CityBeat Blogs - Dance <![CDATA[Performance and Time Arts Series Hosts Original Production ]]>

Performance and Time Arts (PTA), a project of Contemporary Dance Theater, is the longest-running performance art showcase in the city, but until this weekend it has never been host to a single production. One Way Road on a Two Way Street, an original multi-act examination by an all-female cast of unrequited love and its ramifications, debuts Friday and Saturday at the College Hill Town Hall. Producer, flugelist (yes, someone who plays the flugelhorn), dancer and choreographer Shakira Rae Adams reveals that the theme is derived from personal experience. “A certain woman has sparked this creation — someone very close to my heart,” she says.

Acts include spoken word, dance, live and recorded music, visual media and theater. A post-performance reception offers pastry treats from Oliver’s Desserts.

Adams, born in Findlay, Ohio, is an outgoing personality with a contagious smile who describes herself as an “outside-the-box nerd.” Her life so far has included pre-med and nursing studies, work as a doula (a person trained to assist in childbirth) and a trip to West Africa, from which she brought back the African dance techniques she uses to teach her own choreography. Oh, and she also designed and teaches a class on the dissection of the human body for kids 5-14.

“I found dance through jazz dance, and it’s help me keep my sanity,” Adams says. “I think music and science and dance all go together. Anyhow, it’s worked for me. I hope One Way Road on a Two Way Street inspires people to be more honest and open with their emotions, not to be locked down like the society we live in.” 

ONE WAY ROAD ON A TWO WAY STREET takes place at 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Contemporary Dance Theater Studios at College Hill Town Hall. More info: ]]>
<![CDATA[Cincinnati Filmmaking and Dance Collide in 'Ctrl+Alt+Dance']]>

Move over, movie theater chains. While several films open in theaters this weekend, there’s one you won’t find at AMC or other traditional movie joints. Reaching a following across the globe, the locally made independent feature film Ctrl+Alt+Dance will have its world premiere this weekend at Memorial Hall.

When an unemployed security software specialist takes an adventure with dance, the definition of courage is surely illustrated — and that’s what audiences can expect to explore. Inspired by the Lindy Hop Movement, producer Brian Crone and producer/director Gex Williams have worked side by side on this low budget independent film that has flourished and received widespread recognition in the dance community. Filled with swing dancing, passion and an unfolding romance, it’s the perfect flick for Valentine’s Day.

Gex Williams has worked on multiple professional film projects and served as the producer and Artistic director of SAC Family Theater in Lexington, Ky. CityBeat caught up with Williams and discussed the inspiration behind the film and the experience of starting out as a small independent project. 

CityBeat: Are you and Brian Crone both originally from the Cincinnati area?

Gex Williams: Yes, we both grew up in the Northern Kentucky area but we knew each other growing up. We went to high school together and made some feature films.

CB: How did your film Ctrl+Alt+Dance come about?

GW: I became an avid swing dancer in high school through college. I was aware of this film community throughout the world and no other movies catered to this kind of dance, so I was like, “Hey, I want to make a movie.” I actually wrote the initial script in 2011 but wanted to sit on it to get other projects under by belt.

CB: What was your initial inspiration for the film?

GW: In 2011 I wrote the script, sat on it, and decided to move forward with it. It has a phenomenal story and [Brian and I] reworked a ton of it in early 2013 as we wrote a fresh script together on this draft. The film had dancing, but we needed a story to carry it along. We knew we didn’t have the budget to hire a huge actor and to be solid in the entertaining experience for the audience members. And then we ended the film in summer in 2013 two years from the initial start of pre-production. It went full force in the beginning of 2014 and we’ve been cranking on it ever since. We’re really happy. With an independent film it’s very hard on a low budget and we had phenomenal team members and people.

CB: After a few offers to shoot the film across the country, why was it important for you to film it here in Cincinnati?

GW: There were a few producers who were interested in shooting it out there, but it was really important for us to shoot it in Cincinnati because we love it so much and we’ve traveled some for business and we loved going back to Cincinnati. It’s a great place to come home to and what it offers. The city holds phenomenal landmarks and has a variety of locations.

CB: What were some of your favorite spots to film?

GW: One of my favorite shots of the film was a beautiful shot at Roebling Bridge set up on the Kentucky side, and you see this beautiful river flowing underneath the city and is lit up. And we had other phenomenal locations like Memorial Hall, which is gorgeous on the inside.

CB: What are some prominent themes in Ctrl+Alt+Dance?

GW: Action overcoming fear. We really wanted to communicate that. We [Brian and I] started our own business after college, a full-time gig and there was fear in our own selves and others. We wanted to tell a story about this and the dance was a catalyst to show how that takes place in the film. It’s a great story and a really cute romance. The dancing is amazing and we encourage people to feel good about it and hopefully inspire them to take risks in doing that.

CB: I see that you had difficulty getting into large chain theaters. Tell me about your experience with that in regard to the film.

GW: I can’t fault them because it is different for an independent film to get the mass distribution that an A-list film would get because they don’t have the budget to hire famous actors like Morgan Freeman. For large theaters, it’s a risk to put their movie in there that they won’t have people to support it. It’s so cool that that we have it in countries like Russia and China and were blessed that it was quite strong. We aced that challenge and we knew we had a strong following so we wanted people to see it. So we ended up contacting theaters ourselves and said we’d like to run a campaign in your city so people buy tickets for a one-night premiere showing. A lot of theaters responded.

CB: With a following in more than 80 different countries, how did word of the film spread so quickly all before the world premiere next weekend?

