After watching Neos Dance Theatre perform a classical pas de deux, a neoclassical Heinz Poll ballet and three diverse contemporary pieces Friday night, one is left asking: Is there anything this company can’t do?
No matter how many new dancers Neos may bring into its fold, this troupe works together seamlessly as if all of its dancers have been performing together for a long time.
For the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival Friday and Saturday at Firestone Park, new guest artists John Allenback and Ethan Lee performed for the first time, along with the company’s full-time group of seven dancers and returning guest dancers Kristopher Wojtera and David Odenwelder.
The company’s high level of artistry is a tribute to the vision of Neos co-founders Bobby and Brook Wesner. The Mansfield-based company, which began performing at the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival three years ago, has been spreading its wings through numerous new collaborations throughout Northeast Ohio, including working with youth in Akron’s Lock 3 Summer Arts Experience this summer.
The troupe also will join forces with the University of Akron Dance Institute for a new full-length ballet, “Snow White and the Magic Mirror, a Grimm Tale,” in April.
Friday and Saturday, Neos presented its world premiere of “Spinning Plates,” choreographed by Bobby Wesner and set to the folk rock harp music of Nashville’s Timbre Cierpke.
The dance with the cool pop flavor and somber feel featured five couples all clad in black. The music’s darkly paradoxical lyrics included the phrases “freedom itself can enslave” and “but pain can be beauty, my dear.”
A duet between Bobby Wesner and Anna Trumbo became an intriguing balancing act, she leaning against him as if her body were a stiff pendulum, and he gently pushing her back into place as they danced in front of a projection of huge flowers.
The way this pair breathed in stillness between musical phrases was gripping. Their duet felt like a standoff at the end, with the pair circling each other, staring and exiting to opposite sides of the stage.
One of the most entertaining dances of the evening was Penny Saunders’ “Bonobo,” inspired by traveling tent shows of the vaudeville era. This backstage look at performers was created in 2012 for Hubbard Street 2 in Chicago by Saunders, a Hubbard Street dancer.
The dance started with Bobby Wesner in the spotlight doing some tap steps, followed by five other dancers stepping forward one by one to take a bow. The men wore suspenders, white tanks and khaki pants while the women wore white shorts and tan vests.
An eclectic score — from Argentine Astor Piazzolla’s bandoneon music Milonga to the French vocals of Barbara in La Jaconde — accompanies the dancers’ antics, which include pushing each other out of the way to get a look at themselves in an imaginary mirror and Allenback executing a fun-loving dance with his own hat to tango music.
In an unexpected section, the ladies [Erin Buck, Katie Edmonds and Juliana Freude] dance to only spoken words — a girl’s disjointed utterances that include the declaration: “It’s my goal in life — to fly.”
These vaudevillians have a bold competitiveness, with the three women yelling at each other and shimmying around the stage, and the group eventually coming together en masse to push each other over.
Shifting gears, Neos’ program began with the reprise of selections from Bobby Wesner’s Homage, a tribute to dance that the company premiered at the festival last year.
Bobby and Brooke Wesner presented a powerhouse couple partnering in this seven-person dance, set to lush soprano vocals in a piece by Hector Villa Lobos. The piece’s theme symbolizes rising from the ashes and dancing through all adversity, which Bobby Wesner said he sees as a parallel to dance on the rise throughout Northeast Ohio.
Finally, Neos favorite Jennifer Safonovs danced a heavenly slow Giselle pas de deux on pointe with Wojtera, who hails from the Louisville Ballet. The revered 1841 Romantic story ballet was set to choreography of Marius Petipa, Jean Coralli and Jules Perrot, and re-created by Safonovs’ husband, Jurijs Safonovs.
Safonovs, who began the dance alone at center stage, was visibly wobbly in her first arabesque Friday evening, but her second arabesque penchee, where she leaned deeply toward the ground, showed off her great strength.
In this lovely pas de deux between Giselle and her prince, one of the lasting images is of Wojtera kneeling, facing outward, with Safonovs leaning behind him in arabesque.
Safonovs continued her gorgeous pointe work with Wojtera in the late Poll’s “Summer Night,” one of his signature pieces from 1974 set to Chopin’s Concerto No. 1 in E minor. In this tender piece with two couples, including Brooke Wesner and Allenback, lifts look light as a feather and both couples move like liquid gold.
Breathtaking moments included Allenback lifting Wesner high into upside down splits and Wojtera finally kneeling before Safonovs as they embraced.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or email@example.com.