Sunday, April 27, 2008

Verb Ballet ("to hope")

‘VERB’ good, but needs to step up their game

I consider Verb Ballets to be one of the best dance companies in the area. I have watched in pleasant joy as the company matured. Unfortunately, in the last year, I’ve seen what I consider a stagnation setting in. They haven’t upped their game.

The females in the company are outstanding. They consistently are up to the task of interpreting the works of Artistic Director Hernando Cortez and guest choreographers.

Early this year Verb lost two of its male dancers. Neither has been replaced. This leaves the company with three male dancers. The very proficient Brian Murphy; Robert Wesner, who is a fine solo dancer but doesn’t always pull back and blend when he is dancing in corps, and Sydney Ignacio, who does excellent leaps, but does not fit in with Cortez’s disciplined style.

Yes, it is difficult to find strong male dancers, but if Verb is to continue to grow and not atrophy, it needs to find two or at least one very strong male dancer. The missing link was evident in their recent ‘to hope’ program at Fusion Fest ’08.

‘APPALACHIAN SPRING,’ is subtitled “Ballet for Martha” because of its strong ties to choreographer Martha Graham, who created the dance in 1944. Verb has performed this piece many times. In spite of strong performances by Murphy, Catherine Meredith and Katie Gnagy, this was the company’s weakest rendition of the Graham classic. Sydney Ignacia simply does not have the stage presence and power to portray the fanatic Revivalist whose followers quake at his every command and blindly follow his lead. In addition, The Followers often reverted to a pounding on the ground pattern, that evoked laughter from some of the audience. This is the not the intended purpose of that choreography.

In Cortez’s ‘TWO HOURS THAT SHOOK THE WORLD,’ another revival, Wesner did what he does best, shine as a soloist. Though Cortez contends that he did not set out to create a 9/11 tribute, the piece does have much of a disaster-centered theme. The chaos, panic and strong movements project an emotional core. Edward Hille’s video background helps create the mood, though watching a video of dancers paralleling the movements on stage could confuse some. Why not just accept that this is a 9/11 piece and have the video show the destructive holocaust of the fall of the Twin Towers. The ending seemed to catch the audience by surprise, not realizing that the piece was over they sat quietly sitting, waiting. Waiting for whatever.

‘THE YELLOW RIVER,’ in its world premiere, was an agreeable piece that used ballet movements to interpret Asian music (Jian Zhong-Wang’s “The Yellow River Concerto”) and the classical “The Mermaid Ballet Suite: Waterweed.” Though the dancers were not always in sync, the overall effect was generally positive. The piece allowed an opportunity for the company’s interns to perform. The lovely female costumes were designed by Suzy Campbell.

Capsule judgement: Verb's latest dance concert was good, but they need to step up and be great!