iDANZ Critx Corner

by: Sasha Deveaux
November 13, 2009
@ Merce Cunningham Studios

"In Hey little girl!  Where are you going? or Zavavy, Ursula Verduzco is anything but the helpless little girl but instead plays the coquettish damsel.  Benjamin Briones Ballet presents a brilliantly talented trio including Jacob M. Warren who’s full body flexibility and long classical lines are freakish in their perfection.  Adrian Silver is like a force of nature, turning classical movement from step to pantomime to balls-to-the-walls humor.  The audience can’t stop laughing from beginning to end as the guys’ bro-mance over bongo drums quickly turns to an all-out fight over the lovely Verduzco.  She performs her pointe work aptly despite the slick modern dance floor and noticeable lack of rosin on her toes.  Go BBB… this is a company with great storylines and hopefully staying power".

Full review:
http://www.idanzcritixcorner.com/2009/11/dance-review-mixtape-fresh-cut-of.html
iBody Wrappers Dance Reviews

By: Karen Shapiro
Saturday, October 22, 2011
@ Merce Cunningham Studio Theater, New York.

A pair of men’s boots are standing at the side of the floor at the opening of Ursula Verduzco’s Nostalgia, a sweet sensual piece with a Latin flavor, swaying hips, swirling costumes and a youthful, happy mood. It was danced beautifully by Laura DiOrio with Shannon Mayor and Mary Susan Sinclair. Throughout the piece, DiOrio approaches the boots, casts an adoring glance at them, then places her hands over her heart as her upper body contracts, as if the tug on her heart is propelling her entire body. I was wondering if the boots belonged to a lover or a crush, or if they represented a fashion from a beloved bygone era. The piece ends with her taking up the boots by the laces and slinging them over her shoulder as she leaves the stage. There’s something triumphant about the way that she carries herself as she crosses the floor before her exit. It made me feel as if the owner of the boots or the era that the boots represent had become a cherished part of the life story of DiOrio’s character.
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The evening ended with Hidden Souls, choreographed by Ursula Verduzco, which had a Medieval mood, a dark floor and dancers dressed in hooded black robes. The dance opens to the sound of an ancient chant and the dancers enter as if in a processional. The women are completely covered until one manages to push her face out beyond the black scarf that had been covering it. Drama builds as the dance opens up. The women are reaching, yearning, praying, grieving, their bodies tense. Again, there is great use of the space as the dance travels, and the formations in which the dancers move are striking and haunting. There is an undercurrent of mystery to the piece, the presence of an untold story. Gradually, the women shed their robes, and it seemed to me as if the hidden souls were finding their way into the light.
Another hallmark of this showcase was the attention to detail of the stunning costumes, many of which were created by Verduzco and Briones and their company UBCostumesDancewear.com

Full review:
http://www.irasperipheralvisions.com/WetPaint/mid-pointe-choreographers-festival.htm

Body Wrappers Dance Reviews

By: Karen Shapiro
Saturday, October 22, 2011
@ Merce Cunningham Studio Theater, New York.

Benjamin Briones’ Vieja Ciudad de Hierro (Old Iron City) is a collection of vignettes, some with narratives that can be comical or heartbreaking. The piece opens as a beautiful young woman fresh out of the shower, clad in a bathrobe and pearls, her hair wrapped in a towel, vies for the attention of the plumber who’s come to her house to make repairs. She succeeds in distracting him just as her husband returns. A series of episodes unfolds, interspersed with lush gorgeous interludes in which the characters seem to abandon the story line and just dance, mostly as couples. These passages really showcase Briones’ choreographic voice, along with the talent of his dancers. What I loved most was the way that the dance reached so directly to the hearts of those in the audience. There’s an urgency and explosiveness to every movement, even when the dynamics are understated. The narrative sections are also very compelling, each dealing with affairs of the heart, ultimately winding up with two of the characters involved in a knife fight to the death. I also felt that Briones made great use of the space and I loved the energy with which the dance traveled across the floor.

