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Heinz Poll, who co-founded and directed the Ohio Ballet for nearly 30 years, received  posthumous honors recently. Verb Ballets paid tribute to the late company director with a performance titled “Honoring Heinz Poll” at the Akron Civic Theatre (a Knight Arts grantee).

Poll’s Ohio Ballet had significant impact on the arts in the Akron area, and on contemporary dance nationwide, as the company toured major dance venues as a pre-eminent dance group.

Verb Ballets picked two great ways to pay tribute in a one-day only performance at Akron Civic Theatre on March 8: first, by reprising three of Poll’s 80-some ballets—a selection of that represented the stylistic range of the man; then through the creation of a new work by former Ohio Ballet dancer and ballet master Richard Dickinson.

 To set the stage (which quite literally served as both cozy performance area and seating area for the sold-out audience the night they performed), Verb Ballets put on Poll’s paean to swing and jazz dance called “Eight by Benny Goodman” from 1992. The work is a pastiche of clever, suave moves reminiscent of old Fred Astaire movies. Flicks of the hand, sassy turns of the feet, plus long sultry glides resulted in some smart and bright dance movement. Goodman’s titles – “I’m Nobody’s Baby,” “Somebody Stole My Gal,” and the like – hint at the emotional flavors that Verb Ballets deliciously evoked.

Heinz Poll, "Eight by Benny Goodman." Photo by Mark Horning and courtesy of Verb Ballets

Heinz Poll, “Eight by Benny Goodman.” Photo by Mark Horning and courtesy of Verb Ballets

Two members of the company (Stephanie Krise and Brian Murphy, who at one point danced under Poll’s direction during the last years of the original Ohio Ballet) danced his 1979 “Duet.” The work is elegant and defined by clean neo-classical technique, precise movement, and a length of line that gives the work a stark beauty. There’s not a story with this one. Its power comes from sensitive partnering, which the dancers provided with style and grace.

The last Poll work was his very popular and extremely powerful “Bolero” from 1996. As when performed by the Ohio Ballet almost 20 years ago, the Asian-influenced gesture, along with the sweeping and taut line of the metaphorical bullfight (with capes that detached from each of the dancers costumes) packed quite a wallop with the audience. On performance night, the group deservedly got a standing ovation.

I had wondered about this work being presented where the audience is only a few feet from the dancers. The distance could have been insufficient for viewers to appreciate the grandeur of the big finish, but it worked anyway, since the audience members got a close-up glimpse of the subtle and precise hand and foot gestures that this dance depends on.

Heinz Poll, "Bolero." Photo by Mark Horning and courtesy of Verb Ballets

Heinz Poll, “Bolero.” Photo by Mark Horning and courtesy of Verb Ballets

Probably the standout work of the evening was Dickinson’s “Four Last Songs,” a new work that is based on the music of Richard Strauss and the poetry of Hermann Hesse and Joseph von Eichendorff. The four sections of the work depicted loss and reconciliation while dancers moved to the lovely sound of a mezzo-soprano singing the lush poetry.

Richard Dickinson, "Four Last Songs." Photo by Mark Horning and courtesy of Verb Ballets

Richard Dickinson, “Four Last Songs.” Photo by Mark Horning and courtesy of Verb Ballets

Dickinson’s work is powerful. It builds slowly (and even in slow motion as the dancers pass across stage in the semi-darkness), but gathers speed and force in the concluding moments.

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