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Cincinnati Ballet - Come Together Festival

‘Rainbow Round My Shoulder,’ ‘Amazed in Burning Dreams,’ ‘Nosotros’

by S.E. Arnold

March 19-24, 2004 -- Procter & Gamble Hall, Aronoff Center, Cincinnati, Ohio

While the troubled humanity depicted in the exhibit presently on display in the new spaces of the Contemporary Arts Center in downtown Cincinnati, “Crimes and Misdemeanors: Politics in U.S. Art of the 1980s,” is easy to see, its art, however, is not. Across the street, yet aesthetically worlds apart, the humanity in the three works given by the Cincinnati Ballet in its annual Come Together Festival at the Aronoff Center was also easy to see, as was its art.

In addition to the bond of subject matter, however, one found in the idiom of collage a formal link between the two art worlds – a link, moreover, that offered a gateway into the Festival’s exhibition of dance art. Like the overwhelming abundance of a supermarket’s ordered forms that nevertheless shout their competing messages all at once, so did the dwarfing collages that glutted the walls of the Contemporary Arts Center with disturbing, difficult, and intimate images of self-destructive humanity shout their competing protests all at once. In contrast, however, a collage of rehearsal and run through photographs taken by Rene Micheo, IT Manager for and former principal dancer with the Cincinnati Ballet and a featured choreographer, graced the back stage bulletin boards and pictured the spirit of the Festival program. The photographs, for example, caught humans in the intimate and cooperative moments of making art – moments, which in performance highlighted talent familiar, new, and undiscovered in the company.

A brace of pictures, for instance, caught apprentice Jennifer Drake in her solo from Macheo’s “Nosotros.” Other pictures featured corps member Kelly Ann Sloan who, picked by Donald McKayle, danced the only female role in “Rainbow Round My Shoulder.” Another photo captured the impotent rage, grief, regret, and defiance expressed by the exposed and chiseled body of Mike Wardlaw from “Rainbow Round My Shoulder.” Still others caught Andrey Kasatsky, Anthony Krutzkamp, Dmitri Trubchanov, Zack Grubbs, and Benjamin Wardell, or Mishic Marie Korn, Kristi Capps, and Cheryl Sullivan in grinning and thoughtful moments praying, one suspects, to the Goddess of Endurance for the ‘runner’s high’ that will save them from hitting the wall of exhaustion they are liable to meet in Kirk Peterson’s “Amazed In Burning Dreams.”

Works spilling beyond their conventional spaces marks another link between the Contemporary Arts Center and the Ballet. For example, on the theatre side of the street a derelict delivery truck plopped on its side rests at the margin of sidewalk and a corner park. A sign on the junk alerts passers-by not to worry- “this is a piece of art.” Inside the theatre, a mere footstep away from the wreck, Maestro Carmon DeLeone, Music Director of the Cincinnati Ballet, loosened from his conducting duties, entertained intermission audiences with his well brass-ed, fully sax-ed, fluted, and more jazz band - the Maestro on drums.

Additionally, the cooperative spirit inherent in the Come Together Festival brought attention to people whose efforts are always seen but hardly noticed. Thyra Hartshorn, the Production Stage Manager, for example, in addition to calling the shows helped design the costumes for “Nosotros.” Moreover, neat theatrical affects designed by Lighting Designer Trad A. Burns such as legs flying out to reveal and transition the cast from one section of “Nosotros” to another smoothed over some of the work’s quirky and mood disrupting abruptness.

Danced with slippered feet and costumed in black bicycle-ware divided vertically with wide white stripes, Micheo built “Nosotros” from an eclectic range of movement that referenced MTV, ballet, and much in between. Although the dance space seemed dominated by its cast of 12 female and 7 male dancers, “Nosotros” included a pas, solos, and featured separate dances for men and women. And, Micheo set his work to music by Philip Chambon, “Transcendental,” Michael Whalen, Guem and Zap Mama. (“Nosotros” and “Amazed in Burning Dreams” were performed to recorded music, thus freeing the Maestro for his two intermission and post performance ‘gigs.’)

To say that Donald MacKayle’s “Rainbow Round My Shoulder” powerfully speaks, or more importantly, shows “man’s inhumanity to man” simply acknowledges the obvious. Ignoring the good counsel offered by the obvious to be silent, however, one wants, nevertheless, to recognize the live performance given by the Shelby Walker Male Chorus of the Allen Temple A. M. E. Church as a source of “Rainbow’s” rhetorical force. Additionally, one thinks that the once and future success of “Rainbow” springs from the narrative tradition of the Modern American Dance ethos that spawned it. Moreover, even if the traditional chain gang songs were sung in nonsense syllables, the clarity of the marriage between movement and music makes the incidents depicted, the array of feelings experienced by the men in the chain gang, and the moral horror of their situation unequivocal.

”Amazed in Burning Dreams,” choreographed by Kirk Peterson and set on seven each male and female dancers to cues from the Glass score for the film, “Mishima,” complements the affective force of Rainbow’s narrative with the affective force of, for the lack of a better word, an ‘abstract’ ballet. In fact, the musical language that so aptly pictures the spiritual yearning of Kundun or the burning dream of the poet Mishima, for example, binds to Peterson’s choreography. The resulting compound of form and feeling in “Amazed in Burning Dreams” denies any possibility of the ‘disinterested regard’ inherent in the word ‘abstract.’

The ceaseless drive of its ever-changing chains of note pitches and values and the steady rise in dynamics and pitch coupled with its Wagnerian escape and cascade of notes carries one to within sight of the rainbow bridge rather than into Valhalla. Moreover, the choreography reflects the stepwise motion and rhythmic aspects of the music in, for example, the tightness and volume of its small steps, the abundance of its jumps, beating movements, whirling or thrusting gestures, its continuous exchange and interplay of odd and even numbered groups of dancers, and its canonical writing. Thus the always-in- motion “Amazed in Burning Dreams” intensifies rather than pacifies one’s spiritual want.

In terms of performance, however, one wanted for nothing. In fact, in the Come Together Festival the efforts of the seen and unseen members of the Cincinnati Ballet engaged one’s aesthetic and other sensibilities in every space possible.

Edited by Jeff.

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