DanceWorks Rocks Cleveland Public Theatre
By Elsa Johnson & Victor Lucas
For the next five weekends, five local dance companies show their stuff in Cleveland Public Theatre’s popular DanceWorks series. We’ll preview all five companies but let’s begin at the beginning with Verb Ballets [pictured above], who open DanceWorks 2012 this Thu 4/19.
Verb Ballets – Carmen: Story of Passion
The whole idea of telling a story through dance can seem flat and tired to us but recently we went to watch a rehearsal of Verb’s new Carmen: Story of Passion. Early as it was in the creative process, the dancers and the dancing told the story with exceptional clarity and power. Our perspective on story ballets changed. We reached the choreographer, Verb’s rehearsal director Richard Dickinson, by phone.
Cool Cleveland: How did you approach the story of Carmen? What other versions of Carmen have influenced you?
Richard Dickinson: I haven’t really seen many other ballet versions of Carmen. I choreographed Carmen for the Youngstown Opera about two years ago and got intimate with the story there, but I realized that the story of Carmen is often told in a superficial way. I wondered what the characters were thinking, what was the essence of the Carmen story. We’re using the word “passion” in our title, Carmen: Story of Passion, but it’s more like obsession. In our version of Carmen the characters are all obsessing about each other in different ways.
I see what you mean. “Passion” isn’t a strong enough word for the motivation behind all the sex and violence.
Yes, consider Don Jose. He’s so obsessed with Carmen, wanting to be with her and jealous of her to the extent that he kills people to keep them away from her. And at the end he kills her and gets killed himself. That doesn’t come with a little bit of passion. You have to call that obsessive.
And consider Carmen, who thinks she’s discovered the love of her life in this toreador, Escamillo. She’s unable to see that he’s only obsessed with himself. And at the end she’s basically allowing Don Jose to kill her because Escamillo has jilted her.
Or consider Micaela, Don Jose’s long-suffering fiancé. She loves Don Jose so much she’s like a cult follower, willing to drink the kool-aid at Jonestown for him. She puts up with Don Jose’s infidelity. She covers up his murder of the Lieutenant.
So obsession is what I saw in the story and that’s what I played up in the ballet.
So your Carmen is the story of one character (Carmen? Don Jose?) and that one character’s choices? Or is yours the story of an ensemble of characters, each with his or her own reasons for what they do?
Our Carmen is about an ensemble of characters. Everyone has their own back-story and their own motivations.
That’s especially clear in the one quartet. Micaela is reaching out to Don Jose who is reaching out to Carmen who is reaching out to Escamillo, who’s preoccupied with himself.
(Laughing.) Right! Nobody’s happy. That quartet was the hardest thing to get right. I don’t know how many times I re-choreographed that section.
How did you know Verb was ready for this?
I really didn’t know, but I did see how they did Heinz Poll’s Songs Without Words last summer, how they delved into the different characters and who they were. And I saw the way they did Hernando Cortez’ Chichester Psalms, which doesn’t have a story but is a serious piece. In both pieces I could see that the dancers were hungry for something beyond pure dance.
Carmen is the longest ballet in Verb’s rep and I think the only story ballet in the rep.
What’s running time?
Carmen runs a little under an hour with intermission. That’s the whole program at Cleveland Public Theatre. At Cain Park we’ll do a G-rated Carmen and there will be another piece on the program.
We’re leaving out a lot. We haven’t mentioned that you’ll be staging Carmen in the round at CPT, nor have we mentioned your choice of music, Carmen Suite by Shchedrin. But let’s talk about the Carmen role, which is double cast. We’ve always been fans of Danielle Brickman — she does Carmen very well — but it’s time to acknowledge the other Carmen, Kara Madden, who was an apprentice until recently.
I thought Kara looked like Carmen with those big eyes. She’s a young girl who’s never had an opportunity to dance a major part. This is her first time, and she’s given me 110% the whole time.
