Joie de la Danse
By Tom Wachunas
“You have to love dancing to stick to it. It gives you nothing back, no manuscripts to store away, no paintings to show on walls and maybe hang in museums, no poems to be printed and sold, nothing but that single fleeting moment when you feel alive.” -Merce Cunningham
Mea culpa, mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. In the 21 years I’ve been back in Canton (after 14 years in New York City), writing about the visual and performing (local theatre and the Canton Symphony) arts around here, I’ve written nothing on dance. This is a glaring irony, considering that nearly half of my published journalistic output in New York was in the realm of dance – Modern dance, to be specific. This is not to say I had any disdain for classical ballet, especially considering that virtually all the best modern dancers I encountered in New York were well trained in at least the rudiments of that form.
Compared to the flourishing dance landscape of New York, I wrongly assumed that Canton of the 1990s was a veritable desert in that regard. And honesty compels me to confess that whether from laziness or effitist snobbery (as in, ‘can any really good dance come from Canton?’) on my part, I never seriously considered much less saw the Canton Ballet in performance. Call it a classic case of contempt prior to investigation.
After seeing the October 11 Director’s Choice concert at the Canton Palace Theatre, I can say only that, with hat in hand, I’ve been missing a deeply significant element of the Canton cultural profile.
Under the leadership and training provided by Cassandra Crowley, the Canton Ballet Artistic and Executive Director since 1980, dancers from the company have garnered considerable recognition in prestigious competitions as well as moving on to dance professionally with highly reputable companies. The level of technical excellence required for such achievements was for the most part abundantly evident during the October 11 event, which was a thoroughly engaging mix of traditional (i.e., more classically-oriented) and modern choreography.
Among the more enthralling works on the program was Jubilation, choreographed by Angelo Lemmo, Canton Ballet’s Choreographer in Residence since 1991. Set to a medley of traditional gospel songs, the work is a tour de force of soulful expressivity – at once graceful, sensual and visceral. Those qualities were particularly well personified in a duet by Bradley Beckwith with Kirstyn Wolonsky during a stunning version of “Amazing Grace.”
After intermission, Wolonsky, a 9-year Canton Ballet student and junior at Lake High School, was utterly hypnotic in her poignant solo during the meditative Glimmer of Hope, choreographed by Christina Digiuseppe. Wolonsky’s fluidity was magical, making me wonder at how she could so effortlessly transition from her repeatedly lithe, recumbent floor rolls and extensions back into upright position.
Guest artist Ethan Lee, who trained for ten years under Crowley at Canton Ballet and is now a member of NEOS Dance Company of Mansfield, was certainly mesmerizing enough in two works during the first half of the program. But nowhere was he more physically and emotionally commanding than in the second half’s Hellas, an intense, sinewy solo work set to music by J.S. Bach and choreographed by Jin Byung Cheol.
The piece – indeed the entire evening – refreshed my long-neglected appreciation of seeing dance live on stage. I was delightfully reminded that of all humanity’s forms of codified expression, dance is arguably the most primordial. And Terpsichore may well be the most ancient Muse, still inspiring compelling responses to being alive.
PHOTO: The Dance Class, by Edgar Degas