Sunday, March 30, 2003

Full Monty (Playhouse Square Center)

'FULLY MONTY' full of fun at the Palace

I was fortunate enough on opening night of ‘THE FULL MONTY, now on stage at the Palace Theatre in Playhouse Square, to have seats in the third row. Bonnie, a female friend, came running down the aisle after she saw where I was sitting and asked if I’d be willing to change seats. She wanted to be up front, “as close as possible.”

Since it opened in October, 2000, there have been two main questions asked about this Tony nominated musical. Question 1 is “do the actors really strip naked at the end of the show?” The answer is “yes.” But, if your main reason for attending the show is to see male nudity, you’d be better off spending your money at one of the local male strip joints because you aren’t going to see much physical equipment in this production. As the men remove their g-strings, blinding lights glare into the eyes of the audience and a blackout quickly follows. Sorry Bonnie!

The second question is, “Where does the title come from?” Legend has it that it is a British expression meaning “to take to the fullest extent.” And stripping before 2000 or so audience members is the full extent.

The basic story line centers on Jerry and his five Buffalo, New York buddies.. Jerry is a great Dad. But he's unemployed, broke and divorced. If he doesn't get enough money together soon to pay support, he’ll be unable to see his son. Jerry and five equally desperate out-of-work friends embark on an unexpected and revealing journey in which they plan to make money in a show in which they will do the “full monty.” Of course, complications set in and the audience is the recipient of the fun.

Jack O’Brien’s musical comedy version of the biggest ever box office grossing British movie retains the heart and soul of the film without attempting to copy it. Terrence McNally’s adaptation is very funny and engenders lots of pathos. David Yazbek’s score maps the character-based comedy with some stand out numbers, especially “Breeze Off The River,” a beautiful ballad, the moving “You Walk With Me” and the gorgeous “You Rule My World.”

The touring production is top notch. The acting and singing are wonderful. So great that the ensemble stands together and no single performance stands out. That’s a triubute to good acting and fine directing. The sets are a little chintzy, but it matters little. You will smile, you will laugh, you will’ll enjoy yourself immensely. This is what good musical theatre is all about.

Capsule judgement: ‘THE FULL MONTY’ is a slick celebration the resilience of the human spirit. You’ll be on your feet at the end cheering and feeling good all the way home.

La Cage Aux Folles (Beck Center)

'La Cage Aux Folles' fun at Beck, but...

“Is the biblical condemnation of homosexuality a rigid commandment broken at dire risk to the sinner?” This was a question recently raised in a southern US city when a publicly funded theatrical presentation was to be staged. The core of the controversy was a production of ``La Cage Aux Folles.''

Fear not, Lakewood’s Beck Center’s production of La Cage is in no danger of being picketed or the funds withdrawn. In fact, it will probably rake in the dollars.

The supposedly controversial musical, ‘LA CAGE AUX FOLLES’, which won 6 Tony Awards, is based on the movie ‘THE BIRDCAGE.’ It is the story of gay nightclub owner Georges, his star attraction and love interest, Albin, and their "son" Jean-Michel. Complications set in when Jean-Michel falls in love with the daughter of an uptight, political moralist. The hijinks which result from the mismatch of family types, are both amusing and telling.

A play’s director has many decisions to make. In the case of La Cage, the major one is how much of the action will be based on letting the script and music carry the humor and meaning, or how broad and farcical will the cast be encouraged to go in order to entertain. Fred Sternfeld, Beck’s director, decided to go with the latter approach. He pulls no punches. Every shtick, double-take, and farcical device is used to get laughs.

If the opening night audience, which consisted of lots of the cast member’s friends and family, plus a group who obviously had been partying long before curtain time, was any indication, Sternfeld made the right choice.

On the other hand, if the characters had been presented as real people we would have seen a love story, with lovers, gay and straight, who simply love each other. We probably would have asked, "and, what's wrong with that?" And, answered, nothing! In this age of war, bullyism, and terrorism, it was nice to be entertained, but developing the message of tolerance, being proud of who you are, and awareness of who is really important in one’s life, would have added much.

La Cage is a very, very difficult show to stage. Any theatre presenting this script knows that they are undertaking a formidable task. The demands are partly at fault for the less than polished production at Beck. The many light cues, the need for numerous set changes, the sheer number of costumes, and the necessity for a uniformly talented cast created difficulties.

