By Steve Sucato
The longest running and only dance series of its kind in the region, Cleveland Public Theatre’s annual DanceWorks series will once again showcase the talents of Northeast Ohio region professional dance troupes. This year the series will feature eight area troupes along with Taiwan-based dance company Body Expressions Dance Theatre (BodyEDT) over five weeks of performances May 4 – June 3, 2017 at CPT’s newly renovated James Levin Theatre.
Begun in 1998, the award-winning series is a perennial favorite with area dancegoers. The curated series of mostly modern and contemporary dance troupes has, long before binge-watching television shows became a thing, allowed audiences to, in a sense, binge-watch live dance. And like any popular series, this season’s offerings are full of new choreographic twists, new artists and the final chance to see one of its most enduring companies Joan Meggitt’s Antaeus Dance, which will cease operations after 16-years.
“This year we were really looking to represent a diverse range of [movement] aesthetics, dance creators and creations,” says CPT associate artistic director and producer of the DanceWorks series, Beth Wood. “We have a few staples of the series like Verb Ballets and Inlet Dance Theatre, but also some artists new to the series like Across the Board and Alpha dance.”
The troupes on the series are chosen through a public proposal process open to Northeast Ohio dance artists. Wood says that CPT is also open to proposals from dance companies outside the region who are willing to work within what she terms as “the theatre’s meager budget.” Each year CPT receives many more submission proposals than they can accommodate and this year Wood says they even added a fifth week to the series to present more troupes. “I try to find a balance in what we present to give audiences a little bit of everything,” says Wood.
This year the series moves back to its original home in the James Levin Theatre from CPT’s Gordon Square Theatre. For the dance companies involved that means a larger stage and for audiences members, a more intimate viewing experience. And with the addition of a new elevator, the theatre now becomes fully accessible.
Here is a brief rundown of this year’s DanceWorks offerings:
WEEK #1: ANTAEUS DANCE & TRAVESTY DANCE GROUP (DOUBLE BILL)
May 4, 2017 – May 6, 2017
The two companies join forces to present Taking The Fall, a program of dance works choreographed by Meggitt and Travesty Dance Group artistic director Kimberly Karpanty that she says “pays homage to those who keep us safe, demand our honesty and serve as models for integrity and right action.”
Founded by Meggitt in 2001, Antaeus Dance (Tremont’s Resident Dance Company) will call it quits after its DanceWorks performances this week.
“It’s time,” says Meggitt. “All the mechanics to support the running of a company have become a lot for me lately and I am ready to let that go.”
Meggitt, an assistant professor of dance at Kent State University, says career advancements had made it increasing difficult to maintain Antaeus Dance. And while Antaeus may be gone Meggitt will continue to dance and choreograph, leaving the door open to work with the artists of Antaeus and others on future dance projects.
Over the years Meggitt says Antaeus has evolved as troupe from a group of young dancers excited about making works to a veteran group of dancers equally excited about making new work. As the troupe’s primary choreographer, Meggitt says her approach to making dances has also evolved over the years, first from solely creating movement on the dancers, to integrally involving the dancers in the creative process, to now a mix of both approaches.
Of making works for the company Meggitt reflected: “I’m not experimental and I am not really interested in highly technical dancing. I like the aesthetic of human beings moving together. I think I have made some works that have pushed boundaries, but in the end I am a formalist and I appreciate [choreographic] craft.”
Last at DanceWorks in 2014, Antaeus will present two works within the hourlong Taking The Fall including Meggitt’s “Mercy,” a piece for six dancers (including Meggitt) set to an original score by award-winning composer Greg D’Alessio. Returning to a recurring theme in her works of the interplay between the individual and the collective, “Mercy,” says Meggitt, “Juxtaposes the external world of relentless action against an internal world of reflection.”
The second work, also set to music by D’Alessio, will be a solo created by Meggitt for longtime company dancer Heather Koniz entitled “UpShift”. Says Meggitt of the 3 1/2-minute solo, “I really wanted make a meaningful for her. It’s a direct, strong little bon bon of piece.”
Also in the program will be a 3-minute dance film short Meggitt and Karpanty collaborated on entitled “alter idem” (second self) that was shot on location in rural Suffield, Ohio and explores questions of identity and discovery.
In Taking The Fall, Travesty Dance Group (TDG), celebrating its 20th Anniversary Season, will present the short solos “we all had flowers,” about the human capacity to thrive after a loss, and “irreverence,” a trio about how certain body language can convey ill will towards others. TDG will also perform Karpanty’s witty “the tongue of the wise,” and Karpanty will dance an excerpt from her new solo “Precipice”.
WEEK #2: VERB BALLETS WITH BODYEDT (OF TAIWAN)
May 11, 2017 – May 13, 2017
Back from its recent two week international tour to Taiwan, Verb Ballets joins forces with BodyEDT of Taiwan in Fuse: Explorations from Taiwan and Cleveland. The program, part of Verbs’ 30th anniversary season, will feature several works including a reprise of Verb company dancer Antonio Morillo’s “Pieces of Yearning”. Taking inspiration from the works of dance icon Merce Cunningham, “Pieces of Yearning” explores the process of relating environment to movement. It had its premiere this past January in New York City as part of the Martha Graham Dance Company’s NEXT@Graham series.
