Sunday, April 17, 2005

Ten Minutes to Cleveland (Dobama Theatre)

Cleveland's will delight in 'TEN MINUTES TO CLEVELAND’

It was with both delight and sorrow that I recently watched ‘TEN MINUTES FROM CLEVELAND’ at Dobama Theatre.

The delight was in being part of the world premiere of Eric Coble’s generally well crafted play about what it is like living on the North Coast, the Mistake By the Lake, the city whose river caught fire, the one city that has two different personalities, and the town where if you don’t like the weather you can wait five minutes and it will change. Ah, yes, Coble knows Cleveland well. It’s even more amazing that this young playwright who has pegged this city right on, was born in Edinburgh, Scotland and was brought up on the Navajo and Ute reservations in New Mexico and Colorado.

The sorrow is that this is the last major production to be staged in Dobama’s ex-bowling alley home in the basement on Coventry. Having been part of the company since its start as an actor and public relations director; having helped pull out the bowling lanes; having mourned the deaths of both Donald and Marilyn Bianchi, the hearts of Dobama; watching the production was painful. Yes, Dobama will live on, but with an entirely new aura.

Do you have to be from Cleveland to appreciate ‘TEN MINUTES TO CLEVELAND?” Well, let’s put it this way. If you don’t know about the failing conditions of the Detroit/Superior Bridge, who operates the stalls in the West Side Market, the foibles of RTA, the village within the village at Legacy Village, the size of the Cleveland Clinic, the attempts to gentrify Tremont, the frustration of being a Cleveland Indians’ fan, the folly known as the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and the goings on in the Flats...well, then you won’t get most of Coble’s in-jokes.

Each member of the cast, under the adept directing of Eric Schmiedl, plays multiple roles. They generally change characters, accents, attitudes, and costumes with ease. Nick Koesters, who goes ballistic when his West Side Market vendor parents decide to sell Lo-Carb pierogies, turns in a highlight performance. He is also wonderful as the drunken Indians fan, a resident of Legacy Village, and the Lakeview Cemetery spray paint artist. His attempts at dancing as he changes set pieces is worth the price of admission.

Nan Wray is alternately hysterically funny as a Legacy Village shopper who decides to live there permanently and a the wife of a Janis Joplin groupie who wants to have sex in the backseat of Joplin’s car which is now housed in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She is touching as the daughter whose mission is to put flowers on her mother’s grave while saving the city from graffiti.

Mark Moritz hits a high note as the ex-Case physics professor who predicts that if one more bolt falls out of the Detroit/Superior Bridge, the structure will fall, and as the developer of the low-carb pierogi and the Joplin groupie. Unfortunately, he was much too literate as the Tremont owner of a garbage strewn backyard complete with a car up on cinder blocks.

Jimmy Woody hit emotional chords as the African American father holding two menial jobs which he gets to by riding the RTA. His scene with Sadie Grossman was the play’s dramatic highlight. He was less successful as a Clinic patient.

Kimberly Brown plays the perfect foil as the jogger who Moritz convinces that if she runs across the bridge it could fall down, is properly indignant as a Tremont urban pioneer and is perfectly harried as a Cleveland Clinic doctor with a quota to treat.

Sadie Grossman’s dull look as a drunken flat’s party-goer was the height of visual comedy.

Set Designer Todd Krispinsky’s inspiration was the well crafted painting “Cleveland in Motion for the Millennium” by local artist Hector Vega. It is a perfect choice. Each of the scenes is depicted in the painting, which is inscribed on the floor and walls.

Coble’s play is uneven. Parts were hysterically funny, others emotionally satisfying. However, several scenes such as the Cleveland Clinic and Rock Hall segments begged to be funny and the Flats segment tried but failed to develop a message. The play’s ending, with the snow falling and bolt cascading onto the stage, was priceless.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Every Clevelander, east or west sider, should see ‘TEN MINUTES FROM CLEVELAND.’ It is a trip through the city that even Lolly the Trolley won’t reveal. And you should attend to say goodbye to Dobama in the converted bowling alley that has been its home since 1964!

Monday, April 11, 2005

Contemporary Artists Collection (Verb Ballets)

Verb Ballets again proves its worth

During an intermission interview at Verb Ballets recent ‘CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS COLLECTION,’ which was presented as part of Cleveland Public Theatre’s Dance Works 05 program, Artistic Director Hernando Cortez shared that the company is going to hire his dancers to 30-week contracts. This is an exciting announcement. In these days of arts organizations cutting back on expenses, for a local company to give full-time employment to a corps of dancers is exceptional. It is a tribute to the wonderful job that Cortez and Executive Director Dr. Margaret Carlson have done in bringing this wonderful company to rapid prominence.

The opening piece, “MOZART PIANO TRIO IN C MAJOR,” was originally choreographed by Sean Curren in 2004. Dancing to the beautiful classical music the company interpreted well the feel of the music with flowing leaps, smooth gestures, extended arms, skipping, twirls, jigs, and gender neutral lifts and carries. Trad Burns’ lighting and Janet Bolick’s costumes added to the visually lovely presentation. Kallie Marie Bokal and Tracy Vogt were especially wonderful in their dancing.

Dancer-turned-choreographer Mark Tomasic’s ‘THE MEMORY ROOM,’ was first presented in 2004. Danced to the strong beat of music by Steve Reich and Moby, dancers Marcela Alvarez, Kallie Marie Bokal, Erin Conway, Elizabeth Flyyn and Anna Roberts were polished and poised. Trad Burns’ lighting created wonderful shadows which seemed to increase the 5 dancers into many more. Tomsic’s choreography fit the music.

