Verb Ballets – 4X4: Four Works by Female Choreographers
Breen Center for the Performing Arts
February 8, 2020
Reviewed by Steve Sucato
No doubt Verb Ballets production of 4X4: Four Works by Female Choreographers is to be commended for giving more opportunities to female choreographers. As a production however, it delivered mixed results with those opportunities.
Dedicated to the memory of Millie Carlson, the mother of Verb Ballets artistic director Margaret Carlson, the program led off with a reprise of Kay Eichman’s neo-classical ballet “Mendelssohn Italian Symphony” (2018) that was set to music of the same name by Felix Mendelssohn. Inspired by its invigorating music Eichman’s ballet in 3 sections was awash in musicality and Verb’s dancers performed it with enthusiasm and effervescence. Skirting the line between an academic look and feel to the choreography and that of a truer artistry, Eichman’s ballet had its four male/female couples executing lovely group movement patterns, engaging phrases and changes in dancing pace that was a delightful beginning to the stylistically varied program.
And while Eichman’s ballet served to illuminate Verb’s dancers, the next work, Verb principal dancer Kate Webb’s “Stellar Syncopations” (2019), was more earthbound in its effect.
A relative newbie as a choreographer, Webb’s ballet showed she is still finding her way as a choreographer in terms of craft and editing. The ballet, said to visualize the life-cycle of a star, was further hampered by the music it was set to. Commissioned for Verb’s 2019 joint program with the Chamber Music Society of Ohio entitled Akron Legends of Jazz and Dance, Webb set “Excursions” by jazz pianist Pat Pace that was used for choreographer Heinz Poll’s 1982 ballet of the same name. And while Pace’s score had its own musical merits, the forced marriage of the less than dance friendly and dated composition with Webb as choreographer resulted in a ballet that was a bit clunky at times and had trouble holding interest. Kudos however to Verb artistic director Margaret Carlson for giving her artists other opportunities to create, and to Webb for her efforts, but the ballet overall proved itself not ready for prime time. I look forward however to seeing the promising Webb’s evolution as choreographer in future works.
Next, Verb dancers Lieneke Matte and Benjamin Sheppard performed Agrippina Vaganova’s 1935 showpiece “Diana y Acteon Pas de Deux”. Restaged by Cuba’s Laura Alonzo, the 8-minute classical pas de deux, a favorite of ballet competitions, got the most out of Matte and Sheppard as dancers. The pair turned in a respectful performance of the technically difficult and somewhat flashy pas de deux full of lifts, jumps and pirouettes to the delight of the Breen Center audience.
The program concluded with Chicago-based choreographer Stephanie Martinez’s Wandering On (2017). The contemporary dance work for 4 men and 7 women set to music by composers Lars Meyer, Ezio Bosso and others on a theme of traveling to another realm in search of freedom and enlightenment had the most comfortable fit on Verb’s dancers. A vibrant work with snappy movement, Verb’s dancers appeared to kick their performance energy and stage presence into overdrive. Of particular note in the atmospheric work was a men’s section bursting with jumps, leaps and aggressive turns and the performances of dancers Emily Dietz, Daniel Cho and newcomer Elizabeth “Betsie” Schaeffer.
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.