GW: It’s never been showed, but Cincinnati will be the world premiere. Because the Lindy Hop Swing Movement is huge around the world in countries like Spain and London and it’s really quite astounding that a lot of them they really tuned in. Our main actors, their acting is amazing, they’re international dance champions. People were aware of them and interest grew. We worked hard and wanted this film to benefit the community all over the world and we contacted local groups and wanted the proceeds to go back to local communities. We felt so blessed by the support we received and reached a considerable percentage to help others.

CB: What were your initial expectations for the film? Did you expect it to reach the magnitude it did?

GW: We’re blessed in something that is not at all normal for a normal independent project. A lot of projects start out with a grandiose idea and get small and less feasible and it’s a reality check. It’s difficult. And we’ve been so blessed with the talented people and how it blossomed from day one. We said we’re going to do this no matter what. We had talent and it’s grown and we hope it will continue to grow.

CB: Once it started gaining success, did you get any opportunities later on from corporate theaters?

GW: We are just at the beginning of our public awareness. We’ve had interest from larger producers and we’re definitely exploring our options to get a wider distribution of it.

CB: What are your hopes for the film after the big world premiere at Memorial Hall?

GW: We’ve been working hard to deliver the film in a way for people to access. We wanted to work hard to continue to pave a way and find a way to show this film to anyone who wants to see it. We’ll be talking to distribution companies for a possibility of larger scale so we have the resources to get it out there.

Ctrl+Alt+Dance premieres Feb. 13 and 14 at Memorial Hall. More info here.

<![CDATA[Cincinnati Ballet to Bring 'Peter Pan' to Children's Hospital]]>

Cincinnati Ballet will be spreading their wish to inspire hope and enchantment in the community by broadcasting the 2 p.m. performance of Peter Pan on Nov. 8 to Cincinnati Children’s Hospital live from the Aronoff Center. Patients and their families who might otherwise miss the magic will now be able to experience the spectacular tale of the flying boy who never grows up — straight from their hospital room.

The Ballet recently came together again with The Cure Starts Now, a cancer research and awareness foundation they’ve been working with since 2009, to bring oncology patients at Children’s the third year of “Ballerina for a Day.” In this behind-the-scenes event, children and their families were offered a chance to see the background of the ballet world with makeovers, crafts, dancing and costumes. With the show streaming right to the comfort and safety of their rooms, they can now complete the full circle of the ballet experience by enjoying a live show.

Cincinnati Ballet has also invited Leah Still — the dance-loving daughter of Devon Still battling stage 4 neuroblastoma and who has brought a plethora of attention to organizations like The Cure Starts Now — to perform in the show with a walk-on role. If her parents and doctor give the go ahead, this would mark 4-year-old Leah’s debut in a professional stage performance.

This wondrous benefit for dozens of children marks an incredible collaboration by various members of the regional community. Unions have waived fees, Children’s has cooperated in arranging the broadcast and camera operators have donated the use of their time, talent and gear in order for this to be possible, according to Victoria Morgan, artistic director and CEO of Cincinnati Ballet.

Peter Pan hits the stage Nov. 7-9, with performances 8 p.m. Friday, 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday. Look out for an interview with composer and music director Carmon DeLeone in next week’s issue.

<![CDATA[Cirque du Soleil's Quidam Is a Flight of Imagination]]>
Cirque du Soleil's classic show, Quidam, opens with Zoé (Alessandra Gonzalez), a bored little girl whose parents ignore her. We enter the world of her imagination when Quidam, a headless wanderer under an umbrella, hands Zoé his blue bowler hat. (This imagery will resonate with those who know the surrealist paintings of René Magritte, a 20th century artist whose paintings challenged traditional perceptions of reality.) Zoé's self-absorbed parents float away and we are transported to the magical reality of Cirque's physically astonishing performers.

The "world" presently inhabited by Quidam is Dayton's Nutter Center, on the campus of Wright State University, through Sunday, June 16. The show, which originated as a big top production (it spent several weeks in Cincinnati in August and September 2006 in a "grand chapiteau" on the Ohio River bank near the Suspension Bridge) is now an arena show, and it works beautifully in the Nutter. Five giant metal arches are used to suspend performers in mid-air, but you quickly lose sight of the mechanics thanks to the artistry, visual and musical, of Cirque.

To me, the greatest wonder — beyond the physical precision and discipline of Cirque's athletic artists — is the universality of shows like Quidam, which tour the world. (In a few months, this company will be performing in Europe, playing to audiences in cities including Vienna, Munich and London, where it has a month-long engagement at Royal Albert Hall.) The performers are ethnically diverse and the storytelling spans cultural boundaries: Wordless clowning (Quidam features a segment about making a silent movie that recruits a few audience members as "actors") is laugh-out-loud funny, and the ringmaster John (Mark Ward) borders on intentional incompetence in a way that endears him to the crowd even as he moves us from act to act without saying a word.

And what acts we see: German Wheel (a pair of man-sized double hoops containing a guy who rolls around the stage); Diabolo (spinning Chinese yo-yo's tossed high into the air from a string and caught); Aerial Contortion (Tanya Burka is an amazing silk contortionist, many feet above the stage); Skipping Ropes (using 20 acrobats); Aerial Hoops (three women spinning and pivoting through the air); Hand Balancing (incredible strength and flexibility by a woman on yard-high canes); Spanish Webs (five fellows on high, hanging and twisting on ropes); Statue (a mesmerizing performance by Yves Décoste and Valentyna Sidenko who slowly and powerfully balance in various positions); and finally Banquine (acrobatics). The latter section, Quidam's finale, uses 15 artists, launching tumblers high into the air and catching them. At one point they build a tower of four humans atop each others' shoulders. Each assemblage or toss seems more daring than the previous.