Briones’s Zavavy is great fun from beginning to end as two men (Andres Neira and Cristian Serrano-Goden) vie for the attention of a flirtatious young woman (played by Stephanie Wolf). The men take turns swaggering and trying to be slick, but the harder that they work, the less impressed the girl seems to be. Even as she makes it clear to the them that they haven’t scored any points with her, she does manage to find her way back to them, again and again. The movement is big and expansive, it travels and doesn’t stay still, which gives a buoyant happy lilt to the entire piece. Briones is masterful when it comes to making us laugh at the folly of human beings and the silly things that we do. Even as his dancers are being playful and going for the laugh, the movement remains so artistic.

Full review: 
http://www.irasperipheralvisions.com/WetPaint/mid-pointe-choreographers-festival.htm



Oberon's Grove

By: Philip Gardner
Sunday September 14th, 2014

BBB 2nd Choreographers Residency Performances
@ Steps New York

Sunday September 14th, 2014 - Benjamin Briones Ballet presenting an evening of works created during their second Choreographers Residency. The performance took place in the columned studio/theater space at Steps, as twilight fell outside the big windows. Dance followed dance in a smooth progression, enhanced by effective lighting and costuming.

The evening opened on a sad but also uplifting note: Ursula Verduzco's The Tears I Shed Yesterday Have Become Blissful Rain. Dedicated to the memory of dancer Jorge Fuentes, whose tragic suicide this past June shocked all his friends and colleagues, the women in this work seem like angels. Ursula's wise choie of music by Antonio Vivaldi emphasized the timeless beauty of the movement, which put me in mind of Balanchine's Serenade. The five women rush swiftly about the space as if seeking something lost; they form a circle, then break apart to dance in unison patterns. Fleeting passages of partnering follow, as Richard Ye dances briefly with each of the girls. This lyrical work left us with feelings of hope rather than despair.

In a solo Untethering, choreographed by Amanda Turner to music by Adam Hurst, the sound of the cello at its deepest and most resonant sets the mood. Dancer Elizabeth Jeffrey expressed a sense of longing in her restless turns and beautiful port de bras; the solo ends as the dancer sustains an evocative final pose.

I remember Benjamin Briones' duet Lights On from its formative stages and from a performance at the Latin Choreographers Festival in 2011. Opening in silence, the spotlit dancers are leaning dependently on one another; a domestic dispute erupts as the woman accuses the man of letting her down. Vocals and guitar by Everlast accompanying their gesturally over-the-top quarrel. They nearly come to blows, but finally peace is restored. But the reconciliation only lasts a few seconds before they start to argue again. Ursula Verduzco and Felie Escalante did a great job with this very physical duet.

The red and black motif extended into Ursula Verduzco's next work, Bleeding Love. Again making fine use of music from Antonio Vivaldi's treasure chest of eminently danceable jewels, Ursula creates a visually impressive work centered on a powerful performance by Shannon Maynor. Six women in long black tutus stand across the space, facing upstage, embracing themselves so that we see their hands on their backs. Shannon, is a vivid red gown, moves among them. As the dance unfolds, Shannon is tormented by these personal demons; at one point they surround her, attacking from all sides like feral cats. In an effective solo seated on a low stool, Shannon uses her upper body, arms and hands to express her anguish. To an agitato allegro, the girls reappear in a threatening diagonal, swishing their skirts and encircling their victim. This work, with its theatrical elements, showcased the power and authority (and awesome extension!) of Shannon Maynor's dancing.

A Benjamin Briones duet, set to music by Aphocaliptica opened the second half of the program. Entitled Lo Que Existe...Es Nuestro: Agua Tu Cuerpo Y Beber, the work begins in as the two dancers - Robin Gilbert and Richard Ye - appear spotlit it in a series of freeze-frames. To the sounds of a rich cello melody, they begin to dance: Ms. Gilbert on pointe in a midnight-blue, one-shoulder frock. The dancers are well-matched and lyrical in their partnership.

All That Remains is a solo choreographed by Benjamin Briones to music of Jesse Cook and performed by Shannon Maynor. Solo guitar opens the work, with cello coming in later. The dancer, in soft slippers, traverses the floor in space-filling combinations which accentuate her swirling turns and impressive extension.