Choreographer David Parsons’ SLEEP STUDY’ found the dancers costumed in pajamas, sleeping on the floor. As they tossed and turned in their sleep, they rolled on top of, over and spooned with each other. The delightful piece was summarized by one audience member as “the most adorable dance I’ve ever seen.” Right she was! ‘SLEEP STUDY’ is a sure audience pleaser.

Robert Wesner is not only a dancer with Verbs Ballet, but is a choreographer and performer for his own company, Neos Dance Theatre. His world premiere piece, ‘THE CHILD EPHEMERAL’ was performed to the lullabies of Armenian composer Masmik Harutyunyan as played by The Shoghaken Ensemble. The slow methodical choreography showed off the talents of the harlem clothed corps of dancers. The piece, with its sensual overtones, was beautifully danced, but was overly long.

Francis Poulenc’s piano music was the inspiration for ‘UNQUIET MINDS,’ a new piece choreographed by Hernando Cortez. Originally conceived for the American Ballet Theatre, Cortez did not finish the dance and it was never performed for the public. The present staging is a reinterpretation of the original choreography. The dance was placed in an imaginary space outlined by white tape on the floor which served as a box where a Grand puppeteer controls the thoughts and movements of the Commedia del Arte characters. The piece represents a yearning to be free of the commands of others and to be in control of one’s self. Trad Burns’ shadow-inducing lighting aided in mood development. The piece was well danced, but unfortunately the selection did not have the power or audience appeal to be a closing number.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Verb Ballets ‘CONTEMPORARY ARTISTS COLLECTION’ consisted of five well-conceived pieces. Each segment was uniquely different which added interest, but the length of the program far exceeded the attention span of the audience. This is not the first time the company’s programs have exceed a reasonable time limit. In the future, Cortez would be wise to take this into consideration.

Sunday, April 10, 2005

Season of Imagination-Ohio Dance Theatre (Ohio Dance Theatre)

Appreciative audience greets Ohio Dance Theatre

According to founder and Artistic Director, Denise Gula, “Ohio Dance Theatre is a professional ballet-based contemporary dance company that presents works with a strong theatrical element. The company’s mission is to enhance the quality of life in Northern Ohio by presenting quality arts productions of richness and variety, excellence and motivation.”

Based in Lorain County, the company reaches out of the area to spread its version of dance into not only Cuyahoga County, but nationally. One of its outreaches was its recent performance in the Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre.

An audience of approximately 500 responded very positively to the four pieces presented as the company’s ‘SEASON OF IMAGINATION.’

The opening number was Gula’s version of ‘FIREBIRD,’ with recorded music by Igor Stravinsky. The vague start failed to set a clear exposition of the dance’s central theme of the conflict between good and evil. These became clearer however as the piece progressed through Paula Drakes’s black and white costuming and the music. The separation might further have been accented if the dancers had more clearly physically and facially expressed their opposing roles. For example, the bad Minions, were not aggressive enough, their hand movements and facial expressions did not well develop their menace.

Ericka Shannon as Tsarevna was elegant. She is a talented dancer whose point work and physical control are excellent. She was nicely partnered by Damien Highfield as Ivan. Tito Reyes, who looks more like a football linesman than a dancer, was surprisingly light-footed as Kastchei, the Dark One, though he, too, needed more facial menace. His dance to death was well executed as were the fight scenes between him and Highfield.

Rejane Duarto as the Firebird was striking with her tall legs and erect posture. Again, as with some of the other dancers, she failed to portray the facial attitude needed to carry the part’s meaning.

A more dyanamic version of music should have been selected. The music’s power and tone did not fill the large theatre, causing for a lack of emotional involvement on the part of the audience.

The second selection, ‘LA PETITE MORTE,’ with intense and beautiful music by Bela Bartok, took the audience visually into high grasses to observe the life and mating of the preying mantis. Costumed in bug green, the dancers executed well Gula’s choreography which was nicely accented by Diana Nelson’s lighting. As with the opening selection, more varied facial expression would have aided in idea development. A combination of unusual lifts and body intertwinings were the highlights of the piece. The final destruction of the males by the dominant females could have been highlighted by a more aggressive conclusion.

The highlight of the evening was ‘LE CORSAIRE,’ danced to music by Stravinsky. Choreographed by Gula, the short piece was beautifully performed by Orlando Ballet’s Chiaki Yasukawa and Eddy Tovar. The petite couple glowed. Their partnering and solos were excellent. Yasukawa’s point work and turns were elegant, Tovar’s circle jumps and powerful leaps brought strong positive reactions from the audience. It’s too bad this piece was so short, as the audience was cheering for more.

‘WHO CARES,’ with choreography by George Balanchine and music by George Gershwin ,was a wonderful ending segment to the program. Dancing to the cosmopolitan sounds of such musical compositions as “Fascinating Rhythm” and “I Got Rhythm,” the company and audience alike enjoyed themselves immensely. Especially outstanding were Ericka Shannon and Fidel Garcia. Garcia displays a nice sense of contemporary moves along with balletic competence. His cocky attitude fit perfectly the pieces he danced.

CAPSULE JUDGEMENT: Ohio Dance Theatre is attempting to reach out beyond its Lorain County home and be a more regional company. Without a permanent company it is often hard to develop a clear identity, but they are succeeding on many levels. Gula’s reputation and ability to attract guest dancers helps broaden the base of the company.