She’s absolutely deadly in the role. You don’t want to mess with Kara’s Carmen.
Inlet Dance Theatre – Out of the Vault… and into the Future
Verb is only the first of five companies. Next is Inlet Dance Theater. Inlet’s mastery of Pilobolus-style partnering sets it apart from other dance companies. Like Pilobolus at its best, Inlet often manages to give deep and heartfelt meaning to movements which may at first seem merely acrobatic or gimmicky. For DanceWorks 12, Inlet Artistic Director Bill Wade promises a mix of premieres and selections from the company repertory including Winged Opposition, a piece we saw premiere at DanceWorks 2005.
Winged Opposition takes its imagery from visions of the apocalypse. Former Clevelander Ryan Lott’s original score starts with paranoid whispers and eventually rises to support a dynamic scenario. Apocalyptic vision is notorious for questionable theology and dysfunctional politics but it begs for a satisfying theatrical expression. Wade’s choreography for angels and demons in Winged Opposition is heady stuff.
MorrisonDance – Syzygy
Next in CPT’s line-up, MorrisonDance and Travesty Dance Group share a program. We spoke with MorrisonDance Artistic Director Sarah Morrison by phone.
Cool Cleveland: Technology often figures prominently in MorrisonDance projects. How does Brain Avatar figure into your CPT program?
Sarah Morrison: Our program at CPT will not be completely devoted to technology but there will be one piece that we’ve been working on over the years with Brain Master. They’ve come up with a new Avatar system, which shows which areas of the brain are active in real time animations. Frontal lobe. Right brain. Left brain. Very useful for biofeedback and interesting to see how it corresponds to music and dancing activities, which is what we’ll be doing at CPT. Janine Jones will be playing cello, I’ll be dancing, and our brainwaves will be projected onto a backdrop.
But that’s only one piece of our CPT program. More than technology, our show’s about syzygy, a word that jumped out at me when I was reading about Carl Jung and the union of oppositional archetypes. “Syzygy.” It’s fun to look at, fun to say, and interesting in terms of psychology. Then I learned that it meant many, many things in different fields.
“Syzygy” is kind of like “dance” in that everyone has a very specific definition of dance and seldom are any two definitions the same.
We have a wonderful new group of dancers that I’m really excited about. Carli Taylor Miluk and I are the only returning alumnae. Everyone else left to go to college or to have children. It was a little nerve-wracking at first because of the uncertainty but the new dancers are all working together beautifully.
So we’re packing a lot of stuff into a show which we’re sharing with Travesty Dance. (Laughs.)
Travesty Dance Group – I FIGHT
Founded in 1997 by three women in Kent State University’s dance department, Travesty Dance Group is now re-organized under the direction of founding member Kimberly Karpanty. For their CPT concert, Travesty takes on a typically ambitious subject, the immigration of millions of Europeans — especially Italians — to America in the 19th and 20th century. Production values — again, typically ambitious — include multi-media and moving sets. All the music in the production, we’re told, is by Italians or Italian-Americans, from traditional folk and classic opera to the 21st century compositions of Missy Mizzoli.
Antaeus – Vintage Visions
Antaeus Dance celebrates 11 years of dance making and performance with Vintage Visions, a concert of company repertory as well as a new duet choreographed by Director Joan Meggitt.
Cleveland Public Theatre DanceWorks 12 runs Thursdays through Saturdays, Thu 4/19 – Sat 5/19/12. All performances at 7 pm. Get tickets and more info here or phone 216-631-2727 x501. Don’t forget $10 Thursdays and Free Beer on Fridays!
From Cool Cleveland contributors Elsa Johnson and Victor Lucas. Elsa and Vic are both longtime Clevelanders. Elsa is a landscape designer. She studied ballet as an avocation for 2 decades. Vic has been a dancer and dance teacher for most of his working life, performing in a number of dance companies in NYC and Cleveland. They write about dance as a way to learn more and keep in touch with the dance community. E-mail them at vicnelsaATearthlink.net.