Sunday, December 12, 2004

NEOS Dance Theatre

NEOS Dance Theatre a pleasant surprise

One of the problems with many dance productions in the Cleveland area is that they usually run for one performance or no more than a weekend so if a company comes along which is outstanding, it is impossible to get the word out in time for them to build an audience.

This was definitely the case with the recent performance by NEOS DANCE THEATRE at the Cleveland Public Theatre. NEOS is a company who have only recently left their confines in Ashland, Ohio to venture into the Cleveland market.

The company’s goal is to make dance accessible through outreach programs that are both lectures and performances, as well as doing traditional dance concerts.

The company is led by Robert Wesner, who serves as the artistic director and lead male dancer. The rest of the company consists of Sarah Cyders, Kari Nikolaus, Justin O’Donnell, Gabrielle Smith and Brooke Wesner (the wife of the artistic director). The individual dancers are well versed in traditional ballet as well as eclectic movements including tap and modern dance.

The CPT program opened with “Rondo Capriccioso,” in which the young and talented dancers worked with choreography by Robert Wesner that was perfectly timed to the mood and beat of the music. Using creative body movements and excellent control, the black-clad dancers combined classic and modern movements effectively. There was a wondrous whimsical quality to the staging that fit the recorded sounds of the Saint-Saens music.

“Missing Person” was meant to expose the different emotional states that one goes through when considering, committing to, and dealing with an abortion. Appropriate facial expressions and controlled and expressive bodily movements allowed for clarity of Wesner’s choreographic mission.

“Trilogy,” the third selection, was a combination of sprightly and then serious movements. Effective lighting helped create the proper moods as the music made its transitions. Using interesting body angles to form geometric shapes, intricate lifts, appropriate facial expressions and body intensity, the piece was well received by what unfortunately was a sparse audience.

“Song of Solomon,’ danced to the music of George Gershwin, was elegantly performed by Brooke and Robert Wesner. Dressed in formal wear, the duo performed a modern ballet piece with classical overtones. Brooke was on toe for much of the selection. The pair displayed fine partnering skills.

“Draw Back” was a tap number staged with no music. Choreographed by Justin O’Donnell, it was performed by O’Donnell and Wesner. Unfortunately, the duo was not well matched. Wesner’s dancing ability far outstripped his younger partner, making for some disjointed timing and dynamics. O’Donnell looked like he was laboring throughout, displaying almost no facial expression except for occasional grimaces.

“Norm and Cleo” was danced to an organ rendition of JS Bach’s “Toccatta and Fugue in D Minor.” A bench served as a staging platform for examining a trying time in the lives of Pastor Norman Johnson and his wife. Though well done, the piece became laborious with its heavy religious overtones.

The final program segment was “Flash Forward” a very creative piece staged by Wesner. Using flashlights, smoke, spotlights and special lighting effects, the piece accurately developed Paul Ruskay’s chanted music. The dancing combined balancing of bodies, gymnastic movements and unusual carries. This was a well executed and fascinating piece.

Excellent dance perfomances were consistently given by Robert Wesner, Sara Cyders, Gabrielle Smith and Brooke Wesner.

Capsule judgement: Robert Wesner proved in NEOS DANCE THEATRE’s recent short residency at Cleveland Public Theatre that he is a very gifted choreographer and dancer. His company is well-trained and disciplined. He does have to make a decision regarding his thematic selections. The program presented at CPT contained several religious-based pieces. If he wants NEOS to be a Christian-based company, then he has to advertise it as such. It is a production decision he is going to have to make as he moves his group from a local to a regional or national company.