"Paw" de deux

Lions, tigers and ... ballet dancers? Oh my!

No, this isn't a ballet tribute to "The Wizard of Oz." The Cleveland Museum of Natural History and VERB Ballets are teaming up to combine dance and nature. On the first weekend of this month, VERB will perform in the Murch Auditorium and blend natural themes into its routines.

Artistic director Hernando Cortez describes it as "an evolution" of nature into movement. He choreographed three of the six pieces, including one featuring Huang Doudou, a Chinese dancer who some predict will be the dance world's next big name.

"Expect something totally different than what has been seen in Cleveland," Cortez says. Like VERB Ballets, Doudou has taken traditional dances and modified them in innovative ways.

Though this is the first time outside artists have performed in the museum, Dick Heislman, manager of special events at the Natural History Museum, says the collaboration seemed natural and he hopes to make it an annual event.

For instance, VERB's signature piece, Planet Soup, will incorporate Indonesian Wayang Golek puppets from the museum's cultural anthropology collections.

Another, Awassa Astrige/ Ostrich, parallels the exhibit Feathered Dinosaurs: The Bird/Dinosaur Connection. The exhibit, which has been extended by a week especially for the performance, features robotic dinosaurs and their feathered friends. (The life-size ostrich in the opening seems to follow guests around.)

"The show gives us a look to where we came from, where we are and where we will be," Cortez says. "How animals move can be inspiration for how dancers move."

VERB Ballets will perform Nature Moves at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History June 3 and 4. Tickets are $25 per person or $40 per person and include admission to the opening or closing receptions.

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