Archive for February, 2011


February 21, 2011

Last Saturday evening at The Aronoff Center, things were hoppin’ during Exhale Dance Tribe’s lively presentation of “Vinyl.” Billed as a “contemporary twist on 50s and 60s tunes,” the show consisted of nineteen short pieces, each performed to a recorded popular song.

Many were familiar, and reflected in their subject matter young love and its many permutations, and the new sense of freedom and rebellion against the status quo that seemed to embody the spirit of those times. Evocative projections by Todd Uttley accompanied each song, and the cast of eleven young women and one young man (plus one apprentice and one guest artist) in various numbers and configurations gave the sense that they all inhabited aspects of the same society.

This small ambitious company headed by two ex-Broadway dancers (Missy Lay Zimmer and Andrew Hubbard) who have settled in Cincinnati (Zimmer’s hometown) has had a distinctive contemporary jazz style from the get-go. Their productions typically dazzle in short vignettes, where (and here I quote myself) “oversize emotion reigns supreme and the physicality of the young movers onstage is mesmerizing.”

Using the organizing principal of an era’s songs to illuminate turbulent times was a stroke of brilliance in this case. It has always been left to the audience to figure out a specific narrative in Exhale presentations.
In much of their ensemble work I’ve seen previously, I felt as if I were seeing the culminating moment of a Broadway show without quite knowing what specifically that show was about. It didn’t make the dances any less fun to watch—there was always plenty of virtuosity, playfulness and lots of emotion on view.

But, the tunes in “Vinyl” incorporate catchy lyrics (and a variety of musical styles and subject matter) in a way that helps enormously in directing the audience’s attention by contributing specificity, momentum and continuity to the onstage situations. Also, though there are moments of pain and the horror of young men going to war is invoked, “Vinyl” is ultimately upbeat, ending with Joe Cocker’s inspired version of “With A Little Help From My Friends.”

Other standout numbers were set to “Sea of Love,” a very funny “I Put A Spell on You,” “These Arms of Mine,” Ray Charles’ “What I’d Say,” and a cover of the Beatles’ “Something.” Short skirts, scarves and ponytails, and lots of eye makeup were all in evidence. Occasionally, the women appeared in  jazz trunks or pants and sports bras.

Zimmer and Hubbard have managed to attract a very strong group of performers. These were some very energetic and fit dancers!
“Vinyl” is mostly danced in bare feet, and lovers of modern dance technique no doubt rejoiced. I certainly did! Battements were effortlessly ear-high, yet controlled. Turns were clean, with little obvious preparation and an absence of off-balance hops. Isolations and timing were impeccable.

There were struts and grand jete jumps, formations that spooled performers off one at a time, much floor work, acrobatic somersaults and flips, and slow motion groupings, as well as joyful unison dancing. One thing never lacking was variety and inventiveness, strong suits of the choreographers.*

This was a one-night-only performance. It would be terrific if Cincinnati audiences got another chance to see this program.

*I thought it might be fun to post the first-ever review I wrote of Exhale for CityBeat after their 2007 Fringe Festival appearance, and also to keep in mind that their collaboration “Infamous Love Songs” (for Cincinnati Ballet to the music of Over the Rhine) is coming up this spring. The review and info about “Infamous” are at:


September 17, 2010



February 21, 2011

I can only note today that this was one great show! Missy and Andrew showcased physicality and drama for the “tribe” in one of their best efforts to date with a themed evening, driven by the emotions and rhythms of 50s and 60s music.


February 16, 2011

Yesterday I talked with Missy Zimmer by cellphone about “Vinyl” the new show she and Andrew Hubbard have created for their company, Exhale Dance Tribe. It premieres this Saturday. I have heard tickets are close to sold out, however if you want more information go back a couple of posts where I have it copied out! I do recommend this program – you can put Exhale in the search box at the top of this page to find out more about Exhale on Valinkat.

Also, I would like to slap my hand and remind myself to not use live search when I am writing a blog entry. Or else the entire post will be gone when I return to the wordpress dashboard. The solution, of course (too late this time) is to save the draft before leaving the dashboard.

So, anyhow, let’s see how much of it I can remember. I will be reviewing “Vinyl” at Valinkat after the show.

Hi, Missy, what can you tell me about “Vinyl”?

Well, it is basically a contemporary twist on classic 50s and 60s music. Andrew and I felt that it would be a fun challenge to kind of embrace the classic style and then bring some contemporary elements to the production. We are excited. There is a loose theme to the show, a small trace of a story line here and there but nothing that’s really specific. It definitely has a lot of symbolism and a lot of recurring images from the 50s and 60s and I think we all recognize.

