GroundWorks’ Fall Triple Bill Offers Up Two World Premieres


GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Michael Marquez in Beth Corning’s “At Once There Was a House.” Photo courtesy of GroundWorks DanceTheater.

By Steve Sucato

Writing about the three choreographers on GroundWorks DanceTheater’s 2016 Fall Dance Series is familiar ground for me. I’ve known and published articles and reviews about dancer/choreographer Beth Corning and GroundWorks’ artistic director David Shimotakahara and their works for well over a decade. The other, former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago company member Robyn Mineko Williams, for just a handful of years including profiling her for Dance Magazine’s prestigious 2015 “25 to Watch” issue. All are gifted and experienced professionals with diverse artistic voices and approaches to creating dance works. So to include works by each on one program offers the potential for pure magic.

I first saw Beth Corning’s “At Once There Was a House” when GroundWorks debuted it in 2004. Since then I have been witness to several iterations of it in Pittsburgh by Corning’s former company Dance Alloy Theater and her current project-based company, CorningWorks. The 30-minute dance-theater piece is a one whose bones essentially remain the same each iteration, but whose skin changes with each new cast of performers.

“It’s a piece you don’t reset,” says Corning.  “You have to rebuild the entire piece based on completely different characters. Audiences who have seen the work before may recall a particular section, but it will be done very differently.”

“At Once There Was a House” poses the question: What ever happened to Dick and Jane?  Those idealized elementary school educational icons used to teach children in the U.S. to read from the 1930’s through the 1970’s.


Beth Corning rehearsing GroundWorks DanceTheater in “At Once There Was a House.” Photo by Beth Rutkowski.


GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Lauren Garson rehearsing Beth Corning’s “At Once There Was a House.” Photo by Beth Rutkowski.

Set to a collage of music from classical to Tom Waits, the dark, often poignant, and sometimes humorous work, looks in on a group of current day Dicks and Janes whose lives barely resemble those of the idyllic storybook characters.

In adapting the critically-acclaimed work to GroundWorks’ current cast of five – including Felise Bagley who was an original cast member – Corning uses material derived in part from each of the dancer’s personal lives.

“It’s fun that way,” she says. “You don’t act this piece. It has to be real.”

Whereas Corning and dancers bring new life to older work, the world premiere of Shimotakahara’s “Chromatic” has him boldly going where he hasn’t gone before in terms of movement language.

Set to a suite of music by American composer Conlon Nancarrow (1912 –1997), the 20-minute work for the full company, says Shimotakahara, “is a response to his (Nancarrow’s) idiosyncratic sounding music more than anything else.”


Conlon Nancarrow.

Nancarrow, who is best remembered for his studies for player piano that are un-performable by humans, says  Shimotakahara, layers various styles of music in his compositions to create an intriguing disconnect. “Chromatic,” he says, explores parallel ideas found in the music to develop a physical disconnect in the way the dancers move.

“I like this idea of things being a little off,” says Shimotakahara.

The result is a new movement vocabulary for Shimotakahara where elements from social dances like tango and others occupy the dancers’ lower bodies while a completely different movement vocabulary simultaneously occupies the dancers’ upper bodies.

The recipient of a 2013 Princess Grace Foundation Choreographic Fellowship and several other awards, Mineko Williams is a sought after contemporary dance choreographer. I first saw her work on Grand Rapids Ballet in 2014 and was impressed by her compositional clarity and her way of infusing fragility and heartfelt emotion into her choreography. For the world premiere of her “Part Way,” created for GroundWorks, Mineko Williams does more of the same but in a different way.

“A lot of how I approach a new works has to do with the dancers I am working with at the time,” says Mineko Williams. “Those individuals, their chemistry, and the way they work together drive the creation for me.”


Choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams rehearses her new work “Part Way” with GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Michael Marquez. Photo by Beth Rutkowski.


GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Michael Marquez and Stephanie Terasaki rehearse choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams’ new work “Part Way.” Photo by Beth Rutkowski.

The 15-minute, non-narrative dance work is stylistically more in the vein of those she has created for Hubbard Street and Visceral Dance Chicago. In a rehearsal of it I watched this past July, the choreography was detailed and gestural. The dancers twisted, turned and leaned into each other for support.

Says Mineko Williams, the work is in part inspired by the idea of perseverance and moving forward.

“To move on sometimes you need to access the help of your friends and family and the experiences you have had in the past,” says Mineko Williams.

In support that idea she says the dancers sometimes act as mirrors or echoes of the past.

“Part Way” is set to Sergei Rachmaninoff’s sorrowful “Trio (piano, violin and cello) Elégiaque No. 1 in G Minor.” Like Shimotakahara with regard to movement language, Mineko Williams says the choice of music is something new for her.

