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Verb Ballets presents uneven evening of dance; dance previews

Roy Berko

(Member, Dance Critics Association)

Verb Ballets’ SUMMER SERIES, recently danced on the stage of the Evans Amphitheatre at Cain Park, was a mélange of dance styles.  Salsa, traditional ballet, and contemporary dance forms were features of the evening.

MOZEL TOV MI AMIGOS, choreographed by Hollywood’s Daryl Gray, opened the program.  Supposedly intertwining the influences of Jewish and South American cultures, it featured the music of Larry Harlow, known for fusing jazz and Puerto Rican salsa.  It was billed as an exploration of sounds that evolved from the Jews who fled the expulsions of Spain and Portugal to the New World.

The concept appears to be a take-off on “Mazeltov, Mi Amigos,” which was a strong 1960s movement by a group of young Latinos, mainly Ray Barreto and Charlie Palmieri,  which combined traditional Yiddish and Hebrew music with a Latin infusion.  It fell out of favor, but has recently had a rebirth in the Jewish-Hispanic areas in Florida.

The Gray-Harlow dance version was missing the Jewish influence both in dance style and musical sounds.

The dancers, especially the male members, showed little understanding of the language of the Salsa dance form.   Salsa dancers move with an 8-count rhythm, shifting weight while keeping the upper body level which causes the hips to gyrate, while incorporating distinct arm and shoulder movements in time to fast, heavily accented music.   Many of these dancers tended to sway and move their arms in flowing balletic motions, rather than quick snap of Salsa.

The circle formations, which may have been Gray’s attempt to duplicate the Hora, were generally ragged, with unequal spacing between the dancers and lacked the footwork that would have separated it from the Salsa moves.  Even if well executed, the Hora is Israeli and Eastern European, not Hispanic Jewish.

Harlow’s music, though well conceived in the Latin beat, was missing the cantorial and Sephardic Jewish sounds.

The overall effect was more “oy vey” (“woe, is me”) than Mazeltov (“congratulations”).

ANDANTE SOSTENUTO was an excellent Heinz Poll classic ballet.  Brian Murphy, the strongest male dancer in the company, has strong balletic skills.  Having danced with Poll’s Ohio Ballet, he is familiar with the nuances that makes Poll’s choreography compelling and uniquely his.

Murphy exquisitely partnered Stephanie Krise, who showcased excellent point-work and body control.  Danced to Mendelssohn’s “Second Movement Piano Concerto #2, in D minor,” the lush sounds of the music were accented by the dancers smooth movements.

DARK MATTER, a contemporary piece choreographed by Tommie-Waheed Evans, was danced to the sounds of Greg Smith, as designed by Jordan Shannon.

The dynamic athletic choreography mirrored the atonal sounds.  Movement patterns were often complicated, and seemed beyond the abilities of some of the male dancers, who had difficulty forming parallel lines and co-ordinate moving both hands and bodies as a unit.  Though overly long, the overall effect of the controlled chaotic piece overshadowed some of the dancers’ weaknesses.

Trad Burns’ lighting highlighted the movement and sound textures.   Leslie Miller’s featured dancing was extremely well executed.

PASSING, by Cleveland dancer and choreographer Antonio Brown, was a contemporary dance piece combining modern, classical, gymnastic, and jazz styles of movement.

The movements were nicely lit by Trad Burns who painted rectangular spots of light on the floor into which the dancers moved in and out with creative results.

Brown is maturing as a choreographer as can be noted by his increased use of a variety of movements and texturing of action, though he still has too much walking, almost like he can’t figure out to do with the dancers between their action segments.

Verb has a consistently excellent women’s corps.  It needs to reexamine its stable of male dancers.  Besides Brian Murphy, who is reaching the upper age level of dancers, the males are generally not consistent and often show performance weaknesses.

Capsule judgement:  Verb Ballets’ SUMMER SERIES was, with the exception of the opening number, a pleasant, if not compelling evening of dance.

Dance previews:

GROUNDWORKS DANCE, presents Cain Park Summer Series, August 16, 17 @ 7 p.m., August 18 @ 2 p.m., Alma Theatre.  Program includes a world premiere of an Amy Miller piece, and “My Hummingbird on the High Line,” a commissioned work by Doug Elkins and “Before with After” by Artistic Director David Shimotakahara. (

VERB BALLETS, September 28, 2013, “Highlights from the summer repertory and previews of works by Verb Dancers, Akron Civic Theatre; October 11-12, @ 7 p.m. World Premiere, SOLDIER’S PROJECT FRESH INVENTIONS @ Dobama Theatre @8.  (

DANCE CLEVELAND, presents BALLET X on October 5 @ E. J. Thomas Hall, University of Akron @ 8 p.m.  “Ballet X .  . . captures the push and pull of relationships in sweeping partnered phrases.”  (