Review: BREAKING BALLET World Premiere Shatters Preconceptions of Dance

By: Oct. 05, 2015
BalletMet dancer Jarrett Reimers. Photo Credit: Jennifer Zmuda

The world premiere of BalletMet's "Breaking Ballet" thrust audiences into a world where the music of Cyndi Lauper, the tradition of classical ballet and the serendipity of urban romance converged on the same stage within a single two-hour program.

Although these offerings might seem like a potpourri of various ideas and styles, the result was a sampling of the stunning diversity of the art of dance. The ever-changing ambiance on stage guaranteed that there was something for everyone in attendance.

Broken into three acts separated by two intermissions, "Breaking Ballet" opened with the music of 1980s pop rock icon Cyndi Lauper, whose radio hits "Girls Just Want to Have Fun," "Time After Time" and "All Through the Night" provided a synth-heavy soundtrack that accompanied the dances performed on stage.

The nine-song performance, choreographed by James Kudelka, was more indicative of a show experienced in a smoke-filled concert hall than a ballet performance at Columbus' Capitol Theatre. Flashing colored lights and 80's-inspired outfits added to the music venue vibe.

The concept of Kudelka's "Girls Just Wanna Have Fun" effectively broke down the barriers of how ballet is normally viewed. Indeed, the dancers' movements in songs like "The World is Stone" and the encore number, "Who Let in the Rain," effectively showcased the skill seen in traditional performances, yet the addition of Lauper's well-known songs made the show more approachable to newcomers to the world of professional dance.

Although the show was undoubtedly novel and intriguing, there was a sense of repetitiveness toward the end of the first act. Perhaps only two of the four additional songs added to the original five dances performed in the workshop version of the suite would have been more effective.

Following the first intermission, the curtain opened to a very different scene. "Distant Cries," a performance choreographed by BalletMet Artistic Director Edwaard Liang and underscored by Tomaso Albinoni's Oboe Concerto #2 in D minor, Op. 9 (II: Adagio), introduced viewers to a quieter, more intimate world on stage.

In keeping with the theme of traditional ballet performances, the music of Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto Op. 75 in E-flat Major provided the accompaniment for what Liang called a "13-minute crash course in classical ballet" in his pre-show opening address to a crowd that filled almost every seat on Friday night. "Allegro Brillante," choreographed by George Balanchine and first performed in New York in 1956, highlighted the quintessential aspects of what people expect to see when spending the evening watching a ballet performance. All of this was done in a condensed timeframe that amazed and inspired all in attendance.

The evening concluded with another piece choreographed by Liang. "Dancing in the Street," as detailed in the program notes, was "supported by a 2015 Columbus Performing Arts Prize and The Performing Arts Innovation Fund, underwritten by The Columbus Foundation, the Cardinal Health Foundation, George Barrett and other anonymous donors." Liang was one of five artistic directors selected as the first recipients of the Columbus Performing Arts Prize.

Featuring two ProMusica musicians, Katherine McLin (violin) and Marc Moskovitz (cello), who performed live on stage, "Dancing in the Street" combined contemporary instrumental compositions with David Bowie and Mick Jagger's 1985 version of Martha and the Vandellas' song of the same name.

Fast-paced dancing was paired with a rainbow of jewel-toned dresses, pants and shirts in an imaginative romance story that played out under the yellow pools of light from a bustling metropolis' street lamps.

Some might say the fact that no consistent theme tied the three acts of "Breaking Ballet" together could be seen as a disappointment, especially for those who desire a concrete story arc, but it would be hard to find someone who was not touched by at least one dance included in BalletMet's opening show of the 2015-16 season. With shows like "Dracula," "Sleeping Beauty" and the holiday favorite "The Nutcracker" all planned for the company's upcoming season, BalletMet has plenty of plot-based stories to appease those desiring a more traditional performance. "Breaking Ballet" was meant to break down boundaries that shape how the public views ballet, and it did just that.

"Breaking Ballet" is set to be performed from Oct. 2 - 10 at the Capitol Theatre, located in the Vern Riffe Center at 77 S. High St. Tickets are available via Ticketmaster.

Photo Credit: Jennifer Zmuda

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