Greg Violand is excellent as Georges, the more “macho” of the couple. He has a strong singing voice, dances well, develops a clear and consistent character, and weaves the role with the proper pathos. Kevin Joseph Kelly has the more difficult role as the character of Albin is very complex. Kelly needed to make the audience love him for who he is and why he is that person, while being amusing, yet sometimes serious. Kelly doesn’t totally pull it off. He wanders in and out of character. He does the comic parts with ease, but has difficulty texturing the serious segments. He does perform the show’s highlight. Experiencing his rendition of the first act curtain closer, “I Am What I Am,” is worth the price of permission. Violand and Kelly’s humorous love song “With You on My Arm,” was sheer delight.

Brian Etchell is acceptable as their son, Jean-Michel. He has a nice, if nasal singing voice. He fails to make the audience really care about him, to realize his conflict between his love of family versus his love of a new relationship. Howard Pippin, though generally funny, often goes over the top as the maid/butler Jacob. This is again a case of begging for laughs, rather than letting them come naturally.

In general, the Les Cagelles, the transvestite dance line, had more enthusiasm than talent. This was especially obvious in the opening number, which lacked cohesion. At most productions of this script, the question is often, “who are the males and who are the females in the chorus line?” There was never any question with this group.

Charles Eversole’s orchestra and musical arrangements were wonderful. Martin Cespedes’s choreography was creative, though the requirements of tapping, doing the cancan, and performing soft-shoe routines often were beyond the abilities of some of the cast. Allison Hernan and Jeff Smart had the unenviable task of producing hundreds of costumes. In the main, they did an acceptable job.

Capsule Judgement: Beck Center deserves credit for undertaking such a daunting show in these times of short finances. Worry not. In spite of some flaws, the word should spread quickly about how much fun the show is, and that should equate to good box office sales.

Sunday, March 23, 2003

In the Blood (Dobama)

‘IN THE BLOOD’ awesome at Dobama

The average theatre-goer has probably never heard the name Suzan-Lori Parks. It does not flow out of the memory bank like Lorraine Hansberry, considered to be America’s best Black woman playwright. But Suzan-Lori Parks is a playwright to be reckoned with. The New York Times named her as "1989’s most promising playwright.” She has won the MacArthur Award, was the first African-American woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for Drama, has been awarded two Obies (best off-Broadway play awards), and was a Pulitzer Prize nominee for ‘IN THE BLOOD’.

Parks’ writes plays that dissect the black experience in collision with a white-dominated society. Parks's plays have been hailed for their creative mix of fantasy, myth, and history, expressed in language that captures the sounds heard on the inner-city streets and in the rural backwaters of America. All of these qualities are present in the brilliantly written ‘IN THE BLOOD’ getting its Ohio Premiere at Dobama.

‘IN THE BLOOD’ uses Hawthorne's classic “A Scarlet Letter” as a stepping-stone for the tale of Hester La Negrita, a black woman with five children from various fathers. We experience Hester’s fears, frustrations, and elation as she confronts sterilization, hunger, living under a bridge, rejection, dejection, and falling through the cracks of the welfare system. This is unsettling stuff.

Director Sonya Robbins leaves no emotional leaf unturned in her staging. The scenes are riveting. The performances are honed to a high-level. Even the technical qualities are first rate. Bill Ransom’s original music sets the emotional tone. Todd Krispinsky has created a totally realistic bridge abutment. Andrew Kaletta’s lighting is mood perfect.

You will not see a finer performance than Rasheryl McCreary’s emotionally shattering Hester. Her pain is our pain. Her frustrations are our frustrations. She is magnificent! Victor Dickerson, Anthony Elfonzia, Renee Matthews-Jackson, Kevin Brewer and Cassandra Vincent are all wonderful.

Capsule judgment: Every once in a while theatre-goers have the experience of knowing they have experienced greatness. This has to be the case of anyone who has attended a performance of ‘IN THE BLOOD” at Dobama Theatre.

Arms and the Man (Great Lakes Theatre Festival)

‘ARMS AND THE MAN' marches to victory

“Patriotism is your conviction that this country is superior to all others because you were born in it.” “Oh, war! war! the dream of patriots and heroes! A fraud...a hollow sham...” What do these lines have in common? Of course they are speeches, recently spoken at pro and anti-war rallies. If that’s what you thought, you’re wrong. They were written in 1894 by George Bernard Shaw for his play, ‘ARMS AND THE MAN.” Like much of Shaw, his ideas are as relevant today as they were when he penned them.

