July 2016 blog

Summer Dance Preview and a Look Ahead with Verb Ballets

Fri 7/22-Sat 8/13

There is lots of dance in Northeast Ohio this summer, much of it outdoors and free: scroll down for a schedule of what’s coming up.

We spoke with two guest artists who choreographed new dances for Verb Ballets. Jane Startzman filled us in on the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival (HPSDF), which includes dance classes for children and adults as well as the free outdoor performances. And more. Five, six, seven, eight, mark your calendars!

We met with choreographer Charles Anderson at the Verb studio prior to an open rehearsal. He’d been setting his piece on the Verb dancers for the last week in June, but Aposiopesis began long before that.

Charles Anderson: I started choreographing Aposiopesis some 20 years ago and it has been re-choreographed probably five times so it’s unique in that way. The first time that I choreographed it I was very inspired by the music by Michael Nyman. Every movement is in a different time signature, 5, 4, 6. Aposiopesis rolls around in our Company C repertoire every couple of years and it also gets performed by other companies, most recently Tucson Ballet.

CoolCleveland: Why the title?

Aposiopesis? My father was a freelance choreographer for most of his life and he was also into words. An aposiopesis is a sudden break in your train of thought. We’ve all had one, so we should all know what aposiopesis means. This music originally had many movements that ended abruptly, so that’s where the word and the ballet connect. Some of those movements have been cut but you’ll notice that there’s still a break in the middle of this piece and it’s a very important one because this ballet, if it’s about anything, is about one person — it happens to be a woman — struggling with difficult parts of herself. She’s emotional, she wants this and she wants that, the kind of emotion you go through when you’re young. All of the corps members are sides of herself, echoes of her personality. The leading male character is a stable person in her life. What would you say to yourself if you met your 14-year-old self?

A lot of character in this. Looking at the highlight video we thought it was an abstract ballet but it’s not.

When I was in New York City Ballet, I worked with Jerry Robbins for nearly 10 years. When you’re in a Balanchine ballet you feel like a cog in a perfectly ticking clock. But in a Robbins ballet it was always very human and you could almost see the landscape that he created. He’d say that we don’t need to know what you’re thinking but you have to be saying something for us to receive something. So what I’ve been telling these dancers all week is, they don’t need to tell me but they need to know why they’re walking over to this person, why they’re gesturing. They all have been creating their own personal stories that run through this.

We were going to ask you about your experience with Robbins, who was notorious for harsh interactions in rehearsal. We gather that old-school abusiveness has been put aside but there’s an essence of Robbin’s method that remains in your work.

You will never see another Jerry Robbins ballet because they won’t be the same without Jerry. He could be abusive in rehearsal but I was able to let it run off my back because I knew I was working with a genius and that we were going to get a fabulous, genius piece that I would be happy to say I was in. I think a lot of people didn’t understand that Jerry wanted you to come back at him with something. If he said, “What are you doing in this ballet?” he just wanted a very assertive answer. I could tell you Jerry stories all week long but I do feel I learned a lot from Jerry.

Watching a rehearsal of Aposiopesis, we saw Anderson channel Robbins without the abuse. He questioned the Verb dancers repeatedly in terms of their motivation and emotion. “What are you running toward?” he asked one dancer. “Don’t show the drama, be the drama,” he told another. The Verb dancers seemed to be dancing full out from the beginning but as the rehearsal progressed, the dancing gradually became much, much more dynamic and interesting under Anderson’s coaching. The movement vocabulary, as Anderson told the dancers, “Goes to ballet and then it goes past ballet.”