Verb, Ohio Contemporary Ballet’s ‘Schubert Melodies,’ a Splendid Mix of Music and Dance [REVIEW]

Verb, Ohio Contemporary Ballet
Schubert Melodies

Breen Center for the Performing Arts
Cleveland, OH
October 15, 2022

By Steve Sucato

Newly renamed Verb, Ohio Contemporary Ballet returned to Saint Ignatius High School’s Breen Center for the Performing Arts on Saturday, October 15 with Schubert Melodies, a double bill of ballets celebrating Austrian composer Franz Schubert’s music.

The program began with a reprise of Heinz Poll’s 1975 ballet “Schubert Waltzes.” Danced to selections from Schubert’s “Waltzes Op. 9” played live by concert pianist Adam Whiting, the 25-minute ballet featured three male/female couples who moved single file horizontally across the stage in a stylized slow march. Costumed in red, brown, and green long tutus for the women and white shirts and matching colored tights for the men, the dancers broke off into a series of solos, pas de deux, and trios revealing Poll’s distinctive personalities for each couple.

Whiting’s lively performance of Schubert’s music to accompany the dancing was a fitting tribute to late Ohio Ballet Music Director David Fischer, the only other person to play for a performance of the ballet since its creation.

First up, the red couple of Kate Webb and Sikhumbuzo Hlahieni exuded the merriment of young lovers reveling in Poll’s challenging neo-classical choreography. In it, Webb powered through tricky direction-shifting dance phrases and Hlahieni showed off a barrage of jumps and leaps.

Throughout, there was a playful cleverness to Poll’s choreography for “Schubert Waltzes” that spoke to his underrated genius as a choreographer. That was also exemplified in dancers Kelly Korfhage and Antonio Morillo’s performances as the fun-loving green couple, with Korfhage punctuating notes in the music with a series of quirky head nods. And furthermore, in a section where brown couple Lieneke Matte and Benjamin Shepard swapped partners with the red couple and the men lifted the women overhead in limp, laid-back positions.

One of several Poll ballets in Verb’s repertory that makes it into their regular rotation, “Schubert Waltzes” is one I never grow tired of seeing. Its nuanced relationships and well-crafted choreography are beautiful examples of Poll’s enduring legacy.

After a 15-minute intermission, the program concluded with the world premiere of “Octet in F Major.” Danced to Schubert’s music of the same name played live by musicians of Cleveland’s BlueWater Chamber Orchestra, and jointly choreographed by Richard Dickinson and Kay Eichman, the hourlong ballet came off feeling like two stylistically different ballets brought together and performed in alternating sections from each ballet.

The product of a unique commission by Verb supporters, Marian and Eric Klieber, “Octet in F Major” had as one of its themes to adopt a movement style that was reflective of the 1820s when Schbert’s score used in the ballet was composed, along with having costuming evoking that romantic era’s ideals of beauty. An additional theme was to match the octet of musicians onstage with a maximum of 8 dancers at a time. The stipulations appeared to both enhance the creativity of the choreography and hamper it at times. The resulting ballet revealed that Dickinson and Eichman had their own ideas about a movement style reflective of the 1820s used in their respective choreographed sections of the ballet. Each had its own charm and merit.

Kelly Korfhage and Bryan Andres Salinas in “Octet in F Major.” Photo by Kolman Rosenberg.

Eichman, who was responsible for choreographing to the 1st, 3rd, and 5th movements of the music score, took a more detached and formal approach to her choreography. The movement was more indicative of renaissance sensibilities and court dances that she melded with neo-classical ballet movement. Her pointe shoe and tutu ballet’s opening section saw a mismatch in pacing between the elegant, showy choreography she created for the dancers and the music it was danced to. That was rectified in Eichman’s other choreographed movements where the dancing ebbed and flowed beautifully across the stage as all ten of the company’s dancers got turns onstage in the ballet.

Dickinson’s choreography for the 2nd, 4th, and 5th movements of Schubert’s score took a narrative approach.  In it, Dickinson created a romantic relationship story a la Antony Tudor’s 1936 ballet Jardin Aux Lilas (Lilac Garden) in which members of two couples yearned to be with individuals from the other couple. The emotional narrative added interest and intrigue to the ballet along with some of its finest dancing.

Flirtatious, playful, and infused with heartache, Dickinson’s choreography wonderfully counterbalanced Eichman’s non-narrative choreography for the ballet. And while “Octet in F Major” may not have succeeded in melding both choreographers’ sections into a cohesive whole, the result was nonetheless interesting, engaging, and entertaining with fabulous performances by the entire cast.

Photos by Susan Bestul and Kolman Rosenberg.

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