A spoonful of sugar lures first-timers to shows

Sunday, August 08, 2004

"Have you ever seen a ballet before?"

I was struck speechless by the unexpected question, which was asked by a member of the Ohio Dance Theatre audience during intermission at the Cleveland Play House. We were standing in line awaiting the delicious desserts that were included in the ticket price for the company's amusing murder-mystery ballet, "Bullet for a Ballerina."

At first, I thought the bubbly patron was an actor doing a terrific job of feigning naivete. After all, members of the cast had circulated in the lobby and interacted with the crowd during the pre-performance cocktail hour.

But I was wrong. The woman was sincere. A ballet neophyte, she was living proof that the company had achieved its goal of attracting a new audience to dance.

Something similar happened a few weeks earlier in Oberlin, where Ohio Dance Theatre presented "Born in the U.S.A.," a Fourth of July show preceded by a picnic at the Oberlin Inn. People at my table had not previously seen the company, and they had no idea what to expect. They had made the trip from Sandusky simply because they liked the concept of the holiday picnic-and-performance package.

Unconventional programming and fresh marketing ploys are effective ways for large and small performing arts ensembles to drum up more dollars. Whether it's the Oberlin company spoofing the murder-mystery genre, the Cleveland Orchestra having a little fun with Bugs Bunny or Verb Ballets auctioning off a Harley-Davidson, the gimmick can boost business at the box office. But it takes a high-quality experience in the theater or concert hall to bring the newcomers back.

If Ohio Dance Theatre hooked its first-time ticket-buyers, perhaps the murder-mystery fans and patriotic picnickers will develop into real ballet buffs who will support the company and take a look at other dance ensembles.

Volume doesn't always

speak volumes

An arts patron who attended Verb Ballets' exciting concert at Cain Park in Cleveland Heights rightfully chastised me for failing to mention in my review that the company had "ruined the music."

She was right. It was an embarrassing omission on my part, since overamplification is an abomination that I usually disparage.

When I asked artistic director Hernando Cortez why he had played Verb's taped music at an ear-shattering level, he said it was a way of commanding attention in an al fresco setting where there are lots of distractions.

Outdoor crowds usually do take longer to settle down than audiences in a darkened theater. But that was not the case with Verb's opening number. So dazzling were the costumes, lighting, choreography and dancing that people were immediately enthralled, and there was no need to bump up the music, Leonard Bernstein's "Chichester Psalms."

For the rest of the program, the music was played at a tolerable dynamic level. But the damage was done by the opening blast, which reportedly sent at least one person with sensitive ears fleeing from the park.

A little art

in the great wide open

Sarah Morrison, artistic director of MorrisonDance, has not been seen onstage since March, when she appeared with her company on the DanceWorks Series at Cleveland Public Theatre. Seven months pregnant with her first child, she made a memorable impression.

Having given birth to Isabella Stokes Radke on June 9, Morrison is now getting back to dance with "The City Is Our Playground," the summer project that takes the company to Cleveland parks and neighborhoods for street performances, workshops and outdoor rehearsals.

The performances feature choreography by Morrison and masks and costumes by her husband, Cleveland artist Scott Radke. The workshops were inspired by Morrison's childhood memories of recruiting family members and neighbors to create and perform dances in her front yard.

The unannounced rehearsals "allow people to stumble upon something out of the ordinary in places that they often associate with daily routines such as walking their dog, jogging or just hanging out," Morrison said in a release. "An unplanned discovery creates a feeling of participation and ownership that you can't find in the theater or studio. . . . It's fun for us to get outside, and we get to answer lots of questions about dance and watch kids show us their amazing talents or simply imitate our movements with delight."

Green acres

is where she'd rather be

The Cuyahoga Valley National Park is Gina Gibney's playground this summer. Artistic director of her own contemporary company in New York, she is taking a working vacation as the park's artist in residence. Besides basking in peaceful surroundings, she is teaching students at the Cuyahoga Valley Environmental Education Center and choreographing a piece for GroundWorks Dancetheater. Created in collaboration with Cleveland composer Ryan Lott, the work will be premiered Friday through Sunday, Sept. 10-12, at Akron's Ice House and repeated Friday through Sunday, Nov. 12-14, at the Cuyahoga Community College Metro Campus Theatre. For details, call 216-691-3180.

Csárdás aims

for the future

Csárdás Dance Company has made the decision to change course and focus on the development of its youth ensemble. The shift in mission is necessitated by "the increased challenges regarding fund-raising for professional companies," founder and co-artistic director Richard Graber wrote in an e-mail.

Since its debut 10 years ago, Csárdás has won international recognition for its performances of traditional and contemporary works stemming from the Hungarian heritage. The company has commissioned works from Hungarian choreographers, toured to Budapest and acquired a fine collection of folk costumes.

The youth ensemble now consists of nine dancers, ages 8 to 15. The group has appeared with the 12-member senior company and performed independently at a variety of functions, including the International Children's Games Kick-off Picnic.

Graber hopes to expand the training program, which is based on educational concepts developed by Sandor Timar, former artistic director of the Hungarian State Folk Ensemble. His technique resembles the Suzuki violin method of teaching music like a language, beginning in early childhood. Timar compares his work to that of composers Bela Bartok and Zoltan Kodaly, who collected thousands of folk melodies to preserve and teach their rich musical heritage.

Children and parents interested in the Csárdás Youth Ensemble are invited to an orientation meeting at 5 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 19, at the Movement Arts Center, the company's home in Medina. For information, call 440-668-6500 or go to www. Csárdásdance.com.

From Kent to Costa Rica

A seven-member ensemble from Kent State University performed Kimberly Karpanty's "Urban Soul Blues" at the 2004 Leo's Jazz Dance Choreography Competitive Dance Event last month in San Jose, Costa Rica. The event was part of the Jazz Dance World Congress 2004, a five-day festival of performances, classes and panel discussions.

Karpanty, associate professor of dance at KSU, was one of nine choreographers chosen from around the world to participate in the competition. It was not a first-time honor. She also showed a work at the 2001 World Congress in Monterrey, Mexico.

Salisbury is dance critic of The Plain Dealer.

To reach this Plain Dealer columnist:

wsalisbury@plaind.com, 216-999-4248

? 2004 The Plain Dealer. Used with permission.

Copyright 2004 cleveland.com. All Rights Reserved.


Csárdás Dance Company
P.O. Box 770641
Cleveland, OH 44107
Tel: 440-668-6500