“I haven’t used an emotional, classical work like this before,” says Mineko Williams. “There is something cyclical about it. There are a lot of emotions…deep guttural feelings contained within the music.”


GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Felise Bagley rehearses choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams’ new work “Part Way.” Photo by Beth Rutkowski.

Emblematic of the notion of perseverance, GroundWorks, now in its 18th season, continues to forge ahead as one of the region’s best and most forward-thinking dance troupes. This program is in keeping all those qualities.

GroundWorks DanceTheater performs its 2016 Fall Dance Series, 7:30 p.m., Friday, October 14 & Saturday, October 15 at the Allen Theatre at Playhouse Square, 1407 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. Reserved Seating $20-25, Children under 18 and students $10 (Use Promo Code 1STU), CSU Students with a Valid ID FREE. For tickets: (216) 241-6000, or

The 2016 Fall Dance Series repeats 7:30 p.m., Friday, November 18 & Saturday, November 19 at the Akron-Summit County Public Library, 60 S High St, Akron. Reserved Seating $20-25, Children under 18 and students $10, University of Akron Students FREE with valid ID (available night of show only). For tickets: (216) 751-0088 or

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Cincinnati Ballet’s ‘Director’s Cut’ Amused, Charmed and Enthralled


Maizyalet Velázquez, Sirui Liu and Christina LaForgia Morse in Ma Cong’s “Near Light.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

Cincinnati Ballet
Director’s Cut
Procter & Gamble Hall at Aronoff Center
Cincinnati, Ohio
September 16, 2016

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

To kick off her 20th anniversary season as artistic director of Cincinnati Ballet, Victoria Morgan culled together seven diverse ballets for the program Director’s Cut, performed by Cincinnati Ballet, September 16-17, 2016 at the Aronoff Center’s Procter & Gamble Hall in downtown Cincinnati.

Performed in part to live music by the Cincinnati Ballet Orchestra conducted by Carmon Deleone, Director’s Cut amused, charmed and enthralled opening night, September 16 beginning with New York City Ballet resident choreographer Justin Peck’s “Capricious Maneuvers” (2013).

Presently, one of ballet’s “it” choreographers, Peck’s neoclassical ballet was a satisfying blend of classic NYCB style infused with contemporary ballet sensibilities. Danced to Lukas Foss’ “Capriccio for Cello and Piano” performed live by cellist Nathaniel Chaitkin and pianist Michael Chertock, the ballet for five had a relaxed feel to it.  Dancers paired off in partnered movement phrases, while others nonchalantly stood by watching. Peck’s breezy choreography was playful and sophisticated a la a Mark Morris work. And like a Morris work, its ease look belied its technical difficulty. Up to the challenge, newly promoted senior soloist Sirui Liu shined in the ballet with a combination of textbook form and silky-smooth port de bras.


Cincinnati Ballet dancers in Justin Peck’s “Capricious Maneuvers.” Photo by Peter Mueller.


James Cunningham and Sirui Liu in Justin Peck’s “Capricious Maneuvers.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

Next, petite powerhouse Chisako Oga teamed up with José Losada for “Black Swan Pas de Deux,” from Swan Lake choreographed by Morgan after Marius Petipa. In it, Oga was slow to immerse herself in the devilishly seductive Odile character. When she finally did her performance moved from decent to delicious. As “Black Swan” pairings go, Oga and Losada were overall technically solid but lacked chemistry which diminished the famous pas de deux’s emotional impact.

One of the program’s pleasant surprises was company soloist James Cunningham’s whimsical “Prohibition Condition.” Set to music by Dmitri Shostakovich, the solo for CB principal dancer Rodrigo Almarales proved an audience favorite. From the moment Almarales stumbled on to the stage in a comically drunken stupor, he endeared himself to the audience. His mugging and making fun of orchestra conductor Deleone’s movements in the pit elicited audience chuckles. For his part, Cunningham’s well-crafted choreography balanced clever, inebriation-inspired movement with bravura ballet fireworks in which Almarales tossed off series of jumps, pirouettes and attitude turns with relative ease.

Created for San Francisco Ballet in 2008, Yuri Possokhov’s “Fusion” (Excerpts), with music by Graham Fitkin, had a dreamlike atmosphere about it. It opened with dancer Sarah Van Patten performing a contemporary ballet solo on one end of the stage while behind her on the opposite side, a quartet of male dancers, backs to the audience in long skirts, stood with arms around each other’s waists in shadow. Van Patten was soon joined by Luke Ingham and the choreography took on a melancholy mood with bendy movements and those suggesting falling. Moving out from the shadows, the quartet of men then began to softly twirl like ghostly whirling dervishes. Perhaps seeing the ballet in its entirety would give one a better sense of it, nonetheless, the imagery and performances by the dancers in these excerpts related a sense of beauty that stirred internal emotions.