Quidam might be the product of Zoé's boredom, but the show expands imaginative horizons. It's definitely worth a one-hour drive from Cincinnati.]]>
<![CDATA[Cincinnati Ballet's 'New Works' Opens with Emotion]]>

The intense energy between Principal dancers Cervilio Amador and Janessa Touchet is so palpable you can feel it — even when their hands aren’t touching.

Their expressive duet in Heather Britt’s world premier “Opus 5.5” provided an inviting opening to Cincinnati Ballet’s annual Kaplan New Works season opener last Thursday evening.

The production offers a rare chance to see dance up close, as it takes place in the company’s home performance studio at the Cincinnati Ballet Center.

There’s nothing like watching live performance, but there’s something even more exciting and visceral about seeing the dancers glowing and their muscles flexing.

Full of emotion, Britt’s sweeping contemporary new work has the dancers really moving all over: across the stage in sculptural lifts, through the air in expansive leaps and extravagant extensions. But it’s really the rare moments of stillness and quiet that grab you and draw you in closer.

New Works’ stock in trade has always been pushing stylistic boundaries.

“It’s our R&D,” says Cincinnati Ballet CEO/Artistic Director Victoria Morgan. “We need to scare ourselves, to try things we’ve never done before.”

But this year is noteworthy for another reason: For the first time, all of the choreographers featured are female.

Dance-wise, the women also stand out in the spotlight this year more than usual. Though, as always, there are plenty of equally fine turns by the men as well.

Paige Cunningham Caldarella’s “Without Consideration,” the program’s most offbeat piece, presents a topsy-turvy look at social media and its pleasures and pitfalls.

Its five short sections comprise a modern dance piece cut with classical ballet. It’s by turns satirical, ominous and oddly compelling.

Clad in a lime green tee-shirt and a short, ruffled floral skirt, Corps de Ballet dancer Courtney Hellebuyck shines in her solo.

She attacks each movement with ferocious intensity. Her dramatic facial expressions and stage presence are spellbinding. She and the other four dancers appear equally comfortable switching between styles — instant, by instant — in this mash-up of ballet and modern. The women even manage to perform modern floor drops in pointe shoes.

A physical wall (think social media) covered in paper provides the backdrop and set piece. The dancers write on it, hurl themselves against it, and press into it. They connect and disconnect, or nearly connect with each other. But at times, they just miss, undulating away from each other. Individual gestures are repeated, such as one’s own hand suddenly turning the head and face away in a slo-mo sideways “slap.” It seems to suggest the struggle to turn one’s attention away from staying online all day.

Amy Seiwert, San Francisco-based Resident Choreographer for Smuin Ballet (where she was also a longtime dancer), has created a thoroughly delightful getaway world in her world premier modern ballet ,“Think of You Often.”

The weather is balmy. The light-colored clothing, designed by the Cincinnati Ballet Wardrobe Department, is carefree and casual. The women collectively become an ocean tide, even in their pointe shoes. Its feel-good soundtrack, music by the Swedish group Koop, delivers effusive swing and a touch of Latin flair.

Principal dancer Sarah Hairston warmly embraces her role, full of flirtation and feline sassiness. First two, then four men lift and sway her — and no doubt cater to her every need.

But don’t let the piece’s escapist playfulness belie its underlying choreographic sophistication. The partnering throughout is highly complex, original, and technically demanding.

In a most striking duet, Zach Grubbs and Jacqueline Damico make the most intricate sequences look as easy and natural as an ocean breeze.

Jessica Lang’s contemporary neoclassical work “La Belle Danse” (2007) presents a slightly quirky court dance of sorts. Set to a score of the likes of Handel and Mozart, it’s the sole work here that the Ballet has presented previously, in 2009.

It’s the most classical piece on the program — relatively speaking — yet unexpectedly it marks the only one where the women wear soft shoes.

Displaying a very different, more sacred type of passion in this role’s solo, Hairston demonstrates her versatility as  dancer, and a performer.

The large cast brims over with expressive dancing, filled with plenty of leaps, turns, waltzing… and conducting gestures.

Amador and Touchet rapid-fire their way through pirouettes and petit allegro galore. Although their style here sharply contrasts their opening duet, this superb pairing brings this production — one of the best New Works in recent years — full circle.

<![CDATA[Cincinnati Ballet Announces 2012-2013 Season]]> Cincinnati Ballet today announced its 49th season schedule. Dance fans can expect an array of popular classics and exciting premieres for 2012-2013. The season kicks off Sept. 6 and runs through April 27, 2013.

The Kaplan New Works Series (Sept. 6-16, Cincinnati Ballet Center): This annual season opener celebrates new ideas and creative movement showcasing the female choreographer and focusing on local artists. This world premiere features dancers Amy Seiwert and Paige Cunningham, two SCPA alum, Director Heather Britt and choreographer Jessica Lang.

Alice in Wonderland (Oct. 26-28, Music Hall): After its world premiere with Washington Ballet, Cincinnati will be the first to jump down the rabbit hole with Alice & Co. Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra will perform Matthew Pierce's original score. Choreographer Septime Webre (Cincinnati Ballet's Peter Pan) and costume designer Liz Vandal (Cirque du Soliel) will create a wild world for Alice to romp through that will ignite the senses of audiences.

Frisch's Presents: The Nutcracker (Dec. 14-23, Aronoff Center): Victoria Morgan re-imagined the classic for 2011's world premiere, The New Nutcracker. This whimsical interpretation returns in 2012, complete with dancing cupcakes, flying bumblebees and a Sugar Plum Parade, where audience members will be invited to walk acrid stage and get a closer peek at the sets, costumes and dancers.

Romeo & Juliet (Feb. 14-16, Aronoff Center): Just in time for Valentine's Day, Shakespeare's romantic tragedy comes to life in a new way. Victoria Morgan blends classical dance with contemporary movement to capture audiences' favorite moments.

