Sunday, March 11, 2012

Dance Cleveland: Ballet Memphis

After Joe Rebman's harp recital at CIM, Rachel and I headed back down to PlayhouseSquare's Ohio Theatre for one of the two Ballet Memphis performances I previewed a while a back (the program repeats tomorrow at 3:00 PM). Having seen the slightly fictional Memphis two doors down at the Palace Theatre about a week ago I was interested to see and hear Ballet Memphis.

Tonight's program brought together a great mix of dance with classical and modern influences. Opening the program, Being Here With Other People (Julie Niekrasz, Stephanie Hom, Hikedo Karrasawa, Virginia Pilgrim, Rachel Shumak, Ben Warner, Rafael Ferreras, Brandon Rame; Choreographed by Steven McMahon, Music: III Movement (Rondo Allegro) from Beethoven's Concerto in D Major for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 61) was full of joy -- in the music, dance, and dancer's expressions. Choreographed by a Ballet Memphis member at the beginning of he recession at artistic director Dorthy Gunter Pug's invitation to choreograph something to bring joy to the audience -- and he certainly succeeded.

It was impossible not to settle in to your seat and find a happy place with that beginning of the piece. Subtle humor (and some not so subtle humor in the form of soloist Stephanie Horn's gestures) raised laughter from the audience and set the right tone for the performance.

Next up was an addition to the program Takademe (Kendal G. Britt, Jr.; Choreograped by Robert Battle; Music: Speaking in Tongues I by Shelia Chandra, a solo piece that was full of eye catching movement and ear catching (if slightly hypnotic) sound. Mr. Britt seemed at one with the music and at one point Rachel leaned over and asked if the human body could actually move that quickly. In a post-show question and answer session, Mr. Brit mentioned that both how the day and the specific dynamic of the audience affects his interpretation of the piece, with some audiences welcoming a bit more experimentation than others, and now two performances are exactly the same.

The last piece before intermission Curtain of Green (Crystal Brothers, Steven McMahon, Kendall G. Britt, Jr., Choreographed by Julia Adam, Music: Philip Glass Etudes No. 2 and Etudes No. 5 from Etudes for Piano, Vol.1 No. 1-10) is based on a short story by Eudora Welty about a woman who's husband is killed by a falling tree, and the mourns by taking after her garden where she takes out grief and anger on her Gardner. Seemingly a collection of storybook scenes this dance had a more linear feel (and was a bit more serious) than the first two. Though it was revealed at the post show Q&A that there were a couple technical glitches, the dancers recovered seamlessly and someone not familiar with the dance (including yours truly) would have had any reason to be suspicious.

Which was true of the entire performance -- if there were any other technical problems, the company was so elastic and responsive that they were easily overlooked.
Picking up after intermission, S'epanouir (Crystal Brothers, Stephanie Horn, Hideako Karasawa, Rachel Shumake, Ben Warner, Rafael Ferreras, Brandon Ramey, kendall G. Britt, Jr.; Choreographed by Jane Comprot and Company, Music: Journey to AbunDANCE or S'epanouir by Kirk Whalum) starts slow and dark ("A woman is in the depths of an emotional and/or spiritual crisis...") and I was wondering what to say--not particularly enjoying the dance or the music--until both blossomed into a much brighter and happier mood ("...until the community comes to her aid...") and concludes with a gospel choir and a powerful image ("...and lifts her to a joyous transformation.")

Last on the program In Dreams (Julie Niekrasz, Stephanie Horn, Virginia Pilgrim, Travis Bradley, Steven McMahon, Choreographed by Trey McIntyre, Music (all performed by Roy Orbison): Dream Baby, You Tell Me, The Crowd, I Never Knew, In Dreams, Crying. Playing homage to fellow Memphian Roy Orbison, it was an interesting concept and a lovely collection of warm songs but I didn't really sense a strong connection between the music and the dance -- and at times the warm sounds of the music (with dark costumes on a dark stage) tempted me to just close my eyes.
But if that's all I have to complain about it was a very good show...


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