Sarah Hairston and Zack Grubbs (center) with CBII and Otto M. Budig Academy Students in Marius Petipa’s “Raymonda Grand Pas Hongrois.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

Rounding out the program’s first half, the “Grand Pas Hongrois” from the ballet Raymonda was bittersweet for Cincinnati Ballet fans. On the one hand it was a spectacle of classical ballet pomp and circumstance. On the other however, it was one of principal dancer Sarah Hairston and senior soloist Zach Grubbs last performances. The two audience favorites retired from the company with this production. They will remain with the organization however, taking on leaderships roles at Cincinnati Ballet’s Otto M. Budig Academy.

Danced to music by Alexander Glazunov, Hairston and Grubbs led a corps of eight male-female couples from CB’s academy in Raymonda’s celebratory wedding scene which alternated between sweeping group dances and showy solo variations for Hairston and Grubbs.

A 15-year company veteran, Hairston brought elegance, energy and sass to the role of Raymonda and her dancing, typifying her performing career. As Jean de Brienne, Grubbs was regal and a steady partner to Hairston.


Melissa Gelfin and Cervilio Miguel Amador in Victoria Morgan’s “Patriotic Pas.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

After the world-premiere of Morgan’s “Patriotic Pas,” a jaunty duet danced by Melissa Gelfin and Cervilio Miguel Amador to familiar tunes contained in Morton Gould’s American Suite such as “When Johnny Comes Marching Home,” Director’s Cut concluded with the gem of the evening, the world-premiere of Ma Cong’s “Near Light.”

Amidst a blanket of stage fog and in spotlight, a red rose fell from a woman’s hand into those of a male kneeling before her. Was this a memory or a premonition? The rose was then then passed from one dancer to another who came onstage until finally it disappeared from our sight along with the stage fog.


Patric Palkens in Ma Cong’s “Near Light.” Photo by Peter Mueller.

Set to a haunting collection of works by composer Ólafur Arnalds, Cong’s contemporary ballet spoke to the viewer on multiple levels. Visually, the combination of Trad A. Burns’ atmospheric lighting and Cong’s velvety movement for the dancers imprinted images of bodies in beautiful motion intertwining, cascading and melting into each other. Emotionally, Arnalds’ aching music and the dancers’ passionate response to it, left one breathtakingly silent. As in “Capricious Maneuvers,” Liu mesmerized. So too did Abigail Morwood whose stellar performance overflowed with intensity, drama and grace.

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

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DanceMedia Publishers of Dance Magazine Announce New Ownership


By Carolyn Callahan 

September 19, 2016 New York, NY – Frederic M. Seegal has acquired DanceMedia, a suite of five respected publications (both print and digital) written for and by dancers, including the renowned Dance Magazine, which marks its 90th year of publication in 2017.

Seegal, Vice Chairman of Peter J. Solomon Company, has made his career advising major media, telecom and internet clients. He brings to DanceMedia, a seasoned knowledge of and passion for the performing arts, having served as President of American Ballet Theatre’s Board of Trustees, and as trustee for New York City Center, San Francisco Symphony and San Francisco Opera. Currently, he is a trustee for Gallim Dance, based in New York.

“I’m very excited about the potential for growth represented by these highly respected publications and the tremendous content they’ve created over the years,” says Seegal. “These magazines have enjoyed exceptional stability during a time when there has been sweeping change in the publishing industry, as they have continued to be the authoritative voice for the entire dance world.”

“The DanceMedia publications deliver the most effective and highly targeted opportunities for the industry—in both print and online,” says Amy Cogan, Senior Vice President & Group Publisher. “Our reach is unsurpassed. This vote of confidence in our properties can only boost their effectiveness as we move into the future.”

In addition to Dance Magazine, which is regarded as the most trusted content in the field of dance, the DanceMedia titles, with a combined reach of more than 2 million, include: Dance Spirit, written for dancers who aspire to “So You Think You Can Dance,” Pointe for students training pre-professionally for careers in ballet, Dance Teacher for studio owners and educators in conservatories, k–12 schools, and on faculty with colleges and universities. Dance Retailer News is the only monthly b2b publication connecting dance manufacturers with storeowners who serve the buying public.

Macfadden Communications Group, which has owned Dance Magazine since 2001 and DanceMedia since its formation in 2006, will continue to provide publishing services for the brand, including digital services, print management, circulation and accounting, according to Carolyn Callahan, President and Chief Operating Officer. “The opportunities presented by this new affiliation assure a solid future for these titles,” Callahan says. “We look forward to a lasting partnership.” No changes in staffing are anticipated.


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