Category Archives: Airings

Dancing Wheels Brings Successful New York Program That Includes New David Dorfman Work Home to Cleveland


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Dancing Wheels dancers in James Morrow’s “Neither Lost Nor Found.” Photo by Scott Shaw.

By Steve Sucato

After a successful New York debut of their program Past, Present and Future of Integrated Dance at Ailey Citigroup Theater in October, Cleveland’s Dancing Wheels brings a modified version of it to The Breen Center for the Performing Arts at Saint Ignatius High School on Saturday, November 4.

Hailed as “…remarkable …a company of first-rate trained dancers with and without disabilities” by New York dance critic Bonnie Rosenstock (click here to read the full review), the mixed repertory program of company favorites spanning Dancing Wheels’ 37 seasons will also feature the Cleveland premieres of choreographer James Morrow’s “Neither Lost Nor Found” and “Imagine, if you will …,” by Bessie Award-Winning choreographer David Dorfman. Also on the program will be a performance by students of The School of Dancing Wheels.

The company, which welcomed 6 new dancers this season, “has never been better and more jelled,” says Dancing Wheels rehearsal director/resident choreographer Catherine Meredith. “They did a fabulous job in New York.”

Putting the company’s newfound chemistry to the test was the creation of Morrow’s “Neither Lost Nor Found.” The urban-centric choreographer says he came to Dancing Wheels with a basic idea for the work and a choreographic sketch but didn’t know how it would pan out. “There was great communication between myself and the dancers… What I found extremely important was the reciprocity. We learned and evolved together.”

That choreographic sketch along with inspiration from Martin Niemoller’s iconic poem “First they came …” about the rise of Nazism, formed the basis of the work and its commentary on the current social and political landscape of the United States.

Says Morrow of the 10-minute group work: “[Niemoller’s] quote revolves around silence and the act of not speaking out when you identify injustice. As a white person navigating through this world, I have been silent when I shouldn’t have. I’ve been asleep and blinded by my own privilege…Dancing Wheels, the work they put out, the mission of the company, the performers, the community engagement they participate in, are all acts to combat silence. There is a political ‘stand’ or ‘sit’ in the representations within their performances, acts of rebellion or subversion to the hetero-normative, white supremacist, patriarchal society that many of us sleep through day in and day out. I want ‘Neither Lost Nor Found’ to evoke that will, that drive…and hopefully wake a few people ‘sleeping’ in the audience.”

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Dancing Wheels dancers in David Dorfman’s “Imagine, If you will…” Photo by Scott Shaw.

Like Morrow, Dorfman’s new work was inspired by the current social and political climate in the U.S. but filtering it through the lens of those with disabilities. A mainstay on the New York dance scene, Dorfman says a few things ran through his mind in creation process for the 17-minute “Imagine, if you will …”

“When working with folks of differing physical or emotional abilities or capacities, I often marvel at how much we as, more than not, ‘able bodied’ dancers take for granted and how much we as Americans take for granted,” says Dorfman. The group work, set to music by Liz de Lise, Omar Souleyman and Denver alternative country band Wovenhand, is an attempt says Dorfman, to let the audience “‘imagine,’ and plainly see the dancers’ greatness, courage and kindness.”

One of several repertory works to be reprised on the program will be Los Angeles choreographer Sarah Swenson’s 2015 work “Clamor.” Set to an original score by Swenson’s husband Alessandro Girasoli, the contemporary dance work reflects on disability rights and the 1990 Capital Crawl which helped propel the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Dedicated to the memory of activist Kenneth Irving Zola, the work, says Meredith, brings home through its “Politico” character, the realization that anyone at any time can become disabled.

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Dancing Wheels dancers in Daniel Job’s “Above” (1991). Photo by Scott Shaw.

Also on the program will be reprises of Daniel Job’s “Above” (1991), the first work Dancing Wheels’ founding artistic director Mary Verdi-Fletcher performed out of her wheelchair, and an excerpt from Donald McKayle’s 2012 work “Far East of the Blues” set to a suite of Duke Ellington music.

Rounding out the program’s offerings will be a work by Gabriella Martinez created on the students of The School of Dancing Wheels, and a reprise of Meredith’s “Pallas Athena” that premiered this past June as part of Dancing Wheels’ The Best of Bowie program.

Performed to David Bowie’s song “Pallas Athena (Don’t Stop Praying mix No 2)” off his 1993 album “Black Tie White Noise,” Meredith says of the dance work, “I drew upon my experiences in New York City and London nightclubs where people who may or may not identify as male or female, he or she, could come, be accepted, and not be ashamed of who they truly were. For many, the DJ and the club acted as a god and church/sanctuary.”