Prodigal Son with Extremely Close (March 22-23, Aronoff Center): Neo-classical choreographer George Balanchine comes to Cincinnati with his rendering of the classic parable about sin, redemption and unconditional love. On the same bill, Extremely Close is Alejandro Cerrudo’s thoughtful contemporary work. The performance opens on a stage of falling feathers, reflecting the delicacy and fluidity of movement, and connected throughout, punctuated by a surprising, thought-provoking ending.

Ballet Toybox (March 24, Aronoff Center): Designed to introduce children and families to the joy of dance, this performance delivers a mix of classic and modern favorites. Clocking in at less than 60 minutes, this "mini-performance" is an easy and affordable way to enjoy the ballet with the whole family.

Frampton & CB Come Alive (April 26-27, Aronoff Center): Legendary guitarist Peter Frampton will create a new work specifically for the performance and play live alongside choreography collaboration from Cincinnati Ballet and Exhale Dance Tribe.

New subscriptions and subscription renewals are now available at the Cincinnati Ballet Center (1555 Central Pkwy., Over-the-Rhine) or by calling 513-621-5282. Individual tickets to the following shows will be available July 22 at

<![CDATA[Emery Theatre Announces Restoration Plans]]>

The Emery Theatre is finally on its way back. After years of dormancy, the 100-year-old Over-the-Rhine venue is in the midst of a restoration that will allow artistic endeavors of varying stripes to grace its stage.

The Emery Center Corporation Board and The Requiem Project — the nonprofit brainchild of Tara Lindsey Gordon and Cincinnati native Tina Manchise, a duo intent on restoring the Emery's historic legacy — announced over the weekend that the Emery has secured two architects to take on the renovation: locally based John Senhauser Architects, and Cleveland-based Westlake Reed Leskosky, a firm that specializes in opening closed arts venues.---

“Our vision is to restore the Emery Theatre into a vibrant, acoustically pure performance space that will serve as an independent venue for film, theatre, music and dance for local and national touring artists,” Manchise says. “The restoration of the Emery Theatre is also part of a larger initiative to revitalize the social and cultural environment of historic Over-the-Rhine. The Emery will provide a venue for arts experiences and expression in the heart of this developing neighborhood.”

The most intriguing part of that equation is Manchise's mentioning of film — there hasn't been a viable movie house in downtown Cincinnati since the Real Movies closed more than a decade ago.

As a teaser, the Emery will open its doors the weekend of Nov. 11-13 for a fundraiser that will include performances by longtime local music-makers Over the Rhine, the MadCap Puppet Theatre, Exhale Dance Tribe and others. There is no definitive word on when the restoration will be complete, but the World Choir Games, which the Emery will host in July 2012, is rapidly approaching.

<![CDATA[A Stellar Gala of International Dance Stars]]>

You know it’s going to be a good Gala when you get chills down your spine within the first five minutes — the first act, no less. Marshall Davis, Jr.’s “Summertime in Cincinnati” kicked off a stellar show with his knock-em-dead tap dancing to the sounds of Lonia Lyle’s lovely vocals and Christopher Lyle’s electric bass. Gershwin’s “Summertime” has seldom sounded so good.

And the thrills kept coming. Aim cincinnati — aim stands for arts innovation movement, the organization formerly known as ballet tech Cincinnati — presented its 10th annual Gala of International Dance Stars at the Aronoff Center Aug. 13.---

There were many memorable moments, but in informal blog style, I’ll highlight a few.

A longtime Gala favorite and former Complexions dancer with ties to Donald Byrd, dancer/choreographer Jamal Story (pictured) wowed the audience once again in both a sensual aerial duet (with Spectrum Dance Theater’s Kylie Lewallen) and a powerhouse solo. Set to Sarah Vaughn’s smooth vocals, Story’s seamless “Loss Remix” solo took his stage presence to new heights — literally. All of a sudden, Story’s tall frame leaped skyward and dove, swan-dive style into the stage … only to smoothly roll out and recover. The audience gasped audibly. (A prominent figure in the Cincinnati dance scene later commented that Story had jumped so impossibly high, it almost looked as if he were on strings — though he wasn’t.) Adrenaline, anyone?

Also on the modern side, American Ballet Theater’s Misty Copeland and Matthew Prescott (now an independent dancer) delivered an achingly tender duet, set to Ingrid Michaelson’s version of the classic “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

Its sweeping romantic splendor and flawless partnering swept the audience off its feet … and right into a standing ovation. “Falling in Love” indeed!

It was a welcome change of pace to see a couple of pieces featuring ensemble casts this year, as opposed to the Gala’s usual format of duets and a few solos. Ensemble dancers from New York City-based Ballet Noir presented the a couple of the evening’s most modern and innovative works, choreographed by Corey Baker. The eight dancers in “New Prophets” gave their all, exploding forth in high-impact neon multicolored costumes (complete with occasional black lighting) and passionate energy, bringing an electrifying, satisfying conclusion to the show’s first act. You did get the sense they were indeed New Prophets heralding a new fresh-feeling, free-form style. What a feeling.

Childhood Memories,” Ballet Noir’s second-act installment, served up a delightful, playful trio playing kid characters in fun, fresh, theatrical vignettes with some undercurrents of tension. Dance and drama melded seamlessly here.

On the classical ballet end of the spectrum, New York City Ballet’s Daniel Ulbricht and former Bolshoi ballerina Olga Pavlova shone brightly, epitomizing the form. As her name suggests, Pavlova is a quintessential Russian ballerina, striking the perfect balance of strength and grace while making the most technically demanding moves look so effortless and easy. Ulbricht’s tall, regal physique makes his flawless fluidity and astounding leaps and pirouettes all the more impressive.

