Yes, it’s time to get tickets! Cincinnati Ballet’s Kaplan New Works Series starts the second and final week of its run tonight. This program (which I saw last Thursday) gets a strong thumbs up. Read on for more details!
FYI, tonight through Sunday, there are four 8 pm shows, and two 2 pm matinees remaining. The small size of the theater (The Mickey Jarson Kaplan Performance Studio) can make performances sell out early [update: Friday and Saturday nights are sold out] especially weekend evenings, so best to get a ticket as soon as possible (513-621-5282 or cballet.org) if you haven’t already.
These performances are the only ones held in the small theater during the upcoming season, and they offer an incredibly intimate setting in which to experience Cincinnati Ballet’s dancers. The closest seats to the action can put you scant feet from the performers. And if you are like me, an urban resident, it’s a short hop to the Central Parkway & Liberty Ballet Center, and parking is free, making a weekday/night show easily doable.
Although the series is being promoted this year as featuring choreography exclusively from women, who are sadly underrepresented in the field today, that turns out (not so surprisingly?) to be a non-issue once you are in the theater. Yes, it’s laudable that artistic director and CEO Victoria Morgan has stepped up to address the disparity, but for me, the real spotlight is on the virtuosity and commitment of the dancers as they take on the vision of each choreographer.
Einstein had his theory, but for Cincinnati Ballet, E = Heather Britt. The choreographer’s world premiere “Opus 5.5” (her fourth for the Kaplan Series) shares a vision in which the intimate attraction between a couple seems to revolve around a powerful but invisible force they exchange during the ballet’s opening moments. Once again set to Peter Adams’ score, the piece is, unlike her previous work for the series, on point.
Since I interviewed Britt about her work a few weeks ago (scroll down on Valinkat to find it) I knew a little bit about what she intended, and I also knew that she had solicited input from the lead couple, Janessa Touchet and Cervilio Miguel Amador, who danced a solid partnership. I easily saw in the work’s opening moments how a force (she had called it Energy) juggled between them was both invisible and profound. Later, the two meet again onstage, and there were moments where the exact same movements they had shared were danced without physical contact. At one point, Adams’ clear, high voice sings “. . . and so, my dear, what the hell are we doing here?/I couldn’t leave if I tried,” seeming to mirror an inevitable breakup.
There were strong trademarks of Britt’s in the choreography that make her work so physically appealing/compelling. It’s always seemed to me that her dancers are meant to display emotions and interactions of people in today’s world with an organic form of movement physically drawn from the inside out. Both intimate encounters, and intervening group movements shared in the cinematic rush of the music, which varied in its volume, rhythm, speed and instrumentation helping to lend perspective to the narrative. Group sections seemed to inhabit the hurly-burly of an urban social world from which smaller stories spun off.
At one point, in a characteristic clump of individuals, each dancer took the shoulder of the person ahead of them and stepped in front of them repeatedly. The impact of jostling and the subsequent push away from each other, as if they were repelling magnets, followed by a clenched fisted crouch, said to me they were having trouble being part of a group or relationship. At another point the entire cast of women and men performed in a stage-filling mix where men did one set of movement phrases as women did another, I suppose to reflect the distance between them.
Throughout, there were abstract, angular forms, space eating jumps, big turns that often spiraled into the floor, luscious ear-high battements casually tossed off, and
above all, significant torso involvement in motivation and execution. Frequently women were held aloft by men in a sort of suspended animation as though they were mannequins to be placed. At a certain point, they entered the space on point turning in second position by moving their weight from foot to foot, giving them an uncharacteristic separation from the floor. Flat-hand palms often moved towards and away from each other. Amador had several featured solo moments that stood out for his intensity and virtuosic turns. For me, this short ballet was dense and emotionally bittersweet, suggesting as it does with Touchet’s final moments alone on stage, that you may treasure but can’t always recapture the past.
Paige Cunningham’s “Without Consideration” shook its metaphorical finger at us for being slaves of social media. In a kind of twisted Chorus Line/cracked fairytale theme, each of five dancers entered and, back to the audience, scribbled “Status Updates” on panels of white paper. The following vignettes let them variously dance in solos or encounters separated by brief blackouts and the sound of an amplified heartbeat.
Courtney Hellebuyck had a nice turn as a woman who seemed to be driven to often robotic performance in public (dancing often out of ballet’s first position) yet who was exhausted and enervated by her efforts. In fact, by the end of the piece, all of the dancers seemed to be exhausted, and slumped against the wall.
I want to write more about Amy Seiwert’s “Think of You Often,” an almost vaudevillian look at shenanigans at a seaside resort, set to the Scandinavian pop of Koop (featuring standouts new Cuban dancer Romel Frometa and Sarah Hairston), and Jessia Lang’s reprised “La Belle Danse” (the Cincinnati premiere was in 2009) which ended the program with a cheerful vision of grace and harmony, but want to post right away -
. . . back at you soon . . .