Fri 2/17 @ 8PM
If you’re part of the dance community of Northeastern Ohio, you’re probably already familiar with at least some aspects of Heinz Poll’s improbable-sounding life. Perhaps you’ve already heard how he played hooky from Hitler Youth to go ice skating, left post-war Germany to dance in the National Ballet of Chile, came to the USA and then Akron as a ballet teacher and — perhaps most improbably of all — brought professional ballet to Northeast Ohio where his legacy is deeply present to this day.
Verb Ballets’ upcoming concert at the Akron Civic Theatre celebrates and extends Poll’s legacy with stagings of two of Poll’s best works and two new works variously inspired by Poll.
One of the dances on Verb’s program is Schubert Waltzes, a Poll piece Ohio Ballet performed in its NYC debut in 1979. At the time, Anna Kisselgoff of the New York Times made some dead-on assessments that apply to Schubert Waltzes and much of Poll’s oeuvre.
“Mr. Poll,” Kisselgoff wrote, “seems to favor Romantic music, and his plotless ballets have a strong emotional mood.” Schubert Waltzes, she opined, was “too reminiscent of Mr. (Eliot) Feld’s Intermezzo and even, in some parts, of Jerome Robbins’s In the Night.” Nevertheless Kisselgoff concluded, “Poll’s choreography reveals an artistic voice worth following.”
Poll favors Romantic music? Obviously. Plotless ballets with strong emotional mood? Very often. Too reminiscent of Feld and Robbins? We’d prefer to describe Poll as “frequently influenced” by choreographic giants; we can think of many times he choreographed in the style of others without devolving into parody or the merely derivative.
Speaking of influence, those who are familiar with another of Poll’s works, Elegiac Song, may recognize its movement vocabulary and its music, Igor Shostakovich’s Chamber Symphony in C minor, in another piece on Verb’s program, choreographer Michael Hinton’s Broken Bridges. Hinton’s challenging assignment was to use Poll’s movement vocabulary and choice of music to choreograph a new work. Elegiac Song was about women left behind in war time, but in Broken Bridges, Hinton tells the entirely different story of his grandmother, surrounded by a loving family but estranged by Alzheimer’s.
Broken Bridges is no intellectual exercise. Kate Webb as Hinton’s grandmother and Christina Lindhout as Hinton’s mother, the primary caretaker, turn in deeply emotional performances. The other six Verb dancers provide a pitch-perfect chorus. Hinton demonstrates — again — his ability to choreograph with both craftsmanship and depth of feeling.
Another piece on Friday’s program is choreographed by one who arguably owes his career in ballet to Poll. The last time we saw Andrew Carroll was in Poll’s ballet classes in Akron in 1969 when Carroll was about 10 years old. Credit Poll’s training, Carroll’s talent or an early start, but Carroll went on to dance professionally for Ohio Ballet and Pennsylvania Ballet. He’s now a well-preserved 60-something teaching ballet at University of South Florida. His piece, 3:00AM, is a pas de deux set to Satin Birds by Abel Koreniowski. We saw a coolly proficient performance by Megan Buckley and Omar Humphrey but casting may change so watch for another couple to put their own stamp on this potentially steamy ballet.
Elegiac Song was one of Poll’s first pieces for the company that eventually became Ohio Ballet; Bolero was one of the last. If Schubert Waltzes was “reminiscent” of the work of others and Elegiac Song was, as Poll himself readily admitted, indebted to Kurt Jooss’ The Green Table, a work Poll performed many times, Bolero was Poll’s fresh and original take on a well-known piece of music that has been used by many, many choreographers.
For those who have not seen Verb perform Poll’s Bolero, we call your attention to the elements of Indian dance; Poll choreographed Bolero after the Ohio Ballet’s tour of India. And notice how Poll’s use of restrained movement at the beginning and controlled development of that movement contribute to the intense crescendo at the end of this dance.
Verb’s connections to Heinz Poll’s legacy are personal as well as choreographic. Verb’s producing artistic director Margaret Carlson received some of her early dance training from Poll and served on the committee that worked to found the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival. Richard Dickinson, associate director of Verb, was long a mainstay of Ohio Ballet as dancer, ballet master and director of company touring. Verb dancer Antonio Morillo received some of his training at University of South Florida from Andrew Carroll. Former Ohio Ballet music director David Fisher comes out of semi-retirement to provide piano accompaniment for Schubert Waltzes.
Verb performs “Continuing the Legacy of Heinz Poll” at the Akron Civic Theatre Fri 2/17 @ 8pm. Tickets are $12-$32.
[Written by Elsa Johnson and Victor Lucas]