Felix Mendelssohn and others, and featured principal dancer Sarah Hairston as a downtrodden woman unlucky in love. Looking like a depressed Mary Katherine Gallagher, the fictional Saturday Night Live character portrayed by comedienne Molly Shannon, Hairston wonderfully sulked around the stage creating sad, but endearingly humorous moments throughout the ballet.
Delivered as a series of adroitly danced vignettes that included multiple costume changes, “Wild Sweet Love” explored the range of emotions being in love and lacking love in your life can bring.
Highlighting the ballet was the effervescent and spunky performances of corps de ballet dancer Jaqueline Damico and principal dancer Cervilio Miguel Amador in a duet danced to The Partridge Family’s 1974 hit “I Think I Love You.” All smiles, Damico and Amador blazed through playful choreography that had them darting about, twisting and turning in an infectious groove that the viewer couldn’t help but be swept up in.
Also of note was a trio in which an envious, somewhat vengeful Hairston looked on as soloist Sirui Liu and senior soloist Romel Frometa engaged in a bizarre pas de deux in which Liu took swings at Frometa with clenched fists in-between fondly embracing him.
After another depressingly funny solo by Hairston, who pulled her shirt over her face, the ballet concluded with the cast (including a few BalletMet 2 dancers as extras) coming together in a rollicking group dance to Queen’s 1976 anthem “Somebody to Love.” In it, Hairston, encircled by the others was triumphantly lifted skyward like a cheerleader only to come back down to earth literally and figuratively disappearing into the middle of the crowd of dancers, her tutu having been pulled up over her face.
The stellar program ended with a joint performance of George Balanchine’s 1970 masterwork “Who Cares?.”
Set to seventeen Broadway musical songs by George Gershwin, orchestrated by Hershy Kay, including “Strike Up The Band!,” “‘S Wonderful” and “I Got Rhythm,” the high-stepping, high-energy neo-classical ballet was Balanchine at his Broadway-esque best.
The two companies meshed perfectly in it, and unlike their last collaboration in Balanchine’s “Symphony in C” in 2014, the much improved BalletMet was every bit the equal of Cincinnati Ballet in classical technique and artistry.
Standouts included BalletMet’s Grace-Anne Powers and Attila Bongar dashing back and forth across the stage to Gershwin’s “Oh, Lady Be Good!,” and Valentine-Ellis with Miguel Anaya performing flawlessly in an emotionally dramatic pas de deux to “The Man I Love.” The pas, first performed by New York City Ballet stars Patricia McBride and Jacques d’Amboise, had the feel of an old Hollywood movie production number and proved a real gem.
Also of note was the performance of Anaya, as a debonair ladies’ man, in several other pas de deuxs with different partners including he and BalletMet’s Adrienne Benz twirling to “Embraceable You,” and with Jessica Brown in a leisurely game of tag to the song “Who Cares?.”
The carefree ballet was a fitting end to a deliciously decadent evening of dance teeming with tasty performances to satisfy any ballet lover’s sweet tooth.
|Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.|