Cuba’s Malpaso Dances Its Way Into Cleveland Audiences’ Hearts Again


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Malpaso in Aszure Barton’s “Indomitable Waltz.” Photo by Judy Ondrey.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

While Cuba may only be 103 miles from the United States at its closest point, for many it is worlds away in its mystery as a land seemingly caught in time. So when Cuban contemporary dance company Malpaso returned to Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre (they previously performed there in 2016) for two free performances, that immense curiosity once again translated into packed houses to see them.

Sponsored by the Cleveland Foundation as part of their Creative Fusion: Cuba Edition, and presented by DANCECleveland as a launch to their 2017-18 season, Malpaso proved once again they are more than mere curiosity, they are a world-class dance troupe with a unique fusion of influences and styles.

Their program on June 3, began as their previous Cleveland one did with company artistic director Osnel Delgado’s 13-minute duet “Ocaso” (Sunset), set to music by Kronos Quartet, Max Richter and English electronic music duo Autechre.

As the stage lights came up on dancers Daile Carrazana and Abel Rojo they had their backs to the audience. Side-by-side, arms wrapped around each other they then walked toward the back of the stage like lovers out on a stroll.  At times, each dropped and dipped their body at the other’s side; perhaps a metaphor for the ups and downs common in a romantic relationship. This vision of a couple’s intimate bond played out throughout the duet manifesting itself in changes in the mood of the work, and in the emotions conveyed by the two dancers who were intently expressive in their happiness as well as in their strife in Delgado’s illustrative choreography.

Never straying far from each other’s touch, the dancers swirled around each other like milkweed seeds floating on a breeze. They embraced, leaned on each other and occasionally pushed themselves apart from the other at an energetic pace. From time-to-time that pace was broken by a dancer reclining on the stage floor such as when the tall, but surprisingly nimble Rojo, tenderly lowered mighty mite Carrazana to floor as if she had fallen into slumber.

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Malpaso dancers in Osnel Delgado’s “Ocaso.” Photo by Robert Torres.

Of the handful of works Delgado has choreographed for the troupe he co-founded in 2012, “Ocaso” is perhaps his most complete. With its engaging choreography, compelling narrative of a couple’s life together and adroit dancing, it was a wonderful lead in to the brilliance that was to follow.

Inspired by a transitional moment in choreographer/filmmaker Trey McIntyre’s life when he was burning stacks of old papers from his recently defunct Trey McIntyre Project, “Under Fire” created on Malpaso in 2015, had a cathartic feel to it to go along with McIntyre’s signature ease of movement.  A somewhat folksy mood pervaded the piece and like in choreographer Nacho Duato’s works, McIntyre’s innovative, contemporary dance-styled choreography seemed to glide atop a cultural foundation that felt much older in spirit.

The 22-minute work for 8-dancers, set to five songs by Boise, Idaho-based singer/songwriter Kelsey Swope (a.k.a. Grandma Kelsey) had Malpaso’s dancers moving about the stage interweaving with one another in patterns a la country-western dance.

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Malpaso dancers in Trey McIntyre’s “Under Fire.” Photo by Yi-Chun Wu.

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Malpaso dancers in Trey McIntyre’s “Under Fire.” Photo by Yi-Chun Wu.

In the opening section of the work, all eight of its dancers clustered into a group only to have several of them suddenly dart off the stage, leaving behind a smaller group of dancers to carry out a finely-crafted movement phrase. This pattern continued on with delightful invention several more times before a song change sent the dancers off in another equally delightful direction.  Most memorable were an athletic solo by Rojo and a powerfully moving duet performed by Delgado and dancer Dunia Acosta to an emotionally searing cover of Dolly Parton’s 1973 ballad “Jolene.”

The program closed with choreographer Aszure Barton’s “Indomitable Waltz” (2016), an exploration of the soul under extreme emotional circumstances. Set to an eclectic mix of music from composers Alexander Balanescu, Michael Nyman and Nils Frahm, the 26-minute gem was co-commissioned by DANCECleveland and the Cleveland Foundation.

