Cooler temperatures don’t dampen Verb Ballets

By Kerry Clawson
Beacon Journal arts writer

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From left, Kara Madden, Chelsea Pyrch and Stephen James of Verb Ballets perform in Dark Matter by Tommie-Waheed Evans at Hardesty Park on Saturday. (Photo by Dale Dong)

Cooler temperatures in the high 60s didn’t stop Verb Ballets from performing Saturday night at the Heinz Poll Dance Festival at Hardesty Park. The company, did, however, shorten its program to present three of four planned dances.

About 400 turned out in damp weather and were rewarded when the rain held off and the company, based in Shaker Heights, presented a varied program that included frolicsome dance set to big band sounds, an elegant neoclassical pas de deux and a propulsive new contemporary work. Adapting to change was a must, as the company had already changed its lineup from its previously announced program to adjust for Stephanie Krise, who's recovering from a back injury but was able to perform in the revamped lineup.

Verb Ballets opened with the enduring crowd favorite Eight by Benny Goodman, a revival of the late choreographer Heinz Poll’s witty, glamorous, fun-loving 1992 work. Newer company members Stephen James, Chelsea Pyrch and Lieneke Matte as well as apprentice Ca’la Henderson embraced the grace and charm of the swing piece, which the company last performed in its eight-part entirety in March at the Akron Civic Theatre.

Glamorous women in long white gowns and debonair men in black tuxedos evoked the feeling of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers from their 1930s Hollywood film musicals with their beautifully expressive arms and gliding partnering. Kara Madden was more cute than vampy in her duet with Brian Murphy in I’m Nobody’s Baby but Krise brought a serene sensuality to her solo How Long Has This Been Going On.

The men of the company – Murphy, Stephen James, Or Sagi and Jarrod Sickles – were both smooth and wonderfully exuberant in Don’t Be That Way jumping together in full rotation and charming Matte, a wisp of a dancer dressed in a pink dress and pillbox hat.

Matte, who graduated with a BFA in dance from SUNY Purchase College in May, gave a thrilling performance in Verb’s next tribute to Poll, Andante Sostenuto, which she performed with Murphy. The exquisitely tender dance, a neoclassical pas de deux set to Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in D minor, was one of the high points of the program.

The fluid, ever-attentive Murphy made the delicately tiny Matte look weightless in lift after lift, as if she were floating on air. Trad Burns’ adaptation of the original lighting design by Thomas Skelton was exceptional, with the couple appearing to be bathed in golden light.

Andante sostenuto means moderately slow and sustained, and this dance of love had an unhurried, luxurious feel as Murphy lifted Matte off the floor on his back and next lifted her from the front in an embrace, she curled around him.

Both of the troupe’s Poll revivals were staged by associate director Richard Dickinson, a former Ohio Ballet dancer who owns the rights to the two dances.

The company cut the seven-minute piece Mozel Tov Mi Amigos Saturday night due to the cold, but audiences on Friday were able to see the work by Hollywood choreographer Daryl Gray.

Verb Ballets ended its Saturday performance with great contrast in Tommie-Waheed Evans’ new contemporary work Dark Matter, which it just premiered July 19 in Twinsburg. The piece is set to the pulsating music of Philadelphia composer Greg Smith, whose work festival audiences heard two years ago with another dance by Evans — a member of the PHILADANCO dance company — titled Ambiguous Drives.

Dark Matter started with a strain of the tune All You Needed Is Love, followed by the jolting sound of shattering glass. That was enough to make me jump as a male dancer fell down on his back while the rest of the company, including apprentice Toryon Abner, stood in a row upstage with their backs to the audience.

The full company was dressed in gray pants and black tank tops, the women wearing long ponytails and fiercely whipping their hair around throughout the dance. Clanging music morphed twice into organ music, Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D Minor.

Dancer Leslie Miller created an especially ferocious presence in this highly athletic dance that was so rhythmic, it sometimes sounded tribal. James was also a powerhouse, planting himself on all fours as Madden stood on his back.

The dance was one of perpetual motion, with ever-changing combinations of partners. A poem about love accompanied information on the dance in the program insert but this dance didn’t seem to be so much about love as it did a wild, passionate fierceness in a quest for connection.

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or

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