NeoClassical Lines – ACCESS/Verb
October 9, 2020
Reviewed by Steve Sucato
Founded in 1987 as The Repertory Project and changing its name (and vision) in 2003, Verb Ballets has had a history of reinvention and adaptation. Keeping with the latter, Verb was one of the first Northeast, Ohio dance troupes to fully embrace virtual performance programming because of the global pandemic. Rather than going the dance film route as many other have, Verb’s producing artistic director Dr. Margaret Carlson turned instead to a model of streaming what had been working for the company pre-pandemic. That of live performances from its Shaker Heights studios.
For their latest pay livestream production, NeoClassical Lines – ACCESS/Verb, the company presented an hourlong repertory program including a world-premiere ballet by Verb associate artistic director, Richard Dickinson.
First up though was choreographer Royce Zackery’s “Grace” (2010). The head coordinator of Dance Arts for Howard University’s Department of Theatre Arts and Dance Program had previously staged the work on Verb in 2017.
The contemporary ballet for four male/female couples took its inspiration from Zackery’s mother who held an unwavering grace even in the face of tragedy. It is a tribute, he says, to her and to the strength of women.
Danced to music from Beethoven’s String Quintet Op. 104 in C minor, Verb’s dancers in tan and white costumes with tan COVID-19 prevention masks, began the ballet in earnest matching Beethoven’s zippy opening music with dancing to match.
“Grace’s” second section choreography slowed with its music as the ballet’s quartet of male dancers ringed their female partners with their arms as the women posed in front of them, one leg lifted and bent at the knee. The dancers’ movement then continued in more circular patterns and phrases that spun and turned. Lively all male and all female unison dance sections followed. Then, dancers Kate Webb and Benjamin Sheppard came together for a rapid-fire pas de deux filled with shifting body positions and holds.
A ballet with a lot going on, its most memorable moment came in a solo by dancer Lieneke Matte in which she darted back and forth across the stage with almost defiance in front of four flickering lights at the back of the stage that looked like blue flames.
While “Grace” was musical and Verb’s dancers performed it marvelously, the ballet appeared a mishmash of choreographic ideas that felt somewhat directionless other than Zackery’s desire to fill out every section of Beethoven’s music with different configurations of dancers and movement which could be beautifully striking or at times be oddly awkward in its look.
Next, the company that does the most to keep the late Ohio Ballet founder/director Heinz Poll’s choreographic works alive, reprised his “Adagio for Two Dancers” (1973). Performed by Sheppard and dancer Kelly Korfhage, the spellbinding pas de deux, like Verb’s other favorite of Poll’s to perform, “Bolero,” never seems to lose its luster.
Staged to give the appearance of being performed in a sacred space such as a church and set to music by composer Tomaso Albinoni, there was an added reverence to this latest performance of the pas de deux. The dancers moved with purpose in and out of dappled light and shadow with the statuesque Korfhage pushing the extent of her long limbs in a bevy of soft and elegant arabesque, penché (leaning) and bending positions on the ground and in the air aided by partner Sheppard. The two were rock solid as usual in their performance of the lovely work.
The program’s biggest revelation was its closing piece, Dickinson’s new ballet “KL3668”, danced to Maurice Ravel’s Sonata for Violin and Cello. The ballet’s title pays tribute to Dickinson’s longtime friend Karen Lewis (KL) who has a 3668 house address.
Taking a page from Ravel’s Bolero and the minimalist/geometric modern dance works of choreographer Laura Dean, Dickinson employed a choreographic structure in “KL3668” that repeated steps but in a slightly altered way as not to appear repetitious but pleasingly reinforcing. Characterized by smooth balletic movement infused here and there by snippets of Bob Fosse jazz and classic modern dance phrases, the work was well-crafted from start to finish.
Verb’s 13 dancers including guest Robert Carter of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo fame, shone in up-tempo and lilting movement and exuded grace, beauty, and power. That was especially prevalent in lively and athletic women’s and men’s sections in the ballet as well as an engaging pas de deux between Webb and partner Hunter Hoffman.
“KL3668” had all of Dickinson’s best choreographic juices flowing and proved the finest ballet this reviewer has seen from him.
Premiering tonight, October 30, 2020 7:00pm ET (and available for 48 Hours) Verb Ballets presents Carnival Macabre. The online cinematic dance-rock experience features music by rock guitarist Neil Zaza and choreography from Verb dancer Antonio Morillo. Tickets are $25 and available at verbballets.org/carnival-macabre.