Ballet Theatre of Ohio ready for first performance
Dancers Jennifer Moll and Damian
Highfield dance in Ballet Theatre of Ohio’s “Rosso.”
By Roger Durbin
DOWNTOWN AKRON — It’s a go! After considerable excitement with the announcement of organizing a professional division for Children’s Ballet Theatre and renaming it the Ballet Theatre of Ohio (BTO), Artistic Director Christine Meneer is deep in rehearsal for the new company’s first ever performance at the Akron Civic Theatre Feb. 3-4.
Dubbing the evening “Ballet Under the Stars”— an allusion to the canopy of night sky in the remodeled theater — Meneer and company will present two works in honor of mentor, friend, teacher and old boss Heinz Poll (founder of the now defunct Ohio Ballet) and two new pieces choreographed by Meneer.
The nod to Ohio Ballet reflects Meneer’s past. She once danced for that company. In fact, if you see posters around town for the upcoming performance, look closely at the ballerina in the picture. It is Meneer as she once performed in Poll’s “Summer Night.” For the company’s debut performance, Meneer got permission from Judith Shoaff Reading and Luc Vanier (former Ohio Ballet dancers who hold the rights to the once highly popular ballet) to present it. Shoaff Reading and Vanier agreed to cast and stage the work for BTO.
In a rehearsal recently, the two couples performing it (Jurijs Safanovs and Megan Dietz, and Brian Murphy and Jennifer Moll) have the nuances and dance phrasing nailed down and ready to go. One of Poll’s minor masterpieces, “Summer Night” is an exquisite work set to the emotion-laded music of Frederic Chopin. These young dancers sensitively imbue it with feeling and meaning. Even in a rehearsal hall, it looked absolutely lovely. Meneer has to be pleased with the results.
Meneer no doubt also is pleased
with Poll’s “Adagio for Two Dancers,”
which will be performed by Damian Highfield and Moll.
Former Ohio Ballet dancer and administrator Jane Startzman,
who holds the rights to the work, set the piece on BTO.
The work is performed to the
music of Tomaso Albinoni.
The two new works, “Rosso”
(“Red”) and “Beyond the Stars”—
both choreographed by Meneer — will set the future
“Rosso,” which is
first on the bill, is set to Sergei Prokofiev’s
impassioned music from his “Romeo and Juliet.”
The work features 14 dancers with three couples figuring
prominently in this conceptual tale of young passion
and exuberance. From the dramatic opening dance
sequence, which signals the power inherent in the blazing
red costumes (set against a black background) as well
as the energy of the dancers, to the closing layered
ensemble section, the work demonstrates once again the
choreographer’s considerable ability to move dancers
intelligently on, off and around the stage, and to provide
an internal logic to the various movements and phrases
that embody her visual interpretation of the music.
“Rosso” will begin
BTO’s career in public
performance and Meneer’s debut as its artistic
director. It’s sure to be a great introduction
BTO’s end piece for the
evening will be Meneer’s “Beyond the Stars.”
Meneer said she always wanted to do a ballet to Gustav
Holst’s “Planets.” Conceptually, she
liked the things that such a ballet presented —
character sketches, dramatic intentions and the like
— and hoped one day to have the chance.
That day has come, but
not with Holst. Meneer discovered
composer William Joseph and knew immediately that his
work (mostly captured on an album titled Within)
is perfect for what she wants to convey in dance.
The opening sequence begins with
the dancers in a line, each in a different pose representing
one of the planets. Music and choreography help to establish
the characters and characteristics as the pace builds
for an inventive piece of lengthy dance. The costumes
— as seen in sketches
provided by creator Christina Giannini (who used to
outfit Ohio Ballet) — are dramatic, colorful,
clever and neatly suited to the work. There are ensemble
sections in which the effect clearly will be like looking
at a kaleidoscope. “Beyond the Stars” will
no doubt leave audiences wanting more from this new
In a nice twist, Meneer plans
to have live music performed during pauses between ballets
as the dancers change costume. Before the performance
and during intermission,
wine will be available for sale. Refreshments will be
served as the audience leaves the theater, giving everyone
plenty of time to talk about the experience of watching
BTO and its dances. This level of detail and concern
for her audience is a good indication of Meneer’s
competence and leadership in her dance venture.
BTO will present three performances:
Feb. 3 at 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Feb. 4 at 2 p.m.
at the Akron Civic Theatre. Ticket prices range from
$20 to $35 and are available at the Civic Theatre Box
Office, by calling (330) 253-2488 or (330) 972-7570
and through TicketMaster at (330) 945-9400. A discounted
ticket offer is available at www.BalletTheatreOhio.org.
Roger Durbin is associate dean
and professor of bibliography for University Libraries
at The University of Akron and board director of the
Dance Critics Association. To contact him, e-mail email@example.com.