Brian Norris's Liaisons is a three-part ballet danced to pop tunes by Irene Molloy. In the first vignette, Infatuation, Richard Ye pursues three Butterflies: Sarah Rodak, Tanja Whited, and Shannon Grant who wear colorful sundresses and pointe shoes. He's rejected by two of the three. In a change of mood, Leigh Schanfein seems to be seeking a lost romance in the solo Obsession-Maybe; her dancing has a lovely, wistful quality. A vamping Ursula Verduzco opens the final number, Seduction-Red Tea Cup; she's later joined by Mr. Escalante in a playfully sexy duet.

The evening flew by, enlivened by a chance to catch up with two of my favorite dancers: Jessica Sand Blonde and Laura DiOrio.

Full review: http://oberon481.typepad.com/oberons_grove/2014/09/benjamin-briones-ballet-steps.html


Dance Informa

by: Laura Di Orio of Dance Informa
September 14th, 2014

BBB 2nd Choreographers Residency Performances
@Steps on Broadway, NYC

Over the weekend of September 12-14, New York City-based company Benjamin Briones Ballet presented its second choreographers’ residence program. While the company has been active over the past year performing and presenting works in various festivals (including a tour to Mexico in June 2013), this is the second of the company’s full nights of repertoire, and it looks like it feels like home for them.

Presented at the studio theater at Steps on Broadway, the evening was an intimate showing. With the studio’s back windows exposed, offering a view of elegant Upper West Side architecture and light from a setting sun, it was reminiscent of the former Merce Cunningham studios.

Artistic Director Benjamin Briones opened the program with a brief introduction of his company and a statement about the importance of the arts in society. It’s inspiring when even a smaller company in a smaller performance venue can make things happen. One example is the company designing and creating the show’s costumes entirely by themselves. It shows that Briones and his company truly believe in his words.

The evening began with a work by Ursula Verduzco, a dancer and choreographer for Benjamin Briones Ballet. The Tears I Shed Yesterday Have Become Blissful Rain was dedicated to Jorge Fuentes, a dancer who tragically took his own life this past June, an event that shook the NYC dance community. With beautiful music by Antonio Vivaldi and long flowing costumes by UBCostumesDancewear.com (of which Verduzco and Briones are co-owners), Verduzco created a serene world, a place of community and support. Each of the five female dancers chainé turn, passing each other, creating swirling patterns, and then join the one male dancer, Richard Ye, in a circle while holding hands. The work shows off the dancers’ gracefulness and Verduzco’s use of expressive, gestural port de bras. The piece ends in silence, and the dancers return to the circle through the fading of the lights.

Guest choreographer Amanda Turner’s Untethering, with beautiful music by Adam Hurst and costumes again by UBCostumesDancewear.com, lets dancer Elizabeth Jeffrey dance freely and emotionally. The work combines very controlled moments with wafting, floating turns, which Jeffrey executes beautifully. The audience becomes entrapped in both the dancing and the music.
Benjamin Briones Ballet

Briones’ Lights On is a company favorite, which has been performed many times with many different casts. Tonight, Verduzco and her partner Felipe Escalante dance the duet in a most passionate way. Verduzco, a long-limbed, tall, expressive dancer is hard not to watch, but she is matched well with her partner, and together they ooze with chemistry.

Lights On seems to be a piece in the Benjamin Briones Ballet repertoire that showcases the company’s interest in storytelling. A good portion of the work is first performed in silence, as the disagreeing couple use mainly gestures, and back-and-forth pushes and shoves, to convey their story, although it does make sure to use the space well. Even once the Everlast music and dancing begin with aggressive partnering and traveling lifts, we still appreciate those moments between the choreography when Verduzco and Escalante are “real”, telling their story. The audience cares about them, wants them to be okay. But by the end, after several attempts at making up, only to fight again, we’re not sure if they ever will be okay.

Verduzco’s Bleeding Love, again with music by Vivaldi, opens in a most stunning, visual way: black-clad dancers line the back wall, their backs to us and their arms wrapped around themselves. Now, and throughout the entire piece, we notice hands. Hands seem to be of great interest to Verduzco as a choreographer, as they’re able to express a story through gestures, yet they’re still a physical body part, able to hold things or people, push one’s self off the floor or assist with partnering work. Dancer Shannon Maynor, the only one dressed in red among the group, gives a standout performance. Another tall, beautiful dancer, Maynor is capable of moving between lyrical moments and also strong motions with ease and control. Her character is “mad”, interacting with other women as if they’re figments of her imagination, or perhaps parts of herself that she is trying to subdue. In the end, it appears Maynor’s character is able to regain control of herself, as the black figures fade off stage one by one.

