BWW Reviews: Classic and Modern Ballet Highlight POINTE OF DEPARTURE at Cleveland's Cain Park

When the Cleveland Browns snuck out of town in 1995, it left a void, but three years later the team was resurrected.  When the Cleveland San Jose Ballet waltzed to San Jose in 2000, another void was left in the city’s psyche. 

Unfortunately, there has been no resurrection, so the city is left with no professional ballet company. 

The void is sometimes filled when Dance Cleveland brings in a touring company whose specialty is classic dance, but that doesn’t provide a consistent diet for ballet aficionados. 

Locals had hoped that, due to their strong local ties, former Cleveland Ballet wunderkinds, Karen Gabay and Raymond Rodriguez, would make Cleveland the permanent home for Pointe of Departure, their small nonprofit ballet company, and grow it into a local treasure.  

Point of Departure originated here in 1998 as a collaboration between violinist Lev Polyakin, Assistant Concert Master for the Cleveland Orchestra, and Gabay. After sold-out performances at the Cleveland Museum of Art and the Cleveland Institute of Art, the collaboration got a name and a mission. Its purpose is to “erase the stereotypical antiquated image of classical ballet and launch it into the 22nd century as an art form in demand!”

Though still “based” in Cleveland, the company appears in other venues, performing locally once a year. Next week, for example, they will be bringing their repertoire to the Mountain View Center for the Performing Arts in the California south bay area. That performance will feature 16 Ballet San Jose dancers in contrast to the eight who recently performed at Cain Park.

The Cain Park concert consisted of seven pieces, four of which were Gabay’s choreography.  The rest were “after Petipa.”

Marius Petipa was a French ballet teacher and choreographer who is considered the most influential ballet master of all time. Many of his creations are used as the basis for other choreographers to stage works “anew.” These are traditionally listed in dance programs as “after Petipa.” 

Gabay’s own pieces were the highlights of the program. The evening started with a delightful Z BLUES, in which Rodriguez spent most of the number dancing with his feet in the air as he stood on his head, in white face, while Gabay attempted to be the classic female tutu-costumed ballerina. The short piece delighted the audience as the duo proved that even though they are past their prime as featured dancers, they can still grab, hold, and delight an audience.<

The rest of the first act were classical after Petipa selections. There was generally a lack of variety in the prescribed movements, making for little visual variance.

The young dancers sometime seemed overwhelmed by the complexity and required precision of the choreography. A late entrance, shallow pointe work, difficulty in freezing moves, uncertain lifts, and lack of confidence were sometimes evident. The most accomplished selection, LE CORSIRE, featured dynamic and talented Jing Zhang and proficient, high flying Damir Emric. The lovely Amy Marie Briones handled her role in BLACK SWAN Pas De Deux with proficiency and appeal.

The second act, dedicated to modern balletic and contemporary dance pieces, was highlighted by RUSSIAN BLUE, in which the entire company displayed free form movement, well fitted to their skill levels, resulting in a dynamic connection to the audience.  

Gabay and handsome gym toned Maykel Solas, combined to present a sensual selection which was both titillating and satisfying.   

The wonderful live violin interpretations by Lev Polyakin and pianist Elizabeth DiMio were a highlight of the evening.

Capsule judgement: Cleveland needs a resident ballet company. Though not world-class, Pointe of Departure would be a wonderful permanent addition to the local scene. It can only be wished that Gabay and her company will find the desire and financing to make their home here, permanent. 

Side note: Dennis Nahat, who served as the long time artistic director of the Cleveland Ballet and later the Cleveland San Jose Ballet, was dismissed as the Ballet San Jose’s artistic director earlier this year.

For information about the company go to:

Roy Berko is a member of the Dance Critics Association.


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Roy Berko Roy Berko, a life-long Clevelander, holds degrees, through the doctorate from Kent State, University of Michigan and The Pennsylvania State University. Roy was an actor for many years, appearing in more than 16 plays, 8 TV commercials, and 3 films. He has directed more than 30 productions. A member of the American Critics Association, the Dance Critics Association and The Cleveland Critics Circle, he has been an entertainment reviewer for more than twenty years.

For many years he was a regular on Channel 5, ABC-Cleveland's "Morning Exchange" and "Live on 5," serving as the stations communication consultant. He has also appeared on "Good Morning America." Roy served as the Director of Public Relations for the Volunteer Office in the White House during the first Clinton Administration.

He is a professor of communication and psychology who taught at George Washington University, University of Maryland, Notre Dame College of Ohio and Towson University. Roy is the author of 31 books. Several years ago, he was selected by Cleveland Magazine as one of the most interesting people in Cleveland.