Neos Dance Theatre’s Robert Wesner Talks About His New Job, The Future Of Neos And The Company’s New Production, ‘Home for the Holidays, a Big Band Christmas’


Big Band Neos Brooke

Neos Dance Theatre’s Brooke Wesner. Photo courtesy of Neos Dance Theatre.

By Steve Sucato

On October 31st Neos Dance Theatre co-founder/artistic director Robert Wesner and Mississippi’s Belhaven University announced that he will be joining the Belhaven University Dance Department as senior instructor of dance and resident choreographer beginning in the fall of 2020. As he and the company prepare for their latest production, Home for the Holidays, a Big Band Christmas, December 21 & 22 at Lorain County Community College’s Stocker Arts Center, I talked with Wesner about his impending move, what it means for him and his family, and what it spells for the future of one of Northeast Ohio’s most beloved dance companies.

How did your new position at Belhaven University come about?

I had done some work as a guest choreographer and Neos had performed there before. The college is now really investing in the dance program and they wanted to expand their faculty and recruitment efforts. They knew of me and my work and reached out to me to see if I would be interested in joining the faculty.

What convinced you to take the job and move across the country?

As a small artist organization you are always living on the edge in terms of funding. It’s just difficult looking into the future to plan for our basic needs and those of the organization. This job came out of nowhere, but I really felt like the right thing to do for my family’s future.

What does this mean for the future of Neos Dance Theatre?

I am not quite ready to announce our plans for 2020, but I will have summers off and foresee programming for Neos in Northeast Ohio during those summer months as well as mounting other projects that are in the works.

Neos will no longer be a full-time dance company?

It will revert to how it began as a project-based company where we hire dancers as we need them and will rehearse and present work in the summer months. It will be a bittersweet ending to see the dancers we have been working with for so long transition out of Neos and look for other opportunities. I have been talking with the dancers and other directors about job placement for them.

Robert Wesner 1

Photo courtesy of Neos Dance Theatre.

Was there any thought of maintaining the company and organization as is and handing it over to another artistic director?

The board of directors and me knowing the intricacies of how I work and the infrastructure of the organization didn’t think that was viable. We are still a fairly young organization, only 7-years old, and we just didn’t have the time to institutionalize the organization for long-term sustainability.

You are giving your 1940s-themed The Nutcracker production a rest this holiday season in favor of a new holiday-themed show, tell me about it.

I have done collaborations with a couple big bands in the past but this is the first time we [Neos Dance Theatre] will be doing a holiday production with classic Christmas songs everybody recognizes such as “Sleigh Ride,” “Run Run Rudolph,” “White Christmas” and “Silver Bells,” plus some great Christmas songs that haven’t been so overplayed.

Who are your musical collaborators for this?

Acclaimed area singer Kelly Knowlton will join a band of high-caliber live musicians from the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra and elsewhere assembled by band leader Paul Martin.

Kelly Knowlton

Kelly Knowlton. Photo courtesy of Neos Dance Theatre.

Paul Martin

Paul Martin. Photo courtesy of Neos Dance Theatre.

I understand you and the company will be singing and tap dancing in this.

This production has that variety show feel and is a lot of fun. A couple of things that guided my decision making on what music we selected were how diverse of a range of movement genres I could choreograph in. We’re doing some classical ballet, some musical-theater style jazz, contemporary works, swing, tap dance and more. It has been really fun to artistically push the dancers.

It is also going to be a family-affair as well I hear.

All four of my daughters will be singing in it. I will be singing at least two songs and we will do one with the entire family in a sort Wesner/von Trapp number a la “The Sound of Music”.

While Wesner’s new post represents a big change for him and his family, he is keen to emphasize this is not the end of Neos Dance Theatre but a transition that will maintain its presence in Northeast Ohio at the minimum during the summer months. As for how that will look for the communities Neos has served in Akron, Ashland, Mansfield, Oberlin and beyond, and the future of the Neos Center for Dance as well as projects like the Akron-based dance-centric fringe festival Lose Your Marbles Wesner started in 2017, that remains to be seen.

Neos Dance Theatre presents Home for the Holidays, a Big Band Christmas, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, December 21 and 2 p.m., Sunday December 22 at Lorain County Community College’s Hoke Theatre of Stocker Arts Center, 1005 N. Abbe Road, Elyria. Tickets are $15-35. For Tickets and information call (440) 366-4040 or visit neosdancetheatre.org or lorainccc.edu/stocker.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Airings

The Debut of Canada’s RUBBERBANDance Group Brings with it a Unique Blend of Hip Hop and Contemporary Dance Styles


Vic's Mix photo 1 - Credit Bill Hebert

RUBBERBANDance Group in “Vic’s Mix”. Photo by Bill Hebert.

