Shake It: Fit Works

Cincinnati Ballet stretches out in New Works

Mark Bowen

(L-R) Leigh Lijoi, Jennifer Drake and Dawn Kelly expand their arms and their range in New Works.

Cincinnati Ballet's New Works offers what its name suggests: six accomplished choreographers, four world premieres and a couple of Cincinnati premieres. All are, to varying degrees, more contemporary in style and flavor than the purely classical work ballet patrons typically expect. With this production being presented on the company's home turf, the Ballet readily stretches out into venturesome territory with ease and comfort (as much as dancing allows!)

The works are modern enough to break the ballet mold, but not so heavily conceptual that the ideas overshadow the dancers' near-flawless technique. The choreography showcases their impressively expanding range — much to the audience's delight, judging by the glowing response on opening night.

The intimacy of the Ballet's Mickey Jarson Kaplan Performance Studio dovetails nicely with personal, emotionally expressive works. I had imagined this advantage would be demonstrated in Lynne Taylor-Corbett's 9/11-themed Lost and Found, but its content fell short, packing little emotional punch. The dancers spend too much time standing in place while few display evident grief or terror, leading to a sense of inconsistency or even disengagement. They take turns moving alone or in pairs, with the always-elegant partnering of Adiarys Almeida and Joseph Gatti standing out as a touching highlight. In an odd passage, Almeida, or perhaps her spirit, bourrées (moves in tiny steps en pointe) across the length of the stage.

Admittedly 9/11 is no easy subject to tackle, but I hungered to feel something more: empathy, sorrow.

Fortunately, the action-packed balance of the program more than makes up for this.

Artistic Director Victoria Morgan's Journey presents a breathtaking, breathless display of non-stop technical precision and talent. The stylish whirlwind duet certainly maximizes Jay Goodlett and Mishic Marie Corn's formidable skills, but it verges on too much of a good thing: I longed for some moments of stillness and balance. If the projected backdrop of a changing series of lush forest photographs had remained static, it might have been a less tempting distraction.

Focus lends a key element to Traces, easily the evening's most experimental piece. Weight and tension are at the foreground of this compelling movement study. Dressed in appropriately minimalist, all-black costumes, the dancers shift ably and elegantly between graceful balletic technique and angular, even awkward forms. Underscored by stark, tonal accordian music, the intriguing movement vocabulary was remarkably well executed by four of the company's fine principal dancers. Sometimes the women remain frozen as the men lift them, as if they transform into props. After being "placed," Kristi Capps slowly pitches back into an uncomfortable-looking hinge position, knees bending while nearly pigeon-toed in her soft slippers. It's decidedly un-ballerina-like, but that's the point.

In a creative multimedia touch, slashes would periodically appear on a projected abstract black-and-white image, marring its surface threateningly. Handclaps within their movements also punctuate the moody landscape's subtle beauty.

At the end, the quartet gathers around the edges of a rectangle of white light, one by one tentatively reaching out over it (and into the light), as though testing the parameters of safety. Heavy stuff.

The roaring finale, Kirk Peterson's Javelin, features the 10-strong (and I do mean strong) male dancers epitomizing classical Greek ideals of Olympic-caliber athleticism tempered by unsurpassed grace and elegance. Newly-promoted Principal Dancer Cervilio Amador's exceptional skill astounds. His relaxed-looking yet immaculately controlled pirouettes and light-as-a-feather leap landings — particularly after countless multiple tours en l'air — always thrill. I don't use the expression tour de force lightly, but this explosive work hit the mark.

The only soft elements were the dancers' landings — and the minimal, fluttery white loincloths. Hard bodies launch like rockets into endless leaps, spot-on spins and formations in this powerhouse display of raw energy. A huge ovation swiftly followed. Olympic athletes should be so lucky. Grade: B+

NEW WORKS, presented by Cincinnati Ballet, continues through Sunday.

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