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'The Benefit' Triumphs with Choreographic Gems and Delectable Dancing

by Steve Sucato
September 30, 2016
BalletMet Columbus Performance Space
322 Mt. Vernon Ave.
Columbus, OH 43215
(614) 229-4860
Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.
There’s nothing like a noble cause to bring out the best in artists and artistry. That was certainly the case for the third annual The Benefit (formerly Dancing for the Cure) dance concert, May 22 at BalletMet’s Performance Space in Columbus, Ohio. Produced by former BalletMet star Jimmy Orrante and current company member Attila Bongar, The Benefit was a sold-out, jam-packed evening of music and dance whose proceeds went to supporting The Central Ohio Chapter of the National Hemophilia Foundation and Nationwide Children’s Hospital.

Donating their time and talents to the event were dancers from BalletMet, Carolina Ballet, Cincinnati Ballet, Rochester City Ballet and elsewhere performing classical and contemporary ballet works from George Balanchine, Marius Petipa, BalletX’s Matthew Neenan, Carolina Ballet artistic director Robert Weiss and more. Joining the dancers onstage were Camarata, a 23-member orchestra made up of musicians from the Columbus Symphony Orchestra led by principal cellist Luis Biava.

Easily amongst the very best dance productions in Columbus this year, The Benefit kicked off with the “Diamonds” pas de deux from Balanchine’s ballet Jewels (1967), performed by husband and wife pair Lauren Fadeley, currently a soloist with Miami City Ballet, and Francis Veyette, a former principal dancer with Pennsylvania Ballet.

Wowing the audience from the get go, the couple demonstrated skillful technique and an inviting stage presence that wonderfully aligned with Balanchine’s quintessential neo-classical choreography. Danced to music by Tchaikovsky thoughtfully performed by Camarata, Veyette was a steady and sturdy partner to the elegant and graceful Fadeley. The inspiring pas de deux acted as a harbinger for the wonderfully performed musical interludes, other choreographic gems and great dancing to follow.

After an adroit performance of Rachmaninoff’s “Prelude Op. 32 No. 12 in G sharp minor” by pianist Tyrone Boyle, five dancers (three women, two men) performed Cincinnati Ballet soloist James Cunningham’s “Meandering Heartbeat.” A talented young choreographer who has crafted well-received ballets for Cincinnati Ballet, this perhaps was not one of his best efforts. Set to original music played live by Columbus ambient alternative band The Wind and the Sea along with Camarata, the contemporary “sock” ballet had the dancers darting about the stage in a mish-mash of arabesques, turns, rolls on the floor, and choppy partnering riffs that included dancer Margo Aknin stepping on partner Jarrett Reimers’ stomach to travel over him. Cunningham had some decent ideas and there were scant moments when those ideas were realized, but overall the ballet floundered.

Following an excerpt from the ballet Giselle performed tenderly by BalletMet’s Jessica Brown and Carolina Ballet’s Richard Krusch, and the sharply performed solo “Beat and Taal,” by kathak dancer/choreographer Mansee Singhi, the first of two new works by Orrante, “Imperfections,” took the stage. Danced by BalletMet’s Adrienne Benz and Carolina Ballet’s Marcelo Martinez to music by Josh Kramer, this was Orrante at his choreographic best. The superbly-crafted and danced pas de deux presented itself in waves of undulating and swirling unison dancing that was spellbinding. Equally ravishing partnered lifts sent Benz spinning skyward, her body open to the momentum and expressing fleeting moments of fragile beauty that followed one after another. The dancers twisted, turned and gave into gravity, falling backwards only to catch themselves and then melt into another trance-inducing entwinement such as Benz, in a deep lunge supported by Martinez, stepping backwards across the stage as the tinkling of piano keys in Kramer’s music carried the dancers and the audience along in its melodic current to drift and dream.

The program’s first half closed with Bongar’s “Forced March: Second Eclogue.” Inspired by the poetry of Hungarian Miklós Radnóti who died in the holocaust and set to composer Charles Ives’ “The Unanswered Question,” Bongar’s ballet was haunting, thanks in large part to Ives’ music played with heartfelt emotion by Camarata.

A cluster of five men in overcoats encircled and hid BalletMet’s Caitlin Valentine-Ellis from sight. Then spinning themselves outward they revealed her and became the objects she played off of, crashing into them, jumping on them, and cleaving to them. The men then spread out arms and legs opened wide, faces upward as if trees caught in a breeze that rocked them side-to-side as they basked in sunlight. Valentine-Ellis’ character appeared trapped in this melancholy world, surrounded by these men and somehow a part of them, her will no longer her own.

