A Stellar Gala of International Dance Stars

You know it’s going to be a good Gala when you get chills down your spine within the first five minutes — the first act, no less. Marshall Davis, Jr.’s “Summertime in Cincinnati” kicked off a stellar show with his knock-em-dead tap dancing to the sounds of Lonia Lyle’s lovely vocals and Christopher Lyle’s electric bass. Gershwin’s “Summertime” has seldom sounded so good.

And the thrills kept coming. Aim cincinnati — aim stands for arts innovation movement, the organization formerly known as ballet tech Cincinnati — presented its 10th annual Gala of International Dance Stars at the Aronoff Center Aug. 13.—-

There were many memorable moments, but in informal blog style, I’ll highlight a few.

A longtime Gala favorite and former Complexions dancer with ties to Donald Byrd, dancer/choreographer Jamal Story (pictured) wowed the audience once again in both a sensual aerial duet (with Spectrum Dance Theater’s Kylie Lewallen) and a powerhouse solo. Set to Sarah Vaughn’s smooth vocals, Story’s seamless “Loss Remix” solo took his stage presence to new heights — literally. All of a sudden, Story’s tall frame leaped skyward and dove, swan-dive style into the stage … only to smoothly roll out and recover. The audience gasped audibly. (A prominent figure in the Cincinnati dance scene later commented that Story had jumped so impossibly high, it almost looked as if he were on strings — though he wasn’t.) Adrenaline, anyone?

Also on the modern side, American Ballet Theater’s Misty Copeland and Matthew Prescott (now an independent dancer) delivered an achingly tender duet, set to Ingrid Michaelson’s version of the classic “Can’t Help Falling in Love.”

Its sweeping romantic splendor and flawless partnering swept the audience off its feet … and right into a standing ovation. “Falling in Love” indeed!

It was a welcome change of pace to see a couple of pieces featuring ensemble casts this year, as opposed to the Gala’s usual format of duets and a few solos. Ensemble dancers from New York City-based Ballet Noir presented the a couple of the evening’s most modern and innovative works, choreographed by Corey Baker. The eight dancers in “New Prophets” gave their all, exploding forth in high-impact neon multicolored costumes (complete with occasional black lighting) and passionate energy, bringing an electrifying, satisfying conclusion to the show’s first act. You did get the sense they were indeed New Prophets heralding a new fresh-feeling, free-form style. What a feeling.

“Childhood Memories,” Ballet Noir’s second-act installment, served up a delightful, playful trio playing kid characters in fun, fresh, theatrical vignettes with some undercurrents of tension. Dance and drama melded seamlessly here.

On the classical ballet end of the spectrum, New York City Ballet’s Daniel Ulbricht and former Bolshoi ballerina Olga Pavlova shone brightly, epitomizing the form. As her name suggests, Pavlova is a quintessential Russian ballerina, striking the perfect balance of strength and grace while making the most technically demanding moves look so effortless and easy. Ulbricht’s tall, regal physique makes his flawless fluidity and astounding leaps and pirouettes all the more impressive.

And speaking of pirouette prowess — and all-around technical and stylistic excellence — Cincinnati Ballet’s Cervilio Amadro and Janessa Touchet really brought home the goods both in Viktor Kabaniaev’s cool contemporary “Remix 03 Pas de Deux,” previously performed the Ballet’s New Works a few years back, and the rousing, crowd-pleasing Le Corsaire pas de deux.

The production’s primary downside was that it’s just one night only. Not only would I have returned to see the show again, I would have sent as many friends as possible to see it. So if you weren’t there — and judging by the regrettably rather-less-than-packed attendance, most of you weren’t — let’s just say you missed one hell of a show.

(Photo by Dan Ledbetter. )

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