By Steve Sucato

One of the early pioneers of the seamless blending of hip hop dance styles and those of contemporary dance, Victor Quijada’s Montreal-based RUBBERBANDance Group has, the past decade or so, been creating the future of dance while waiting for the dance world to slowly catch up to that future.

Presented by DANCECleveland and Tri-C Performing Arts, the critically acclaimed company will make its Ohio debut on Saturday, November 9 at Playhouse Square’s Mimi Ohio Theatre for one performance only.

Born and raised in Los Angeles to Mexican parents (his father a foundry worker and his mother a factory worker), Quijada found his way to dance at age 8 through b-boying circles and hip-hop clubs. Formal training in other dance styles followed with Quijada becoming a member of LA’s Rudy Perez Performance Ensemble. His career as a professional dancer took off in the late 1990’s when he joined Twyla Tharp’s dance company THARP! and continued in stints with Eliot Feld’s Ballets Tech and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. His choreographic career came with the founding RUBBERBAND in 2002.

In a 2013 article for The Scotsman, Quijada said he is the product of “the culture I grew up in, the respect and wonder I have for art, the professional career I had in those high caliber classical and contemporary dance companies, and the interface between those places… If one of those things had been missing, it wouldn’t have led me here.”

Along with starting RUBBERBAND as an experiment in the movement blending of what he calls “the two poles that inhabit him,” Quijada conceived a technique for dancers he calls the RUBBERBAND Method that “combines the energy of hip hop, the refinement of classical ballet, and the angular quality of contemporary dance.”

Vic's Mix photo 14 - Credit Bill Hebert

RUBBERBANDance Group in “Vic’s Mix”. Photo by Bill Hebert.

That signature technique will be seen in full force in the company’s presentation of Vic’s Mix (2016), a retrospective and remix show that Quijada says he revises and remounts every 5-years and samples some of what he feels is his best bits of choreography from some 40 creations he has made for RUBBERBAND and other dance companies. Saturday’s 75-minute Vic’s Mix program will spans works from 2002-2013.

“It’s a look back on things that are still relevant to me and a chance for me to re-appropriate my own works that I have made for other companies,” said Quijada on the phone from Montreal.

Set to a soundtrack by various composers including original music from longtime company collaborator Jasper Gahunia, Vic’s Mix is delivered in 2 acts. Act 1 covers excerpts from Quijada’s early creations from 2002-2005 performed in sneakers. It will give audiences a taste of Quijada’s evolution as a choreographer and his use of the RUBBERBAND Method. Included in the act will be “The Traviattle” (2003) set to Giuseppe Verdi’s “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici” from the opera La traviata, a piece Quijada originally choreographed as part of his evening-length work Metabolism that has become an audience favorite.

Act 2 revisits excerpts from works made between 2008-2013 including “Second Coming,” a piece Quijada made for Scottish Dance Theatre in (2012). The aptly named work followed Quijada’s very first commission outside of RUBBERBAND, 2003’s “Self Observation Without Judgement” for Scottish Dance Theatre that earned the United Kingdom’s Peter Darrell Choreographic Award. Also a part of act 2 will be an excerpt from 2008’s Punto Ciego, inspired by the nonlinear approaches of author Milan Kundera and filmmaker Quentin Tarantino.

Vic's Mix photo 8 - Credit Bill Hebert

RUBBERBANDance Group in “Vic’s Mix”. Photo by Bill Hebert.

Vic’s Mix will be performed by RUBBERBAND’s 8-member company who are all steeped in the RUBBERBAND Method after intense training.

“Time here with RUBBERBAND kind of passes like dog years,” says Quijada. “The amount of change and growth in one year for a dancer is enough for 7-years.”

And while Saturday’s program will be RUBBERBAND’s area debut, Quijada’s work has been seen here before with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s performance of his “Physikal Linguistiks” in 2010 presented by DANCECleveland.  And the RUBBERBAND Method’s influences were seen recently in former company member James Gregg’s work “éveillé” (2018) for GroundWorks DanceTheater.

With Vic’s Mix Quijada says audiences will experience those things that drove the creation of his works in the first place: “human interactions, intimacy and connection, comedy and the feelings of highs and lows.”