And speaking of pirouette prowess — and all-around technical and stylistic excellence — Cincinnati Ballet’s Cervilio Amadro and Janessa Touchet really brought home the goods both in Viktor Kabaniaev’s cool contemporary “Remix 03 Pas de Deux,” previously performed the Ballet’s New Works a few years back, and the rousing, crowd-pleasing Le Corsaire pas de deux.

The production’s primary downside was that it’s just one night only. Not only would I have returned to see the show again, I would have sent as many friends as possible to see it. So if you weren’t there — and judging by the regrettably rather-less-than-packed attendance, most of you weren’t — let’s just say you missed one hell of a show.

(Photo by Dan Ledbetter. )

<![CDATA[ArtsWave Samplers Draw Strong Crowds]]>

ArtsWave has put out a very positive press release about the attendance for its first three Sampler Weekends, as well as information for the next three — including one this Saturday. ---

Here are excerpted, edited parts from the release: “Almost 9,000 people participated in the first three Sampler weekends,” notes Margy Waller, Vice President, ArtsWave. “Fitton Center for the Creative Arts reported that attendance doubled at their Sampler event this year, and the Mozart! collaboration between Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and Know Theatre of Cincinnati drew a crowd of almost 1,000. Community members tell us that they are glad to have more opportunities to share fun arts experiences and visit different neighborhoods.”

More than 180 events have been scheduled at over 75 venues all over the region for the Sampler Weekend series. For a complete calendar of events and interactive search tool, go to New additions to the Sampler schedule include a preview of Enchanted April by The Drama Workshop at Westwood Town Hall on April 10; performances at the Blue Wisp on April 23, including Jazz and Swing from The P&G Big Band; and a full lineup of performances for Arte Latino, a festival of Latino arts and culture at the Academy of Multilingual Immersion Studies on April 23.

Three Sampler weekends remain:

This Saturday — Spotlight on Neighborhoods: Kennedy Heights, Pleasant Ridge and Northside. Featured Organizations: Cincinnati Art Museum, Cincinnati May Festival Chorus

Sunday, April 10 — Featured Organization: Taft Museum of Art

Saturday, April 23 — Spotlight Neighborhood: Over-the-Rhine and Gateway Quarter. Featured Organizations: Contemporary Arts Center, Arte Latino

The ArtsWave Sampler Weekends are free celebrations of the arts in our community and occur throughout ArtsWave's annual community fundraising campaign.

<![CDATA[Making Connections at the Gala of International Dance Stars]]>

This past Saturday (Aug. 15) marked this year’s one-night-only installment of ballet tech cincinnati’s annual Gala of International Dance Stars at the Aronoff Center.

It was a night of connections. Connections are necessary for any performance worth its salt—both with the audience and amongst the performers. But when it comes to dance, connectivity arguably becomes even more central to success and enjoyment. ---Here, btc reached out to the audience with an unexpected (and uncredited in the program) “welcome” gift: a short Michael Jackson tribute performed by local dance students in conjunction with Kasib’s p.e.a.c.e.-y.a.r.d project and Byron Carter Entertainment. Because Jackson was uber-famous and well-known as a dancer, I imagine these three short pieces offered a familiar nod to draw in spectators who might not have seen a great deal of concert dance. A rendition of the choreography in Jackson’s cinematic “Thriller” video was a highlight that brought back memories (for me, anyway).

Over the years, this annual Gala performance event has evolved from focusing on classical and neoclassical ballet-centric pas de deux to a majority of modern-dance-steeped duets. Sure, the women still wear pointe shoes and get lifted and the technique is fundamentally balletic, but gone are the tutus. Last year, btc even removed the word “ballet” from the program’s name in favor of “dance.” Now it reads: Gala of International Dance Stars. No matter what you call it, it’s a reliably high-quality summer program that’s not to be missed.

In a program that’s almost exclusively a collection of male-female duets performed by about a half-dozen pairs, the pieces where the partners’ connections are strongest generally result in the most powerful and moving segments.

From the start, connections were palpable in National Ballet of Canada’s Sonia Rodriguez and Aleksandar Antonijevic’s romantic opener, the pas de deux from Lady of the Camellias, choreographed by Val Caniparoli (a nationally-known choreographer who’s created pieces for Cincinnati Ballet). From her stuttering feet to her supple spine, Rodriguez’s ethereal presence embodies perfection. Her technical prowess complements her delicate softness that was as light as her gossamer gown. The pair’s complex and daring lifts, of which there were many, took off with the easy regality of birds. They made it all look effortless.

Minor-key music dominated the evening, as did works filled with undulations of torso and unfurling of arms. Long-limbed and long-bodied Gala veterans Kellye A. Saunders and Matthew Prescott, she with cropped black hair and he with a shock of blond curls, always cut a commanding onstage presence. The two pieces they performed this year—“Once Before, Twice After” and Prescott’s own creation, the world premier “Encantado”—held a mesmerizing, almost ritualistic quality. The pair mutually climb and intertwine in majestic sculptural forms that suggest ancient archetypes. They combine so engagingly, they often seem to become one. (See Kathy Valin’s interview with Saunders and Prescott here.)

Speaking of  “One,” it’s the title of the signature duet from rising-star duo, Jacoby and Pronk, who grace this month’s cover of Dance Magazine. For their first Gala appearance last year, Rubinald (“Rubi”) Pronk was sidelined by a last-minute injury, yet Drew Jacoby, ironically and admirably, performed their “One” duet as a solo.

