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BIG ARTS provides nice evening with ‘Verb Ballets’

By Staff | Jan 30, 2009

Verb Ballets, which is celebrating its seventh season under the leadership of Executive Director Dr. Margaret Carlson, has been named Cleveland’s Premiere dance repertory company. Verb was recognized as one of five “Great tiny troupes in America” by Dance Magazine.

This Company’s mission statement is to discover, collect, interpret and present choreography that matters to the region and to the world of dance. Furthermore, Verb Ballets sustains and cultivates promising talented contemporary choreographers as well as reviving and glorifying modern dance classics.

Verb Ballets’ manager, Glen Owens, introduced the company and gave the audience a thumbnail description of it as well as a short synopsis of the Act 1 ballets.

The lights came up on the opening ballet, “Vespers,” with choreography by Ulysses Dove to music by Mikel Rouse. “Vespers” is meant to capture the passions and spirituality of women who have a faith and belief in the God that sustains and supports them all their lives. Dedicated to Dove’s grandmother, it recreates the evening services held in private by elderly women in the South.

A single soloist, Catherine Lambert, evocatively danced what appeared to be spiritually nuanced grieving in the First Movement. The Second Movement brought seven more women to the stage, each carrying a chair and joining in movements of shared grief’s sharp edges. Somehow the pain of loss was dulled in ritualistic movements of spiritual symbolism.

These intense and difficult unison movements demanded enormous concentration and extraordinary technical dance skills from the eight female dancers performing as one. This collective expressive dance was pleasurable to watch. On the one hand, the choreography was inventive and strong but on the other hand the original music was a relentless dull, throbbing drone, as grinding as grief itself. If that was what the composer intended, then his music scored a bull’s eye, but I, for one, found it annoying and unyielding.

“Dark Wood,” choreographed by Hernando Cortez to music by David Darling, was a solo ballet performed by Brian Murphy. Murphy is an astonishingly strong male dancer, displaying a plastic and fluid lyrical style not often seen in men of his muscle size and power. Murphy was wonderful, as was David Darling’s lush musical score for the cello, but Cortez’s choreography was unimaginative and rather ordinary, not unlike a ballet class’s center floor exercises.

Right after Intermission, Leonard Bernstein’s narrative reading for Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” with choreography by the company’s Artistic Associate Pamela Pribisco brought the full company of onto the stage. This ballet was probably the most enjoyably entertaining part of the evening.

Pribisco perfectly captured and illustrated each of the animals and their characters in this delightful, musical piece. “Peter and the Wolf” turned out to be a charming, whimsical bit of fun.

The last two ballets were by German-born choreographer Heinz Poll, who was also the choreographer and founder of Ohio Ballet.

The ballet “Duet” to Bach’s Adagio for Organ featured Murphy and Danielle Brickman. Rather reminiscent of Balanchine’s adagio in “Four Temperaments” with its various off-center turns and lifts, Poll’s choreography sadly lacked the brilliance and suspension that Balanchine is so famous for; this lack of choreographic brilliance and the element of surprise showed up as bland interpretation and a lackluster performance.

Ravel’s “Bolero” ended the evening of dance by Verb Ballets. Maybe I have seen this ballet too many times but, as far as I’m concerned, Radio City Music Hall’s full stage production is the grandest – all the Rockettes, the Music Hall’s entire ballet chorus and full symphony orchestra, a dozen grand pianos and pianists playing the many building crescendos the

“Bolero” contains. For me this is and may always be, the definitive version of Ravel’s “Bolero,” and everything else just pales beside it.

Nonetheless, it was a satisfying evening of dance brought to us by Big Arts, and a deep bow of thanks goes to Natalie Cunningham for filling the difficult role of Presenter left vacant by our former Presenter Joy Schein.