Next on the program is Briones’ premiere, Lo Que Existe…Es Nuestro: Aqua Tu Cuerpo Y Beber, with music by Aphocaliptica and danced by Ye and Robin Gilbert. The dancers were well-matched, and the dance was one of Briones’ more soft, lyrical works. At the beginning of the show, Briones joked that he was still looking for his voice. Perhaps this work is evident of his and any person’s ongoing search. I would have loved to have known the translation of this work’s title.

An excerpt of Briones’ All that Remains was danced exquisitely by Maynor. She dances to music by Jesse Cook with a Latin flare and she appears to be missing or longing for someone or something. While Maynor is a technically super dancer, she is also equally expressive and really made the work come to life.

The final work on the program was Liasons, choreographed by another guest choreographer, Brian Norris. The three-part, light-hearted piece was a good close to the program, with the music “County Line” by Irene Molloy. Ye is a comedic asset to this piece, as he hopes to earn the attention of three ladies who are dancing around him en pointe. Even after two girls reject Ye – because of bad breath and then greasy hair – one girl seems to still hold interest. Leigh Schanfein danced the second section as a solo, with interesting floor-work and lovely, spacious movement. She is a dancer who can cover the space well. And finally, to close the piece and the program, Verduzco and Escalante perform a fun, flirtatious duet.

Full review: http://www.danceinforma.com/USA_magazine/2014/09/15/benjamin-briones-ballet
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iBody Wrappers Dance Reviews

By: Karen Shapiro
Friday February 14th, 2014

Periapsis Music & Dance - Collaborations
@ Kumble Theatre

Ursula Verduzco presented the Benjamin Briones Ballet in the world premiere of Pushing Mud. For this piece, the piano is stationed at the back of the stage in one corner, while a cellist and violinist play in the opposite corner. This makes the diagonal across the stage a strong element in the composition of the dance -- all exits and entrances and much of the traveling seemed to move along that route. Ms. Verduzco dances the role of an outsider, one excluded from the group, either by her choice or theirs. She falls into place when the company fills the stage, but the dance describes her character as never quite managing to coalesce with the others. Her movement is sultry and dramatic with flamenco elements in the rolling gestures of her hands and wrists and the regal carriage of her chest and head. Her port de bras are luxurious and beautifully expressive. A strong actress, she can also conjure expressions of grief and frustration, both on her face and through her movement. The group travels together, sometimes at very close quarters, while she observes from the sidelines. There is a moody and somber feel to the music, perfectly complemented by the drama of the dance. I especially loved the sweep of the closing phrases of this piece.

Full review:
http://bodywrappers.com/company_dancereviews.php

Wet Paint

By: Karen Shapiro
September 20th, 2013

BBB 1st Choreographers Residency Performances
@ Steps On Broadway, New York.

I always look forward to seeing new works by Benjamin Briones, Ursula Verduzco, and the choreographers and dancers with whom they work.  Their programs always feature a strong ballet and Latin influence.  Their work stands out in a world where technique and tricks are often held in highest esteem.  Briones and company present works that focus on reaching the viewer’s heart, and they find a surprising variety of styles and pathways with which to do this.

The performance took place in the corner studio on the third floor of Steps.  When the room was darkened, the night time city became the backdrop, made mystical by the light of the full Harvest Moon.  It seemed an appropriate setting for the opening piece, titled All That Remains, choreographed by Briones.  Somber and reflective, the dance addresses feelings of loss and loneliness.  Six women dressed in gray wander the floor to a classical guitar accompaniment.  No one is smiling.  From time to time, they cast questioning or wistful glances at one another, or move in unison for a few phrases.  Lucia Campoy’s solo is weighted with an undercurrent of heartache as she reaches out or lays her hand over her chest.  But in the final section, when the women dance together, they seem resigned to their fate, and there is now a sense of strength emerging alongside their sorrow.  The choreography never becomes contrived — it remains elegant and straightforward.  In the closing moments of the dance, the women line up and move forward, maybe even as a community, then they suddenly look up in unison for a moment before the blackout.  Briones is masterful in his use of small gestures like these, which sing the praises of the human spirit.  I appreciate the seamless transitions with which Briones’ choreography suggests the strength and wisdom which can emerge from hardship.

