Verb Ballets presented the world premiere of "Adagio Reimagined" in such a blaze of glory Saturday night in Akron, it's sure to be seared in our memories for a long time to come.
The new dance, commissioned for the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, was a rock reinterpretation of Tomaso Albinoni's "Adagio in G Minor for Organ and Strings,'' the piece that Ohio Ballet founder Poll used in his serenely beautiful 1973 ballet "Adagio for Two Dancers." Rock guitarist Neil Zaza played his musical adaptation live on stage as an integral part of the electrifying new dance, created by Cleveland-area Sabatino Verlezza in the classical modern style.
The beauty of Verb Ballets' program was that both Poll's original "Adagio" and "Adagio Reimagined" were performed back-to-back for the festival's kickoff weekend at Forest Lodge Park. And despite the clearly recognizable melody in both, the works couldn't have been more different.
Watching Kelly Korfhage and Ben Shepard perform the gorgeously intimate pas de deux "Adagio," I felt as if I were holding my breath. Dressed in gold unitards and performing in beautifully glowing lighting by Trad Burns in front of a gold projection of a church window, this pair was amazingly closely hewn in a dance that luxuriates in its slowness.
The partners started out entwined in a long series of floor work. As the dance progressed, the two were so highly connected, they looked like they were moving as one. In one particularly awe-inducing moment, Shepard slowly lifted Korfhage high above his head in a seated position.
Throughout, the dancers held such loving eye contact and ravishingly sculpted closeness, the incredibly difficult work — which hasn't been performed at the festival since 2007 — was a sensual delight.
Flip to "Adagio Reimagined,'' which is an "Adagio" of a very modern kind. Verlezza and his dancers achieved what festival co-founder Jane Startzman had conceived for the project: that the dance would appear to be emanating from the electric guitarist's music-making.
This highly dramatic, impassioned dance almost ripped me out of my seat as soon as Zaza began playing in a darkened center stage and dancers Lieneke Matte and Antonio Morillo emerged from beneath a previously unseen swath of red fabric at his feet. From that moment on, it was clear that Zaza was conjuring the dance, at times circling around the dancers and intensely urging them on.
Zaza wailed on his guitar in beautifully aggressive fashion and the dancers created very different, tortured lovers who were unable to truly connect. Morillo would reach for Matte desperately and she wouldn't notice, or she would make just fleeting contact with him, cupping a hand under his feet as Morillo lifted them one by one.
The intensity and angst-ridden passion was unexpected, as was some amazing work the pair executed with the red fabric. That included Morillo bundling Matte up in the fabric and pulling this bundle over his shoulder, along the stage floor. Could that have been his character carrying the weight of their relationship?
Next, Morillo crouched, wrapping the ends of the bundle around his neck twice and picking Matte up in it through his sheer strength as he stood up straight. This move had me yelling out in amazement.
The rest of the program was steeped in the Latin world, including the fan fluttering in the Cuban ballet "Majisimo,'' staged by Cuba's Laura Alonso. The colorful couples' dance with plenty of fan fluttering — a company premiere for Verbs' Akron performances — is part of the Cleveland Havana Ballet Project.
Finishing the program, Kate Webb captivated as the strutting, preening temptress Carmen in Richard Dickinson's "Carmen Suite," featuring the music of Georges Bizet. Especially sultry in this tale of sex, jealous rage and violence were Shepard and Webb, as his Escamillo used his toreador's cape around her waist to pull her onto the stage for their sensual pas de deux.
Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ or www.facebook.com/kclawsonabj.