Sunday, May 03, 2009

Verb Ballet 5/09

VERB makes quick recovery….they are back on top of their game!

Last April my headline for Verb Ballet’s dance concert read, “‘VERB good, but needs to step up their game.” I went on to say that “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.”

Little did I know that Dr. Margaret Carlson, the company’s Chief Executive Officer and the Board were looking for a solution to situation which one Board member called, “stopping the careening train by pulling the emergency cord.” In contrast to such organizations as the Ohio Ballet and Cleveland Ballet, which went belly up because of poor management, this group was on top of the issue and took swift action. From the looks of the company’s recent showing at Fusion Fest, they identified the problem and provided a solution. They replaced the artistic director, have gone out to find new male corps members, and changed the course of the company. Congrats to all who brought about this transition.

Their Fusion Fest program consisted of two acts. The first, a mélange of short pieces, included ‘VESPERS,’ a company staple, which examines the passion and the spirituality of women with faith. The piece, as choreographed by Ulysses Dove, has been restaged by Dawn Carter. It is one of the offerings that I panned last year for lacking discipline. The precision of this year’s version attests to the change of attitude and the improved focus of the company. The crisp and swift movements as six female dancers moved between two sets of chairs, sitting on, moving under, jumping astride and flowing around the seating devices, was intense and impressive.

‘ONE,’ as choreographed by one of the company’s newest additions, Michael Medcalf, the former artistic director of Cleveland Contemporary Dance Theatre, was outstanding. Medcalf and Brian Murphy, one of the area’s top male dancers, displayed strong muscularity in developing a contemporary ballet vision, to Samuel Barber’s “Adagio for Strings.” The dancers flowed as they moved together and apart to create beautiful stage pictures.

‘THE NATURE OF THINGS: BROWNIAN MOVEMENT,’ was also choreographed by Medcalf to music by J. Swinscoe and J. Ellis. Starting slow, the dancing evolved into a joyous free dance echoing the musical sound. The costumes, women in softly flowing white and aqua material, and the men, bare-chested in white leotards, helped create appealing visual allusions, which were highlighted by Trad Burns’ lighting. The choreography clearly reflected botanist Robert Brown’s theory of the random movement of tiny particles mingling in a multitude of ways. The dancers’ facial expressions displayed a joy of freedom of movement and positive attitude.

The evening’s highlight was an original piece conceived by Dianne McIntyre. ‘IN THE GROOVE AND OVER THE TOP,’ is a conversation of music and dance. It combines the fine jazz offerings of a trio consisting of piano, bass and drums (Drene Ivy, Glenn Holmes and Robert Hubbard, Jr.), with vocal offerings (Mariama Whyte) and dancers (Michael Medcalf, Erin Conway Lewis, Catherine Meredith Lambert, Antwon Duncan, and Telly Fowler) to create what appeared to be an improvisational blending of sound and movement. In reality, the improvisation was finely developed and rehearsed. The results were involving and sensational. The number consisted of a series of different blendings. First just jazz music, then music and full company dance, then singing and dancing, then drum and dance, piano and dance, vocal scatting and dance, music alone, then a capella dance, and finally the blending of all elements. Wow!

Capsule judgement: Verb Ballet is back to its former level of excellence in a big way! Congrats to Margaret Carlson and the company’s visionary board who made changes when changes were needed!