Dancing Wheels presents Past, Present and Future of Integrated Dance, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, November 4; The Breen Center for the Performing Arts at Saint Ignatius High School, 2008 W 30th Street, Cleveland. $20 general, $15 students/seniors. (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.

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GroundWorks’ Versatile Performer Annika Sheaff Bids Adieu [Interview]


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Sheaff in David Shimotakahara’s “LUNA” (2013). Photo by Mark Horning.

By Steve Sucato

This weekend’s free outdoor performances of GroundWorks DanceTheater at Akron’s Goodyear Heights Metro Park as part of the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival mark the conclusion of their 2017 Summer Series program. The performances, Friday, August 4 and Saturday, August 5, will also be the swan song of popular GroundWorks company member Annika Sheaff who will be leaving the company to become Baldwin Wallace University’s newest assistant professor of dance. Sheaff’s departure, along with the recent departures from the company by dancers Michael Marquez and Lauren Garson at the end of last season and Stephanie Terasaki prior to that who made a big impression filling in for Sheaff when she was on maternity leave, represent a big change in the makeup and personality of Cleveland’s most respected contemporary dance company. Marquez was replaced by Tyler Ring, a native of Muncie, Indiana who recently performed with Thodos Dance Chicago, and Buffalo-native Gemma Freitas Bender, a former dancer with Montreal’s BJM Danse replaced Garson. They join longtime company members Felice Bagley and Damien Highfield for this season.

While dancers come and go in most every dance company with relative frequency, Sheaff’s presence in GroundWorks, while somewhat brief, loomed large as she was an audience and critics favorite for her unending versatility as a performer. The 33-year-old Juilliard graduate and former dancer with renowned dance company Pilobolus, brought to her dancing in GroundWorks not only solid technique, but a stage presence that drew audience eyeballs to her as if she were somehow constantly lit by an invisible spotlight. Her acting skills and range are like a combination of Lucille Ball and Meryl Streep’s ─ able to as easily bring smiles and laughter to audience members as elicit their empathy and tears. The job of trying to fill Sheaff’s big shoes will fall to GroundWork’s newest member Taylor Johnson, a fellow classmate of Bender and Marquez at Juilliard and who begins her GroundWorks journey this month.

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Annika Sheaff impersonating a lawn sprinkler in Rosie Hererra’s “House Broken.” Photo by Mark Horning.

I talked with Sheaff recently about her dance career, her time with GroundWorks and her future plans.

Steve Sucato: Where are you originally from?

Annika Sheaff: From the suburbs of Chicago, specifically Oak Park [Illinois].

SS:  When did you start dancing and why?

AS:  I was super fortunate in that the preschool my mother sent me to was attached to an amazing dance school so when I was three I kept seeing all these people doing dance classes and I told my mom I wanted to do it. She signed me up and I never stopped. It was a really cool dance school called The Academy of Movement and Music and from a super young age I was studying ballet, modern and jazz and we did historical works from Isadora Duncan and Doris Humphrey.

SS: How long did you study there?

AS: From ages 3-18. When I was in high school at the Chicago Academy of the Arts every day I would have my academics classes from 8am-1pm, then take dance technique classes and afterwards would drive to The Academy of Movement and Music and repeat my technique classes and have rehearsals until about 9 pm. [Looking back] I don’t know how I did it.

SS:  When did you decide on dance as a career?

AS: Towards the end of high school I knew that I really loved dancing but at that time I didn’t know if that was what I wanted to do with my life. Because my parents were literally saving lives every day with their jobs, a career in dance to me felt quite selfish. It took a lot of mentors to help me realize that a career in dance was not selfish. If you are performing and are being very generous with your gifts you give people a way to escape from their troubles. It wasn’t until I saw a performance of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in Ohad Naharin’s Minus 16 [Writer’s note: Minus 16 is a contemporary masterwork that contains much to bring joy including an audience participation section) that I really understood why dance was so important and decided to dedicate my life to it.

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Photo courtesy of GroundWorks DanceTheater.

SS: Was it a tough process getting into Juilliard?

AS: I went into the whole thing with the attitude I am probably not going to get. My mom told me I wasn’t going to get in. I think she said that so I wouldn’t get my hopes up but at the time that was quite hard to have her say that to me so directly. I went to the audition to do it as an experience. I got through the ballet section and thought cool, then I got through modern and it was like oh my god, what’s happening? Then they asked me to do my solo and I felt now this is really serious and I need to dance really well because they are actually considering me. Later when I got the call that I got in I was pretty shocked. It was exciting and validating.