Sarah Rodak danced an excerpt from Vera Huff’s Five Ninas, a suite set to different songs by Nina Simone.  For Wild is the Wind, Rodak seems to embody the spirit of love itself blown along on the wind.  She is rolled along the floor.  She slowly rises, then rides the wind back down to earth.  There is a beautiful elemental feel to this piece as the movement swells and subsides.  Rodak rises, feet planted on the floor, before being swept up in a gust of chaine turns across the floor, until the dance closes in a dramatic stormy ending.  Assistant choreographer Jordan Fife Hunt spoke about stressing the importance of relationship in his work with Huff.  As I watched Rodak move, she seemed to personify the elements of a relationship itself, rather than the individuals who were in the relationship.

A Straight Line of Two Circles, choreographed by Felix Aarts, shifts the energy of the program abruptly from the romantic to the abstract.  The dancers wear short clear plastic raincoats over their leotards.  There is a feeling of unrest as they scurry from side to side or venture upstage with their hands trembling.  At times I wondered if they were portraying the frantic and futile “busy-ness” of our society.  The movement of the hands are prominently featured.  One woman appears to be counting, taking inventory.  Another looks as if she’s polishing furniture.  Another holds her trembling hand to her forehead, maybe as if to describe a frantic thought process.  Aarts said that his intention is to challenge the viewer to come up with their own narrative.  I found it surprising that he conceived the dance with the dancers and found the music for it later — he said that he’d changed the music for this piece four days before the performance.  He wanted to find music to illustrate the movement, rather than the other way around.

Ursula Verduzco performed her dance Nothing to Hide, which I’d seen and reviewed in different incarnations at various festivals.  I’d never before seen her perform the solo herself, so it was remarkable to witness the level of emotion she was able to summon, even though this performance seemed scaled down for the smaller floor, in comparison to earlier ones that included a set.  Verduzco’s hair is worn long and sometimes acts as a screen to hide behind, or it flows wildly to symbolize her anguish.  She slaps the floor in frustration.  She deftly dramatizes the struggle to find one’s voice and to make a statement with it.

Lights On tells the story of a couple who move from love to hostility to remorse and back to love, as if on an endless loop.  The red in their costumes seemed to personify the fire of their passions, both destructive and loving.  As the lights come up, we see the couple hand in hand, leaning away from each other, pulling apart, until the woman lets go and the man falls to the floor.  An argument ensues.  She escalates.  He outdoes her.   Tension builds until she vents her frustration by slapping his face.  She knows that she’s gone too far and her remorse is instantaneous.  Contrite, she approaches him.  Their truce is demonstrated as they dance an electrifying pas de deux.  There is strong chemistry between dancers Kara Walsh and Taylor Kindred.  Their partnering appears to be effortless, with beautiful ballet technique.  But I was most impressed by the sweep of emotions that they were able to conjure, not only with facial expressions and mime, but with the movement of their bodies, with the unfolding of an extended leg, or with the trust of a lift.  Again, the expression of Briones’ work moves deftly and invisibly from one emotion to the next, through love to antagonism to regret to reconciliation.

The program closed with Megan Phillipp’s Divided By Three.   Verduzco portrayed a woman who seemed to be haunted by two alter egos, danced by Lucia Campoy and Yeong Ju Son.  I really liked the compositions that Phillipp created by using formations of three. In a passage where the three women sat in a row of chairs, Verduzco bolts upright in the center, while the dancer to her right sits upside down, head toward the floor and feet reaching up, and the dancer to her left lays her head in Verduzco’s lap, pinning her in place.  Or the recurring theme where Verduzco stands at the head of the line and the arms of the other two dancers come out behind her, as if they were her own limbs, holding her back.  As tension builds, the accompaniment of a piece by Philip Glass keeps whirling and whirling.  I especially loved the purple costumes with tulle skirts which were used for this piece.