This year, their performances alone were worth the price of admission. The energy of their connection is palpable. They carry a delicious underlying tension in every move that builds and smolders. A fresh, almost futuristic feel permeates their dancing, but it’s anything but cold or robotic; each gesture is full of feeling and sensuality. She’s 5’11” of graceful yet grounded muscular strength tempered by an almost feline presence. He’s over 6 feet tall with flexibility beyond reason. He launches a split leap where his legs go beyond 180 degrees and he lands like a feather. (I think I overheard a fellow critic sitting near me gasp, “Holy shit,” at this point.)

Somewhat less exhilarating were the two brief, untitled solos of internal focus, one each from Alejandro Alverez and Bernard Martin. The two also performed a duet together (“Deux”) that didn’t quite gel. Their dancing was skillful and often elegant, yet I had the feeling they were tearing through the movements as if they had a train to catch. Then again, that might just be choreographer Shawn Hounsell’s movement study style.

Unexpected acrobatics suddenly appeared in the second act: Hamburg Ballet’s Yaroslav Ivanenko in the lively world premier of “Just Like That” and Jamal Story’s handstand, back-flips and back-handsprings in “Solitude” from A Gentle Prelude. In between his tumbling and spins into oblivion set to Duke Ellington, Story also provided some of the relatively few leaps seen all evening.

I could go on about the astounding feats seen throughout show, but that’s the powerhouse
fun of a Gala — thrill after thrill, courtesy of top international companies’ top dancers.  

<![CDATA[Merce Cunningham Dies in His 90th Year]]>

Merce Cunningham — one of the giants of 20th-century dance and choreography — died on Sunday at age 90 in Manhattan.

Cunningham had a friendship with Cincinnati art dealer Carl Solway, whose show of his drawings, Merce Cunningham in His 90th Year, is on display at Carl Solway Gallery through Aug. 15. --- It was organized to celebrate Cunningham's recent 90th birthday. Solway got to know Cunningham through the latter's longtime partner, the late composer John Cage, when Cage did a residency at University of Cincinnati's College Conservatory of Music in 1968. Cincinnati arts patrons Alice and Harris Weston arranged for Cage's visit here. (Harris Weston died in June at age 91.) (Steven Rosen)

You can read a lovely review of the Cunningham show by Citybeat's Julie Mullins here. Below are some of Ms. Mullins' thoughts on Cunningham's passing, as well as the recent death of choreographer/dancer Pina Bausch.

The art world has lost yet another important and highly influential luminary: Merce Cunningham. Cunningham was one of the last remaining pioneers of modern dance, yet he reached so far beyond the genre. He crossed countless boundaries with his unorthodox collaborations with well-known visual artists. His incorporation of unexpected elements — such as concepts from the I Ching and random chance — elevated his choreographic works into authentic theatrical experiments and experiences.

For The New York Times' Dance Critic Alastair Macauley's article on Cunningham's passing, go here.

This sad news follows all too soon on the heels of the recent death of German choreographer/dancer Pina Bausch, who succumbed to cancer on June 30 of this year at age 68, reportedly just days after receiving her diagnosis. A longtime smoker, she last appeared on stage at Germany's Wuppertal Opera house on June 21, 2009. Bausch is credited with developing a highly expressionistic movement language and became best known for her postmodern Tanztheater style that melds dance with dramatic and theatrical elements, including elaborate sets, dialogue, etc. Her work was also seen in Pedro Almodóvar's 2002 film, Talk to Her.

Here's a YouTube clip of an excerpt from one of Bausch's seminal works, "Café Mller," first performed in 1978:

Need some good news? According to BBC News, German filmmaker/director Wim Wenders plans to resume work on his 3-D film project highlighting three of Bausch's best-known works. Following three months of planning, he had stopped at the time of her demise. (Julie Mullins)

<![CDATA[Israeli-Born Choreographer Honored at American Dance Festival]]>

The American Dance Festival’s Israeli Festival portion of its season escalated Thursday night with the inaugural ADF performance at the new Durham Performing Arts Center in downtown Durham, N.C. New York City-based repertory company Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet made their ADF debut unforgettable with a high-octane performance of Israeli-born choreographer Ohad Naharin’s 2007 work, Decadance.---

Naharin, a citizen of both the U.S. and Israel and Artistic Director of Batsheva Dance Company, was bestowed with this year’s Samuel H. Scripps American Dance Festival Award for Lifetime Achievement in a brief ceremony just before the curtain rose. Past recipients of this prestigious honor include a veritable who’s who of modern dance: Martha Graham, Merce Cunningham, Paul Taylor, Katherine Dunham, Twyla Tharp, Alvin Ailey and so on …


Naharin appeared humble and warm as he spoke, offering some advice to dancers in the audience — words that could also benefit anyone: “Have no secrets. Dance and live like you have nothing to hide. … Get rid of the mirrors. Mirrors spoil your soul. … Be silly, not stupid. … Discover and learn something new daily.” He says one of the great things about dance is it exists beyond ethnic, religious, geographic and other boundaries; it’s the best example of what is good about humanity.

According to Naharin, Decadance is about reconstruction. The evening-length work contains reworked excerpts from 10 his previous works spanning 1985 to 2006, allowing for a diverse, comprehensive and wholly satisfying voyage into his choreographic world. And what a trip it is! Drag-style lip-synching by a dressed-to-kill diva dancing about on stilts in all her feathered, glitzy, thong-leotard glory. Five shirtless men in draped cloth semi-skirts smear liquid clay down their torsos and hurl themselves through the air. Black suits and shoes are gradually torn off and thrown into a collective heap. Company dancers leave the stage to choose audience member partners to bring up onstage for a collective riotous romp to “Over the Rainbow” and Dean Martin’s “Sway.”


