Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Inlet, Verb Ballets

Dance, dance, dance, dance

Roy Berko

(Member, Dance Critics Association)

Over the past few weeks the dance scene in the area has exploded. Four major concerts were scheduled…. Groundworks, Inlet Dance, Verb Ballets and Ohio Dance Theatre were all on stage. Unfortunately, due to the horrific weather, I only got to see two of the programs.


Inlet's SURPISING. INSPIRING. COLORFUL!, staged at the Chagrin Falls Performing Arts Center, featured revivals of past programs. The company is blessed with a strong corps. Joshua Brown and Justin Stentz are two of the most talented male dancers in the area. The duo exudes physical power and movement skills. Wisely, the ever-creative choreographer, Bill Wade, builds pieces around his testosterone duo. Inlet's females, Makaela Clark, Mackenzie Clevenger and Elizabeth Pollert are equally proficient. Since the company is an educational as well as performance troop, the regular dancers are often blended with young emerging talents. When this happens, as was obvious in ASCENSION, there is an obvious difference between the quality of the movements between the company members and the students. But with their company mission, this is acceptable.

The highlights of the Chagrin program were: SNOW, which found the dancers twirling, floating, doing smooth lifts and powerful moves, forming visual images of snow falling and moving; A CLOSE SHAVE, which has emerged into a signature piece, was delightful as Brown and Stentz displayed gymnastic moves with power and physical control as they mirrored each other while performing morning rituals. WONDEROUS BEASTS found the dancers transformed into creatures who hopped, jumped and made head thrusts while dressed in Kristin Wade's glorious costumes. The three and five year olds sitting behind me expressed awe and wonder during this segment of the program. IMPAIRED, a piece developed to illustrate life without sight, in which Brown and Mackenzie Clevenger perform the entire number while wearing blindfolds, brought positive audience reactions.

I can only wonder why Wade chose to end the program with BEAUTY IN TENSION, which finds the dancers covered over by stretch material trying to escape from the anxiety ridden times in which we live, thus leaving the audience on a downer, a well-done performance, but a downer just the same, rather than with the cartoon pop art romp BALListic in which the dancers proficiently frolic with huge red exercise balls to the delight of viewers.


Performing before a sold-out house at the Breen Center, Verb Ballets's OPEN YOUR IMAGINATION was an evening of premieres.

Danced to throbbing sounds, TO HAVE AND TO HOLD, which was choreographed by Danial Shapiro and Joanie Smith, was dedicated to those who have loved and lost but are not forgotten. It featured the cast flipping and vaulting over, sliding on and under three benches while they intertwined in symmetrical and asymmetrical groupings. Unfortunately, the male dancers were not always in sync, which weakened the overall effect.

NOUNEMON MOBILUS, danced to atonal percussion music, found three dancers encased in stretch sacks of material creating visual images. BREATH, choreographed by the talented Terence Greene, featured the entire company, plus students from Greene's classes at the Cleveland School of the Arts. A powerful segment featured Brian Murphy and Terrence Greene. AMBIGIUOUS DRIVES, choreographed by Tommie-Waheed Evans, which featured the wonderful Katie Gnagy, was a fine creation consisting of balletic movements and some compelling lifts.

I believe that Verb Ballets is at a crossroads. The largest of the local dance companies, it continues to attract big audiences, but, if the comments I heard following the latest program are an indication, the sheen is wearing off. The company membership remains stagnant. They have an excellent corps of females dancers. Brian Murphy is the only male dancer who has the finite ability to do both quality solo and corps work. More effort needs to be made to attract proficient males. A quality company cannot continue with dancers who are over the hill, or are not well trained and lacking in experience, or fill in with apprentices. Verb's purpose is not as a training school. It bills itself as Cleveland's National Repertory Dance Company. Yes, proficient male dancers are hard to find, but if Groundworks and Inlet can succeed in finding them, why can't Verb?