The friendliness and hospitality of this company was clear in the way that connected with the audience after the performance.  They hosted a Q&A, and seemed genuinely interested in removing the barrier between artist and audience.  To elaborate on the words of Jordan Fife Hunt, they acknowledge that the performance doesn’t exist within the dancer  — rather it exists in the relationship between the dancers and the audience.  As Briones told the audience, any involvement with the production on our part “keeps the art of dance alive”.

Full review: 
http://www.irasperipheralvisions.com/WetPaint/benjamin-briones-ballet-choreographers-residency.htm





The Dance Enthusiast

by: Erin Bomboy
April 20, 2016
@ The Actors Fund Arts Center, Brooklyn Ny.

Let Me Be Clear (by Ursula Verduzco presenting Benjamin Briones Ballet) finds the groove in ballet, which is no easy feat. Wearing cobalt blue tops and harem pants, six women and two men shake, rattle, and roll, thanks to the adornment of funky maracas (by Sarah Bednarek) to their heads, wrists, and waists. To the pounding, resounding rhythms of Red Run Tao Drummers, the octet scuttles through pas de chats and shakes their shoulders with easy abandon. They coast through an assemblé and then fling their torsos forward to smack their hands on the ground. The choreography pulses with fun, and the dancers have a blast with it, smirking and smiling.

Full review:
http://www.dance-enthusiast.com/features/view/Counterpointe-Brooklyn-Ballet
BroadwayWorld.com

by: Juan Michael Porter
April 11, 2016
@ The Actors Fund Arts Center, Brooklyn Ny.


Thank goodness then for the choreographer Ursula Verduzco (presenting Benjamin Briones Ballet) and her collaboration with the sculptor Sarah Bednarek. "Let me be Clear" felt like what the saucy French choreographer Maurice Béjart would have created had he been assigned a carnival scene to choreograph for an MGM movie musical (though without his bravura technical flourishes). This fun piece called for a madcap "Alice in Wonderland" level of zaniness that the performers more than delivered. Each dancer gave a technically flawless and delightfully charismatic performance even as the piece continued on for three minutes longer than it should have. But then everyone was having so much fun that it was hard to begrudge Ms. Verduzco, especially when her movement continued to evolve in inventive patterns all the while revealing new things about the dancers. Best of all was Ms. Bednarek's contribution: sculptures attached to the dancers' costumes that made comically rude noises when squeezed.

Full review:
http://www.broadwayworld.com/bwwdance/article/BWW-Review-Brooklyn-Ballet-and-Norte-Maar-Present-Balletic-Collaborations-in-COUNTERPOINTE-2016-20160411#
The Round Table 2016:
A Choreographic Event to Remember