‘ARMS AND THE MAN’ is one of Shaw's earliest and most popular plays. He took the title from the opening line of Virgil's epic poem the "Aeneid," which begins "Of arms and the man I sing." Virgil glorified war. Shaw, on the other hand, uses the play to attack the romantic notion of war by presenting a depiction of war, devoid of the idea that death and destruction are noble. It is not an anti-war statement, but rather a satirical assault on those who glorify war.

The setting of the play is in war-torn Bulgaria. The story focuses not only on the romance between the young people of the play, but the atrocities that go on during war times and the ability of people to ignore the horrors completely. Written just a few years before World War I, Shaw's play turned out to be sadly prophetic. When war was declared, young men flooded to sign up, carrying with them the wholly romantic but inaccurate ideas of the glory of combat.

The secondary theme of the play is love and marriage. Shaw, in his usual satirical way states, “When two people are under the influence of the most violent, most insane, more delusive, and most transient of passions, they are required to swear that they will remain in the excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously under death do them part.”

As one theatre expert stated about the play, “The success of ‘ARMS AND THE MAN’ has been consistent right from its first production. The original staging of the play was so well received that Shaw's reputation as one of the greatest wits in the London drama scene was almost instantly established.” The Great Lakes Theatre production, under the creative and able hand of Artistic Director Charles Fee, will do little to harm Shaw’s reputation. This is a well-designed, expertly-acted, thoroughly enjoyable and edifying evening of theatre.

The cast, which consists of both local and imported actors, give highly professional performances. Dudley Swetland is perfectly stuffy as the Major. Carole Healey is wonderful as the flighty wife. Sara Bruner is adorable and charming as their love struck daughter. David Anthony Smith is right on target as the self-loving philandering Major. Ashley Smith, with his matinee idol good looks, makes the perfect Chocolate Soldier. Laura Perrotta creates a delightful tart with a mind of her own as the maid. Tom Ford makes buttling fun.

Although the script is now more than a hundred years old, its themes of love and war are as valid as ever. Its comedy is still fresh and entertaining and its story of love and romance appeals to all.

Capsule Judgment: Congratulations to Charles Fee for teaching us what quality level professional theatre in Cleveland can be. He is a much welcomed addition to the local performance scene. Hopefully, he will be with us a long, long time and continue in his already successful quest to make GLTF the cream of local professional theatres.

Monday, March 17, 2003

Tartuffe (Actors' Summit)

'TARTUFFE' entertains audience, but...

Molière (Jean-Baptiste Poquelin) was born in Paris on January 15, 1622. As a young boy, he learned that he could cause quite a stir by mimicking his mother's priest. This laid the path for his use of satire and his development into an actor. As a playwright he was a favorite of the French court in spite of his making fun of all that surrounded him. He died, as he had lived, a man of contradictions. On February 17, 1673, he suffered a hemorrhage while on stage. He passed away later that night. The local priests refused to take his confession, for actors had no social standing and had been excommunicated by the church. Nor would they permit him to be buried in holy ground. Four days later, the King interceded and Molière was finally buried in the Cemetery Saint Joseph under the cover of darkness.

Molière is considered to be one of France’s greatest writers and laid the foundation for what we now call satire or farce. His plays, which are still frequently done today, include ‘THE MISANTHROPE,’ ‘THE DOCTOR IN SPITE OF HIMSELF’ and ‘THE IMAGINARY INVALID.’

“Tartuffe’ relates the story of an attempt by a con-man, to destroy the domestic happiness of the wealthy, but naive, Orgon and his family. The plot is full of improbable twists and turns which illustrate manipulation, and the plight of young love. Of course, in the end, good wins out over evil and the audience has had a good laugh and has supposedly learned some valuable lessons.

Farce has been defined as“a style of writing that centers on improbable situations,” “the persons and action of a farce are all unnatural, and the manners false.” Farce is hard to perform because it must be so serious in its presentation that the ridiculousness comes out. Many directors and actors fail to understand that the power of the word is the power of farce. They, instead, contrive to make what is written to be funny, humorous through devices. The result is a very entertaining evening of theatre, but loses the lessons of the writer. This is the case with Actors’ Summitt’s 'TARTUFFE.'

Director Neil Thackaberry has been given a wonderful translation of the French script by local actor and writer Wayne S. Turney. Turney has lost none of the satire and style as he tightened what is an overly long original theatrical piece. He has also maintained the wonderful rhyme and cadence of the language. Thackaberry has taken the script and staged it in its most slapstick and broadest form. Lots of double-takes, over exaggerations in speech and gestures pour-forth. As evidenced by the audience’s response, they loved the interpretation.

