“Continuing the Legacy of Heinz Poll” says the program note, and here we are at the Akron Civic Theatre on Friday night, in the midst of an over-the-top imitation of a Moorish garden, complete with twinkling stars and clouds drifting overhead. The pre-show organ sing-along is just concluding and there goes the mighty Wurlitzer sinking slowly into the orchestra pit. As the organist turns to wave we belatedly recognize him as David Fisher, musical director for Poll’s Ohio Ballet.
Fisher also played for Schubert Waltzes (1974), the first dance on the program, one of the handful of choreographic pieces that Poll wanted saved. It’s a musical visualization, playful and beguiling within a courtly tradition. The knee-length Romantic tutus — reconstructed by Janet Bolick in dusty reds, greens, and browns after the original costume designs by A. Christina Giannini — and the lighting — adapted by John Ebert from the original lighting by Thomas Skelton — added immeasurably to the overall atmosphere, ripe with tender emotion but without a narrative.
Schubert Waltzes, a dance for three couples, was followed immediately by Appropriated Memories, a new piece choreographed for four couples by Anthony Krutzkamp. While the two dances shared many similarities, Appropriated Memories was set apart by its contemporary music and innovative contemporary partnering.
Consider some of the music for Appropriated Memories. There’s a ghostly choir singing over composer Sophie Hutching’s piano and there’s piano and strings in Beth’s Theme by Olafur Arnalds, music with a lot of feeling but much more contemporary than Schubert’s 19th century Romanticism
Like its music, the partnering in Appropriated Memories contained a lot of emotion but with a very contemporary feel. Watching at the Akron Civic, we remembered a rehearsal last November in which Krutzkamp coached the Verb dancers in this piece. Half of his corrections were about mechanical efficiency in the partnering and the other half were about creating a feeling of tenderness between the partners. So, for one partnering step, a promenade, Krutzkamp demonstrated saying, “Keep… her arm… in front of you… and it becomes really easy.” The dancers tried it Krutzkamp’s way and, yes, it got easier.
For another step, a lift, Krutzkamp showed a dancer how to position his body with hips forward rather than back. “Be here (with hips forward) and it will be tender in a way you didn’t know it could be.” We watched the dancer take the correction and we thought, “Krutzkamp is right and ‘tender’ is exactly the right word.”
At that same November rehearsal we asked Verb’s associate director, Richard Dickinson, for his impressions of Appropriated Memories. “It’s a highly kinetic work,” Dickinson said. “It’s all about how one movement flows into another without showing how it begins or ends and this is one of the hardest things you can do with a dance.
“I don’t know what the meaning is,” he continued. “The meaning is kind of hidden in the background, mysterious. I’ve been watching it all week long and I’m still intrigued. It’s fascinating.”
We too watched Appropriated Memories with a certain fascination. Guilty fascination. We don’t know what’s going on between these people but we know it’s about something tender and intimate, something, perhaps, we aren’t supposed to be seeing.
We wrote about a very polished studio performance of Broken Bridges in an earlier piece but Friday’s performance was our first look at some of the costumes, after a concept by Shawna Hinton. The chorus was in black and red, spandex unitards for the women, and tights and bare torsos for the men. The original lighting design by Trad A. Burns presented dramatic contrasts between dark and light which, among several possibilities, allowed the chorus to disappear upstage and made the two principal dancers, Kate Webb and Christina Lindhout, stand out even more clearly in their white dresses.
Choreographer Michael Hinton has told us that Broken Bridges is based on the story of his grandmother, surrounded by a loving family but estranged by Alzheimer’s. Accordingly, the interaction of the music and Hinton’s choreography gives us occasional moments of anger and frustration but the primary emotions are sadness and tenderness, looking for a way to work with — and keep loving — a family member who is slipping away.
3:00AM is a pas de deux choreographed by Andrew Carroll, who received his early training from Poll. When we first saw a performance of 3:00AM we assumed that the choreographer had intended to create an erotic ballet and that the dancers had failed to generate the required heat. But watching 3:00AM for the second time at Akron Civic, we realized that the intended mood was — again — tenderness.
Inevitably, Poll’s Bolero concluded Friday’s concert. We mentioned Poll’s borrowings from Indian dance in an earlier article, but we’d also like to call your attention to Poll’s restrained use of Sufi whirling in Bolero, an appropriate inclusion since, according to some, Ravel adapted his main melodic theme from a tune used in Sufi devotional practice. We knew Poll drew from eclectic sources, but we keep learning how appropriate those sources are.
Local dance audiences will have another chance to see Schubert Waltzes and Appropriated Memories along with other premieres and repertoire Sat 3/25 @ 8pm at the Breen Center in Ohio City. Tickets are $1$12-$35.
[Written by Elsa Johnson and Victor Lucas]