Monday, April 12, 2010

Verb Ballet--Fresh Inventions

Verb Ballet presents unique evening of dance

The diminutive 14 year-old stood in the lobby, surrounded by a group of gushing admirers, selling cds of his self-performed piano compositions. The setting? Intermission of ‘VERB BALLETS @ DANCEWORKS: FRESH INVENTIONS.’

Margaret Carlson, the Artistic Director of Verb Ballets envisioned an evening of dance with a creative twist--a night of dance collaboration and experimentation. She assembled seven Northeast Ohio choreographers, seven local composers, and seven dancers (Jennifer Moll Safonovs, Gary Lenington, Katie Gnagy, Brian Murphy, Erin Conway Lewis, Ashley Cohen and Antwon Duncan), assigning a composition to each choreographer, with the idea of stretching the creativity of each. Some of the music was to be played live, some recorded, all productions would receive only one hour of actual rehearsal time to get ready. This means the dancers had to learn all the pieces with short exposure and no ability to adjust to the idiosyncrasies which are always present in live performance.

The results? An evening of dance which was very well received by large and appreciative audiences. When was the last time you went to a dance concert and heard audience members pounding their feet with pleasure on the seating platforms?

Of course, as the four-production series rolled out, each night the nuances of the dancing became more exposed. The entire process would have made for an excellent video docudrama.

‘RANDOM ACTS,’ with choreography by Sara Whale, was danced to “Habanera” by Nicholas Underhill. An often strident composition, it was beautifully performed by violinist Cara Tweed. Controlled and quick movements, often chaotic in nature, created a severe contemporary visual set of images.

‘CLEVELAND FLATS SUITE,’ with music by Richard Rinehart and choreography by Diane Gray, was enhanced with visual effects by Jay Horowitz and lighting designed by Trad Burns (who did a wonderful job of lighting all the shows). A flow of water, images of the bridges and the flats area of Cleveland, which faded to other abstract visual impressions, created a perfect background for a piece which was nicely danced by the company.

‘PIANO RHAPSODY’ was set to “Volcano Rhapsody,” by Alex Berko. The mutli-award winning piano composition was enhanced by the live performance by the junior high student. Kay Eichman used classical modern ballet movements to create a vision that fit the moods of the music. (In full disclosure, the composer is my grandson.)

‘10:39’ was choreographed by Troy McCarty to “Overtures” and “Blood and Oil,” by Alan Emerson. A six-piece orchestra played the fast atonal music and the dancers performed gymnastic and jazz movements to a positive effect.

Following the intermission, Lisa Lock’s choreography brought forth ‘the cat is watching,’ set to “Coil,” an atonal composition of Larry Baker.

‘CHAIR,’ a five-movement composition by Loris Ohannes Chobanian, entitled, “Characters You are Likely to Meet” was staged by Richard Dickinson. Much of the choreography was a series of point and counter point movements which did not always parallel the music. Cellist Regina Mushabac was excellent in her interpretation of the modern composition.

The dance highlight of the evening was ‘KIDS AT PLAY,’ a joyful presentation played to “Cosmo,” a composition by Eric Ziolek. With much of the feeling and energy of Jerome Robbins’ “Fancy Free,” which was the basis for Leonard Bernstein’s musical ‘ON THE TOWN,’ Terence Greene created a fun, fast paced, visually pleasing performance. This number should be considered for inclusion in the Verb repertoire.

Why was Alex hawking albums at intermission and after the performance? So many people on Thursday and Friday asked whether he had an album of his music that the enterprising young man, who has an album entitled ‘ALEX BERKO UNPLUGGED,’ decided to bring some along for the final two performances. The results was a generous addition to his college fund. Alex, asked me to remind my readers that if they attended the program on Thursday or Friday night, and didn’t get a chance to buy a cd, they are still available for $10. (I guess you can contact me and I’ll forward the info to him.)

The evening worked well, but if Verb is to do this type of program again, it would be wise to vary the kinds of music. There was only one tonal piece and after a while the sounds started to grate on the nerves. As a lady behind me moaned, “I love the dancing, but why is so much of the music ear piercing?”

Capsule judgement: Verbs’ gamble paid off! Very sizable houses showed up to see and hear creative productions. Nice job Margaret.