Verb @ Breen

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Photo Credit Susan Bestul

Verb Ballets performs at Breen Center every spring but this year the house was sold out and at intermission the lobby was packed with familiar faces from the dance community who came out to support Verb on their 30th anniversary celebration.

Of the 6 dances that Verb performed that night, 3 were new to us and the easiest one to talk about was Aposiopesis, a contemporary ballet for 4 couples set to music by Michael Nyman. We missed its Verb premiere last summer but at Breen on Friday we found it much as choreographer Charles Anderson described it when we interviewed him at a rehearsal.  See our article:

(http://coolcleveland.com/2016/07/summer-dance-preview-and-a-look-ahead-with-verb-ballets/).

But rehearsal is one thing and performance another. We were struck by the way Verb’s performance of Aposiopesis on Saturday built to a powerful emotional crescendo. We attribute some of that to the cadences of Nyman’s music. But the way we saw Anderson coaching the Verb dancers in rehearsal also undoubtedly had an effect. His persistent queries (“What are you running toward?”) and admonitions (“Don’t show the drama, be the drama.”) resulted in a growing sense of ardor, a passionate engagement of the dancers with the materials of the dance and with each other. It’s heady stuff and we hope Verb keeps this piece in its repertoire so we can see it again.

The other 2 dances new to us were Verb premieres, set on Verb by Laura Alonso, Creative Fusion Artist in Residence. Alonso is part of Cuban ballet’s royal family and as such she wields considerable authority when it comes to staging the traditional classics and, more generally, any aspect of ballet technique. So we watched her staging of Don Quixote pas de deux with great expectations. Our impression was that Alonso had made very specific demands on Verb’s Megan Buckley and Nathanael Santiago, demands that were close to the absolute limits of their abilities, and that the dancers honored those demands and met them. Congratulations to all. We were a little disappointed, however, that the piece came across as careful and intent on stylistic and technical correctness rather than the triumphant revelation we hoped for.

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Photo Credit Susan Bestul

To offer two completely unfair comparisons, consider  how triumphantly Verb’s dancers, including Buckley, braved the acrobatic and emotional challenges of Spartacus pas de deux  (http://coolcleveland.com/2015/08/verbballets-debuts-new-dances-at-outdoor-summer-programs/) and Spring Waters (http://coolcleveland.com/2015/02/review-dancing-to-the-music-verbballets-at-breen/).

The other dance that Alonso set on Verb was a solo, Rita, which depicts a beautiful bi-racial slave. As her movements convey and as the poem read over the dance explains, she is at a party with other slaves, flirting and expressing how proud she is of her beautiful cinnamon colored skin.

Cuba’s experience with race and with slavery has been similar to ours in the USA, but it’s also different in important ways. We feel certain that we’ll be missing many of the social and cultural nuances in Rita until we get an English translation of the poem, perhaps printed in future program notes.

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Photo Credit Susan Bestul

Whatever social and cultural nuances we’re missing, Rita is an interesting dance piece for the way it combines ballet technique including pointe work with Afro-Cuban dance steps. In one surprising moment, for instance, the dancer comes down off point to walk heel-toe with her legs turned parallel and her weight down in her rolling hips. From what we’ve seen, Cuban dancers and choreographers combine the two dance techniques particularly well, as we’d expect, since Cuba’s history has proven particularly conducive to cultural transmission and hybridization.

Of course, Cuban choreographers owe much of their success to Cuban dancers who are so often proficient in both ballet and Afro-Cuban vernacular dance; that’s why we were so excited to see a Verb dancer, Kate Webb, bridge multiple cultural divides to perform this piece so successfully.

See another performance of Rita on (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQh1zyL4D3U) Youtube.

We’ve written about the other dances on the program — Schubert Waltzes, 3:00AM, and Appropriated Memories – in a review of an earlier concert. (http://coolcleveland.com/2017/02/dance-review-verb-ballets-akron-civic-theatre-elsa-johnson-victor-lucas/).

The concert began with a worrisome shock when it was announced that pianist David Fisher would not be performing the music for Schubert Waltzes live, that he’d fainted outside Breen and had been taken in an ambulance to a hospital. The show went on with a backup recording. We’ve since been told that Fisher is fine and resting at home.

Verb Ballets performed its 30th Anniversary celebration concert on March 25, 2017 at The Breen Center.

Your next chance to catch Verb on this side of the Pacific is May 11 – 13 at Cleveland Public Theater’s DanceWorks. And that includes FREE BEER FRIDAYS! (http://www.verbballets.org/cpt17.html)

Laura Alonso will not be the last Cuban dancer coming to Cleveland. DanceCleveland presents Malpaso on June 2 & 3. (http://www.dancecleveland.org/performances) Many Malpaso residency elements including an open rehearsal and a master class begin early in May so watch this site. And yes, their visas have been approved.

Victor Lucas

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