Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Verb Ballets (Beck Center)

VERB BALLET wows west side audience

There appears to be little doubt that Verb Ballets has emerged as the leading large- ensemble dance company in the area. It far outstrips Ohio Ballet, its nearest rival, for attendance, creativity, positive reviews and the development of a loyal following.

The company is in its fourth season under the creative Artistic Direction of Hernando Cortez and the savvy Executive Director Dr. Margaret Carlson. The two have carefully honed offerings and public relations that reach out to more than traditional attenders of dance programs. The recent offerings at Beck Center, for example, found a mixture of preteens through senior citizens in attendance, with many seldom seen twenty-five to forty year-olds, including many men.

Verb has been dubbed by Dance Magazine as one of the “25 to Watch.” I’ve declared in reviews that, “Verb’s the word in local ballet” and “It is so exciting to be able to look forward to every performance of this wonderful group.”

Verb Ballets' mission is reflected in the company’s repertory which includes Ian Horvath’s “Piano Man” and “Laura’s Women”; David Parsons’ “The Envelope,” and “Sleep Study”; Sean Curran’s “Mozart Piano Trio”; and, Hernando Cortez’s “Two Hours that Shook the World,” “MoonDogg-Cleveland Celebrates Rock n’ Roll,” “Chichester Psalms,” “Planet Soup” and “Carmina Burana.”

Their recent program at Beck Center, whose three performances played to near sold out audiences, included “MoonDogg,’ “”Laura’s Women,” and the world premiere of “Super Friends-Episode 6.

“MoonDogg” is a tribute to Rock and Roll, specifically to the contributions of Alan Freed. Cortez’s choreography was right-on, but this was one time when being too proficient in traditional dance excellence somewhat got in the way. Rock and roll is spontaneous, filled with joy and abandonment. The well-trained company did the right moves, but with none of the needed flair. Except for dynamic Jason Ignacio, they danced with emotional control. It was interesting that when the younger students in the company’s dance school came on stage for a brief appearance, joyous excitement over-form filled the stage. The next time the company performs this piece I’d love to hear Cortez tell them to just let loose, have fun, forget the precise movements and really have a great time rocking and rolling!

Ian Horvath was one of the founding artistic directors of the now defunct Cleveland Ballet. Unfortunately, he become ill and died at a young age, before he had the chance to develop a comprehensive repertory. One of his finest pieces was “Laura’s Women.” The second piece in ‘VERBS POPS PROGRAM,’ the ballet was restaged by Margaret Carlson and danced to perfection by Danielle Brickman, Elizabeth Flynn and Katie Gnagy. Trad Burns’ lighting helped create the perfect mood and images.

‘SUPERFRIENDS-EPISODE 6, THE MONOLITH OF EVIL exposed the audience to the dancing exploits of Batman and Robin, Superman, Mighty Mouse, Spiderman, Wonder Woman, Popeye and Olive, Tarzan and Jane, and Speed Racer.

The piece started with a wonderful reenactment of “Magic to Do,” the opening number from the musical ‘PIPPIN.’ I’ve know for a long time that Mark Tomasic is one of the area’s best dancers, but little did I know that he was also a proficient singer. Any director planning to do ‘PIPPIN’ should definitely cast him as the Leading Player. Or, for that matter, in such musicals as ‘CHICAGO’ which requires a macho male with a big voice who can really dance.

The audience loved ‘SUPERFRIENDS.’ This is a program which should be done for school students to introduce them to dance. The cast was wonderful, especially Jason Ignacio as Mighty Mouse. The program was narrated by John Wesley Shipp, who played the title role in the CBS comic book series, “The Flash.” This is a piece that will surely be added to the company’s repertory.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: If you haven’t seen Verb Ballets, you should make every effort to get to their next performance, ‘HONORING POLL’ to be presented on Friday, March 24 and Saturday, March 25 at the Ohio Theatre in Playhouse Square. Their last downtown Cleveland performance was a total sell-out, so you would be well-advised to quickly call 216-241-6000 or go on line to and get tickets.