Old and New Dances to Schubert

We drove to the Near West Side on Saturday to see Verb Ballets at Breen Center for the Performing Arts. The program was called Schubert Melodies and it consisted of two pieces set to the music of Franz Schubert.

The curtain-raiser, Schubert Waltzes, was choreographed by Heinz Poll for Ohio Ballet in 1974. It’s one of several Poll pieces in Verb’s repertoire and we’ve seen both Ohio Ballet and Verb perform it before. (Verb Ballets Pays Tribute to Heinz Poll at the Akron Civic Theatre | CoolCleveland)

The other piece on the program, Octet in F Major, was a world premiere choreographed on the Verb dancers by Kay Eichman and Richard Dickinson to Schubert’s hour-long piece of the same name.

In a world where live music for dance is an ideal seldom realized, Verb presented a 90-minute concert with all live music.

For Schubert Waltzes, the grand piano was played center stage by Adam Whiting. The three couples — intended to represent a young couple, a happy-go-lucky-couple, and an older couple – make a stately, formal entrance and proceed to dance a series of short vignettes – duets, solos, and group dances – before coming together at the end for an equally formal exit. There’s no story in this dance but much tender and playful emotion that punctuates the dancing with caresses, smacks, and almost-embraces.

Schubert Waltzes has never looked better, and restagings this good don’t happen by accident. Credit Verb’s associate artistic director Richard Dickinson and his long association with Ohio Ballet and Verb’s producing artistic director Margaret Carlson who, many years ago, took the initiative, preserving the original lighting plots by Thomas R. Skelton. And kudos to the three couples, Kate Webb and Sikhumbuzo Hlahleni, Kelly Korfhage and Antonio Morillo, and Lieneke Matte and Benjamin Shepard.

When Octet in F Major begins, the lights (Lighting Design by Adam Ditzel) come up on the musicians of BlueWater Chamber Orchestra seated upstage center. Silhouetted in front of them are the five Verb women, Emily Dietz, Kelly Korfhage, Lieneke Matte, Kate Webb, and Kia Jimmy. As the piece progresses, the light soon comes up on the dancers as well as the musicians.

Like Schubert Waltzes, Octet in F Major is a music visualization with some reference to the emotions of the dancers. But Octet is twice as long and much more varied. One writer listed the many musical genres included in Octet as follows. “Schubert the song-writer… military marches, beer garden serenades, folk dances, and courtly minuets.” And Schubert, even moodier than other Romantics, constantly varied the emotional content and color of the Octet.

We see this variability in the second movement of the Octet (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octet_(Schubert)#Structure) which starts out sweet but soon becomes sad. The choreography reflects this sweet / sad dichotomy with a suggestion of personal, romantic  disappointment. With the dancers paired off into couples we see that Emily Dietz wants to be partnered with Isaac Hileman but her partner, Bryan Andres Salinas, will have none of it even though Kate Webb seems willing to be his partner. It’s a moment that reminded us of Antony Tudor’s Lilac Garden. The dancers communicate all this with subtle shifts of attention.

Follow the same link (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Octet_(Schubert)#Structure) to hear how the 6th movement of the Octet makes an even larger transformation. It begins with menacing storm clouds but shifts suddenly to clearing skies and a jolly – but emotionally volatile — march which carries the dancers through the finale.

Octet in F Major was commissioned by Marian and Eric Klieber.

Next up for Verb, a collaboration with University of Akron Dance Institute on the Akron Nutcracker with all new sets and costumes and live music by the Akron Symphony Orchestra. 7:30 PM 12/22 & 12/23 at E. J. Thomas Hall. For further information and tickets go to VerbBallets.org or phone 330-972-7570.

Next up for BlueWater Chamber Orchestra, Magnetic Mozart with Laura Pederson, soprano. 7:30 PM Saturday 11/19/2022 at Plymouth Church UCC in Shaker Heights. For tickets and more information, go to bluewaterorchestra.com.

Elsa Johnson and Victor Lucas

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