When Cleveland native Antonio Brown was a little boy, he used to stand in front of the TV and mimic music videos. His mother, Lisa Brown, picked up on his theatricality and enrolled him in the former Newton D. Baker performing arts school in third grade.
Now, Brown is a professional dancer with the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company in Harlem and is choreographing for schools and troupes across the nation. His 2012 work Passing By will be part of Verb Ballets of Cleveland’s FUSE! Program at 8 p.m. Saturday at the Akron Civic Theatre.
Attending the Cleveland School of the Arts for high school solidified Brown’s future as he studied ballet technique, modern dance and jazz.
“I chose dance [as a high school arts focus] because I felt like I had the most fun doing dance,’’ he said.
After high school graduation, Brown, now, 30, studied dance at Juilliard, graduated in 2007 and headed right to work with the renowned Bill T. Jones, a politically provocative African-American choreographer who won a Tony Award for choreographing Spring Awakening.
Brown never forgot his beloved high school, returning often to choreograph for the students there. That’s where Margaret Carlson, director of Verb Ballets, saw his work in 2010 at the invitation of teacher Terrence Greene, who also was an artist in residence for Verb. Carlson commissioned Brown to create Continuum for Verb in 2011, followed by last year’s Passing By, which is now making its Akron debut.
Brown, a modern dancer, said the first time he choreographed for Verb, it took some time to get used to the dancers’ personalities, how they moved and how they worked. Finding their chemistry was a lot like a first date, he said.
Passing By was inspired by the crowded city of New York, where strangers don’t talk to each other but can connect on a certain level by making eye contact, Brown said. In his dance, a central couple comes in and out of contact with each other, displaying both hard and soft qualities and ranging from warm to confrontational.
Brown will be traveling with his company this weekend and will not attend the Civic Theatre program. But Northeast Ohio audiences may remember him as Frederick Douglass in Jones’ Fondly Do We Hope … Fervently Do We Pray, a dance devoted to Abraham Lincoln that the Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company performed in Cleveland in 2010.
Verb’s Akron program, which highlights the evolution of contemporary choreography in the last 35 years, also will honor the late Heinz Poll, founding artistic director of the Ohio Ballet, with his Andante Sostenuto and Duet, choreographed in the neoclassical style of George Balanchine.
The ballet company’s goal is to highlight the next generation of African-American composers with Brown’s work as well as Tommie-Waheed Evans’ Dark Matter, created this year and performed at the Heinz Poll Dance Festival. Seating will be cabaret-style on the Civic stage. Cost is $25. Call 330-253-2488 or see www.akroncivic.com.
Applause for students
Kudos to choirs from Firestone and Coventry high schools for their gorgeous performance Tuesday of Franz Biebl’s Ave Maria on the E.J. Thomas Hall stage with acclaimed a cappella group Cantus. The concert featuring the all-male group of nine from Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., kicked off Tuesday Musical Association’s 126th season.
The student singers, directed by Sally Schneider at Firestone and Julie Strebler at Coventry, received a standing ovation for their reverent, flawless performance with the professional group. The young singers worked with Cantus singers in a workshop at Fairlawn Lutheran Church on Monday.
The connection goes further: Strebler went to Kent Roosevelt High School with Cantus member Aaron Humble, a Kent native.
Cantus’ program, which celebrated America and one’s quest for place, was beautifully narrated throughout. The program started and ended with Leonard Bernstein’s Somewhere from West Side Story, illuminating immigrants’ hopes for a promising new life in a new land.
Highlights from Tuesday’s performance included the haunting, emotional Gravedigger, by David John Matthews; the fascinating Nukapianguaq, Inuit chants with intensely complex rhythmic variations; and the straightforward harmonies of the Shaker hymn Simple Gifts.
Troupe from Poland
The Center for Applied Theatre and Active Culture, New World Performance Laboratory and KulturePlus Productions will present Warsaw’s Studium Teatralne for four performances of the drama The King of Hearts Is Off Again at 8 tonight through Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday at 220 S. Balch St., Akron.
The play tells the harrowing story of a Polish Jewish woman’s journey through the monstrosities of the Holocaust and also explores the power of love. Directed by Piotr Borowski, the work is based on a best-selling book by Polish writer Hanna Krall.
Four actors play 20 characters in the play, adapted by Borowski, Studium Teatralne artistic director. His company uses extreme physical performance techniques, stemming from Borowski’s work with famed Polish theater director Jerzy Grotowski. Borowski is a longtime collaborator with NWPL co-artistic directors James Slowiak and Jairo Cuesta as a result of their mutual studies with the late Grotowski.
Studium Teatralne’s U.S. tour is financed primarily through the Ministry of Culture and National Heritage of Poland and the Consulate General of Poland in Los Angeles. Show tickets cost $15 or $10 for students. See www.brownpapertickets.com.
Tony winner at gala
Broadway actor Michael Rupert will perform at the Weathervane Gala on Saturday, singing a selection from Legally Blonde, in which he originated the role of Professor Callahan.
Rupert, a Tony Award winner for his role as Oscar in the 1986 revival of Sweet Charity, is in town directing Weathervane’s The Waverly Gallery, a Kenneth Lonergan play opening Oct. 31 in the Dietz Theatre that explores the effects of senility on a family. Rupert, who previously directed Weathervane’s Breaking the Code, has worked with theater legends including Bob Fosse, Julie Andrews and Stephen Sondheim.
Saturday's patron party will begin at Weathervane at 6 p.m., followed by dinner at 7 p.m. Cost is $125-$175. Call 330-836-2626.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.