After all, Naharin has said he believes everyone should dance. But few can dance like the very international cast of Cedar Lake performers. Don’t let the “Ballet” in their name fool you — these Decadance performances are full-out modern.

The dancers appear to have nailed Naharin’s characteristic “Gaga” movement language. This stands to reason, as I learned that Cedar Lake had the luxury of hiring Naharin to work with the dancers for about three months. (In most cases, due to budget limitations, a choreographer might only have a few weeks or so to set a piece on a company.) Cedar Lake was founded in 2003 by Nancy Walton Laurie — Walton as in Sam, as in she’s a Wal-Mart heiress. As a result, Cedar Lake is reputedly rather well funded.

But back to the dancing. Gaga demands moving with a wild, visceral abandonment, yet with precision and intention. Results bring emotionally and physically charged dancing, fierce flexibility and ferocious athleticism. The dancers work in high contrast, between very slow movements and stillness that erupt into forceful and often explosive sequences. Most sections feature inventive, daring and even aggressive partnering.

Their gorgeous thrashing and stunning technical skill proved so exhilarating to watch that the audience broke into spontaneous, mid-act cheering a couple of times on opening night.

Several segments are steeped in ritual, whether in the form of repetition or accumulation of a series of steps. Unison and canon patterns frequently emerge, too. Strong, yet sensual feelings of weight and gravity also permeate the dancing, as seen in rhythmic foot stomps and a keen sense of extension and mid-air suspension in leaps.

In addition to Gaga, Naharin also employs other physical vocabulary in the form of gestures, such as fingers extended and pointed, shoulders hunched or arms slicing air.

Even popular dance gets a nod during the aforementioned audience participation portion, where we see suit-clad dancers with “jazz hands” and tipped fedoras boogie to “Hooray for Hollywood.”

In short, Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet didn’t merely perform Naharin’s Decadance. They attacked it, giving it their all.

(Photos by Paul B. Goode)

<![CDATA[American Dance Festival's Israeli Dance Celebration]]>

In the heat of a Carolina summer, I’m pleased to be taking in a bit of this year’s American Dance Festival (ADF) in and around Duke University in steamy Durham, N.C. I’m here with another local dance writer (Kathy Valin) for the Israeli Festival portion of ADF to catch performances from two companies: Emanuel Gat Dance and Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. 2009 marks ADF’s 76th season, “Where Ballet and Modern Meet.”---

Primarily modern dance-based, the festival offers a dazzling array of diverse companies each season, complete with several world premiers and international “festivals” that each year focus on a given country’s finest dance exports. The New York Times has heralded ADF as “one of the nation’s most important institutions,” and it’s indisputably one that’s inseparable from the history and development of modern dance. Check it out here.

Last night, I attended Emanuel Gat Dance’s Winter Variations, an evening-length piece commissioned by ADF that had its world premiere at this festival. Gat’s company is Israeli by origin, but is now working in France. I wondered what effect this might have on his work politically, creatively. But that’s another story …

Winter Variations is a triumphant and ever-evolving duet created and performed by Gat and Roy Assaf. Dressed in drab tees and dark pants and shoes, the two men mesmerize with the sheer fluidity and authenticity of their movements. Through dramatic changes in mood, lighting and music, a choreographic language gradually emerges—one that takes the audience on a journey into the facets and possibilities of their relationship to one another. Whether it’s literal or figurative doesn’t matter here. Neither does a clear narrative thread. It’s body over brain, yet their foreheads join for an instant in a sort of mind meld.

Corporeal expressions range from quivers and gestures (especially ones about the head and face), to quirky ballroom-inspired social partner dancing with a twist. Their seamless connectivity and spatial relationships maintained impressive telepathic qualities regardless of their relative proximity or distance on the expansive stage.

What I found most breathtaking were the synchronized dance sequences. Now and again, Gat and Assaf launch into rhapsodic episodes of perfect unison: taps, hops, jumps, turns and steps that would have impressed Fred and Ginger. The soft patter of their feet was satisfying, real.

Other passages spent “walking” on their knees lent an eerie, primeval quality, particularly in the shadowy lighting upstage that obscures their legs in limbo. Animal-like grace was also summoned: one moment, they were feline; another instant, avian; now, serpentine.

The duo’s actions unfurl in scenes across a diverse soundtrack—Richard Strauss’ Im Abendrot, The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life,” Franz Schuber’s Die Krahe and an oud composition from Riad Al Sunbati.

In short, Winter Variations showcases Gat and Assaf’s movement virtuosity. It was a pleasure to watch such pure, unadulterated kinesthetic skill and presence.

<![CDATA[Fringe Festival: That's a Wrap]]> At last evening’s finale party for the 2009 Cincy Fringe Festival, three “Pick of the Fringe” awards were presented:

The Audience Pick, voted by theatergoers, went to Gravesongs (pictured), Ensemble Theatre of Cincinnati’s intern showcase, a piece by local playwright Sarah Underwood written for the five actresses who spent this season at ETC (Rachel Christianson, Emily Eaton, Lauren Shiveley, Rebecca Whatley and Elizabeth L. Worley). It was directed by another ETC intern, Elizabeth Maxwell. The script is about death from the perspective of women in their early twenties.---

The Critic's Pick was 7(x1) Samurai, a one-man rendition of Kurosawa's The Seven Samurai by performer David Gaines.

The Producer's Pick went to Empire of Feathers, an inventive piece by London-based Giant Bird, presenting a fable about an epic journey in search of the truth.

CityBeat’s reviewing team of theater critics (Julie York Coppens, Jane Durrell, Nicholas Korn, Tom McElfresh, Julie Mullins, Mark Sterner, Rodger Pille and me) provided comprehensive and insightful coverage of all 31 Fringe shows, generally by the morning after they opened. Two of the festival's three winning shows were CityBeat "critic's picks." You can still review our reviews here.