Also being reprised, will be fellow Verb company member Michael Hinton’s “Broken Bridges” that premiered recently as part of Verb’s Continuing the Legacy of Heinz Poll program at the Akron Civic Theatre. The work is a reimagination of Poll’s work “Elegiac Song”. Highlighting the program will be the U.S. premiere of BodyEDT founder and artistic director, Ming-Cheng Lee’s multimedia work “Initial-Space Starting”.
Week 3 – INLET DANCE THEATRE
May 18, 2017 – May 20, 2017
DanceWorks mainstays Inlet Dance Theatre will present several works on their program Springing Forth With New Life including three premieres.
The premiere of “Building CLE” (made possible by the OAC’s Creative Aging Initiative) says Inlet founder and artistic director Bill Wade, is a collaboration with residents of University Circle’s Judson Manor Retirement Community. “The work is a prototype for what we hope to be a collection of works created in collaboration with aging residents throughout the Cleveland area,” says Wade. Choreographed by him, the multimedia piece is centered on the idea of “building Cleveland” and includes filmed interviews from Judson Manor’s residents.
Also new, Wade’s “Walk With Me,” is a virtuosic duet performed by Dominic Moore-Dunson and Joshua Brown. The piece, set to an original score by Cleveland area musician/composer Lee Harrill, says Wade, “explores mentoring relationships which transform the lives of both mentor and protégé.”
The program’s third premiere also choreographed by Wade, “Sackcloth and Ashes,” is a work he says “explores the ancient practice of wearing sackcloth and ash to represent mourning for a personal or national disaster as a sign of repentance or a prayer of deliverance.”
Also on the program will be reprises of Wade’s “Let Go,” a three movement work looking at human striving, desperation, and then ultimately release, and Inlet company member Dominic Moore-Dunson’s autobiographical “Even There, You Lead Me,” a quartet investigating the dynamic of growing into manhood in a fatherless home.
WEEK #4: ELU DANCE COMPANY & ACROSS THE BOARD (DOUBLE BILL)
May 25, 2017 – May 27, 2017
In keeping with Elu Dance Company’s core mission to shine a light on humanitarian and social issues, the company’s latest evening-length work Caught, choreographed by company founders/directors/dancers Mikaela Brown and Mackenzie Valley, seeks to break through barriers of understanding by exploring the horrors of the ongoing global refugee crisis.
DanceWorks first-timers Across The Board will present an excerpted version of their evening-length work Black Don’t Crack (2016). Choreographed and performed by Makeda Abraham, Mfoniso Akpan, Aseelah Shareef and artistic director Jakari Sherman, the multimedia dance-theater work is set to a soundscape of recorded original and existing music compiled by Sherman that includes Curtis Mayfield’s song “We Are The People Darker Than Blue.”
Titled after an adage used in the African American community to suggest the graceful aging of black people, Black Don’t Crack is an intimate conversation about the pride, pressure and presumption associated with race and cultural aesthetics. It offers a window into the personal negotiation of these conflicts and raises questions about authenticity and how we value ourselves and others.
“Our piece is representative of us, our culture, and is the story of African-American dancers,” says Shareef.
The work uses spoken dialogue and video projections of recorded conversations with African-American dancers such as former Houston Ballet star Lauren Anderson and others, and will have audience members outfitted with headphones allowing them, during certain sections of the work, to listen to 1 of 3 different audio tracks. Or, if they choose, they can experience those sections without headphones and hear the house audio track.
WEEK #5: MORRISONDANCE & ALPHA (DOUBLE BILL)
June 1, 2017 – June 3, 2017
Another staple of the DanceWorks series, MorrisonDance will premiere their new production In The Space Of Dreams: Asleep And Awake choreographed and directed by company founder/artistic director/dancer Sarah Morrison.
The hourlong work is set to a live music composition by Braden Pontoli, who Morrison says also inspired its theme. Braden’s idea of working together on dreams “unlocked ideas I have been storing for a long time,” says Morrison. “This has allowed us to work in a very inspired and creative way toward producing many different dances that reflect on differing visions of dreams.”
Taking further inspiration from Irish and Greek mythology to Native American dream catchers and the artwork of Salvador Dali, In The Space Of Dreams will feature Morrison’s signature mash-up of movement styles and use of props to explore the surreal visions produced in R.E.M. sleep.
Led by GroundWorks DanceTheater dancer Michael Marquez, Alpha will make its DanceWorks debut (and maybe its only appearance as Marquez is moving abroad) with their new work Behind The Next Door.
College friends from Juilliard, Alpha is made up of Marquez, former BJM Danse member Gemma Freitas-Bender and Metropolitan Opera dancer Blake Krapels. The trio choreographed and will perform Behind The Next Door.
Says Marquez of the work: “The main topic of the piece is the complex array of choices and questions people make in life. Doors constantly open and close as decisions are made. Metaphorically, as a door closes, another one opens, while others stay closed. They define and separate spaces and figuratively symbolize different segments/chapters of life.”
Cleveland Public Theatre’s 2017 DanceWorks series runs 7 p.m., every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 4 – June 3 at CPT’s newly renovated James Levin Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., Cleveland. Tickets are $12/Thursdays and $30/Fridays & Saturdays. For more information and tickets call (216) 631-2727 x 501 or visit cptonline.org.