Northeast Ohio’s Dance Troupe’s Show Out in ‘Moving Still’

Blakk Jakk Dance Collective. Photo by Jennifer Muselin.

Ballet Legato & Friends
Moving Still
Shaker Heights, Ohio
September 26, 2020

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Carrying on the multi-troupe parking lot pop-up performance format introduced in Urban Dance Cleveland’s Dancing Through the Pandemic this past August, Moving Still, presented by Ballet Legato and friends, offered up a similar repertory program of multi-styled dance works.

The program, with some performers wearing masks and others not, took place in the parking lot of Christ Episcopal Church in Shaker Heights with two performances at 5:30 and 7 p.m.

Leading off the 5:30 p.m. performance was Ron’Dale Simpson’s Blakk Jakk Dance Collective in his work “My Power”. Both Simpson and Blakk Jakk have burst onto the local dance scene in a big way during this pandemic year in which many more established dance companies have taken a step back from performing.

“My Power,” set to the Beyoncé song of the same name, featured Simpson’s choreographic mix of traditional African and hip hop dance styles. The up-tempo work for 8 dancers was full of energy, funk and attitude. Although Blakk Jakk’s dancers ran the gambit of technical skill and quality as performers, as a group, they jelled together nicely. A standout for her drive and movement quality, Jameelah Rahman impressed in the group work that was a head-bobbing, toe-tapping opener to up and down evening of dance.

MorrisonDance in “Three Seeds from a Pomegranate”. Photo by Jennifer Muselin.

Next up, MorrisonDance reprised artistic director/choreographer Sarah Morrison’s 2008 work “Three Seeds from a Pomegranate”.  Inspired by the ancient Greek myth of Persephone (along with Eve and Snow White) who was kidnapped by Hades and later became the Queen of the Underworld, “Three Seeds” is one of Morrison’s most dramatic and enduring of her over fifty works to date. Set to music by Philip Glass and Foday Musa Suso and performed by dancers Taylor Raines, Matthew Robinson, Kalindi Stockton and Molly Haslag as Persephone, the piece was a moving tableau of dancers costumed in red cloaks and joined together at the calves by extensions of that red fabric. Abstract and visually engaging, “Three Seeds” stood apart in style and polish from anything else shown in Moving Still.

The first of two sections of a larger work by Case Kismet Dance Team, “Drive Through Mix 2” was an upbeat fusion of Bollywood and other dance styles. The co-ed dance group made up of mainly recreational dancers from Case Western University, was high on pep and low on dancer skill and technique. Choreographed by Radhika Amin, Sargam Panpaliya and Marin Divasta, “Drive Through Mix 2” came off as a bit chaotic and under rehearsed. Despite that, the team and the piece brought a welcomed diversity to the program.

Hosts Ballet Legato then reprised artistic director Jennifer Muselin’s 2019 neo-classical duet “Donne Sofisticate”, performed by Natalie Artman and Jennifer Milani. Danced to music by Niccolò Paganini, the two women costumed in red, engaged in a friendly competition to out do the other in grace and sophistication. The ballet’s back and forth flowing and out-stretched movement was performed marvelously by the two women, both graduates of Point Park University’s dance program.

Expedition Dance. Photo by Jennifer Muselin.

Formed in 2016, project-based contemporary modern dance company Expedition Dance then swung the stylistic pendulum of Moving Still in yet another different direction; that of minimalist modern dance. Led by Ohio Wesleyan University graduate and attorney by trade, Lauren Holler, their piece “Voyage” featured a trio of women moving to a soundtrack of ambient electronic sounds.

Apart from an opening section of the women roaming about the stage in movement suggesting that of searching, the abstract piece did little to suggest a voyage. Rather, a mood enveloped the work with the dancers quietly executing a series of disparate, gestural and athletic movement phrases that in the end took the audience really nowhere other than to muse at what they just witnessed.

The second of Muselin’s pas de deux’s for Ballet Legato, “Self-Focused” (2020), she says. deals with individuals who remain in relationships that are devoid of emotional connection but stay because of a strong sense of dependency and familiarity. Performed by Domonique Glover and Jennifer Milani to music by Ludovico Einaudi, Redi Hasa and Federico Mecozzi, “Self-Focused” was another lovely collection of movement but this time somewhat disjointed in its delivery. While Glover and Milani tapped into the grace of the movement, the ballet overall lacked fluidity between its phrases, partnered lifts and turns.

Set to another Beyoncé song of the same name, Black Jakk Dance Collective’s “Bigger” was a more soulful continuation to the chorography Simpson introduced in “My Power”.  And like that earlier work, BJDC’s dancers came together nicely in performing Simpson’s sweeping choreography that ended with the dancers coming together in a side-arcing picturesque grouping with one dancer center with hands palms out across her forehead with fingers splayed.

Ballet Legato in “Self-Focused”. Photo by Jennifer Muselin.
Case Kismet Dance Team. Photo by Jennifer Muselin.

Dancing to music from one or more of the Madagascar movie soundtracks, Case Kismet Dance Team picked up where they left off earlier in the program with “Drive Through Mix 1”. The piece, as before, produced similar results.

Expedition Dance then pulled the audience back into its stylistic world with Holler and company’s “Introspection”.  The contemporary dance work opened with Holler seated in a folding chair listening to headphones while another female dancer, perhaps a manifestation of her inner thoughts and feelings, danced behind her. As Holler sat in the chair her legs began to violently quiver and bounce up and down. Upon leaving the chair and her headphones behind Holler’s character seemed to lose that connection with the other dancer in choreography only to regain it after returning to her headphones. While Holler and company seem to have the tools to produce works of substance and note, “Introspection’s” choppy and at times unengaging choreography failed to connect.

Channeling her inner Pilobolus or perhaps having been influenced by local troupe Bill Wade’s Inlet Dance Theatre’s sculptural works, Morrison’s second offering presented by her MorrisonDance, “Anima/Animus”, was an exercise in geometric body shaping and acrobatic physicality.  Dancers Matthew Robinson and Molly Haslag engaged in weight sharing choreography that had them bending, pressing, lifting, folding into, and carrying one another. Yet another visual treat performed splendidly by Robinson and Haslag, the work, along with Ballet Legato’s peppy and somewhat dance competition-ish “Three”, satisfyingly capped a diverse and mostly entertaining program of dance.

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.