Verb Ballets premieres Hernando Cortez’s ‘Frontrow’ at Ohio Theatre

>Verb Ballets premieres Hernando Cortez’s ‘Frontrow’ at Ohio Theatre

Published: Thursday, January 24, 2008, 11:32 AM     Updated: Thursday, January 24, 2008, 11:36 AM
Verb Ballets dancers Jennifer Moll, left, Robert Wesner and Brian Murphy rehearse artistic director Hernando Cortez’s “Frontrow” for its world premiere Saturday at the Ohio Theatre.

Verb Ballets
What: The company performs the world premiere of artistic director Her nando Cortez’s “Frontrow,” set to mu sic by David Lang and Eric Ziolek, and revivals of works by Cortez and Heinz Poll.
When: 8 p.m. Saturday.
Where: Ohio Theatre, Playhouse Square, Cleveland.
Tickets: $18-$25. Call 216-241-6000. 

With a name like Verb Ballets, you might expect life to be extremely active. And you’d be right in the case of the energized Cleveland contemporary dance company. Verb is busily preparing for its performance Saturday at the Ohio Theatre, even as artistic director Hernando Cortez is contemplating his organization’s future. The national dance world is starting to take notice: Verb is one of five American groups featured in a Dance Magazine article next month titled “Great Tiny Troupes.”

Cortez, a former dancer with two noted New York companies (Eliot Feld, Paul Taylor), also is buoyed by the prospect that Verb soon could make its New York debut. He hopes to take his troupe to the Joyce Theatre, one of the Big Apple’s prime dance venues, in the 2009-10 season.
“We need a kick, a boost,” Cortez said during a break in rehearsal last week.
Not that Verb isn’t doing its utmost to continue providing Cleveland with healthy doses of kicks and otherwise. The company’s program this weekend will include the world premiere of Cortez’s “Frontrow,” a revised version of his “Songs” (set to Mahler’s “Songs of a Wayfarer” and excerpts from the Symphony No. 1) and revivals of Heinz Poll’s “Duet” and “Bolero.”
Inspiration for “Frontrow” came from “Cheating, Lying, Stealing” by American composer David Lang, one of the founders of Bang on a Can, the New York contemporary music group that commissions and performs new pieces. A sample of Lang’s post-minimalist score gave Cortez the idea to develop a ballet about movement vs. nonmovement, circles and audience perception.
The scenic design for “Frontrow” includes silver panels that briefly obscure the dancers and allow observers to see themselves, like the mirror in “Cabaret.”
“It’s the oldest trick in the book,” said Cortez.
He anticipates the silver panels will compel the audience to believe it’s missing something when a dancer disappears behind the reflective surfaces — just the effect Cortez intends.
“There’s a voyeur quality I like,” he said. “You can see something, but you’re too close, so there are some things you cannot see. The perspective from here is not ideal.”
As the dancers run “Frontrow” in rehearsal, Cortez’s notions of silence, counterpoint and virtuosity come into focus. The opening movement is full of sudden stops and starts, reflecting the abrupt silences in Lang’s score. It is a study of contrasts, including two women in pointe shoes and the others in bare feet.
The circular patterns of the second movement, again with dancers following one another, give way to the sinuous substance of the third movement (the only section set not to Lang’s music, but to Eric Ziolek’s “Verbtuosity,” written two years ago for the company). The finale explodes in a series of athletic, imitative gestures, with sudden slower sections.
“I’m trying to be as interesting as [Lang's] counterpoint,” said Cortez, “because he gets cacophonous. You can’t dance louder. To the untrained dancer, it would feel cacophanous.”
Suzy Campbell’s costumes for “Frontrow,” said Cortez, are “flirty ’50s bathing suits with a glimmer.” Campbell also has supplied new costumes for “Songs” that Cortez believes better illuminate the emotions in Mahler’s poetic, folk-inspired music.
Along with his tour plans for the distant future, Cortez is looking short-term. He’s adamant that his dancers, now independent contractors, will become employees before the end of the company’s fiscal year in June.
“We’re keeping it tight,” said Cortez of Verb, which has a budget this season of $360,000. “The dancers now have 26 weeks [of work]. We want 30 weeks.” 

Tags: Awards, choreography, Cleveland Repertory Project, Clippings, Cortez and Company, dance, Hernando Cortez, News and Reviews, Performance, Press, Reviews, Top, Verb Ballets

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