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Toledo Ballet production draws on rich history at the Valentine

Any stage production that can combine ballerinas, belly dancers, and blues singers without becoming just another talent show is a performance you won’t want to miss.

So it is with Toledo Ballet’s new spring show, “If These Walls Could Dance.”

Opening last night in the Valentine Theatre, Michael Lang’s second creation so transcended his innovative 2011 show, “Museum of Dreams,” that I want it to hurry up and be March, 2013, just to see his follow-up.

Talk about site-specific art: “If These Walls Could Dance” reflects and expands on some of the acts that played the then-new Valentine nearly a century ago. Characters limned on Paul Geiger’s marvelous mural in the adjacent Grand Lobby are brought to life, uniting today with yesterday, and then offering a tantalizing glimpse of tomorrow.

From the company and guests, Lang matched living dancers with the four historic ones, sometimes double or triple casting to suggest moments in those careers.

Sean Howe portrayed Vaslav Nijinsky, the dynamic Russian dancer. Howe conjured a convincing level of tension with increasingly tortured postures and distorted moves to represent the mental disintegration that finally destroyed Nijinsky’s career and life.

Younger company dancers completely covered in matte gray moved restlessly like shadows around Howe, further suggesting inevitability of his artistic demise.

Then, enter the prima ballerina Anna Pavlova, a repeat performer in Toledo, whose career development was elegantly represented in separate sequences by Katie Bostleman and Rebekah Paul.

Young company dancers represented the classroom roots of Pavlova’s celebrated career. Toledo Ballet regular Michael Warrick was convincing as Enrico Cechetti, the Italian ballet master who trained both Pavlova and Nijinsky.

Act II opened with a vivid Middle Eastern street scene complete with belly dancers Brooke Fasnaugh and Elizabeth Noble. Noble portrayed Ruth St. Denis, an American dancer who explored traditions from other countries and cultures, developing new hybrid styles of dance that grabbed this country’s attention. Howe returned as Ted Shawn, Denis’ artistic and life partner.

The Kathak, one of India’s great classical dance traditions, was recreated with choreography by Shyam Suchak. Suchak, now a Toledo resident, continues to develop and teach Indian dance.

He was one of several guest choreographers who added to the rich texture of this production. Others included resident guest artist Frances Shuk Kwan Fu, Fasnaugh, and Taylor Ramos, plus members of the Toledo Ballet Dance Lab.

The final section remembered Bill “Bojangles” Robinson, a celebrated dancer and entertainer, here portrayed gracefully by Domonique Glover doing that old soft shoe. Added rhythm came from guest dancer Doug Burkhart tap dancing on a stairway behind the scrim.

Accompanied by the dynamic Toledo School for the Arts Jazz Ensemble, songstress Jasmine Easler, as Ma Rainey, held the audience in her hand as she sang for the dancers. It was a powerful finale to another experiment in reshaping the way dance is presented in Toledo, and a reminder that the Valentine is just as happening a place today as it was a century ago.

“If These Walls Could Dance” will repeat at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in the Valentine Theatre. For ticket information contact the Valentine, 419-242-2272 or www.valentinetheatre.com.

Contact Sally Vallongo at: svallongo@theblade.com

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