The program’s second half began with another musical interlude performed by Camarata that lead to Weiss’ soothing pas de deux “Meditation from Täis,” danced to music of the same name by Jules Massenet. Like Fadeley and Veyette in the program’s opening pas de deux, the dancing of Carolina Ballet principal dancers Lara O’Brien and Martinez was heavenly. Weiss’ neo-classical choreography had the pair delicately twirling like a wind sculpture with O’Brien enfolded in Martinez’s arms. The highly satisfying pas de deux earned hearty applause from the appreciative audience.

Switching gears, Columbus Dance Theatre’s Christian Broomhall’s ballet “She is,” interjected a bit of levity into the program. Another talented new choreographer, Broomhall’s contemporary dance work for four men and four women set to a suite of music sung by Billy Holiday was deliciously charming and clever. Dancing to Holiday’s rendition of the song “All of Me,” the work’s four male dancers engaged in quirky, gesture-laden choreography that had them marching about in unison choreography, dropping to the stage floor to move like inchworms, gyrating their hips and wildly waving their arms in the air, and walking on their knees, hearts aflutter toward imagined girlfriends. BalletMet’s Karen Wing and Michael Sayre then paired up in an endearing, touchy-feely duet to Holiday singing “Until The Real Thing Comes Along.” Next, it was the ladies’ turn as the work’s four women continued Broomhall’s regimented movement patterns dancing to "I'll Be Seeing You." The wistful dance was another example of Broomhall’s inventiveness and innate ability to make sophisticated movement choices in his choreography. The work left you wanting more.

Another Fadeley/Veyette pas de deux followed. In the vein of Broomhall’s playfully descriptive contemporary choreography, Neenan’s “11:11” (Excerpt), generously tapped into the couple’s affections for each other delightful choreography that had the pair rocking back and forth in a lullaby of warm feelings and artful dancing.

After another piano solo by Boyle playing Mendelssohn, former Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater dancer Marcus Jarrell Willis performed his powerful solo “Distance Between,” set to Debussy’s “Claire de Lune.” Willis began seated in a chair, staring across the stage at another empty chair. He then rose and began inching his way toward that chair and what it seemed to represent to him, gradually adding pace to his movements until skittering to halt in front of it. Sitting in the chair, Willis then lit into a succession of rapid arm, hands and upper torso movements a la Donald Byrd’s “White Man Sleep” (2002). Willis’ conflicted and poignant solo proved touching.

The Benefit concluded with Orrante’s “For Fun” a rollicking group ballet in the mold of Balanchine’s Western Symphony (1954) sans the costuming. Set to Don Gillis’ expansive Symphony No. 5 ½, the ballet, like the music, conjured the spirit of a hoedown scene from cowboy movie musical, only Orrante swapped the knee-slapping yeehaw’s and high stepping waltzes for refined and pretty ballet steps.
BalletMet's Adrienne Benz and Carolina Ballet's Marcelo Martinez in Jimmy Orrante's 'Imperfections.'

BalletMet's Adrienne Benz and Carolina Ballet's Marcelo Martinez in Jimmy Orrante's "Imperfections."

Photo © & courtesy of Ira Graham


Carolina Ballet's Marcelo Martinez and Lara O'Brien in Robert Weiss' “Meditation from Täis.'

Carolina Ballet's Marcelo Martinez and Lara O'Brien in Robert Weiss' “Meditation from Täis."

Photo © & courtesy of Ira Graham


(L-R) Jarrett Reimers, Michael Sayre, Ben Rabe and Jimmy Cunningham in Christian Broomhall's 'She is.'

(L-R) Jarrett Reimers, Michael Sayre, Ben Rabe and Jimmy Cunningham in Christian Broomhall's "She is."

Photo © & courtesy of Ira Graham


Miami City Ballet's Lauren Fadeley and Francis Veyette in the 'Diamonds' pas de deux from George Balanchine's Jewels.

Miami City Ballet's Lauren Fadeley and Francis Veyette in the "Diamonds" pas de deux from George Balanchine's Jewels.

Photo © & courtesy of Ira Graham


BalletMet's Caitlin Valentine-Ellis atop dancers in Atilla Bongar's 'Forced March: Second Eclogue.'

BalletMet's Caitlin Valentine-Ellis atop dancers in Atilla Bongar's "Forced March: Second Eclogue."

Photo © & courtesy of Ira Graham

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