What themes are those?

War would be one of the stronger themes of the era. There are relationships, there is a little bit of a lost love triangle that goes on during the show. There is repression, but then also the freedom and rebellion of the 60s. We start the piece with an apron hanging on a clothesline to reflect the domestication [that was enshrined during the 50s]. And the music! It’s been such a pleasure to choreograph. I think if we could just put the music out there alone, it would sell the show! I’m praying the audience is receptive. I have heard that we are already sold out. That is exciting. [Valinkat note: it’s worth double-checking this info]

I think it’s a really good fit because your work has always been imagistic to me. You are able to invoke moods and emotions without necessarily naming them. There is a certain non-specificity to what you guys do. I am thinking you will kind of be riffing off the songs in that way.

Exactly. We are big fans of psychologist Marianne Moore. So much of what she does is dealing with the subconscious and dreamwork, similar to the metaphors and the energy we invoke. I always find it a challenge to describe what Andrew and I do – what our state of mind is like when we choreograph. We just try to stay open (like in Tarot) and then see what comes through us. We actually surprise ourselves sometimes. We’ll look back and just say “Oh, that’s  what was trying to come out.”

What are some of the tunes?

Let’s see – Otis Redding’s “These Arms of Mine.” It’s such a gorgeous song. One of our most favorite pieces. And then “What’d I Say” by Ray Charles. It starts you smiling and dancing. It’s just so much fun. The dancers are having a blast. And, we are going to end the show with Joe Cocker’s version of “I Get By With A Little Help From My Friends.”

Dance style?

Still our typical. With a very modern element, some hip hop vibes and a little bit of jazz vibes, and obviously incorporating some of the classic dances from those times.

I’m excited because we have a huge company this year – twelve dancers and one apprentice. All but three are twenty-two years and older. It has been really nice to have older dancers.

Also, the big news is that we have been invited by New York Dance Alliance to dance at the Joyce Theater in New York City in August. The date has still to be confirmed. It will be a big fundraiser. Other companies that have participated are Cedar Lake Ballet Company, Complexions and Boston Ballet.

Upwards and onwards!

Yes, we are trying. We are definitely trying.


February 16, 2011

Thanks to Jeff Seibert of the Mayerson Foundation.


February 16, 2011

Exhale Dance Tribe 2010/2011 Season

Exhale Dance Tribe presents Vinyl
A contemporary dance twist on classic 50s and 60s tunes!
Choreography by Missy Lay Zimmer and Andrew Hubbard. 8 World Premieres including These Arms of Mine and I Put A Spell on You.Date and Location:
February 19, 2011 at 8 PM
Box Office: (513) 621-2787

Aronoff Center for the Arts
Jarson Kaplan Theater
650 Walnut Street
Cincinnati, OH 45202


February 12, 2011

By the end of Victoria Morgan’s very funny revamped “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” drawn from Shakespeare’s play, which premiered last night at The Aronoff Center, all were reunited with their true loves after much comic entanglement in The Big Forest.   

When was the last time you heard people laugh out loud at a ballet? Really chuckle? Well, they were laughing during this ballet, and it was all good.

The Prologue and both Act I and II, were augmented by actors Billy Chace and Jessica Rothert (who sat unobtrusively but clearly visible in box seats) in periodic voice-overs during and occasionally outside the balletic action, and often as the dancers pantomimed.

During the complicated action of Act I this integration of dramatic readings (drawn verbatim from the Shakespeare play with the input of dramaturge Brian Isaac Phillips) worked very well indeed. The comedy was greatly enhanced, and, as was planned, the plot’s three interlocking stories were more easily comprehended.

Act II featured another comic set piece bya ragtag traveling theater troupe called The Mechanicals in a hilariously botched tragic play.  Much celebratory dancing of wedding guests, led by Janessa Touchet and Ogulcan Borova, was by contrast a little flat, if no less skillfully performed.

Cervilio Miguel Amador was spot on as Puck.  Sarah Hairston and Fu Liang (whose demonic chuckle as voiced by Chace was contagious)  also gave their characters dramatic richness.  Danielle Bausinger as Lead Sprite was just excellent, executing several difficult turn sequences with grace and lightness.

