Hope, Meaning and Virginia Woolf


GroundWorks DanceTheater dancers rehearsing David Shimotakahara's

GroundWorks DanceTheater dancers rehearsing David Shimotakahara’s “Shadowbox.”

By Steve Sucato

Collaboration has always been a part of GroundWorks DanceTheater’s company identity. In the past several seasons however, the company has ratcheted up their work with area arts organizations on several production including joining with the Akron Symphony Orchestra in 2013 to perform artistic director David Shimotakahara’s Rite of Spring, with ChamberFest Cleveland in 2014 for Shimotakahara’s Ghost Opera, and last season with the Aeolus Quartet and composer Steven Snowden in Shimotakahara’s Civil War-themed House of Sparrows.

Entering its 17th season, Shimotakahara and GroundWorks keep up that trend with the world-premiere of Shimotakahara’s Shadowbox in conjunction with Violins of Hope Cleveland’s community-wide collaboration inspired by Amnon Weinstein’s Violins of Hope.

Photo by Debra Yasinow.

Photo by Debra Yasinow.

Violins of Hope is a project begun by Weinstein in 1996 in which he has been locating and restoring violins that were played by Jews in the camps and ghettos during WWII so they can be brought to life again on the concert stage. Although most of the musicians who originally played the instruments perished during the Holocaust, their voices and spirits live on through the violins.

Part of the GroundWorks’ 4th annual Fall Concert Series at PlayhouseSquare’s Allen Theatre, Oct 16 and 17, the work, in partnership with the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, Jewish Federation of Cleveland and Cleveland Institute of Music, will feature an original score by award-winning Israeli composer Oded Zehavi who is in residence in Cleveland as a Schusterman Visiting Israeli Artist under the auspices of the Israel Institute. It will be played live in-part by violinist Mirabai Weismehl Rosenfeld.

Shimotakahara’s 20-minute Shadowbox draws on the spirit behind Violins of Hope in a less obvious way. Says Zehavi of Shimotakahara’s choreography: “There are issues of the moment when something human becomes very monstrous, when people turn on each other, all that is in the work without forcing any one interpretation.”

[Foreground] GroundWorks DanceTheater's Michael Marquez, Lauren Garson, and Annika Sheaff. [Background] Composer Oded Zehavi, Violinist Mirabai Weismehl Rosenfeld.

[Foreground] GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Michael Marquez, Lauren Garson, and Annika Sheaff. [Background]
Composer Oded Zehavi, Violinist Mirabai Weismehl Rosenfeld.

Shimotakahara says his way into this delicate subject matter centers around children’s games (tag, hop scotch, cat’s cradle and the like) that become dark metaphors for life in WWII concentration camps.  “Games have rules everyone is to follow, there are winners and losers but often there outcomes can be arbitrary.” says Shimotakahara.

For Zehavi’s part, he says he stayed away from a lot of compositional conventions that would have worked with something that had a storyline. “Games don’t necessarily have a narrative,” he commented.

The work also references images of confinement and memory which led to the idea of shadow boxes and the work’s title.

Choreographer Kate Weare (center) in rehearsal with GroundWorks DanceTheater dancers on

Choreographer Kate Weare (center) in rehearsal with GroundWorks DanceTheater dancers on “Far and Near.”

New York-based choreographer Kate Weare’s second commission for GroundWorks, Far and Near involves less heavy subject matter.

Set to excerpts of Caroline Shaw’s Pulitzer Prize-winning composition “Partita in 8 Voices” and music by Bang on a Can music collective founder Michael Gordon, the world-premiere of Weare’s 18-minute, abstract work for Groundworks’ five dancers, draws inspiration from Czeslaw Milosz’s existentialist poem Meaning.

“The dancers themselves were also a huge source of inspiration for me in making this work,” says Weare. “I spent a lot time just watching each of them move one at a time for about 45 minutes the first day, directing them, responding to them verbally, telling them what I saw and asking for subtle changes.”

Audiences may remember Weare’s 2013 piece Inamorata for the company. The second time working with GroundWorks’ dancers Shimotakahara says he noticed a certain ease from the Guggenheim Fellowship Award-winner. “She took some more risks with the dancers and ended up with great results,” says Shimotakahara.

As a curious choreographer himself, Shimotakahara says: “I am always so amazed and fascinated with how choreographers start work. It’s great to be able to see how somebody just dives in and where they get traction and when that happens.”

Archival image from the original cast of September 12, 2008 at The Ice House, Akron, featuring Felise Bagley, Kelly Brunk, Damien Highfield, Amy Miller and Sarah Perrett.

Archival image from the original cast of Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s “Unpublished Dialogues” from September 12, 2008 at The Ice House, Akron, featuring Felise Bagley, Kelly Brunk, Damien Highfield, Amy Miller and Sarah Perrett.

Rounding out the program, GroundWorks will reprise Tony-nominated choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s Unpublished Dialogues (2008).

Set to music by American composer Howard Hanson, the single-act dance-theater work imagines the last day of author Virginia Woolf.  Says Taylor-Corbett: “I was fascinated by the fact that she took her life at the end and questioned what that last day was like.”

GroundWorks DanceTheater performs its 2015 Fall Concert Series, 8 p.m., Friday, October 16 & Saturday, October 17 at PlayhouseSquare’s Allen Theatre, 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, $3 off for Maltz Museum and Jewish Federation supporters (Use Promo Code VOH). For tickets: (216) 241-6000, (866) 546-1353, groundworksdance.org/allentheatre or playhousesquare.org.

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