Only Joe Gunderman, as Orgon’s brother-in-law plays his role tongue in cheek. Theatre traditionalists will love his interpretation. Tom Fulton, as Tartuffe, pulls out all the stops. He mugs, he prances, he feigns, in the best comedy sense. Thackaberry, who not only directs but plays Orgon, yells and mugs his way through the roll. Again, with positive reaction from the assemblage. Mary Jane Nottage plays Orgon’s ditsy mother to the hilt.

Capsule judgment: The audience loved Actors' Summit's interpretation of 'Tartuffe,' but the show doesn't really illustrate Molliere's point.

The Chosen (Jewish Community Center)

‘THE CHOSEN’ well-done and thought provoking

When on July 23, 2002 Chaim Potok died, the English speaking world lost one of the few voices who has been able to paint a picture of Hasidic life in America. Hasidics are ultra-Orthodox Jews whose belief in a divine God who must be listened to and adored have been unwavering in their convictions for many generations. They still adhere to the dress codes of ancient times and spend their days and nights in religious study. It is this world that Potok illuminates. He does it from authority. As he once said, “I grew up. . .in a Hasidic world.” His world, however, was not the religious extreme. He, therefore, is capable of looking at the movement through clear eyes.

Potok started writing fiction at the age of 16. With the publication of his novel ‘THE CHOSEN’ in 1967, Potok entered the American literary scene and he grew in stature with eight subsequent publications.

The play version of “THE CHOSEN’ is now being staged at the Halle Theatre of the Jewish Community Center. With dramatic force, it tells of the powerful bonds of love and pain that join fathers and sons and how that love differs, yet is the same in divergent settings.

It’s the 1940's in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn. Two boys who have grown up within a few blocks of each other, but in two entirely different worlds, meet for the first time in a bizarre and explosive encounter--a baseball game between two Jewish parochial schools that turns into a holy war. The assailant is Danny Saunders- moody and brilliant. He is driven by his pent-up torment. He feels imprisoned by the tradition that destines him to succeed his awesome father in an unbroken line of great Hasidic rabbis. The victim of Danny's rage is Reuven Malther, the gentle son of a gentle scholar. He is one of the less-Orthodox Jews whom the Hasids regard as little better than infidels. Their lives become entwined and we are carried into an investigation of what it really means to love a son and finally fulfill the obligation of letting him go into the world he wants and needs.

Director Dorothy Silver has crafted an engrossing evening of theatre. She has molded a cast, most of whom had no understanding of the religious implications and philosophical concepts of Hasidism, into a body that allows audience member, Jews and non-Jews alike, to understand the universal themes of the script.

Sean Szaller is outstanding as the Young Reuven Malter. He totally grasps the slightest nuances of the character. Doug Rossi, develops a believable Danny, but one must wonder why an American-born young man would be speaking with an accent. An accent which is not well sustained. Larry Nehring, as the adult Reuven, acts as the show’s narrator with ease. He seamlessly weaves in and out of scenes and is the audience’s eyes and ears. One of Cleveland’s acting treasurers, Reuben Silver, is texture-perfect as Reb Saunders. The character alternately frustrates in his rigidness and surprises with his insights. This is a fine, fine performance. Michael Regnier, as Reuven’s father illustrates the rational, caring man who understands his limitations yet is driven by his intellectual passions.

Larry Gorjup has designed an impressive evening of sound. Consisting of 1940s radio broadcasts and the appropriate music, the audio transports the audience into the proper mood and illuminates the era perfectly. The postage stamp-sized stage is always a challenge to scenic designers. Tony Kovacic has done a wonderful job of using the limited space. Alison Hernan’s costumes are period and religiously correct.

Sunday, March 09, 2003

The Old Neighborhood (Dobama)

'THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD' tedious at Dobama

It is reported that when Joyce Casey, the Artistic Director of Dobama Theatre, read the script of 'THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD' she was “lukewarm” about producing it. Casey should have stuck to her gut-level reaction. It is not a good sign when opening night audience members, many of whom are reviewers and friends of the cast, are reading their programs during the production rather than concentrating on the stage.

'THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD' is a three-part memory play. It concerns Bobby Gould’s return and reconnection with the people and places of his past, a past that centered in Chicago’s Rogers Park area, once the center of the city’s Jewish population. It’s the place where the old shoe store, the movie theatre, the high school, the cemetery, and the drug store once stood. It’s the place where he grew up and laid the foundation for who he was to become. It is the place he hasn’t seen in years. The play explores conversations with his high school best friend, his sister and a former girlfriend.