Look for a more complete wrapup of the 2009 Cincy Fringe Festival in my Curtain Call column in this week's issue of CityBeat, out Wednesday. [UPDATE: Here it is.]

<![CDATA[Fringe Fest Ends Tonight]]>

The 2009 Cincy Fringe Festival wraps up tonight. Starting today at 2 p.m., 18 different productions are presenting their final shows and both Film Fringe and Visual Fringe are wrapping up at the Art Academy of Cincinnati.

Rick Pender reports that ticket sales have already surpassed Fringe organizers' goals, and today's beautiful weather should bring out a final wave of good attendance.

Reviews of all 18 of today's shows are posted on CityBeat's Fringe micro-site, including The Secrets Project, which opened last night at New Stage Collective and presents its second and final performance tonight at 7:30. In fact, CityBeat writers have reviewed all 31 Fringe shows, with most reviews being posted the morning after their debut performances.---

I want to acknowledge the efforts of Rick Pender and his team of reviewers, who once again provided the area's best media coverage of the Cincy Fringe Festival. I know the Fringe organizers, performers and attendees appreciated their amazing efforts as well. Bravo!

If you're out and about tonight, drop by the Fringe Awards Ceremony Spectacular starting at 11 in Know Theatre's Underground. Winners of the public's voting for best show will be announced, as will winners of similar balloting by critics and by the Fringe producers.

Congratulations to everyone involved in this year's Fringe Festival — it looks to have been the best ever.

<![CDATA[Stage Door: Fringe. Fringe. Fringe!]]>

I have three words for you regarding theater-going this weekend: Fringe. Fringe. Fringe.

If you haven't dropped in yet for this stimulating festival of push-the-envelope performances, you're missing out on the greatest dose of annual creativity that we get here in Cincinnati. And a lot of your friends have already caught on: Fringe Producer Eric Vosmeier tells me that as of Thursday they've hit their ticket goal for the entire festival ... and there are still two more days to go!---

So which of the 30 or so shows should you see? The best way to figure that out is to go to CityBeat's Fringe page (here), where you'll find reviews of every production that's opened. If you want comedy, it's hard to beat 7(x1) Samurai, but April Fools will give it a run for its money. Want something more serious? Try The Edge or Gravesongs. And if you're willing to venture into areas that aren't so easy to categorize, then check out Empire of Feathers or It Might Be OK or maybe The Success Show.

There's something for everyone's taste, and if you don't like what you're seeing, well, it's probably no more than an hour long, so if you start early you'll still have the opportunity to catch one or two more performances. For times and locations (mostly throughout Over-the-Rhine), go to But get out there and have fun — our theater scene is quieter than usual this summer, so you should stock up now.

<![CDATA[Fringe: 27 Reviews, High Hopes for Second Week]]>

The 2009 Cincy Fringe Festival heads into its second week with high expectations.

"I've heard from a number of patrons that this is the strongest field of shows they've ever seen in at the Fringe, and we agree," Managing Director Eric Vosmeier reports. "Our attendance numbers are up, though it's difficult to say how much just yet."---

Vosmeier says the second week of Fringe (which runs through Saturday) has about 50 percent more performances this week than the first week, which ran Wednesday-Sunday. Three shows have yet to open: Bibliography of Love from Jan Street Dance in Louisville opens tonight, April Fools from Four Humors of Minneapolis opens Thursday and The Secrets Project from The Genesis Ensemble of Chicago runs only Friday and Saturday.

CityBeat has now posted reviews of 27 of the scheduled 31 productions on our Fringe micro site. You'll also find two Fringe-themed podcasts there.

CityBeat's crack/cracked team of reviewers have rated eight shows as Critic's Picks: 7 (x1) Samurai, Body Language II: Phys. Ed., Cemetery Golf, The Edge, Gravesongs, KAZ/m, Sex, Dreams and Self-Control and Where Drunk Men Go.

Vosmeier says the week starts off tonight with the Fringe Olympics, where multiple teams compete in a variety of different rounds, and continues with local bands lined up for the Bar Series each night after the performances end.

Get tickets, multi-show passes and the latest news at the Cincy Fringe Festival site.

<![CDATA[Fringe Reviews: 21 and Counting]]>

Check out CityBeat's extensive coverage of the 2009 Cincy Fringe Festival. As of noon Saturday we've posted reviews of 21 productions, with more coming every day until all 31 shows have been reviewed.---

Also check out two CityBeat podcasts focusing on the Fringe Festival: one is a performance of the festival piece Incredulity, recorded May 28, and in the other Steve Novotni converses with me as well as the festival's Jason Bruffy and Eric Vosmeier.

<![CDATA[Fringe Coverage at 12 Reviews]]>

Check out CityBeat's extensive coverage of the 2009 Cincy Fringe Festival. As of noon we've posted reviews of 12 productions, with more coming every day until all 31 shows have been reviewed.---

This week's podcast focuses on the Fringe Festival, as Steve Novotni converses with Jason Bruffy, Eric Vosmeier and me.

<![CDATA[Bust a Move (For No Charge)]]>

It's Free Dance Week at the Cincinnati Ballet. Get your groove on at The Otto M. Budig Academy in Over-the-Rhine or in Blue Ash. All classes are free: ballet, pointe, creative dance, jazz and Rhythm and Motion, a workout class. ---

On Tuesday, a rehearsal for Peter Pan will be open to the public at 3:15 p.m. at the downtown location and will take place again on Thursday in Blue Ash. Check it out here.

There's no need to pre-register, but you will need to sign a release just in case you break your groove thang.