Enchanted by what she saw as the beauty in the decay of Havana’s architecture, Barton created choreography for the dancers to reflect that. Broken ankle-like steps revealed a kind of ugly beauty.  Arms wriggled about, dancers hunched like apes traversed the stage in unison, rocking back and forth to the music in a dreamlike waltz and partnered group dances ended with half the dancers being caught in backward falls by their partners who cradled the back of their necks.

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Malpaso in Aszure Barton’s “Indomitable Waltz.” Photo by Judy Ondrey.

Throughout the work you got the sense of seeing images related to the dancers’ personal lives and of life in Cuba. Childlike playfulness, solemnness, and an overcoming of obstacles were all filtered through Barton’s quirky movement lens.

In the end, as with many of her works, one is left to marvel at Barton’s choreographic peculiarities. With “Indomitable Waltz” that sensation also came with a poignancy that touched the soul as well.

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.

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New Dance-centric Fringe Festival Invites Audiences to ‘Lose Their Marbles’ Over a Plethora of Dance and Performance Art


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Holly Handman-Lopez. Photo courtesy of the artist.

By Steve Sucato

Dance-centric fringe festival Lose Your Marbles at the Trolley Barn in Akron this Saturday, June 10, is the latest in an impressive glut of summer dance events in Northeast Ohio that most areas of the country would be envious of. Joining the venerable Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival in Akron, plus a boatload of summer dance in nearby Cleveland, Lose Your Marbles takes a somewhat different artistic approach to the rest of the region’s offerings with more experimental and avant-garde dance artists and dance works.

Founded by Neos Dance Theatre’s Robert Wesner with the support of a $100,000 Knight Foundation grant, Lose Your Marbles ─ which Wesner says takes its name from the colloquial phrase about losing one’s mental faculties and Akron’s history as a marble making behemoth in the late 1800s ─ will take its cue from other fringe festivals across the globe in allowing artists to take risks and inviting audiences into the creative process.

“With it being a fringe festival model we really are going to push work that lives on the fringe of what we might think of as a normal dance presentation,” says Wesner.

Wesner says while he wants to differentiate Lose Your Marbles from the region’s other summer dance offerings, he also wants the festival to be a partner with the others in bringing great art to the area. To that end, he has been working closely with the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival and the City of Akron in the development of Lose Your Marbles.

Wesner says the festival will adhere to a few guiding principles such as what he terms as “a good mix of tried [artists who have had their work seen by audiences] and untried artists [those who haven’t or are just beginning to].”

Another guiding principle is programming a mixture of local, statewide and national acts. Wesner feels this is important so that the festival has culls influence from as broad a spectrum of the dance and performance art communities as possible.

The goal is to serve a wide-variety of audiences with varying interests says Wesner. For this pilot year, Wesner says the festival has been curated by him and his staff. So unlike some other fringe festivals, at least this year, Lose Your Marbles will be very PG and approachable to families. In future, when Wesner plans on opening artist entry into the festival to an application process, he says future audiences might see artist-sponsored performances whose works may be more risqué or controversial.

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“Lose Your Marbles” festival founder Robert Wesner of Neos Dance Theatre. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“I am very open to people wanting to explore dance and performance art in the widest range,” says Wesner. “I think it is really important we don’t censor artists, but that we give them an opportunity to explore what they need to explore and hopefully get some feedback from the audience that is valuable to them.”

Wesner hopes to see future festivals spread out into pop-up spaces, alternative performance spaces, theater spaces and other outdoor and indoor spaces all over Akron.  Giving audiences the opportunity to explore the city while binge-watching dance and other performances.

This year, in addition to watching the performances, audience members will also be given the opportunity to vote on what they liked best with best-of-show awards given out at festival’s end.

The Knight Foundation’s funding for Lose Your Marbles is for 3-years and after that Wesner hopes to have in place a self-sustaining model based mostly on ticket sales. For this initial launch however, Wesner says he doesn’t know what to expect in terms of turnout. “We are taking a great risk at doing this in terms of what flies and doesn’t,” says Wesner. “That is part of the fun. Akron has a great reputation for supporting dance and music and we are hoping they will embrace this festival.”