By: Nadine Lavi
October 2016

@Gibney Dance Center

     In The Round Table presented by Benjamin Briones, new and favorite choreographic works were presented at the Gibney Dance: Agnes Varis Performing Arts Center in New York City from September 1-2, 2016. Showcasing dancers from both the Benjamin Briones Ballet company as well as guest dancers, the works presented aspects of dance, theater, and movement, all memorable and intriguing.
This was one of many shows presented by the choreographer Benjamin Briones, and his wife, the choreographer and dancer Ursula Verduzco. In each show, they have tested the boundaries of dance and theater. Costumed for the most part by UB Costumes and Dancewear, designed and operated by the husband and wife team, these choreographic events are a creative endeavor conceived, designed and directed by the pair on nearly every level. The audience is sure to experience dance, theater, and emotions on many levels from the works themselves and the performers.
The Benjamin Briones Ballet itself was established in 2012 in New York City with the aim of providing a supportive forum for choreographers and performers of all cultural and stylistic backgrounds “to explore the endlessly diverse concepts and feelings that symbolic movement can convey.” Envisioning his company as “an engine of creativity,” Briones says that he seeks to engage audiences intellectually and emotionally and to affect social consciousness with powerful, interesting, and creative contemporary ballet, neoclassical, modern, and contemporary dance works which challenge, provoke, shape perspectives, and move the heart and spirit. In creating evenings like The Round Table which showcase his, his wife’s and other choreographer’s works, Benjamin Briones and Ursula Verduzco – also one of the leading dancers in his company – have an opportunity to present some of their more creative and risqué works to new audiences.
The Round Table did not disappoint.
The first program, presented on Thursday night, opened with Divided by Three choreographed by Meagan Phillips of the Benjamin Briones Ballet to music by Phillip Glass and performed by Ursula Verduzco with Eva Janiszewski and Kylie Fox in costumes by UB Costumes and Dancewear. The three women seem to challenge and to feed off each other’s emotions with dramatic expressions on their faces and sudden movements in different directions. This number was shown again the next evening.
In Pregheira choreographed by Carla Vannucchi – who has also created for the differently abled dancer Kitty Lunn and Infinity Dance Theater – danced an inspired solo to the music Stabat Mater by Luigi Boccherini.
In Together (Juntos), which the program notes suggest depicts “the innocent and tender feeling of the first love,” choreographed by Cesar Ortiz of Carousel Dance to music by Astor Piazzola with costumes by Analia Farfan, the dancers Analia Farfan and Frederick Davis were a treat to watch. This pas de deux was affecting; Farfan’s tender line and technique made the romantic aspect of the work come alive.
As for Frederick Davis, here is a dancer of power and presence. With the unerring air of a prince, a confidence that captivates the audience, and a sure command of technique in a uniquely fluid style which sets him apart, Davis is one to watch. An excellent partner in all aspects of the pas de deux, he has a sure, yet delicate touch that makes the pas de deux a seamless blending, along with an emotional tenderness and dramatic urgency. His powerful, energetic presence in solo variations is equally effective. One senses that Davis has many layers of characterization waiting to be revealed underneath that noble mien, and one hopes that he will be given opportunities to explore the many facets of the artist inside. He was recently lauded in the Emmy award winning documentary film “From the Streets to the Stage: The Journey of Frederick Davis.” After a stint with the Dance Theater of Harlem and Indiana Ballet Theater, Davis is currently appearing as principal dancer and principal guest artist with Ballet Tucson and with Ballet Tennessee. Having him appear in The Round Table is a coup for the production, and one hopes to see more of this magnetic and talented dancer in the future.
The next number Letting Go, a tribute to those lost in Superstorm Sandy, choreographed by Erin B. Forrest to music by John Williams was danced by Emma Zoe DeGala Harris. This expressive work depicted the pain, loss and emotions associated with that tragic event. This was followed by Image of the Invisible choreographed by Elizabeth McMillan of Vivid Ballet comprised of nine dancers: Leyna Woods, Kathleen Hennessy, Kaleb Riley, Daniel Sima, Anna Sessions, Emily Apple, Megan Klamert, Lauren Rutledge, and Kaitlyn King. There was a pas de deux, and much crisscrossing of dancers with jumps and runs across the floor to music by Antonio Vivaldi recomposed by Max Richter. This number was danced again the next evening.
In Lights On choreographed by Benjamin Briones to the music Everlast with costumes by UB Costumes and Dancewear, two couples were listed in the casting, and each one appeared on different nights. The first night was danced by Elisabeth Jeffrey and Taylor Kindred. This compelling pas de deux featured interesting choreography, and something notable, sound, when at the end, the partners appeared to quarrel and to shout in frustration. This commentary on relationships - and the mending, un-mending, feelings and frustrations that can be experienced in that context - felt like an experience intended to be felt by the audience in an intimate way, in that the audience was privy to the emotions and private thoughts and feelings which were not necessarily heard or acknowledged by the couple themselves. There was a voyeuristic tone to it. Taylor Kindred made an impression in this role, with his nice line, technique, and flair. On the second night, Ursula Verduzco was paired with Frederick Davis, whose arresting presence gave this work the necessary gravitas.
