Every once and a while in life you get to witness a person, or in this case an organization, redeem themselves from the missteps of the past and to be reborn like new. In the case of Dayton Ballet, it highlights a possibly brighter new future for this seventy five year old regional ballet company. With the New Music for New Dance Concert, Dayton Ballet has finally hit a home run. This dance junkie has hit the mother lode.
After a season that never quite delivered choreographically, this concert came at the right time. How refreshing to see an audience electrified and enthusiastic after a Dayton Ballet performance as opposed to the somber shuffling exit of the audience that one has become accustomed to.
While the program consisted of only three works, the quality of those three works will be what sustains me until the start of the arts season next fall. The intellectual glamour of Dan Karasik’s, Fixed Action, the formalist structure of Cydney Spohn’s Shaded Dimensions and the exuberantly kinetic choreography of Susanne Payne’s Interactions all provided this reviewer with more than enough to feast upon as a addict of dance.
The New Music for New Dance Concert could not have been possible without the generosity of the Miriam Rosenthal Foundation. This is important for several reasons.
This type of philanthropy is unique in that it supports the collaborative process of bringing two art forms together (music and dance) and also for new works in the ballet vernacular. Kudos to the Rosenthal Foundation for being proactive and progressive when it comes to arts funding; we as a community are incredibly grateful. The community is the beneficiary ultimately, by receiving arts programming that is deserving of high praise.
The New Music for New Dance concert was a competition for the choreographers judged by three outside dance experts. Like the rest of the audience, I selected my favorite piece overall, however there were a lot of positive things to be said about all three works.
First of all, Dayton Ballet has a gem in its midst with Dan Karasik. I am incredibly biased because I will be working with Dan this summer on a collaborative project, but up until this point I had not seen his work. Our collaboration is based upon the stellar project he pitched to me combined with his infectious energy. Now that I have seen Fixed Action, I am even more excited about our collaboration this summer.
Fixed Action was first and foremost an intellectual endeavor that was about smart choreographic choices that stretched the ballet vocabulary in confident and textured ways. The circling partnering sections while referencing the themes of the music by Jeff Olmsted with its slight occidental tonal quality, never felt forced or contrived. He was not trying to re-invent the ballet “wheel” just use it effectively and wisely. He succeeded.
Dan helped give the dancers fluidity by providing torque and twists in their upper bodies. Two male dancers in particular stood out in his piece. Case Bodamer for his dynamic and expressive dancing and beautiful partnering abilities and Christian Delery for hitting all the right nuanced elements of Dan’s choreography and imbuing the movement with a personal stylistic flair. Also, I have never seen Erika Cole more alive on stage than this concert. She is, and will always be, one of the pleasures of watching this company perform.
Next up was Shaded Dimensions by Cydney Spohn, that more than a few times reminded me of one of my favorite choreographers, Merce Cunningham, and for all of the right reasons. Referencing in art making is nothing new. If anyone has seen my work of late it is decidedly riddled with references to certain post modern dance practitioners; William Forsythe being at the top of the list. Because Cydney is the most seasoned of the choreographers presenting, Shaded Dimensions plays with conventions subtly. The most abstract of all three of the works being presented, Shaded Dimensions really required the dancers to possess a nuanced movement quality that is not currently a part of their technique and subsequently the piece may have suffered because of it. This is why it is critical for the company to reinvigorate its movement vocabulary and keep bringing in fresh choreographic talent to challenge the dancers.
Once again Case Bodamer demonstrated why he is a dancer worth watching in the company. A committed performer with the facility and energy to deliver consistently, Case kept my attention through out this nuanced work from Cydney Spohn.
Because of the Merce Cunningham references, namely the slightly weighted off-center balances in arabesque and à la seconde and grounded running circular patterns, this is the type programming for serious seasoned lovers of dance, not wannabes. Audiences start doing your homework. There will be more on this later in a future article.
Susanne Payne once again proves why she is one the most important art makers in our community. In her work Interactions, she elevated Dayton Ballet and the dancers to new heights. This was no small feat, for what she brought to the stage was a work that loosened up the dancers in such a way that I saw every performer in a different critical light. She has intertwined an innate intellectual choreographic capability with doses of abstraction and imbued the piece with a humanity and emotional depth. This creation may have forever changed the perception of what Dayton Ballet is capable of artistically.
The two-section piece had a playful joyous energy that rooted and grounded the dancers in the modern dance vocabulary that Susie is mostly known for. Yes ballet dancers can do weighted movement! And yes, they can even crawl and roll on the floor. It is just a question of it having a purpose and intentionally propelling the choreography forward to a logical conclusion.
The female dancers possessed a fluid confidence that I have not seen previously this season. The men once again lead by Case and Christian, danced with a power and determination and a playfulness that felt genuine and real.
From the grand sweeping circular patterns that propelled the dancers in intricate petite allegro beats and partnered lifts, to the intricate gestural hand and arms, this was a work of epic scale that still stayed within the realm of human dimensions. The duets that referenced unspoken sub-textual needs and emotions that anybody could relate to brought out things in the dancers previously unseen. The beautiful men’s duet section was a joy to behold. Susanne stated that this piece was about pushing the boundaries of the dancers with her choreography; and by doing this she has pushed the boundaries of what this company is capable of as well.
Because this was a choreographic competition, there had to be a winner selected and the judges, like an “arts” version of that big televised music competition whose name shall not be uttered, bestowed the prize on Susanne Payne. But there were multiple winners this evening:
- All three choreographers were winners for using this the opportunity to create work and explore new ideas.
- The audience finally had a dance concert worth talking about and one that delivered in spades.
- Dayton Ballet proved that there is still life and artistic vitality within the organization.
This concert for the first time this season has given me hope for the future of professional dance in Dayton. To see people talking about which pieces were their favorites at all of the intermissions was refreshing and very telling. This was active arts participation, a level of engagement that will lead to people enthusiastically discussing it on Monday at the “water cooler” and to comment on Facebook and Twitter.
I stated in my first review that if the Dayton Ballet delivers this caliber of choreography and new programming that I would do everything in my power as a reviewer to help get the word out. This was the perfect high note on which to end the season. And I will be talking about this for a long time. Bravo Dayton Ballet!!!