Here’s a breakdown of what’s on tap (times approximate): 

 

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Dr. Jonathan Gangi. Photo courtesy of the artist.

PRE-FESTIVAL EVENT (2:00 – 2:30pm)

Classical guitarist Dr. Jonathan Gangi warms up patrons at Akron gourmet ice cream shop Chill Ice Cream (21 Maiden Lane) with a pre-festival performance.

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Timbre Cierpke. Photo courtesy of the artist.

PERFORMANCE #1 (3:30 – 5:05pm)

Dr. Jonathan Gangi, assistant professor of music and arts entrepreneurship at Penn State University kicks off  Lose Your Marbles with a classical guitar performance. Then, Nashville-based harpist/singer-songwriter Timbre Cierpke who was recently featured on former White Stripes frontman Jack White’s album, Lazaretto, will play selections from her catalog including tunes from her latest album Sun & Moon.

PERFORMANCE #2 (5:20 – 6:10pm)

Oberlin College dance faculty member Holly Handman-Lopez joins forces with Lose Your Marbles founder and Neos Dance Theatre artistic director Robert Wesner in the duet “eleven years in”, choreographed and performed by the pair. Set to music by Mike Wall, the work evolved out of an experiment in entanglement of the dancer two bodies. Following every slip, spiral and slide Handman-Lopez says: “Our experiments evolved into a slippery ‘relationship piece’ that feels luscious and edgy to perform.”

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Robin Pritchard. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Professor of dance at The University of Akron Robin Prichard likes to joke early in life she sold her soul to the devil in exchange for amazing dancing ability and is still waiting for the amazing dancing ability. While she is waiting that hasn’t stopped her from creating work that utilizes her god given abilities as a dance artist. In her “The Art of Making Dances (Not About Ferguson)” she responds to the Black Lives Matter movement and to the violence against African American men in 2016.  “It asks: what can artists do to respond to violence and injustice?” The dance uses 19th century minstrelsy, ballet, modern dance, and hip hop movement test and song  and pairs it with the sounds from the violent police encounters.

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Verb Ballets. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Verb Ballets will present two short pas de deuxs including choreographer Daniel Precup’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (2013) set to music by Jacques Brel and danced by Verb’s Kelly Korfhage  and  Antonio Morillo. The other, former Akron University and Ohio Ballet alum Andrew Carroll’s “3:00am” (2014),  danced by Verb’s Kate Webb and Michael Hinton to Abel Korzeniowski’s “Satin Birds” from the 2011 film W.E., tells of two people in love basking in “that window of time when no one else exists in the world, 3 a.m.,” says Carroll.

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Ashley Pavy. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Rounding out Program #2 will be 2017 graduate from Wright State University Ashley Pavy and her work “Barakat”. The piece for 8-dancers says Pavy tells of the cycle of spiritual life. “You will see a cycle that begins with innocence and the idea of being ‘born again,’ to the feeling of eternal happiness…to melancholy, and finally to awareness and realization,” says Pavy.

PERFORMANCE #3 (6:20 – 7:00pm)

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Kaustavi Sarkar. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Third year doctoral student at Ohio State University, dancer-choreographer Kaustavi Sarkar will present “Radhike,” a duet for her and dancer Julia Ayau that Sarkar sees and a “joint collaboration between Indian classical aesthetics and literary theory.” Danced to live music, the work expresses the mythological character Radha’s travels in love as she expresses the various hues of it in text, rhythm, and movement. Says Sarkar: “The dance has been adapted to twelfth century poet Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda that is a lyrical ballad describing the celestial love story between Radha and her eternal lover Krishna.”

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Fenn & Company. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Neos Dance Theatre dancer/choreographer Mary-Elizabeth Fenn’s side-project Fenn & Company will present “Playing House,” two duets danced by Fenn and Molly Mingey that showcase a family’s peculiar interactions including a brother and sister fighting over a Barbie Doll head and a Mother and Father serving up flatulence and chicken drumsticks for dinner.

