Saturday, August 05, 2006

Pointe of Departure (Cain Park)

Is Pointe of Departure the answer to the area’s ballet void?

With the apparent demise of Ohio Ballet, the Cleveland area is left without a major ballet company. Yes, there is Ohio Ballet Theatre, Denise Gula’s Oberlin based group, but it mainly performs in Lorain County, though it is expanding into the Cuyahoga County area, and has only a small company of dancers.

A void exists. Can that void be filled by Pointe of Departure?

Pointe of Departure, which originated in 1998 as a collaboration between Lev Polyakin, Karen Gabay and Raymond Rodriguez, recently performed at Cain Park to a fair-sized house. The program notes state, “The future of the company is to expand the length of the season and to offer more performances throughout the year.” It can only be hoped that this is true.

Gabay and Rodriguez are best known as the wunderkinds of the now-departed Cleveland-San Jose Ballet. For years, their local performances were met with critical and public adulation The duo still performs with the company which now makes San Jose its home. They are getting rather old to continue to dance full time, and their emotional fan base is in the Cleveland area, so it is an obvious place for the duo to put down their choreographic and teaching roots.

Making the company into a permanent resident company will take lots of money. With corporations abandoning the local area, some of the financial fund raising base is gone. However, if the county commissioners’ proposed cigarette tax is enacted, and some local donors, who gave heavily to the previous professional company, can be convinced that this group will not lavishly over spend, like the previous artistic director did, then the purse strings may loosen.

Pointe of Departure, as it is presently constituted, is not a world class, nor even a high-level dance company. Since it performs only sporadically, the dancers have little time to meld together. This was obvious in their Cain Park performance, where uneven timing of corps movements was the general case. In addition, the professional dance level of the performers is also questionable. Yes, Gabay and Rodriguez were superb, especially in their pas-de-deux ‘MOON REFLECTION OVER CRYSTAL SPRING,’ which got a spontaneous and well-deserved screaming standing ovation, but there was weakness among the others.

The women, especially lovely and sprightly Jim Zhang, DeAnn Petrushke and Erena Ishii, were quite good; but the males were generally weak. Travis Walker, though rather stone-faced, was the most consistent of the gentlemen. He performed some fine jumps, did a good job of partnering and had an air of confidence. Jurijs Safanovs performed a competent Zorba-inspired segment, but was awkward in other roles. Peter Kozak seems comfortable with the contemporary moves, but was lacking in the classical segments. Maximo Califano was all affect, feigning hand movements and facial expressions and doing a great deal of posing, but was short on partnering skills and dance style.

Karen Gabay has good choreographic instincts. Her ‘HOORAY FOR HOLLYWOOD,’ though a little long, had many highlight segments. Rodriguez and Gabay’s ‘NAPOLI’ staging was innovative.

With strong modern and contemporary companies, such as Verb Ballets, Groundworks and Inlet Dance that segment of the local dance scene seems well covered. It will be interesting to see what develops on the classical dance scene. Hopefully, Pointe of Departure, or some similar group, will come along and fill the void. It would be a shame that an area with such a strong arts reputation should be lacking in this performance area.