Rhythm on the River is a special performance for BalletMet. It is the one where we can connect most directly with our community. This season, our 45th anniversary and Artistic Director Edwaard Liang’s 10th season, we are especially grateful to those who support us and celebrate the joy of dance.
Hours before the start of the show, people begin to lay out their blankets and set up their folding chairs to enjoy the sunshine. These early viewers watch a quick warmup and rehearsal on the stage as the dancers mark through their steps to ensure a successful show. The park continues to fill up as the sun begins to set, young children running around and playing in the fountains. Finally, Artistic Director Edwaard Liang and Executive Director Sue Porter walk onstage to begin the night. The audience quiets, the stage lights change, and we enter the land of Oz.
From the first beckoning gesture of Victoria Watford as Glinda the Good Witch, the Emerald City scene from Dorothy and the Prince of Oz (coming to the Ohio Theatre in early February) is a riot of color, whimsy, and joy. Dancers flood onstage, whirling and twirling around each other to greet Jessica Brown as Dorothy, each costume more extravagant than the last. Every seat in the audience is the best seat to watch from; everywhere you look, something exciting is happening. The dancers, leaping, spinning, smiling, are exuberantly graceful, welcoming our community to another season with BalletMet just as they welcome Dorothy to Emerald City. One can’t help but grin all the way through until the last warm embrace between Dorothy and Glinda.
Dorothy rushes off and we move from vibrant Emerald City to the graveyards of Dracula. A hush falls over the audience. Caitlin Valentine skitters across the stage in the role of Lucy—cautious, yet determinedly curious, her pointe shoes carrying her back and forth in tiny delicate steps. We hardly notice David Ward’s—Dracula’s—entrance at first. He has Lucy lifted high up in the air before we even realize he is there, her back arched and her chest open to the sky. A spellbinding duet unfolds, stately lifts and teetering backbends enveloping Lucy in Dracula’s cape more and more with each moment, foreshadowing the dreadful bite that claims her as his own. But there is more to the story—and all will be told in the upcoming Dracula performances at the end of October.
Our second company, BalletMet 2, reminds us that not all is dark drama with the jazzy Bugle Boy. Quick footwork and plenty of character fill this piece. The dancers flit and flirt about in exaggerated pantomimes blended seamlessly with angular jumps and leaps. Sometimes they earn a boogie dance with a partner; sometimes they earn a slap!
Whether lighthearted or deeply dramatic, ballet is an art form that takes practice and hard work. Our Academy students show a glimpse of the dedication that performances like this require in Dance of the Hours. The uniformity, clean partnering, and the exactness of their pathways took hours in the studio to perfect. With pristine tutus and pointed feet, however, our students make it look effortless.
Our professional company returns to the stage once more with a section of Murmuration. In this work inspired by Ezio Bosso’s Violin Concerto #1 and the movements of starlings, Edwaard Liang’s choreography takes the classic lines of ballet and morphs them into something more organic but no less beautiful. The dancers flow through the space with an easy litheness, shifting between unity and individuality. One dancer moves—the violin sounds—and the rest break into an intricate pattern of weaving leaps and fluid rolls. Some of our new dancers shine in this work, Victoria Watford’s endlessly expressive port de bras* leaving trails behind her and Matoi Kawamoto’s effortless extensions lending a sense of breath to her movement. Here and there, brief solos emerge from the flock, until a gust of wind gathers them all back for a moment of order. The breeze shifts; a sweeping cascade runs through the dancers’ bodies, arms and legs and spines arcing through the air in a breathless flurry of a canon before billowing offstage.
As the illusion of feathers still drifts through the air, we return to classical ballet with two excerpts from Swan Lake. The sun has long set and the stage glows, the white tutus of our Academy students in the Four Cygnets gleaming under the stage lights. The four young dancers, arms interlaced, pick their way up and down the stage with professional precision. Sophie Miklosovic and Alvin Tovstogray then enter with the White Swan Pas de Deux. Tender embraces, delicate gestures, and softly daring dives show the developing relationship between the White Swan Odette and Prince Siegfried that forms Petipa and Ivanoff’s romantic tragedy Swan Lake (coming April 2023).
The quiet settles. Then the stage comes alive with Academy students and Trainees in the energetic Polonaise. Students burst off the floor in sautés* and sissonnes*, legs splitting and folding and splitting again to explode into the air. Group by group, youngest through oldest, our students quickly regain composure and take a moment to stroll through each other. A final burst of activity ends with a classic tableau*: some students kneeling, some students standing, some students posing in lifts, all smiling brightly.
Artistic Director Edwaard Liang comes back to introduce the final piece, a section of Tributary. Glowstick bracelets dot the audience in front of him, provided by BalletMet to children and adults alike. The stage lights glimmer off the river to the side.
Tributary draws on the best traditions of classical ballet to present a full-stage spectacle. BalletMet 2, Trainees, and Company dancers alike are seemingly unaffected by gravity or normal laws of physics as they bound through the air in leaps and spin endlessly en pointe*, pirouettes* and fouettés* ending perfectly balanced and with a high developpé* added for flair. It is a joyful celebration of the possibilities of the art form and all that BalletMet has to offer thanks to the support of our community. It will be part of the upcoming BalletMet at the Ohio, along with Murmuration.
We are so grateful to all who came on that Friday night. BalletMet is not BalletMet without those of you who come to our shows, take class with us, or show up in other ways. If you are interested in seeing more from us this season you are welcome at any of our upcoming performances. Our 45th anniversary has plenty to offer—and together, we will celebrate.
Port de bras: The movements of the arms and head
Sauté: A jump, often off one foot
Sissone: A jump pushing off both feet, splitting the legs in the air, and landing on one foot
Tableau: The picture on stage created by everyone holding a still pose
En pointe: Dancing on the tips of your toes, aided by pointe shoes
Pirouette: A turn
Fouetté: A turn where the leg whips out and back in
Développé: Bringing a foot to the opposite knee and then extending the leg up and straight
Written by Sara Wagenmaker