Also on the program will be a reprise of Holly Handman-Lopez duet “eleven years in” and a performance by host company Neos Dance Theatre.

PERFORMANCE #4 (7:15 – 8:00pm)

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Duane Gosa, a.k.a. Helen Highwaters. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Central Ohio native and 2008 University of Akron grad Duane Gosa, a.k.a. Helen Highwaters of drag company Ballet Trockadero will perform the first of his two solos at Lose Your Marbles, a variation from Marius Petipa’s ballet Paquita, about a Spanish gypsy girl. Also on Program #4 will be performances by Mansfield, Ohio-native and member of NYC’s Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Terk Lewis Waters, a reprise of Verb Ballets’ pas de deuxs and Neos Dance Theatre in a ballet by director of dance at Michigan’s Interlochen Center for the Arts, Joseph Morrissey.

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Terk Lewis Waters. Photo courtesy of the artist.

PERFORMANCE #4 (8:15 – 9:15pm)

Inlet Dance Theatre will present a reimagined version of “10”, a 2013 duet by Inlet artistic director/choreographer Bill Wade to celebrate dancers Joshua Brown and Elizabeth Pollert’s tenth season with company. The duet performed by Inlet’s Katie McGaha and Kevin Parker will feature a commissioned score by Sean Ellis Hussey and live interactive video projections by Mihaela Kavdanska.

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Inlet Dance Theatre. Photo by Alexandru Patatics.

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GroundWorks DanceTheater. Photo courtesy of the artist.

GroundWorks DanceTheater will reprise artistic director/choreographer David Shimotakahara’s “Chromatic,” a work the company performed at the Akron-Summit County Library last November. Danced to a suite of player piano roll music by American composer Conlon Nancarrow, the work mixes opposing dance movements by the dancers from the waist up and down.

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Ma’Sue. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Akron-based theatre company Ma’Sue will present “Body Memories,” a theatre/movement piece engaging in a dialogue about the concept of the mother/son bond. The work looks at how this relationship grows and changes over time.

Closing out the program will be the second of Duane Gosa as Helen Highwaters’ solos, dancing a humorous interpretation of Michel Fokine’s legendary ballet “The Dying Swan” with music by Camille Saint-Saens.

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Lucky Plush Productions. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The festival’s performances conclude at 9:30pm with headliners Lucky Plush Productions from Chicago and their work “Cinderbox 2.0” which company artistic director Julia Rhoads says “explores the comedy and anxiety in our hyper-networked culture through a fragmented narrative, witty commentary, and a performance that blurs the distinctions between observer and observed, personal and presentational, scripted and off-the-cuff.”

The first annual Lose Your Marbles fringe festival then concludes at 10:00pm with the audience-voted Best of Show Awards and closing remarks by Wesner and staff.

Lose Your Marbles Fringe Festival takes place 3:30pm-10pm, Saturday, June 10 at the Trolley Barn, 47 N. Main  Street, Akron, Ohio. Tickets $10-25. Visit loseyourmarbles.org for a full listing of ticket options and to purchase as well as get detailed information on the artists performing and up-to-date scheduling.

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ARTS AIR EXCLUSIVE: Patricia Barker Named Artistic Director of Royal New Zealand Ballet


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By Steve Sucato

Former Pacific Northwest Ballet star and current artistic director of Grand Rapids Ballet, Patricia Barker will become the Royal New Zealand Ballet’s twelfth artistic director and only the second female director in its 64-year history. She takes over from current RNZB artistic director Francesco Ventriglia on June 19, 2017. Ventriglia will stay on as a choreographer for the company.

Barker says the application process involved her submitting a strategic overview with a sample production plan. She met with RNZB’s search committee via  video conference calls and spent three days at the company’s home in Wellington where, in addition to meeting and talking with the organization’s board and staff ─  including fellow American executive director Frances Turner ─  she had a question and answer session with RNZB’s dancers.

“It’s exciting, they have an excellent reputation, wonderful reviews and a great spirit and energy in the studio,” says Barker.

