Sunday, June 09, 2002

CDT, Ballet reflect on fine seasons

Companies prepare for next steps

By Carol Norris
Enquier contributor

        The seasons have ended for Contemporary Dance Theater and Cincinnati Ballet, the city's two professional dance groups. Both companies offer summer dance classes, and Cincinnati Ballet has a performance for its Budig Academy students this week. But that's it until the new season begins in the fall.

        Jefferson James, director of Contemporary Dance Theater for 29 years, says she's always sad to see a season end because she knows it will be a while before she sees some of these dancers again.

        As the area's only consistent presenter of contemporary dance companies, her picks are always personal — companies she admires and artists whose careers she follows. An admitted modern dance junkie, it's been her lifelong dream that others in Cincinnati would come to love it as much as she does.

        Although the final numbers aren't in — Choreographers Without Companies was this weekend — she says attendance overall was better than in years past, but still not to capacity in the Aronoff Center for the Arts' 440-seat Jarson-Kaplan Theater. Each performance runs twice.

        “CDT is concerned with the education and development of the audience, not just in presenting work,” Ms. James says.

        Most visiting companies get out into the community with workshops, classes and school visits.

        “Because our mission is to promote and encourage interest in a broad spectrum of performing arts, CDT mixes the new with the familiar, and the challenging with the more accessible,” she says.

        Which explains why she was OK with dance/theater pieces of Rhythm in Shoes and Everett Dance Theatre and I wasn't.

        Rhythm in Shoes is a wonderful tap dance company from Dayton, but it failed to bring a coherent meaning to the tap/play Nova Town.Everett is an obvious CDT favorite with this year's third visit. Clearly the weakest entry this season, it failed to make a case for combining ballet and hip-hop. One wonders what attracts Ms. James to the group. “. . . wonderful mover/actors . . .,” she says.

        We agreed on Ronald K. Brown/Evidence. In the company's first visit it's understandable why this African-American company is popular wherever it performs. Mr. Brown's choreography is a delicious mix of urban contemporary and traditional West African and would be a good pick for a return visit.

        Cincinnati Ballet, a resident company of about 33 dancers, has a different vision. It is “. . . to honor and maintain the wonderful heritage of the art form of ballet and to forge a legacy,” explains artistic director Victoria Morgan. Which means to continue to present the classics such as Swan Lake and Sleeping Beauty while bringing in new choreographers with new ideas.

        The focus is also on diversity, hence the company's annual “Come Together” festival where artists from different backgrounds and ethnicities are mixed into one program. She also sees national and international recognition in the future and points to the growing number of tour dates.

        In November, the company performed in Portugal, its first international appearance. Three tours are planned for 2002-03: Europe, Pennsylvania and Alaska.

        Attendance was slightly below expectations for the 2001-02 season: 63,300 was the target audience and 61,185 was the final figure.

        It's a tough balancing act, and every ballet company faces this problem: Patrons who want only the classics vs. others who are crazy for anything new.

        With the new, Cincinnati Ballet found a success in Adam Hougland's “Beyond,” an edgy, agitated totally modern-looking piece. While I didn't like it personally, I couldn't help thinking how unattractive men look in dresses (the entire cast, male and female, wore dresses). Yet I saw the artistic integrity pushing it.

        On the other hand, Ms. Morgan's collaboration with Cincinnati Opera artistic director Nicholas Muni “Out-O-Sense” was vacant of any clear reason for being. But new works are always chancy; ballet companies must experiment or become dusty old storehouses of antiquated dance ideas.

        For now Cincinnati Ballet will continue with its “formula”: three full-lengths (classical), two mixed reps (contemporary) and the Nutcracker.

        “Within that framework is tremendous opportunity for creative programming,” says the optimistic Ms. Morgan.

        Citing money as a constant problem (most companies the size of Cincinnati Ballet do a four-program season) she says collaborations and cost-sharing with other companies will help financially.

        Stars come out: In its most adventuresome undertaking yet, ballet tech ohio performing arts association is presenting a gala of international stars for one performance only: Aug. 10 at the Procter & Gamble Hall, Aronoff Center.

        Claudia Rudolf Barrett's dance school and performing group have consistently offered pre-professional dance events for its students that often feature professional dancers; this is the first event that is an entire evening of ballet stars from major companies from around the world.

        Desmond Richardson, familiar to Tristate audiences from his solo appearances the last two years with Cincinnati Ballet, will represent New York's Complexions Dance Company with Christina Johnson and Uri Sands.

        Others on the program: American Ballet Theatre's Paloma Herrera and Gennadi Saveliev, Bolshoi Ballet's Constantin Ivanov and Anastasia Meskov; Houston Ballet's Lauren Anderson and Dominic Walsh, National Ballet of Canada's Greta Hodgkinson and Geon van der Wyst, New York City Ballet's Charles Askegard, Maria Kowroski, Jennie Somogyi and Kathleen Tracey and former Cincinnati Ballet principals Anna Reznik and Alexei Kremnev.

        Each dancer is either an established principal or is a noted rising star in the dance world. This is a rare occasion for Tristate audiences to see dancers of this calibre in classic pas de deux and new contemporary works.

        Tickets: $35, $45 and $55; Aronoff Center and Music Hall box offices; 241-7469. Information: 683-6860.

        Ballet for kids: Upcoming children's ballets:

        Claudia Rudolf Barrett's ballet tech ohio performing arts association in Dances on a Blue Planet; 8 p.m. Friday and 2 and 8 p.m. Saturday Jarson-Kaplan Theater, Aronoff Center; $15; tickets at Aronoff Center Box Office, Music Hall Box Office or Ticketmaster; 241-7469. Guest dancers Michael Wardlaw, Andrey Kasatsky and Flying Cloud Academy of Vintage Dance.

        Daniel Simmons and the Otto M. Budig Academy of Cincinnati Ballet in The Twelve Dancing Princesses; 7 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday Jarson-Kaplan Theater, Aronoff Center; $18; Ballet box office, 1555 Central Parkway, Aronoff Center Box Office, 621-5282.

        Dancers comptete: The Youth America Grand Prix dance competition in New York in May did not produce any grand winners from the ballet tech ohio studio. Four dancers competed: Courtney Sanborn, Leigh Lijoi, Kristen Phelps and Hannah Spiegel. Hannah, 12, made it to the final 12 in Junior Grand Prix category.

        “There were about 250 finalists from many countries, including 30 from Japan,” her coach Alexei Kremnev says. “The girls did a very good job and Hannah made a successful (showing) to be in the final 12. It was a great experience for us and we will definitely go again next year.”

        Contact Carol Norris by fax: (812) 537-5693; e-mail:


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