SS: Was joining Pilobolus something you had your eye on?

AS: My goal when I was a senior at Juilliard was to graduate with a dancing job. I didn’t care if that was with Nederlands Dans Theater or on a cruise ship. I just knew I didn’t want to wait tables and dance part-time. I auditioned for everything.  I didn’t even know who Pilobolus was but I saw this notice at school that said they were looking for a woman and I decided to go. I showed up at the audition and there were like 150 women there and we were doing all this crazy stuff and I thought I was doing terribly but I kept advancing [through the audition rounds]. Later they had us up to Connecticut [at Pilobolus’ studios] for two days and it was super hard. I was doing all these things I had never done before. Then it got down to five women and finally I got the job having no idea what Pilobolus was. Afterward, I did some research on the company and went to see them perform and I was completely terrified. I was like, I don’t know why they hired me, I’m not that strong, I can’t move like that. That first year with them was the hardest thing I have ever done in my life besides having a baby.

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Sheaff and Manelich Minniefee dancing with Pilobolus in “Persistence of Memory” (2007). Photo courtesy of Pilobolus.

SS: What was your time with them like?

AS: Once I started to get the hang of things after a year and a half it was so amazing. It was an incredible company to work for and so much fun. I really grew as an artist and in my views of what can be accepted as dance. I feel like my whole world got kind of busted open in a good way by Pilobolus.

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Photo by Haley Jane Samuelson.

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Photo by Abbey Roesner.

SS: How did you end up coming to GroundWorks?

AS: My husband is originally from Shaker Heights and every Christmas we would go there to visit family. I thought it was an amazing community and such a great place to one day try to settle down. So once I left Pilobolus and was freelancing as a dancer for a while, I started researching if there were any dance companies in Cleveland that I could potentially work for so we could move. I stumbled across GroundWorks and learning about the company, I thought it was amazing that a company of only five dancers was doing work from all of these highly acclaimed choreographers from all over and had full-time dancer contracts. It seemed too good to be true.  In 2010 they had an opening I auditioned for and didn’t get and then in 2012 they had another audition and I didn’t hired. Then two months after the second audition David [Shimotakahara, company artistic director] called me in to replace one of the dancers who was pregnant [and later decided not to return].

SS: In your 5-years with GroundWorks what have been some of your favorite roles?

AS: Kate Weare’s piece “Inamorata.” She came here in 2013 and her and I had a really good connection. She gave me a role I could really chew on and is still interesting to dance now after 5-years [the work will be reprised on this weekend’s program in Akron]. I love starting and ending [my career with GroundWorks] in the same role. I also loved working with Johannes Wieland [on his 2014 work wait. now. go. now]. He really challenged me asking me to do things no one else in my entire career had asked me to such as memorizing a bunch of things and to wear a cowboy outfit and lose my mind into a microphone. The other person that immediately comes to mind is [choreographer] Rosie Hererra she made me laugh the entire she was here [working on her 2014 work “House Broken”]. She was able to look at us as individuals and highlight all of our strengths. I feel so fortunate to have been with the company and that in my short time here I got to help create over fifteen new works.

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Sheaff with Damien Highfield in David Shimotakahara’s “House of Sparrows” (2015). Photo by Mark Horning.

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In Kate Weare’s “Inamorata.” Photo by Mark Horning.

SS:  While you are retiring from GroundWorks you are not retiring from dance. You have done dance on film projects and have choreographed in the past, will we see more of that in the future?

AS: My plan, once things settle down with my new job, is to try and submit the dance films I have already made to festivals nationally and internationally depending on what makes sense. I want to do things with the works I have already made before I start making new ones.    

For her final performances this weekend Sheaff will dance in all three works on the program including Weare’s “Inamorata,” Shimotakahara’s “Chromatic” and in the Akron premiere of Monica Bill Barnes’ tour de force “Tonight’s the night.” Click here to read my preview of the production.

GroundWorks DanceTheater performs its 2017 Summer Series dance program as part of the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival at dusk (8:45 p.m.), Friday, August 4 and Saturday, August 5. Goodyear Heights Metro Park, 2077 Newton St., Akron. Admission is Free. More information at groundworksdance.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.

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New Summer Dance Festival in Cleveland the result of a Perfect Storm of Needs


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Pilobolus opens ADF in Cleveland on Saturday, July 29 in “Shadowland.” Photo by Ian Douglas.