According to Barker, RNZB was looking for a unique identity for their 36-member company and she feels she can create that for them. “All the works I did at Grand Rapids Ballet definitely gave us a unique identity. I look at each transition as an exciting change, building on an organization’s successes that came before while looking toward the future. We did that in Grand Rapids and I think I can do that here.”

With a 13-million dollar budget and a history of international touring, Barker says she is ready to apply what she has learned in her career at Pacific Northwest Ballet, as a dancewear entrepreneur and at Grand Rapids Ballet  to moving RNZB forward.

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Patricia Barker in the studio with Grand Rapids Ballet dancers. Photo by Michael Auer.

With their 2018 season already set, Barker says she will be initially working on programming for 2019 as well as getting to know the dancers and the organization. With that advanced planning in place along with seasonal differences in when RNZB performs, it will allow Barker to also stay on as artistic director at Grand Rapids Ballet during the coming 2017-18 season.

“It’s nice because their [New Zealand’s] summer is our winter and there will be opposite weeks of work,” says Barker. “I can do a lot remotely and be in Grand Rapids for the opening of productions.” She also says she still plans on staging a few ballets on the company.

GRB’s 2017-18 season, which includes a program of highlights from Sleeping Beauty, Swan Lake, Giselle, Esmeralda and Don Quixote; their annual The Nutcracker production re-imagined by Polar Express author Chris Van Allsburg; two repertory programs celebrating diversity with world-premiere works by some of today’s most influential choreographers; and the world-premiere of choreographer Penny Saunders’ Oscar Wilde inspired ballet The Happy Prince and other Wilde Tales, will now act as a farewell celebration of Barker’s 7-years with the GRB, taking it from a relatively unknown regional troupe to one with a national presence.

On moving to the other side of the world the 54-year-old Barker says: “I am an adventurous individual with one more adventure in me. I am so proud of what we created at Grand Rapids Ballet, the platform for choreographers, especially women choreographers and the prolific amount of works we have done has been incredible. Also, the development of talent, including local talent, has been wonderful to be a part of. The fun thing about going somewhere else is bringing all that I have learned and experienced here and applying it there.”

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.

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Dancing Wheels Production to Celebrate Music Icon David Bowie


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Dancing Wheels’ Demarco Sleeper and Sara Lawrence-Sucato in Dezaré Foster’s “Labyrinth: A Tribute”. Photos by Dale Dong and Design by G. Michael Bargas.

By Steve Sucato

Last summer when a freakish windstorm knocked out power at Cleveland Heights’ Cain Park, it also took with it Dancing Wheels’ scheduled world-premiere of “Labyrinth: A Tribute,” a dance work based on the 1986 film Labyrinth starring the David Bowie. While the cancellation was certainly unfortunate, it did provide the 36-year-old Cleveland-based physically integrated dance company with the opportunity to now create an entire evening themed around Bowie and his music. The Best of Bowie at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica will not only feature several Bowie-scored dance works, but the production will be interspersed with facts, lesser known trivia and video footage about the late rock icon provided by local Bowie aficionado, CoolCleveland’s Thomas Mulready and be followed by a Bowie-themed post-performance party.

Acting as master of ceremonies for the evening, Mulready says he has had a lifelong interest in Bowie and his music that has weathered the many stylistic changes in Bowie’s music over the span of his career.

“Everything he would come up with was very different from the thing he did before so if you got hooked into the androgyny of Ziggy Stardust and then a few years later he’s doing ‘Young Americans’ and he is like a soul singer, people would turn off and he would get a whole new audience and lose the old one,” says Mulready. “I was there all along.”

Whether as musical alter egos the “Thin White Duke,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Aladdin Sane” or “Major Tom,” David Robert Jones, a.k.a. David Bowie, is one of the most recognizable and revered figures in popular music history. With a string of hits and record sales of some 140 million over his 50-year career, Bowie was one of the world’s best-selling music artists. The multi-talented singer-songwriter, actor, painter, art collector and 1996 Rock Hall-inductee’s death of liver cancer at age 69 in 2016 sent shockwaves worldwide.

