Saturday, March 02, 2002

Diamonds and Blues (Ohio Ballet)

Ohio Ballet--baseball, flamenco, The Point Sisters

Several weeks ago when I met with Jeffrey Graham Hughes, the Artistic Director of the Ohio Ballet, we discussed the future and his dream for the company. He is interested in taking it in a direction quite different from the Heinz Poll years. With the dream come pitfalls. Many OB loyalists have difficulty moving on...they were comfortable with the old and want it to remain. We also discussed my observations that though I most often find the new works creative, I often feel that they are not well polished.

Creativity and polish were not an issue with at least one of the pieces from OB’s newest offerings, 'DIAMONDS AND BLUES' at Playhouse Square’s Allen Theatre. The program is being repeated at E. J. Thomas Hall in Akron February 8 & 9.

Karen Gabay, the dancing darling of the now defunct Cleveland San Jose Ballet has started to establish herself as a fine choreographer. Her 'NOUVEAU FLAMENCO' is a modern version of the classic flamenco dance, flamenco on toe shoes. This piece is creative, exciting, and was perfectly executed. Dennis Dugan’s lighting added greatly to the production as did Natasha Guruleva’s black and red costumes. Jesica Salomon was radiant in Part II. Though dancing strongly, with soaring leaps, Dmitry Tubolstev continues to distract with grimacing facial expressions. The company worked as a fine- honed unit in the other segments.

In 'HOT RIFFS AND BLUE NOTES' choreographer Gregory Robinson of the Dayton Ballet presented a series of creative modern dance pieces to the music of the Pointer Sisters. Though innovatively conceived there was a lack of unity among the dancers. Many did not pick up the attitude of the music in their bodies and faces. For example, in Salt Peanuts, the fast pleasurable music engendered hip attitudes. The woman were fine. With the exception of Brian Murphy, whose face and body burst with energy, the male dancers appeared to be concentrating so hard they forgot to have fun, to let loose. (Come on guys, this is not Swan Lake.) Jesica Salomon was wonderfully sensual in Black Coffee. Lowell A. Mathwich’s costumes were attitude perfect.

In an interesting program inclusion, pianist David Fisher presented a musical interlude of three Spanish dance compositions.

The highlight of the evening was supposed to be 'PLAY BALL!' It is intended to take the game of baseball and translate it into a fun-filled ballet. The music spanned most major classical pieces including “Carmen,” “The Comedians,” and “The Barber of Seville.” The piece lacks a strong sense of comedy needed to make it outstanding. Part of the issue is that ballet dancers are hard to accept as baseball players. Also there needs to be a sense of farcical acting that isn’t often part of a dancers’ repertoire. The serious tone of most of the music also seems to get in the way. The highlight of the number was Brian Murphy and Anitra Nurnberger’s nicely performed sixth inning pas de deux. Overall, bad? No. Great? No. Memorable? No. Enjoyable? Yes.

Capsule judgement: It’s worth attending this weekend’s Ohio Ballet performance for no other reason than to see Karen Gabay’s NOUVEAU FLAMENCO. The program should work even better in a setting other than the huge bowling alley shaped Allen Theatre. I’m glad they saved the Playhouse Square theatres but the Allen is a problematic setting for almost every venue, especially for intimate ballet.