Though David Mamet’s script has a strong underbelly of the role our past has on our lives, it is a talky, slow moving, often abstract play. Under Scott Plate’s cautious directing and slow pacing, 'THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD' becomes a tedious theatrical experience.

There is generally a lack of contact between the cast members and their motivations. The audience never gets swept up into the story or the real angst of the characters. There is a lot of surface in the performances but not a lot of emotional digging. To be successful, the play needs an emotional bonding between the actors of each of the characters. There must also be an understanding, by both the director and the cast, of the ethnic underpinning and the generational conflicts that help set the characters on their life paths. This connection seems missing.

This is not to say that there are no humorous or compelling moments. There are. It’s just that they are far outnumbered by the long pauses, low-level emotional output, and tentative acting.

Mamet is known for creating demonic males thrusting words like hand grenades in each other’s faces. He is noted for casting an astute eye on the difficulties Americans males encounter in establishing their manhood. Mamet is a proponent of the thesis that the second generation seeks to forget the past experiences of their ancestors. All of these themes emerge in 'THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD.' He is also noted for writing playable scenes that actors can get their teeth into. If that is in this script it did not translate onto the stage.

Capsule judgement: The viewer of 'THE OLD NEIGHBORHOOD' will probably ask whether the problem with the production lies with the writing, the acting or the directing. I vote for all three!

Sunday, March 02, 2003

The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde (Cleveland Play House)

'JEKYLL AND HYDE' disappoints at CPH

Robert Lewis Stevenson’s ‘THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE’ was published in 1886. Supposedly, Stevenson drafted the story in three days and completed its writing in six weeks. The story was supposedly developed in an unconscious state of sleep. As one Stevenson expert states, “ The dream served as a catalyst for every other aspect of the story to Stevenson. He had long been trying to write a story on this subject, to find a body, a vehicle, for that strong sense of man's double being, which must at times come in upon and overwhelm the mind of every thinking creature"

On the surface the story centers on the actions of a staid British doctor’s discovery of a formula created by his father. Curiosity drives Dr. Jekyll to take the potion which transforms him into the monster Mr. Hyde who knows no control for his emotions. Hyde attacks and kills at the slightest provocation. Soon, his potions begin to fail to work. When he can no longer obtain the chemicals to renew the potion Hyde kills himself, therefore letting both Jekyll and Hyde free.

This is, in reality, not a story about a madman or a serial killer. It is a story about the theory that inside each of us dwells a being that externally conforms to culture, yet internally lusts for the liberty to act out what our emotions drive us do. Thus Dr. Jekyll, brought up in a staid English society, in a world where appearance was more important than substance, had a strong drive not to be so pure, so emotionally controlled. When he could no longer control his impulses he acted on them. The father of modern psychiatry, Sigmund Freud, would theorize that "The two sides compare almost as conscious and unconscious.”

The stage adaptation, now being performed by the Cleveland Play House, comes with good credentials. It was written by David Edgar, who adapted the highly proclaimed ‘NICHOLAS NICKLEBY’ for the stage. The CPH production is starring Andrew May, one of Cleveland’s premiere actors. So, how could CPH go off course? Well, somehow it did.

David Kay Mickelsen’s costumes are period perfect. Rick Paulsen’s lighting attempts to lead us from scene to scene, mood to mood with appropriate lighting. It works most of the time. Robin Heath’s sound design and Larry Delinger’s music help set the right moods and transitions.

Michael Ganio’s scene design, on the other hand, creates chaos. Strange happenings occur. A piano is on stage during a street scene, door flats fall, actors have to dodge around set pieces and furniture, actors get hidden in the far back areas of the stage, a witness can’t be seen by much of the audience, though her voice is heard. There are just too many pieces-parts flying in and out, revolving around and over-stuffing the stage. If this was to help the audience understand the chaos in Jekyll’s head it didn’t. Rather than help, the set distracted.

Actors in this production are often hard to understand due to heavy and often inconsistent accents. Many characterizations are on-the-surface rather than creating clear people. Yes, this is not reality, but the audience must believe what they are seeing has reality or the shock effects, the meaning, gets lost. As one audience member said at intermission, “Will someone please tell me what is going on?”

