Verb Ballets is a dance company for the community

Verb Ballets is a contemporary ballet company based out of Shaker Heights – just north of Akron – and performing all over Northeastern Ohio. A repertory-based company without a resident choreographer, they present classic ballet works but also feature an array of emerging and established choreographers to balance out programs with contemporary dance styles.
The company is run by Margaret Carlson, Executive Director and former principal dancer with the Cleveland San Jose Ballet; and Richard Dickinson, Associate Director and former principal dancer and ballet master with the Ohio Ballet under its nationally acclaimed co-founder and choreographer Heinz Poll. It consists of four men and four women, all classically-trained dancers who are also adept at interpreting modern works from contemporary choreographers, and all of whom have relocated to Ohio from places like New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles and Dallas to perform in this company.
“People like coming to this area,” says Jen Garlando, community engagement manager with Verb Ballets. “It’s a nice place to [where they are] able to support themselves as a dancer.”
It’s a story that gets told a lot: an area that is perhaps a bit of an unlikely place to attract top talent is desirable for its livability, if not for its pedigree. New York is New York and always will be, but cities like Akron and Detroit offer something that New York, by virtue of its size and its prestige (see also: expense), never can – an opportunity to make a sustainable living as an artist, and enjoy an increased sense of community and belonging.
Dancers are on an 11-month contract and, in addition to performing, participate in outreach and education programs. “The dancers are integrated into the community to go out and interact,” Garlando says.
One program through which they engage the community is Moving Connections, a bi-weekly movement-based dance therapy program for senior citizens throughout Northeast Ohio’s nursing and assisted living homes. Verb Ballets has worked with seniors since its initial season, fostering wellness and healthy, active lifestyles by teaching principles of breathing, stretching, balance, and partnering, techniques that are not exclusive to those without physical limitations. “They look forward to the dancers coming in,” says Garlando. “The dancers will also perform for [the people in the homes] since they don’t have the opportunity to get out that easily.”
From the oldest area populations to the youngest, Verb Ballets also works with children through school education programs and children’s ballets. Programs like “Shape Imagination” and “Exploring Asia” – academic enhancement and cultural literacy programs – are done as either day programs or residencies in partnership with schools and libraries.
“Shape Imagination” explores geographic shapes, designs, and choreographic patterns as dancers do lifts, jumps, and turns while holding brightly-colored balloons, enhancing students’ understanding of geometry and mathematics through movement set to orchestral and operatic music.
“Exploring Asia” features several different dances that relate back to Asian culture, cultivating knowledge and understanding by taking students on a “tour” of the Asian continent and how that culture relates back to their own through traditional Chinese Tai Chi and Philippine dances, as well as Heinz Poll’s famous choreography from Ravel’s Bolero, which blends traditional Indian and modern dance.
“Wigglewords” targets the pre-K to 4th grade age group using basic dance movements for each letter of the alphabet, enhancing a wide range of kinetic literacy skills through interactive movement. “Wigglewords” is offered in conjunction with performances and in outreach settings, like Akron’s first Better Block Project.
Verb Ballets is also partnered with Akron’s Children’s Concert Society on low-cost, subsidized performances for school kids, which will include a brand-new production of Peter Pan next spring.
School-age children and senior citizens aren’t the only ones who benefit from the outreach, education, and engagement work Verb Ballets does. Community members can learn choreography and performance techniques then show off their newly-learned skills in a community performance with the Adverb Project. There are also open community classes for teens and adults and master classes for dancers, as well as partnerships with local dance studios on customized master classes.
Of course, the company also performs, too. In February, 2016 they will honor the memory of Heinz Poll, who was hugely influential in the Northeastern Ohio dance scene, with an evening performance of his work honoring the 90th anniversary of his birth. There is also the annual Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, in addition to a full roster of year-round programming with their regular season and a variety of additional performances in partnership with other local events and organizations.