Alumnae Return as Guest Artists for City Ballet of Cleveland Gala

City Ballet of Cleveland’s 10-Year Anniversary Gala is coming up and as usual we wanted to let our readers know what to expect, so we sat in on a rehearsal and talked on the phone with Courtney Laves-Mearini, the company’s Artistic and Executive Director and for many years our ballet teacher. She ran through the repertoire.

Courtney Laves-Mearini: Typewriter is a dance that’s already been performed by two generations of dancers. This year 4 senior company members will be performing a section of it and that makes the 3rd generation. Also on the program, Amy McKenny choreographed a piece several years back called Motif. It’s a beautiful contemporary ballet.

Cleveland Concert Dance: Was Motif the piece we saw in rehearsal? It is a beautiful piece and the dancers look really good doing it. Who is Amy McKenny? Does she teach dance at the studio?

CLM: No, Amy is an MD in the Pathology Department at Cleveland Clinic. She danced as a young person and in college. When she moved here we met and started talking and she’s choreographed 3 or 4 pieces for us over the years even though she and her husband are employed by the Cleveland Clinic and raising a family.

CCD: Yes, now we remember seeing another of McKenny’s pieces in your 2015 Spring Concert, If Music Be the Food of Life. But you were saying.

CLM: Then there’s Jeff Rockland’s piece, Marriage of Figaro. It’s danced by junior company members and apprentices.

CCD: Ah yes. We watched rehearsal and found ourselves smiling nonstop. As we understand it, Rockland, who’s an Associate Professor of Dance at Kent State University, has loosely based his ballet on Mozart’s well-known opera buffa. Choreography for the very tall, very slim bride and groom — Sloan Richer and Shane Williams — makes them the straight men; the corps de ballet makes some jokes at the bride and groom’s expense, picking up on the opera buffa mood from time to time, but largely plays it straight themselves; 2 of the smallest dancers (Lucille Robbins and Emily Liu) are cast as sort of Marx-Brothers-at-the-wedding and their broadly comic antics provide the choreography with its punch lines.

CLM: Sort of. As Jeff might have mentioned during the rehearsal, it’s kind of a pretend play rather than an actual wedding. By the way, Shane will be going to School of American Ballet this summer.

CCD: That is so exciting. Congratulations, Shane.

CLM: Then everything else is our Guest Artists. Diana Yohe, who is a Soloist with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and Joseph Parr, her husband and also a member of PBT, are doing only the pas de deux from the second act of Giselle.

CCD: We’ll be glad to see Diana and Joe dance again. They raised our understanding of Giselle to a higher level. (https://clevelandconcertdance.com/2018/05/04/a-guide-to-giselle-betrayal-and-forgiveness/)

CLM: Then Spencer Waldeck, who’s in the 2nd year of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s pre-professional program, is dancing a variation from Paquita.

CCD: We remember enjoying your Paquita very much. (https://coolcleveland.com/2015/05/dance-review-city-ballet-of-cleveland-spring-repertory-concert/) We’re happy to learn that you’re thinking of doing it again.

CLM: Holly Burke, a first year student at Point Park, is doing a variation from Esmeralda. Lauren Dangelo is performing an original contemporary work. Lydia Fedor Havener, who’s free-lancing in New York City and Cleveland, is doing a Fosse-inspired jazz dance. Brier Bracken is at Joffrey Chicago. She’ll be doing a variation from Corsaire.

CCD: Ambitious choices.

CLM: Several dancers who couldn’t make it back for the Gala sent video: One of them, Barbara Craig-Liu, is currently in Xi’an, China, stuck there with her husband thanks to visa problems and, more recently, the corona virus, COVID-19. When they do get out, they plan to come back to Cleveland.

CCD: We spoke with Barbara at some length in 2012 when we wrote about CBC’s production of Les Sylphides. (https://coolcleveland.com/2012/06/dance-reality-check-on-a-romantic-retrospective/) Given her wide-ranging interests, it’s not surprising to learn that she’s in China speaking fluent Mandarin.

City Ballet of Cleveland’s 10-Year Anniversary Gala featuring alumni and company performances, live auction, hors d’oeuvres, desserts, and cocktails at 6:30 to 10:00 PM Friday, 2/28/2020 at Breen Center for Performing Arts. For tickets (@ $125 single $200 couple) go to cityballetofcleveland.org.

Next for City Ballet of Cleveland, their annual Spring Concert featuring Swan Lake. On the evening of Friday 5/15/2020 at Breen Center for Performing Arts. Watch cityballetofcleveland.org/events/ for tickets to go on sale in March.

Elsa Johnson and Victor Lucas

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