Archive for September, 2012


September 12, 2012

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 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 . . .



September 7, 2012


September 5, 2012

One night last week, after (for me, anyhow!) a fairly grueling Rhythm & Motion class at the Cincinnati Ballet Center taught by Heather Britt, I sat down with her in the lobby to talk about her newest choreographic work, Opus 5.5. It’s a world premiere (her fourth) for Cincinnati Ballet’s Kaplan New Works Series. Opus 5.5 debuts Thursday and runs through September 16, 2012, at the Mickey Jarson Kaplan Performance Space (513-621-5282).

Britt is a charismatic personality, a choreographer, dancer and teacher who (luckily for those of us who live here) makes her home in Cincinnati. I’ve seen her dance, teach, perform and choreograph during the past ten years or so. I am a fan.

In her choreography, Heather brings emotionally vivid rushes of imaginative movement, set in seemingly self-referential worlds, to the stage. Her style is a blend of modern, ballet, hip-hop, African, and pop, but to me has always seemed organic, and intensely physical, with center motivated jumps, twirls and sometimes vortex-like spirals. Her timing can be offbeat, weaving itself into the music like a needle and thread. There mostly is a narrative of couples or trios, but ensemble moments have been powerful and telling.

I’ll let her speak for herself with the occasional comment from me.

There’s a gender imbalance in ballet especially. It’s a fact that women choreographers are underrepresented. Any thoughts?

I’m sure it has to do with funding, and the conservative forces behind huge companies with huge budgets. They have not taken the woman as seriously as they do a man.

What does it mean for Cincinnati Ballet to highlight women choreographers during this season?

I really believe the benefit is that it is more about equality. I think that each human being brings an individual approach to the table as an artist.

What do you think about the contributions your dancers make to your work for Cincinnati Ballet?

Oh my gosh. Huge. And I think I have a very collaborative approach with the dancers. Not so much in the group work – I’m usually telling them “okay, here’s what it’s gonna be.”

But when I’m working with someone individually or in a duet where the dancers have to interact with each other, their input is so important. So that it’s organic. So that they are pulling something out of themselves that feels real.

That’s what I am looking for, so the benefit is of having them there to help me kind of figure it out.

For instance, with my lead couple Cervilio [Amador] and Janessa [Touchet] (Sarah [Hairston] and Zack [Grubbs] are also doing it), I gave them three duets.

I love the process of creating. It is awesome. In Opus 5.5 I’m kind of playing with different ideas about energy. Bascially, we are all energy.

I mean that we can hold our energy, or share it intimately. Or we can share it in the community. Or we can perceive that we can be isolated.

If I may say (she laughs here) to me we are all kind of a big pot of energy – kind of like little nuggets in a big pot of energy!

Is this way of seeing the world a philosophy of yours?

Yeah, it really is. I’m not religious by any means and I think now in my own work I am working out my own spiritual beliefs.

How did it work in the studio?

I gave Cervilio and Janessa this idea: “In the first duet I want you to have an energy we can see, and I want you to play around with giving the energy to each other.” Well, we literally, the three of us, bit by bit by bit, went onwards. They were so organic with it.

They’d tell me “if I move like this, I feel like I have the energy.” And I’d say “Okay,” but they argued about it a few times . . . Janessa would say “wait, I’m not actually feeling that,” so I’d say “what if you put your hand here?”

So, it was awesome working with them. Bascially, in the first duet of three I made for them, they share energy very intimately, but then they get blown apart. Later in the piece they come back in the space for another duet.

But they don’t actually connect. They don’t see each other, but the idea is that each one’s energy is still affecting the other. And finally, they come together for a split second, realize it, and get pulled apart again. At the end of the piece, they try to revisit some of their connectedness, but realize that they will never have that exactly again, and they decide to call it quits.

And they each wish the other well, but it’s kind of sad ending, honestly.

So this one is about not being able to recapture the past?

Yes, but I need to rewind! The music, from Peter Adams, has been my inspiration. I feel like it’s cinematic, like a movie with scenery flying by.

But also, to me, it feels disconnected. Peter calls it “dense with not a lot of space.” It feels very percussive, more angular. Its impact is like separate little flashes: each little section feels separate. At first I kept thinking “what’s the through-line, what’s the through-line . . .?” and then I realized that I don’t know that there is a through-line. It’s meant to be disconnected! So, inspired by that, I worked with the notion of connectedness and disconnectedness.

And this time, I’ve put the women on pointe. This was weird for me, because I’ve never choreographed a duet on pointe before [for Cincinnati Ballet dancers].  And, after I already decided, I thought more about it. And, it came to me – on pointe, they are not grounded – they are disconnected!



September 4, 2012


August 24, 2012

Follow the above link to read details about Cincinnati Ballet’s “The Kaplan New Works Series,” opening September 6.

Last week I talked with Heather Britt (one of four women choreographers on the bill) about her piece for the series, which is her fourth for Cincinnati Ballet. You can read what she had to say about her inspiration, process and more soon right here at Valinkat.