RUBBERBANDance Group performs Vic’s Mix, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, November 9; Playhouse Square’s Mimi Ohio Theatre, 1511 Euclid Ave., Downtown, Cleveland. Tickets are $25-50. For tickets and information visit playhousesquare.org or call (216) 241-6000.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

 

 

 

 

 

Leave a comment

Filed under Airings, DANCECleveland

Parsons Dance’s Program a Delightful Mix of Current and Classic Works [REVIEW]


companyphoto1-travismagee

Parsons Dance. Photo by Travis Magee.

Parsons Dance
The University of Akron’s EJ Thomas Hall
Akron, Ohio
October 12, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Few choreographers begin their careers with what would be their seminal work. David Parsons did just that with his 1982 work “Caught”.  On the greatest hits list of modern dance works of the 20th century, “Caught” was one of five works Parsons Dance performed Saturday night at The University of Akron’s EJ Thomas Hall.

Presented by The University of Akron’s Dance Department and DANCECleveland to open its 2019-20 mainstage season, the popular NYC-based company was last in Northeast, Ohio as part of DANCECleveland’s 2015 season.

roundmyworld2-travismagee

Parsons Dance in “Round My World”. Photo by Travis Magee.

Parsons Dance’s mixed repertory program capped a week-long residency at the University and led off with Parsons’ 2012 work “Round My World” to music by Canadian-born cellist and composer Zoë Keating.  Constructed on themes of roundedness and circularity, Parsons’ choreography for the zippy work took those themes and ran with them. The troupe’s 6 dancers engaged in a myriad of rounded arm and circular movements and jumps. The visual equivalent of an ear worm, Parson’s pleasant choreographic patterns lodged themselves in the viewer’s mind circling round and round.

Next came choreographer Trey McIntyre’s latest work set to a suite of songs from a popular music artist, “Eight Women” (2019). Danced to music by the late Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, the work for the company’s 8 dancers had a similar vibe to “Round My World” but with a funkier approach. In it, Parson’s dancers led by Henry Steele, interpreted the mood of such Franklin hits as “Spanish Harlem,” “I Say A Little Prayer” and “Natural Woman” via breezy, direction-shifting hops and turning steps that were soothing to watch.

eightwomen1-travismagee

Parsons Dance in “Eight Women”. Photo by Travis Magee.

microburst

Parsons Dance in “Microburst”. Photo courtesy of Parsons Dance.

A protégé of Paul Taylor, whose company he danced for many years, many of Parsons’ own works show influences of Taylor in their style. “Microburst” (2018) was not one of them. The somewhat unique dance work mixed elements of tap and modern dance to an original Indian tabla score by Avirodh Sharama.  Reflecting the work’s title, the sound effect of a storm ushered in the piece in darkness. Then the stage lights came up on a quartet of dancers whose microbursts of movement were tied to and punctuated notes in the illustrative drum music. Originally performed with a live tabla player onstage, Parsons added the placement of a small silver bell onstage as a stand-in for the missing musician that was rung once during the piece by dancer Zoey Anderson.

Substituting tap and modern dance movement and attitude for the traditional Indian dance choreography one might expect paired with the tabla score, the engaging work was a breath of fresh air in its appeal and in the charm it allowed dancers Anderson, Shawn Lesniak, Deidre Rogan and Joan Rodriguez to exhibit in their dancing.

Then, after a quick costume change by Anderson, the blonde-haired powerhouse from Utah performed “Caught”.

maxresdefault

Zoey Anderson in “Caught”. Photo courtesy of Parsons Dance.

Created by Parsons and company co-founder and lighting designer for all the works on the program Howell Binkley, the 6-minute solo to music by Robert Fripp used a strobe effect and a hundred or so jumps to give the illusion of Anderson flying about the stage not touching ground but for a few pauses to stand in spotlight in a military at ease pose center stage.  An audience favorite, the work has been performed over 2,500 times mostly by male company members. Anderson was spot on in her performance of the work garnering the stunned reactions and appreciative applause audiences generally give the work.

Rounding out the program was Parsons’ 1990 nod to Brazilian culture, “Nascimento” (Portuguese for “birth”). A frequent program closer, the work was inspired by and set to an original score by Brazilian singer/songwriter Milton Nascimento, Parsons’ 8 dancers skipped and bounded about the stage in joyous and playful choreography full of kicks, spins and lifts to an infectious beat that dared you to try and sit still.

Per usual Parsons Dance delivered a program of works with one goal — to entertain.  A rousing standing ovation at program’s end signaled mission accomplished.

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.

Leave a comment

Filed under Dance Reviews 2019, DANCECleveland