Thursday, October 04, 2007

Verb Ballet (Nature Moves 3)

Verb Ballets enters new era with a revised company

Verb Ballets’ recent ‘NATURE MOVES 3,’ a two-night program at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History, marked a new era in the company’s development. Gone were Mark Tomasic, the company’s premiere male dancer, who has retired, and Jason Ignacio, the diminutive Filipino dynamo who lights up a stage when he appears in solo performance, who has moved to New York.

The loss of Tomasic is a major hit. Much of Artistic Director Hernando Cortez’s choreography centered on the handsome, muscular Tomasic as the fulcrum, around which the other dancers moved. Cortez will have to reconstitute that choreography as none of the males in the “new” company has Tomasic’s dominant presence. Some of the slack will be assumed by Brian Murphy, a strong dancer in his own right, but it’s like the Cleveland Indians minus Grady Sizemore or Victor Martinez.

Jason Ignacio, because of his size, often looked out of place in a line with the taller male dancers, but in specialty numbers he was terrific. His brother, Sydney, who joined the company last year, does not have the stage presence or the developed skills to make up for Jason’s loss.

Joining the company are former Verb dancers Robert and Brooke Wesner. Robert, who shines as a solo dancer, has shown in the past that he often looks out of place in corps lines as he fails to pull back and blend in. He does add a new dimension to the company as he is a competent choreographer.

Brooke Wesner, a tall, statuesque blond, is a strong and competent performer who adds yet another cog to the company’s already competent female dance ensemble.

The ‘NATURE MOVES 3’ program, which found the company for the third consecutive year at the Natural History Museum, featured two world premieres, a preview performance, and a company premiere.

‘SLAPPING STONES,’ choreographed by William Anthony to music by Tom Waits, centered on the theme, “We never learn to use what we know deep down.” Consisting of flowing contemporary moves, the world premiere was well danced. Though not overly distinctive, it held the audience’s attention and showcased the entire company. Suzy Campbell’s costumes and Trad Burns
lighting enhanced the offering.

The late Heinz Poll, the founder of Ohio Ballet, was an exceptional choreographer. Upon his death he left the rights to his creative works to those with whom he was associated. ‘DUET’ is the property of Richard Dickinson. He gave permission to Verb to add the dance to its repertoire. A traditional classical selection, the duo of Danielle Brickman and Brian Murphy were glorious. Brickman exhibited strong certainty on point as she moved easily and held prolonged toe positions. Murphy was confident in his partnering and displayed command of the balletic moves. The smiling duo flowed to the beautiful music by Johann Sebastian Bach which was well performed by pianist David Fisher and cellist Greg Fiocca.

Robert Wesner was commissioned by the Buffalo Symphony to choreograph a piece which will be performed on October 20 in Buffalo. Being presented as a “preview,” ’TICO TICO,’ a tango infused dance, was the third offering in the Nature Moves program. Well conceived by Brooke and Robert Wesner, who displayed strong partnering skills, the performance, which resembled a segment of TV’s “Dancing With the Stars,” received prolonged applause.

‘SONGS,’ choreographed by Hernando Cortez to “Songs of a Wayfarer,” by Gustav Mahler was another world premiere. The selection is the fifteenth original dance developed by Cortez since his joining Verb. A strong solo by Brian Murphy was the performance’s highlight. Another solo by Sydney Ignacio was full of fluidity and flair, but the dancer displayed a lack of concentration and polish. Filled with flowing movements and dramatic facial expressions and much reaching to heaven, the segment was competently danced, but not overly compelling.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Verb Ballets has a challenge ahead. Can it maintain its reputation with the loss of Mark Tomasic? From what was showcased at its recent ‘NATURE MOVES 3,’ as presently constituted, Verb is a very competent, but not a compelling or exciting presence. Let’s hope that they will meet the challenge and continue to be one of the premiere company’s in the region.