By Steve Sucato

DANCECleveland and the American Dance Festival (ADF) have teamed up this summer for ADF in Cleveland, an 8-day dance festival July 29-August 5 at Playhouse Square. The inaugural event will include performances by international superstars Pilobolus (July 29), hip hop troupe Rapheal Xavier (August 2) and New York modern dance company Brian Brooks (August 5). In addition there will be a four-day educational workshop series taught by ADF faculty and free community events. For a full schedule of events see below or visit adfincle.org.

Given that DANCECleveland is one of the oldest modern/contemporary dance presenters in the country and ADF, which began in 1934, has been heralded as “One of the nation’s most important institutions” by the New York Times and as “The world’s greatest dance festival” by the New York Post, the question is why has such a collaboration between the two like-minded organizations never happened before?

In talking with DANCECleveland executive director Pamela Young, it took a perfect storm of circumstances to make ADF in Cleveland happen.

“Nothing happens quickly for me,” says Young “I like to think and ruminate on things.”

Young has been in conversations with the Durham, North Carolina-based organization and ADF executive director Jodee Nimerichter for several years working out the structure and logistics of the Cleveland mini-festival.

For Nimerichter, ADF in Cleveland represented a chance to expand their brand awareness in the Midwest. Says Young, while ADF reaches nationally and internationally, it doesn’t pull much from the Midwest, especially when it comes to students attending ADF’s summer school offerings.

Locally, Young was also looking for a way to expand DANCECleveland’s performance options. “There are so many things interesting happening in dance that aren’t spectacle,” she says. “Works that don’t necessarily show well in larger theaters such as solo works or interesting cross-sections of dance and theater…it’s very hard for me to incorporate those into our season.”

In addition, Playhouse Square, feeling the district and their facilities were underutilized during the summer, was interested in adding programming and Cleveland State University’s department of theatre and dance was also looking for ways to enhance their annual summer dance workshop and having ADF’s teaching faculty here during it was, says Young, “a slam dunk for them.”

The addition of ADF in Cleveland to Northeast Ohio’s burgeoning summer dance offerings that include dance events at Cleveland Heights’ Cain Park, Akron’s Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival and the new Lose Your Marbles Dance-centric fringe festival, along with Tremont’s Arts and Cultural Festival and others, is yet another reason why the region is fast becoming one of the top destinations for summer dance in the tristate area and beyond.

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Pilobolus in “Shadowland.” Photo by Ian Douglas.

THE SKINNY

While in future editions of ADF in Cleveland Young says she wants to feature perhaps lesser known artists and productions that can be seen in unconventional settings (site-specific works, etc.), for this inaugural festival she wanted to introduce the festival with more familiar dance companies.

Marquee troupe and Northeast, Ohio favorite Pilobolus will kick things off performing their highly successful work Shadowland on Saturday, July 29 at Playhouse Square’s State Theatre. Here is a description of the show that I wrote that appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper this past February:

While entertaining audiences across Europe since it premiered in 2009, Shadowland didn’t make its North American premiere until 2015. Nathaniel Buchsbaum, a member of the “Shadowland” cast since 2012 feels the success of the show abroad and not wanting to compete with Pilobolus’ regular U.S. repertory company may have accounted for the delay in American audiences getting to see the work.

Created in collaboration with Steven Banks, the lead writer of TV’s SpongeBob SquarePants and set to original music by David Poe, the 75-minute dance-theater piece combining projected shadow play, multimedia, circus arts, dance and more, tells the surreal story of a young girl’s dream of a sensational world as she comes of age.  In it, the performers contort their bodies into shadow configurations of airplanes, elephants, flowers and more.

Buchsbaum says he will perform several roles in the Pittsburgh premiere of the work from a chef to several shadow creatures. He describes his indoctrination into the show as trial by fire.  “We [he and another new dancer] got the barebones structure of the show in Connecticut [Pilobolus’ home base] and then flew to Europe. Within three weeks of performances adding us in scene by scene, we were fully integrated into the show,” says Buchsbaum.

In a 2015 review of “Shadowland,” New York Times writer Siobhan Burke wrote: “A teenage girl lost in a dark dream, she’s at the mercy of a mysterious giant who, with the rustle of one imposing hand, turns her into a dog from the waist up. Both before and after this transformation, she is chased, threatened, prodded, eaten, humiliated, even tied up and whipped.”

While the show’s target audience skews more mature than that of SpongeBob SquarePants – Says Buchsbaum: “It’s definitely a family-friendly show. We get a lot of kids and adults who really enjoy it.”

