Verb Ballets honoring Poll with Akron Civic performance
|Shown is dancer Omar Humphrey during a rehearsal for Verb Ballets’ performance in honor of Heinz Poll Feb. 19 at 8 p.m. at the Akron Civic Theatre.|
|Photo: Mark Horning|
She recalls him sitting and watching the audition, “almost stern appearing.”
“I had heard tales that he was really strict but you really learned how to dance,” she said. “I was chosen to come back and I did meet him. He had the kindest, most beautiful twinkly, blue eyes, and he was so different in a way than what he appeared. He really was.”
Over a 40-year period, Startzman went from being one of Poll’s students to one of the first dancers in his Akron-based Ohio Ballet. Eventually she was the artistic administrator and company manager, working very closely with the esteemed choreographer.
When he died in 2006 at the age of 80, Poll gifted 18 of his ballets to others to license for future performances. Startzman was among those who received the rights to some works, and now she’s assisting as they are among those to be staged in a special Verb Ballets performance in honor of Poll’s 90th birthday year.
The performance will take place Feb. 19 at 8 p.m. at the Akron Civic Theatre, 182 S. Main St. Verb Ballets and dancers from The University of Akron (UA) will perform four Poll works as part of the special event.
The company, based in Shaker Heights, has a long association with Poll. Associate Director Richard Dickinson danced with Ohio Ballet under Poll’s direction and eventually served as Poll’s ballet master. Producing Artistic Director Margaret Carlson was part of the original student group gathered together to study from Poll when the Ohio Ballet was founded.
Highland Square resident Startzman owns “Elegiac Song” and is co-owner with David Fisher, a Fairlawn resident who was Ohio Ballet’s musical director, of “Songs Without Words.” Both works will be performed, along with “Bolero” and “Duet.”
Startzman said Poll’s works created for the Ohio Ballet have some commonalities.
“Because Heinz was building a company and building dancers, too, he choreographed a lot of things that were vehicles for us to learn,” she said.
Born in Germany in 1926, Poll trained at the Folkwang School, drawing on skills he developed in childhood as a competitive ice skater. He performed with German companies but joined the National Ballet of Chile after World War II. He spent two years with a French ballet company before coming to the U.S. in 1961.
Startzman said Poll’s background, particularly coming of age in Germany during World War II, also influenced his work.
“They are not pretty in pink, little fluffy pieces,” she said. “They are thought provoking.”
She described the works being performed this month, with the exception of “Duet,” as dark.
“Many of his movements are not exactly pretty and soft and ballet-ic but they are dramatic,” she said. “They are signature movements that hearken back to German expressionism, or Martha Graham-esque angular movements.”
In Ohio, Poll founded the Chamber Ballet, an eight-member student company that developed into Ohio Ballet. When he came to Akron, dance was not exactly one of the thriving arts here, Startzman said.
“We didn’t have E.J. Thomas; we didn’t have Ohio Ballet; we didn’t have a dance department in a college,” she said. “He had to teach us everything.”
Poll also brought dance to new audiences through Ohio Ballet’s free summer performances, a legacy that lives on through the City of Akron’s Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, of which Startzman is the director. She added she’s in the midst of scheduling dance companies for this year’s festival, which features four weekends of free dance performances in Akron.
Tying in to the Civic performance is Verb Ballets’ residency this month with the UA Department of Dance, the original home of Ohio Ballet. Verb Ballets will incorporate UA dance students and community dancers into some of the works.
Startzman said she’s happy to be part of the remembrance of Poll. Out of the four works to be presented, she danced in all except “Bolero.”
“It means a lot to me to be able to watch and reminisce,” she said.
Tickets are $32 for preferred seating, $27 for center seating, $22 for side seating or $12 for students and are available from the Akron Civic Box Office at 330-253-2488 or akroncivic.com. For more information, visit www.verbballets.org.
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