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Cleveland Ballet: A Look Back

November 14, 2018
Victor Lucas

We don’t always write a review of a dance concert that we’ve previewed. If we get the preview right, there’s little left to say. That was largely how we felt after the Friday 10/19/2018 performance of Momentum, Cleveland Ballet’s new music visualization of Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto no. 1 in G minor. Yes, the dancers performed the speedy steps well and yes it was certainly eye-opening to see all those talented new dancers, but in the Ohio Theater we were also more aware of the interweaving of small groups of dancers, a compositional strategy that spoke to the complexity of the choreography as well as the ability of all the dancers – company members and apprentices alike – to shine when their moment came. (More about the choreographer herself later.)

After Momentum, the concert continued with Le Corsaire Pas de Trois, a dance we did not see for the preview. As we explained in the preview, Corsaire is usually excerpted as a pas de deux but Cleveland Ballet points out that it is arguably a pas de trois. Pirate chief Conrad loves Medora but delegates the task of partnering her to Ali, his slave, because the role of Conrad was originally a mime role.

So, how did the pas de trois look on the Ohio Theater stage? Rainer Diaz’ first entrance as Conrad – a spectacular, scissoring aerial tour to the knee – immediately scuttled any suspicion that his Conrad would be a mere mime role. Not that there was a shortage of gesture in this Corsaire Pas de Trois. As is appropriate to the scenario but usually glossed over by contemporary performances, there’s an intricate but clear back-and-forth between Diaz’ Conrad and Jonas Godwin as Ali with Ali asking permission before each partnering passage with Medora and Conrad granting that permission. The master / slave hierarchy that the scenario calls for is completely clear.

Despite his deference, Godwin’s technical mastery crushed every challenge that the pas put before him. His big lifts, promenades, and jumps were all excellent but we were particularly impressed by his turns. This juxtaposition of technical mastery with social deference – totally appropriate to the role of Ali — was a surprise that Godwin worked on us again in the last ballet of the evening, Provocativo. Just when we were about to look past him as a callow youth, Godwin amazed us with polished technical achievement.

Watching Nashializ Gomez as Medora in Corsaire and in her other performances, we always suspect that she’s just about to bubble over in a girlish giggle. Hers is a stage persona that’s perfect for Medora, a character who is blithely and triumphantly unconcerned with her enslavement. (Have you, dear reader, ever seen the American Ballet Theater production of the entire Corsaire? It is at once a strange, funny, and wildly politically incorrect ballet.) But, beyond her characterization, Gomez was also fearless in lifts and totally secure in her turns, with speedy steel pointes and elegant high extensions! All this and she’s still an apprentice, as is Kaela Ku who danced Medora for the Saturday matinee. Hmm. Apprentices performing principal roles. At the very least this speaks to this company’s depth.

We wrote about Anna Dobbins’ and Andy Sousa’s Don Quixote Pas de Deux in our preview so we have little to add here. Only to note that for the Ohio Theater performance the level of difficulty in parts of Sousa’s variation was turned higher than he could comfortably execute. This was a choice as unnecessary as it was unfortunate. Performers and their coaches take all kinds of liberties with classical show pieces, raising and lowering the level of difficulty as it suits the occasion. At the Ohio Theater we saw Sousa gather himself with great determination — and succeed — but we’d rather have seen him and his coaches turn down the level of difficulty just a little so he could succeed with the elegance and aplomb that he brought to the rest of his dancing that evening.

We saw Provocativo in open rehearsal and wrote about it in our preview but from the moment the curtain went up on the opening tableau in the Ohio Theater, we were swept away. The Buenos Aires nightclub scene that choreographer Gladisa Guadalupe had described in her program note glittered before our eyes. The 5-member musical ensemble buzzed and hummed seductively through a playlist of Astor Piazzolla’s greatest hits. As the 17 dancers performed the many large and small group dances – like Momentum, the choreography for Provocativo wove a rich and complex tapestry — they mimed their social interactions, variously searching for love and flirting. There’s youthful Godwin getting brushed off by one woman after another; one woman seems briefly interested in him but Luciano Perotto immediately steals her away.

We already mentioned Perotto’s specialty dance — Valdez handstand, back flip, and all — in our preview but in the Ohio Theater we were more aware of how his solo segued into a duet with Gomez and then a double pas de deux with Nicole Fedorov and Godwin. As this passage progressed, the ensemble added a clapping cadence and the audience joined in.

Our preview also failed to mention how Provocativo presents the perfect choreographic metaphor for the search for a romantic partner. In one passage, a single file of men faces the audience and one man at a time peels off so that we briefly see each man as an individual. Later the women perform their own version of this passage. Now, dear readers, we in North America tend to look at everything from south of the Rio Grande with gimlet eyes. Ah those Latinxs! Always flirting! But consider how often this choreographic metaphor for the search for love – broadly speaking, a round robin in which each individual man dances briefly with each individual woman — appears in square dances, contra dances, and Scottish country dances. Flirting, with varying degrees of subtlety, is a universal human activity.

So, what’s the take away? Kudos to Cleveland Ballet for adding excellent, talented dancers to their roster. We hope that they will stay long enough for us to get to know them. And kudos to Guadalupe for these two solidly entertaining works, Momentum and Provocativo. Yes, we know she’s choreographed before, but these are a step forward. Cleveland Ballet successfully adds something new every time. Here’s hoping the Cleveland dance audience continues to support them.