Sunday, April 10, 2005

Season of Imagination-Ohio Dance Theatre (Ohio Dance Theatre)

Appreciative audience greets Ohio Dance Theatre

According to founder and Artistic Director, Denise Gula, “Ohio Dance Theatre is a professional ballet-based contemporary dance company that presents works with a strong theatrical element. The company’s mission is to enhance the quality of life in Northern Ohio by presenting quality arts productions of richness and variety, excellence and motivation.”

Based in Lorain County, the company reaches out of the area to spread its version of dance into not only Cuyahoga County, but nationally. One of its outreaches was its recent performance in the Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre.

An audience of approximately 500 responded very positively to the four pieces presented as the company’s ‘SEASON OF IMAGINATION.’

The opening number was Gula’s version of ‘FIREBIRD,’ with recorded music by Igor Stravinsky. The vague start failed to set a clear exposition of the dance’s central theme of the conflict between good and evil. These became clearer however as the piece progressed through Paula Drakes’s black and white costuming and the music. The separation might further have been accented if the dancers had more clearly physically and facially expressed their opposing roles. For example, the bad Minions, were not aggressive enough, their hand movements and facial expressions did not well develop their menace.

Ericka Shannon as Tsarevna was elegant. She is a talented dancer whose point work and physical control are excellent. She was nicely partnered by Damien Highfield as Ivan. Tito Reyes, who looks more like a football linesman than a dancer, was surprisingly light-footed as Kastchei, the Dark One, though he, too, needed more facial menace. His dance to death was well executed as were the fight scenes between him and Highfield.

Rejane Duarto as the Firebird was striking with her tall legs and erect posture. Again, as with some of the other dancers, she failed to portray the facial attitude needed to carry the part’s meaning.

A more dyanamic version of music should have been selected. The music’s power and tone did not fill the large theatre, causing for a lack of emotional involvement on the part of the audience.

The second selection, ‘LA PETITE MORTE,’ with intense and beautiful music by Bela Bartok, took the audience visually into high grasses to observe the life and mating of the preying mantis. Costumed in bug green, the dancers executed well Gula’s choreography which was nicely accented by Diana Nelson’s lighting. As with the opening selection, more varied facial expression would have aided in idea development. A combination of unusual lifts and body intertwinings were the highlights of the piece. The final destruction of the males by the dominant females could have been highlighted by a more aggressive conclusion.

The highlight of the evening was ‘LE CORSAIRE,’ danced to music by Stravinsky. Choreographed by Gula, the short piece was beautifully performed by Orlando Ballet’s Chiaki Yasukawa and Eddy Tovar. The petite couple glowed. Their partnering and solos were excellent. Yasukawa’s point work and turns were elegant, Tovar’s circle jumps and powerful leaps brought strong positive reactions from the audience. It’s too bad this piece was so short, as the audience was cheering for more.

‘WHO CARES,’ with choreography by George Balanchine and music by George Gershwin ,was a wonderful ending segment to the program. Dancing to the cosmopolitan sounds of such musical compositions as “Fascinating Rhythm” and “I Got Rhythm,” the company and audience alike enjoyed themselves immensely. Especially outstanding were Ericka Shannon and Fidel Garcia. Garcia displays a nice sense of contemporary moves along with balletic competence. His cocky attitude fit perfectly the pieces he danced.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Ohio Dance Theatre is attempting to reach out beyond its Lorain County home and be a more regional company. Without a permanent company it is often hard to develop a clear identity, but they are succeeding on many levels. Gula’s reputation and ability to attract guest dancers helps broaden the base of the company.