Five more works followed: Untethering choreographed by Amanda Turner of the Benjamin Briones Ballet to music by Adam Hurst with UB Costumes and Dancewear for dancer Elisabeth Jeffrey. From the Beginning was next, about “Mother Earth watch[ing] in dismay as the world’s environment declines, forcing millennial John Luke to try to learn compassion and understanding from the beautiful Indigo, Claudia,” according to the program notes. This piece, choreographed by Edwin Kinter to music be Edward David Grana from a story/concept by Pamela Brunsvold Rummel, featured Asha Sienkiewicz, the always reliable Taylor Kindred, and Seira Kiyano. An interesting interplay between the two women who seemed to represent different aspects of Mother Earth – decaying vs. healing – and the man, was shown. There was a tender and poignant quality to the work.
Gull’s Beach, “an afternoon observation,” said the program, was choreographed by Nellesa Walthour to Breath by Mercan Dede featuring Shay Bland, Winston Dynamite Brown, Nuria Martin Fandos, Anna Maria Farkas, Kimberly Mhoon, and Anthony Willis, Jr. Runner choreographed by Vera Huff of Veracity Dance Theatre to music by Todd Sickafoose with costumes by Roftr, explored movement in the bodies of three dancers.
The final number of the evening, Bleeding Love choreographed by Ursula Verduzco to music by Vivaldi with costumes by UB Costumes and Dancewear, featured eight women: Elisabeth Jeffrey or Eva Janiszewski with Nina Yoshida, Anistasia Barsukova, Kylie Fox, Kaarin Holmquist, Beatriz Hernandez, and Emma Zoe deGala Harris moving in lines and patterns that suggested resisting boundaries and feeling emotions.
Ursula Verduzco is a choreographer of unusual perspective. Her works often remain etched in the memory because of their startling subject matter and the juxtaposition of beautiful or moving music. One piece that she choreographed some time ago – a take on woman’s oppression – is seen in a Muslim woman garbed in a burkah and hajib who moves cautiously and carefully among a line of “free” women as she seeks her rightful place in a world free of oppression or limitations – and it still registers in this writer’s memory.
Ms. Verduzco is not afraid to tackle serious, uncomfortable, and risqué subjects and themes, and she often uses movement to great effect to capture the essence of the character, so that the audience feels the performer’s emotions deeply. One wonders what future subjects and themes, Ms. Verduzco will explore in her work, but they are sure to intrigue and to stay in the memory.
In the second evening of this choreographic event, there were several new works that had not been seen the previous night. They included Ojala choreographed by Ana Cuellar to music by Silvio Rodriguez with costumes by Cuellar, and featuring Anamarie McGin and Daniel Benavides, a moving piece that was fun, even “cool.” In Morbit Desires by Miguel Angel Palermos to music by Aoki Takamasa with costumes by Frederico Sanchez, Maribel Michel and Fernando Miranda explored the choreographer’s vision of eroticism, chaos and death to a series of sounds and noises. The unusual pairing of a petite female with a very tall partner seemed to add to the discordance of the piece.
In The Four Temperaments depicting “man’s love/hate relationships with the vices of his life…[including] fighting and romancing them as they contribute to and enhance our lives as well as imprison and destroy them,” Ted Thomas and Frances Ortiz of ThomasOrtiz Dance featured good dancers with technique and stage presence to music played by Kronos Quartet. Costumed by A. Christina Gianinni, Rachel McSween, Gaby Gilchrist, Emily Pihlaja, Danielle Shupe, and William Roberson were compelling and entertaining.
In Images choreographed by David Sun of DSundanceX to Quartet for Violin, Viola, Cello, and Piano by Peteris Vasks, the dancers Alexandria Lattimore, Ariel Sweet, Molly McGivern, Melissa Reed, Taryn Scott-Kolbe, and Margaret Wiss moved in interesting patterns across the floor in red leotards. The music was affecting. However, this work contained perhaps an unnecessarily erotic element due to the costume choices.
In Travel with Me by George C. Berry of George C. Berry and Company, George C. Berry and Erika Davis danced to You Made Me Love You (featuring Oren Waters) by Raney Shockne. The number was followed by what was perhaps the most avant garde of all the works that were presented in this production: Swipe choreographed by Dannon O’Brien and Dancers. Danced by Emily Ulrich, Haley Fox, Julia Ferra, Valentina Sytcheva, Richard Mazza, Danny Venini, and Dannon O’Brien in costumes by Mondo Morales and Dannon O’Brien provided by Marymount Manhattan Dance to music by Terry Riley performed by the Kronos Quartet, this work seemed to explore the themes of bondage, perhaps of the soul and mind, as well as the body. Sound was used to great effect here as well: the dancers burst into chatter towards the end as if to suggest a cacophony of emotion and conflict.
The evening ended with another performance of Ursula Verduzco’s Bleeding Love featuring the same cast as the previous evening, and ending the whole production on a high note.