There were more excellent performances. *The previous version of this review inadvertently did not mention them by name, but Courtney Connor, Anthony Kruzkamp, Maizyalet Velazquez  and Zachary Grubbs each had key moments in the comic mishmash of mismatched lovers. Also notable were Oberon’s men, played by James Cunningham, Travis Guerin, standout Stephen Jacobsen and Joshua Bodden. Each managed to carve a unqiue humorous personality onstage.

I’m not sure who supervised the miking of the actors and blended all the sounds together, but the result was also fabulous – particularly the voicings, which were especially legible (I guess this is also a credit to the actors’ diction) and loud without being overwhelming.  

And as has come to be a welcome tradition after Cincinnati Ballet performances with live music, Carmon DeLeone was vigorously applauded during curtain calls.

One charming cast member of note was Alyssa Manguiat as the Changeling Child.  She is pictured above (on the left) receiving flowers in the lobby after the show.

*You can read a more complete review of this program at Valinkat very soon*


February 11, 2011

Cincinnati Ballet principal Cervilio Miguel Amador. Photo by Peter Mueller.

The music world’s loss was the ballet world’s gain when a young Cervilio Miguel Amador began studying dance instead of saxophone in his native Cuba.

These days the popular principal dancer with Cincinnati Ballet (he joined the company in July of 2004) brings his joyful Cuban sensibility and superb classical training to roles such as a swashbuckling Sinbad, the Nutcracker Prince, and Peter Pan. He originates memorable roles in works like Adam Hougland’s powerful Mozart’s Requiem, in which he portrayed a tormented soul frantically trying to outrun the inevitability of death. He is scheduled to appear in this spring’s world premiere Infamous Love Songs, set to the music of pop duo Over the Rhine.

I talked with him Wednesday evening by phone just as he was leaving rehearsal for Victoria Morgan’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (opening this Friday at The Aronoff Center).

I wanted to know more about how he was introduced to ballet in Cuba, his role as Puck (he is reprising the character from 2005’s premiere of the work) and the production itself, which strives to enhance the ballet’s storytelling with new choreography and the innovative addition of dramatic onstage readings.

I was also curious about his take on the recent brouhaha brought on by the epilogue to Jennifer Homans’ Apollo’s Angels, in which she reluctantly admits she thinks ballet is dying in today’s world.

Below are questions I asked, and his answers, some of which have been slightly edited and reordered.

How did you start dancing? 

In Cuba, I discovered ballet through my older sisters, who were attending a local arts school and studying instrumental music.

I wanted to be in this school. It was the best school!  But I needed to do something. To be part of this school, you had to be in the orchestra and play an instrument, or be a painter or dancer.

And I really wanted to be in this school, because it was one of the best schools in my town and also my sisters were there. So – I needed to do something related to art. I decided I wanted to play saxophone. And that’s what I tried for, but . . . my sister told me ‘well, why don’t you try for ballet, too, you have a good body,’ because I was on the swimming team and I already had some muscle development. She thought I could be really good, but I said that I didn’t want to be a ballet dancer – ‘That’s not for me.’

It was decided that I would try both and see how it went, and I agreed.

Actually, I was able to enter with either dance or music, but my score for ballet was much higher. So, my parents decided I should do what I was naturally better at. They decided for me – they told me I didn’t pass the test for saxophone, so if I wanted to be in the school they said I had to take ballet.

They did kind of lie to me. Because if they had given me the option, I would have taken saxophone! But you know, both of my parents were teachers, and they wanted their kids to do what they were naturally good at. They knew the teachers at the school, who were on the same page, and they needed guys.

I entered the school at nine years old.  I actually loved it from the very beginning. There were like 25 girls and only 4 boys. It was so much fun, and it was so much exercise. When I was a kid, I always needed to be playing something. And I was always telling my mom ‘I’m so bored. I’m so bored.’ and this way I was always doing ballet and I was so tired, I would get home and just want to go to bed!

And my mom loved it! I didn’t tell my friends I was a ballet dancer until three or four years later. I kept telling my friends in the neighborhood I was a saxophone player. A couple of years later, I told them. By then, I was proud of it.

So, that was how I started ballet!

Where is your saxophone today? 

Well, actually I had wanted to play saxophone, but I have never had a saxophone to play! I guess for me as a kid that was what I thought was cool! But I have to admit, I never did anything about it.

Were your parents happy that you were in the arts?

Yes. Because, also in this school, you were able to do both. Academics and arts. If I didn’t want to be a ballet dancer, I would still be able to go to university and be whatever else I wanted to be. In the school, you had five years where you could go either way – art or academics. Then you have three years, with emphasis on ballet. And you then have an audition to get into the National Ballet of Cuba when you are 18 (which I did). And that’s how it worked.