In celebration of Bowie’s legacy, The Best of Bowie will open with the premiere of Dancing Wheels’ rehearsal director Catherine Meredith’s “Pallas Athena.” Danced to Bowie’s “Pallas Athena (Don’t Stop Praying mix No 2)” off 1993’s Black Tie White Noise album, the work and the song’s title come from the Greek goddess, Athena, who is depicted in Athenian statues under the form of Pallas Athena. For Bowie, the song grew out of his interest in how man relates to God.

Says Meredith of the piece, “The impetus for the movement came from my years spent in NYC/London nightclubs. For many, the DJ and the club acted as a god and church/sanctuary where people were free to be who they were without judgment.” In it, Meredith says Dancing Wheels’ dozen dancers will represent the individual’s struggle to have their voice heard above the crowd.

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Dancing Wheels in Michael Uthoff’s “Straight Down the Middle”. Photo credit: Ellie Montenegro.

Next, Pittsburgh-based choreographer Beth Corning’s new work “These Are The Days,” reunites Meredith and Dancing Wheels founder/artistic director Mary Verdi-Fletcher with former company dancers Hoang (Mac) Dang, Libby Dang and Shannon Sterne. Corning, whose ongoing Glue Factory Project for dancers over forty has earned her critical acclaim nationally, brings that same sensibility in working with veteran dancers to this work. She describes it as a visceral, metaphoric reflection of her confusion, disbelief and uncertainty at the current social and political climates in U.S. and abroad. Set to a remastered version of Bowie’s “Space Oddity” along with music by Philip Glass, the work will be performed with the cast in wheelchairs.

“My choice to put all the dancers into [wheel]chairs was a conscious one,” says Corning. The [wheel]chair was not a replacement for movement, but rather a vehicle. The armchair liberal, the strange act of passively sitting while physically having to propel yourself in space in circles — an equalizer of sorts — as we pass each other, trying to connect, constantly moving, almost afraid to stop, to connect, to take responsibility, to relate to the moment.”

Students from the Dancing Wheels School will then take the stage in “Lightning,” a new work choreographed by school coordinator Emma Parker along with Brittany Kaplan and Gabriella Martinez. Danced to Bowie’s 1983 hit “Let’s Dance” and the Bowie/Queen collaboration “Under Pressure,” the lighthearted work will be a toe-tapping lead-in to the program’s final work, “Labyrinth: A Tribute.”

Choreographed by former Dancing Wheels’ star Dezaré Foster, the Northeast Ohio premiere of “Labyrinth: A Tribute” is a dance re-envisioning of Jim Henson’s cult classic film. Set to Bowie’s soundtrack for the film, the family-friendly story ballet, like the film, combines drama, humor and a host of quirky characters to tell the tale of young Sarah’s perilous journey to save — in this version — her sister Toby from the malevolent Goblin King.

“I watched this movie as a young child and David Bowie’s music stayed close to my heart,” says Foster. “I hope the combination of music, movement and story will invite you into this fantastical world where goblins are under your bed and just beyond the meadow is a maze full of mystery and magic.”

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Dancing Wheels. Photo by Dale Dong.

Following the production, audience members are invited to stick around for a post-performance party featuring Cleveland glam band Vanity Crash They’ll take the stage to play Bowie and glam rock tunes. There’ll also be dancing, desserts and drinks (cash bar), a silent auction and a dancer meet-and- greet. For those wanting the full VIP experience, Dancing Wheels is also offering a pre-show cocktail party beginning at 6:30 p.m. with hors d’oeuvres, open bar, silent auction and Best of Bowie bling. Funds raised from this event go to supporting Dancing Wheels’ outreach and educational programming and touring.

Dancing Wheels presents The Best of Bowie, 8 p.m., Saturday, June 10; Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica, 2014 Sycamore Street, Cleveland. General admission $40, Groups of 10 or more $30/each, VIP tickets $125. (216) 432-0306 or dancingwheels.org.

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.

This article was first published on CoolCleveland.com, June 3, 2017. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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