Sunday, February 18, 2007

Natural Selections--Verb Ballets

--disappointing VERB BALLETS

Verb Ballets is one of the premiere dance companies in the Northeastern Ohio area. It was disappointing therefore, to watch a flow of patron bodies out of the Natural History Museum at intermission of the company’s recent ‘NATURAL SELECTIONS’ program. It was off-putting to hear the polite but generally unenthusiastic applause as the program finished. It was disappointing to hear comments following the concert such as, “That was a little raw” and “I thought this was a first class company.” It is more disappointing that after so many positive, usually rave reviews of Verb, that I have to write this column and question the program design of Artistic Director Hernando Cortez.

Cortez decided that his dancers needed to spread their wings and show their choreographic skills. This was an admirable idea. It was not wise, however, in my opinion, to do it by having an entire evening devoted to that mission. Especially an evening in which people paid for the “real” Verb Ballets. It might have been fine for a free performance, like the company does during the summer, but not in the middle of the regular season. Even one or two pieces sandwiched in might have worked, but a solid diet of “world premieres” by unknown and untested choreographers, was a questionable decision.

The final result was more like a college senior dance recital than an evening with a professional company. The ballets, in general, went from bland to promising, the dancing from undisciplined to nicely done, but not up to the level of the Verb Ballets that has received critical raves.

The evening opened with ‘PLEASE,’ choreographed by Catherine Meredith. Though generally well-danced by Erin Conway, Brian Murphy, Catherine Meredith and Mark Tomasic, the dramatic-toned piece failed to capture attention. It was pleasant but not compelling. Most strange was the ending. Without any climax, the dancing just ended. What was the conclusion? Where was the climax message of romantic love and romantic loss billboarded in the program notes?

Marcela Alvarez’s ‘VAGARIES,’ was uncreative. There was no true separation between the so-called dreams and nightmares, and no clarity of message. What was the piece supposed to say? In addition, the dancers were undisciplined and coordination of corps movements was sloppy. This was the low-point of the evening.

In ‘FOREVER IN MY MIND,’ Brian Murphy’s piece, the movements and the music blended beautifully . The dancers were quite disciplined. The story, which was billed as a poetic narrative, however, was not clear. Yes, the meaning of poetry is in the mind of the beholder, but a message must be there or the piece fails to have a total impact. It was nice to watch, but left out the important element of clarity of intent.

Of Erin Conway’s ‘FLUCTUATING HEMLINES’ the choreographer states that what we are watching is “pure show-stopping dance.” I only wish that had been the case. The piece failed to let loose. Often, the dancers were not coordinated. The promised athleticism was not present. The highlight segment was the duet between Anna Roberts and Mark Tomasic.

The most ambitious segment of the evening was Mark Tomasic’s ‘LUIS.’ Based on a story by Richard Selzer, a Brazilian doctor turned author, it is the dual tale of Luis and Selzer (named Cherubini in the selection).

Luis, a street urchin is poisoned when the glowing disk he thinks is a piece of a fallen star that will give him luck, turns out to be a radioactive part from a discarded medical instrument from Selzer’s hospital. Selzer, who led a life which he termed as, “a blind love for science, for technology, which produced a passionless barbarity,” after meeting and attempting to treat the dying Luis turns toward a passion for helping others.

With a script adaption by celebrated Cleveland playwright Eric Coble, Tomasic choreographed a well danced, but not completely successful tale. A lot of floor groveling, standing still, and dialogue failed to develop the needed pathos.

Jason Ignacio acceptably danced the role of Luis, but even though he wore a microphone, he was almost impossible to hear and his words were often unintelligible. Tomasic and the rest of the cast had the speaking volume, but except for Tomasic, the acting levels were poor. Erin Conway, for example, an excellent dancer, spoke flat lines. Someone needed to work with the cast on creating characters and speaking lines that had meaning.

Dr. Cherubini’s awakening, didn’t ring true. All we saw was him removing his rubber doctor gloves, stepping over and wandering through the people in the dump, not helping, raising, curing, or displaying compassion for them.

The piece has potential. Tomasic needs to expand the concept to create a more involving and evolving story through dance. It might be wise to step away from dancing the role of Dr. Cherubini and spend his entire time as the choreographer. However, considering the few males in Verb’s company, this might be impossible. (Side-note: the company must do something about its paucity of male dancers.)

To add to the evening’s problems was Raymond Kent’s lighting, which mainly consisted of dark stages with some accenting lighting. Missing was the company’s usual lighting designer Trad Burns ‘ creative and mood setting designs.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Going to a Verb Ballets’ presentation has been consistently a delightful experience. Unfortunately, this was not true with their latest offering, ‘NATURAL SELECTIONS.’