REVIEW of the Ballet project

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Constella "Improvisations" Mesmerizing

Mary Ellyn Hutton Posted: Nov 3, 2013 - 12:14:19 PM in reviews

Inspired was surely the word for the Constella Festival’s “Inspired Improvisations and Stravinsky” Wednesday evening (Oct. 30) in Harriet Tubman Theater at the Underground Railroad Freedom Center. The Constella-produced event featured dancers from Cincinnati Ballet in works choreographed by Heather Britt, James Cunningham and James Gilmer.

Two of the numbers featured world premiere choreography: Igor Stravinsky’s “Suite Italienne” for Violin and Piano, choreographed by Cunningham, and “Improvisation,” a three-part work inspired by surrealist poet Paul Éluard, with choreography by Cunningham, Britt and Gilmer, performed to improvisation by violinists Tatiana Berman and Eddy Kwon. A reading of Éluard’s poems preceded each episode of “Improvisation.”

Also on the program were “Habitual, 7.28.13” with music by Gabriel Gaffney Smith of BalletMet (Columbus), and “All Too Wonderful” (2009), a three-movement work by Peter Adam, both with choreography by Britt.

Framed with an installation of paper art by Sandra Gross, the show was literally as well as figuratively engrossing. The dancers performed in street clothing, which was complemented by Gross’ art, consisting of panels of vellum with patterns burnt into in, hung on steel frames at either side of the stage.

CB’s Cunningham and Sirui Liu led off with Britt’s “The Lover” from “Improvisation,” a happy, fanciful work picturing lovers in a variety of poses, danced to music of a neo-romantic cast, crafted to perfection by Berman and Kwon.

“Earth is Blue Like an Orange,” another “Improvisation,” was abstract by contrast. Cunningham’s athletic choreography received a strong interpretation by soloist Morwood, complete with touches of humor (including Monty Python-esque funny walks). Berman and Kwon’s playing matched it ideally, with lots of effects on their violins.

Gilmer’s “I Love You,” part three of “Improvisation,” was danced by Bausinger and Bodden. “You are the powerful sun arousing me . . .” Éluard wrote, and the choreography reflected that in moves that were ecstatic, though tinged at times with the pain love can bring. Coordination with violinists Berman and Kwon was highly emotive and again, totally amazing (I doubt Cincinnati has ever seen the like by a pair of classical musicians).

“Suite Italienne” brought CB dancers Joshua Bodden, Abigail Morwood, Danielle Bausinger, Gilmer and Liu to the stage for a series of ensembles and duets. Cunningham’s choreography was classic with a twist, with dancing that was animated as well as gentle, with striking use of the hands (lots of flat palms) and a jubilant finale. Berman gave Stravinsky’s music (drawn from his neo-classic ballet “Pulcinella”) a bright, characterful performance, accompanied by Elena Kholodova at the piano.

Britt’s “Habitual” was premiered on CB’s “Kaplan New Works” series in September at the Cincinnati Ballet Center. It is described as “a duet about feeling stuck and the attraction that we have as humans to repeat what is familiar.” Smith’s “7.28.13” – an electronic composition with a beat, rather like a heart pounding – began ominously, with Gilmer stepping backwards onto the stage. He met Touchet there and the two were ultimately joined in a tender embrace.

The concert ended with “All Too Wonderful” for the full ensemble. (Choreographer Britt worked in collaboration with Adams to create the work, one of several they have produced together.) It emerged as a series of duets and a spectacular solo by Cunningham that left one gasping. The vagaries of love were again portrayed -- one of the male dancers clutched at the air at one point as his partner withdrew. All’s well that ends well, however, and it did, with joyful, exuberant dancing by all.

This is a show that could go on the road. The crowd, which filled Harriet Tubman Theater nicely, was rapt with attention and expressed their enthusiasm repeatedly, rising to their feet at the end in a noisy, unanimous ovation.