Lee Moore as the butler was wonderful. His character development was clear and consistent. Anna Cody was on target as Jekyll’s sister as were young Kyle Blackburn Liz Duchez as her children. On the other hand, Ivy Vahanian, who plays Annie, a parlor maid, who has a pivotal role, was very difficult to understand and feigned emotions.

What was most disappointing was May’s performance. While his Jekyll was basically fine, his Hyde was often unintelligible. He was needlessly bent over to fit the script description of a small younger man. Thus, his voice didn’t project. The problem could have been eliminated changing of the unnecessary description. His cockney brogue often drowned out whole ideas. Excessive shouting made some of his lines unclear and, though it mirrored frustration, it eliminated understanding. The roles were not textured the way May he has proven he is capable of doing.

Capsule judgement: The overall effect was less than a stellar production. One must question some of the technical and acting decisions made by director Peter Hackett.

Danceworks/03 (Groundworks Dancetheatre)

Wonderful, wonderful dance program by Groundworks

David Shimotakahara is not only a brilliant choreographer and dancer, but selects other dancers and choreographers of great ability to flesh out his company’s performances. This was proven again when Groundworks Dancetheater presented its ‘DANCEWORKS/03’ at Cleveland Public Theatre February 28 through March 2. The only regret is that the program ran only for three days and those who couldn’t get in to the sold-out performances won’t have a chance to experience the wonderful program.

Groundworks is built on a very solid foundation. Mix creative choreography, excellent dancers, add precision, get the audience close-up, and let the whole mixture blend together. Shimotakahara is the master chef. As the founder of the group in 1998, after years with the Ohio Ballet, he has built a loyal following of not only devoted viewers, but performing professionals. He calls upon his artisans to blend their skills together. The results are consistently deserved standing ovations.

The program opened with choreographer Gina Gibney’s tribute to Patsy Cline. The segment was danced to recordings of six of the country singer’s most popular songs including her signature“Somebody.” Gibney used the company in creative ways. Her signature moves of strong twisting, powerful arm movements, unusual lifts and using the floor as not only a place to dance upon but to writh and interact on, were integrated into each segment. Amy Miller’s finely toned body was used to its powerful utmost as she gymnastically moved through “Love Letters in the Sand.” Mark Otloski and Xochitl Tejeda de Cerda intertwined on the floor effectively in “You Took Him Off My Hands.” It is exciting to see the progress that Otloski has made in recent years. He has moved from a competent dancer to an extraordinary one under Shimotakahara’s guidance. “Does Your Heart Beat for Me” found double tandems of dancers interacting. “Crazy Arms” and “Always” were cleverly conceived pieces. Russ Borski’s costume design of cowboy gear added to the mood. This portion of the evening was fresh, creative, and audience pleasing.

Besides dance Shimotakahara often includes additional arts insertions. piano soloist Michael Root added texture to the program by playing a series of Claude Debussy pieces entitled “Images I.” Root’s rendition on the Steinway isolated on the bare stage, back-lite in red, was marvelous.

Groundworks chooses performance settings with care. Shimotakahara wants the audience to hear the shoes squeak, hear the dancers breathe, see them sweat, share their emotions. This was well illustrated in ‘Hush.’ choreographed by Beth Corning, a piece previously performed by the company. During the number, one of the dancers is placed on the laps of several audience members who hold her for much of the piece. ‘Hush’ touches on the longing for comfort found in moments throughout our lives. Done in slow turning and stretching movements, first to the humming of a single dancer, then segueing into an orchestra of the lullaby, the piece is full of measured moves. Felise Baley, Amy Miller and David Shimotakahara were captivating throughout this thought-provoking dance.

‘Before With After,’ in it’s world premiere, was a well-crafted and danced, if a little over long performance. Danced to the live piano accompaniment of Michael Root, the Shimotakahara choreography was well-supported by Ray Zander’s flowing costumes and Dennis Dugan’s creative lighting. The choreography included interludes of dancers moving together without touching, propelling slowly in parts, rapidly in others to parallel to the moods of the music, and acting and interacting with each other. The company was in total unity throughout. The dancers obviously were enjoying themselves and the audience caught the spirit. Clever humor paralleled with stark drama. Especially effective was a solo segment by Felise Bagley whose lovely moves were elegantly performed. A funny segment between Miller and deCerda was delightful and brought prolonged giggles from the audience.

It is sad to announce that Xochitl Tejeda de Cerda, after many years, is leaving the Cleveland area and this was her last performance. Her talent and personality will be sorely missed.