In October, 2003 you defected to the United States while you were on tour.  Can you explain more?

Well, I was with the National Ballet of Cuba for two years. And during those years I was able to travel all around the world. I got to see all the companies and all the places.

And the life that I saw was better than the life in Cuba. Also, the problem with the Cuban ballet is that it’s only a classical company. I love classical, but I didn’t want to be stuck in doing classical all my career. And there is only one Cuban company. So I wasn’t able to change inside my country.  I needed to outside Cuba for what I wanted.

The thing is Cuba did not allow me to be part of the company and go and work for another company for a year and come back. I would have loved to do that. You had to stay or leave.

I wanted freedom. I wanted to be able to choose what I wanted to dance, and who I danced for. You know there are many problems in Cuba with Communism, how things are run. But, in my case, I was young, so I was just really looking for all that freedom and to take my career in any direction that I wanted.

Didn’t your parents come recently to visit?

Yes, they did. It took me five years to be able to go back to Cuba. I saw them, then. That was incredible. It took them seven years to come and see me here in Cincinnati, to show them the company I dance for, and see me dance for the first time.

This was one of the biggest things to happen after I left Cuba. My parents had lived all their lives in Cuba. So that’s all they knew – Cuba. They had never been outside.  I’m very, very, very thankful. It [was wonderful] for me to be able to bring them here and show them what I was doing.

How is this weekend’s  A Midsummer Night’s Dream different from the original version?  The three interlocking plots and all the different characters are a lot to keep track of. 

I think it’s really different. Victoria has re-choreographed a lot of scenes from the previous version. She has made it more animated. It’s really gonna be new in that way.

Also, what she has done with the actors – I think it is great. It gives the audience another idea of what is going on besides us [the dancers] telling the story. I think for some people it is really hard to figure out the plot. But, this time, if you follow the lines, and then you follow our dancing and our pantomime, you can have a really good understanding of what is going on. On top of that, the actors that are working with us are great.

It’s been really fun, it’s something really new.

How are the dramatic readings put in? 

They are integrated through the whole ballet. Sometimes there is no music, and they are just talking and dancers on the stage are doing pantomime to what they are saying. Other times, they do talk over the music. Everything they say is from Shakespeare’s play.

I can tell you that the directors, the ballet masters and Carmon [DeLeone, the CB music director] are doing a great, great job. It’s extremely hard to pull all this together – such as when the music or voices come in or out, and for how long.

The actors have to be with us, the dancers, in the pantomime and we have to try to hear them and try to act at the same time they are talking. You know, all these things are really hard.

Do you feel that two different performances are side by side? Is your attention taken away from your performance? Do you have to concentrate extra hard on dancing?

No, for the dancer, everything becomes a dance. Everything becomes dancing at the end. It’s not divided – we as dancers don’t feel like that. But it is much harder this time.

Like I said, Victoria has re-choreographed everything and made it harder. And there are last minute changes. Just tonight, I had a new line for my role as Puck.

That’s how it is – you always have to be paying attention and knowing what you are doing. And she’s hard to please. When she’s in the room, she expects the best out of you.

pictured above:  CityBeat dance writer Julie Mullins and Cervilio.

Do you feel that dance is in decline? In the epilogue of her ballet history Apollo’s Angels, Jennifer Homans has said (reluctantly) that she thinks ballet is dying.

I don’t think that ballet will ever die. I think that ballet is underestimated. A lot of people don’t realize how hard it is, and a lot of people don’t give it as much credit as we deserve. But at the same time, I know there are many people in this world that will never let ballet die. Never. It won’t happen.

Honestly, the struggle is more here in America. I mean – in Cuba, dancers were like gods – really, we were treated like gods. And when we toured all over Europe, it was the same thing. Here sometimes you say you are a ballet dancer and they say “But what do you do for a living?” And you get so frustrated, you are like no, no. I mean – what do you say to that?

To find more about Cervilio Miguel Amador at valinkat,  use the search box at the top of this page.




February 8, 2011

Cincinnati Ballet’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” opens this Friday evening at the Aronoff Center. Valinkat will be reviewing and previewing (an interview with principal dancer Cervilio Amador, pictured above; photo by Peter Mueller) this “whimsical, wacky and romantic” full length ballet, with live music from Carmon DeLeone and The Cincinnati Ballet Orchestra, plus Xavier University Women’s Chorus and actors from Cincinnati Shakespeare Company.


February 5, 2011


February 3, 2011