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Raphael Xavier’s hip hop troupe performs Wednesday, August 2 at Playhouse Square’s Allen Theatre. Photo by Bicking Photography

Next, Wilmington, Delaware-native Raphael Xavier brings his award-winning hip-hop dance artistry to Playhouse Square’s Allen Theatre on Wednesday, August 2. As described by DANCECleveland’s website: Xavier has been a hip-hop dancer and breaking practitioner since 1983. He describes himself as an “Innovative Movement Conceptualist,” creating new ways to expand the vocabulary of the dance form and how it fits onto an aging body. Drawing from hip hop culture and his background in photography, music and as a sound engineer, Xavier creates a visual and musical landscape the ties into his choreography. Dance Magazine described Xavier’s dancing and works as “…Artful and mesmerizing, Xavier transforms a bravado dance style into an introspective meditation.”  

Area dancegoers may remember Brian Brooks’ choreography and dancing in a duet with New York City Ballet star Wendy Whelan as part of her production Restless Creature at the Ohio Theatre in 2015. Brooks returns to Cleveland with his dance troupe to close out ADF in Cleveland on Saturday, August 5 at the Ohio Theatre.

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Brian Brooks dance troupe closes out ADF in Cleveland on Saturday, August 5 in “Torrent” at the Ohio Theatre. Photo by Erin Baiano.

As described by DANCECleveland’s website, Brook’s troupe will perform Torrent, set to Max Richter’s version of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” The lush piece full of movement sends the dancers soaring across the stage while playing with lines and texture as they perform. Brooks has received numerous awards and was recently appointed as the inaugural Choreographer in Residence at Chicago’s Harris Theater for Music and Dance. This innovative three-year fellowship supports several commissions for Brooks each season with the first year featuring Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Miami City Ballet, as well as his own New York-based group.

ADF in Cleveland runs July 29-August 5 at Playhouse Square. See schedule below for event times and dates. Individual performance tickets run $25-$50. Festival passes run $64-$119. Several events free. See adfincle.orgdancecleveland.org or call 216-241-6000 for information and to purchase tickets/passes.

2017 ADF IN CLEVELAND SCHEDULE

Saturday, July 29 (National Day of Dance)

11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Pilobolus Master Class – (FREE) CSU Dance Studio – Reservation Required.
1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p. m. Mega Barre Outdoor Community Ballet/Exercise Barre Class (FREE)  – E. 14th Street
3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Local Dance School Showcase (FREE) – Ohio Theatre
5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. Dancing In The Street
Rehearsal to learn the So You Think You Can Dance Routine (FREE) Open to all ages and abilities.  – E. 14th Street
6:45 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Dancing In The Street
Community Performance of the So You Think You Can Dance Routine (FREE) – E. 14th Street
7:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. Pilobolus – Performance Shadowland – State Theatre*
*This is a ticketed event. Please contact the Playhouse Square ticket office.
9:00p.m. – 11:00 p.m. Silent Disco Party (FREE) – U.S. Bank Plaza

Tuesday, August 1

11:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Yoga (FREE) – U.S. Bank Plaza
6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. “Dancing Under the Stars”
Salsa Dancing (FREE) – U.S. Bank Plaza

Wednesday, August 2

9:30a.m. – 5:30p.m.  ADF Dance Workshop @ CSU Dance Studios
6:15 p.m. Raphael Xavier Pre-Performance Chat – Allen Theatre
7:30 p.m. Raphael Xavier Performance – Allen Theatre*
*This is a ticketed event. Please contact the Playhouse Square ticket office. ​

Thursday, August 3

9:30a.m. – 5:30p.m.  ADF Dance Workshop @ CSU Dance Studios
7:30 p.m. Dance Cinema Night – “Singing in the Rain” Connor Palace Theatre*
*This is a ticketed event. Please contact the Playhouse Square ticket office.

Friday, August 4

9:30a.m. – 5:30p.m.  ADF Dance Workshop @ CSU Dance Studios
7:30 p.m. Dance Cinema Night – “Top Hat” Connor Palace Theatre*
*This is a ticketed event. Please contact the Playhouse Square ticket office.

Saturday, August 5

9:30a.m. – 5:30p.m.  ADF Dance Workshop @ CSU Dance Studios
6:15 p.m. Brian Brooks Pre-Performance Chat – Ohio Theatre
7:30 p.m. Brian Brooks Performance – Ohio Theatre*
*This is a ticketed event. Please contact the Playhouse Square ticket office.
8:45 p.m. Brian Brooks Post-Performance Q & A – Ohio Theatre

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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