By Steve Sucato
For the third time in its 35-year history Verb Ballets, formerly The Repertory Project, is getting a new name. The slow rollout to becoming Ohio Contemporary Ballet in the next 2-3 years begins this season with the transitional moniker of Verb, “Ohio Contemporary Ballet”.
The new name reflects the vision, direction, and branding of the company by Producing Artistic Director Dr. Margaret Carlson since taking over leadership of the company in 2008 from former Artistic Director Hernando Cortez who initiated the last company name change. Each of the name changes has heralded a change in the company’s preferred movement style and choice of repertory it performs. The Repertory Project, led by founding artistic director Susan Miller, was primarily a post-modern dance company, Cortez’s Verb Ballets, was more of a classical modern dance company performing works by choreographic icons like Martha Graham and Paul Taylor. Carlson’s company is both a reflection of her roots as a former dancer with Cleveland Ballet and her embracing of today’s contemporary ballet works.
“The dancers we have now are very different now than when Hernando [Cortez] led the company,” says Carlson. “As such, we have felt for a long time that the name Verb Ballets hasn’t really kept up with the evolution of the company.”
The transitional name of Verb, “Ohio Contemporary Ballet” says Carlson is both a recognition and honoring of some of the company’s history while indicating the company is no longer what it was.
“To do a complete name change overnight is very hard and expensive,” says Carlson.
The company’s plan is to gradually shift things logos, letterhead, domain names, and all that goes into converting to the new name.
To kick off their new season as Verb, “Ohio Contemporary Ballet,” the company returns to Saint Ignatius High School’s Breen Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, October 15 with the program Schubert Melodies, celebrating the music of Austrian composer Franz Schubert in two works danced to live music.
Opening the program will be a reprise of Heinz Poll’s “Schubert Waltzes” (1975) played live by concert pianist Adam Whiting.
The foremost company in keeping late Ohio Ballet founder/Artistic Director Heinz Poll’s ballets alive, Verb, “Ohio Contemporary Ballet” has the added benefit of having former Ohio Ballet dancer and Ballet Master, Richard Dickinson, MFA as its Associate Artistic Director to stage many of Poll’s works.
Danced to more than a dozen brief Schubert piano pieces, the 25-minute “Schubert Waltzes” features three male/female couples in a series of delightful solos, duets, and trios. Costumed in red, brown, and green long tutus for the women and white shirts and colored tights for the men, each couple has a personality informed by Schubert’s music. The red couple evokes the joys of young love, the brown couple, a more mature love, and the green couple embrace fun and life to its fullest.
Rounding out the program will be the world premiere of “Octet in F Major,” co-choreographed by Dickinson and former Cleveland Ballet dancer Kay Eichman.
Commissioned by Verb supporters, Marian and Eric Klieber, the hourlong ballet is set to Schubert’s “Octet in F major, D. 803” that will be performed live by musicians of Cleveland’s BlueWater Chamber Orchestra.
“Its six movements feature a wide variety of tempos, rhythms, and textures, and the music itself is sublime,” says Eric Klieber.
The Klieber’s envisioned a true collaboration between the dancers and musicians in the ballet that came with certain artistic parameters they desired and that were fleshed out by the couple and Carlson. They included adopting a movement style in the choreography that was reflective of the 1820s when the music was composed, having costuming that evokes romantic era ideals of beauty and generally having only 8 dancers onstage at a time to match the number of musicians.
For Eichman, co-creating a ballet for the first time, those choreographic parameters presented somewhat of a challenge.
“It’s been hard for me weaving in the style of dancing of that period,” says Eichman. “That is not my style of dancing. I choreograph in late classical and neo-classical styles.”
Charged with choreographing to the odd number movements in Schubert’s 6-part score, Eichman says the limitations of having only 8 of the 10-dancer cast onstage at once meant figuring out how to move them on and off the stage in configurations that would serve the ballet and not tire the dancers.
Dickinson says with his even-numbered music sections, he took a broader view in his choreographic approach, while Eichman’s was more focused. That played out partly because of the tempos and expansiveness of the sections of music we were given to work with.
“I think the music is gorgeous. It keeps my interest,” says Dickinson.
The other, perhaps larger issue for both choreographers, was making the ballet not appear to have been choreographed by two different people, but rather meld together seamlessly.
Eichman says she and Dickinson often have similar stylistic approaches to movement as choreographers which she hopes will work in their favor in having the ballet not feel disjointed or appear by two different choreographers. Having seen a preview of sections 2 & 3 over the summer as part of Verb, “Ohio Contemporary Ballet’s” performances at the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival in Akron, Eichman and Dickinson seem to have met those aforementioned challenges nicely.
Whether a fan of Schubert’s music or the company under any name, Schubert Melodies is sure to bring the romance of ballet to the stage.
Verb, “Ohio Contemporary Ballet,” performs Schubert Melodies on Saturday, October 15, 2022 at 7:30 pm at Saint Ignatius High School’s Breen Center for the Performing Arts, 2008 W. 30th St., Cleveland. Tickets are $10-35 and can be purchased through Eventbrite at verbballets.org.