Category Archives: Airings

Neos Dance Theatre’s Robert Wesner Talks About His New Job, The Future Of Neos And The Company’s New Production, ‘Home for the Holidays, a Big Band Christmas’


Big Band Neos Brooke

Neos Dance Theatre’s Brooke Wesner. Photo courtesy of Neos Dance Theatre.

By Steve Sucato

On October 31st Neos Dance Theatre co-founder/artistic director Robert Wesner and Mississippi’s Belhaven University announced that he will be joining the Belhaven University Dance Department as senior instructor of dance and resident choreographer beginning in the fall of 2020. As he and the company prepare for their latest production, Home for the Holidays, a Big Band Christmas, December 21 & 22 at Lorain County Community College’s Stocker Arts Center, I talked with Wesner about his impending move, what it means for him and his family, and what it spells for the future of one of Northeast Ohio’s most beloved dance companies.

How did your new position at Belhaven University come about?

I had done some work as a guest choreographer and Neos had performed there before. The college is now really investing in the dance program and they wanted to expand their faculty and recruitment efforts. They knew of me and my work and reached out to me to see if I would be interested in joining the faculty.

What convinced you to take the job and move across the country?

As a small artist organization you are always living on the edge in terms of funding. It’s just difficult looking into the future to plan for our basic needs and those of the organization. This job came out of nowhere, but I really felt like the right thing to do for my family’s future.

What does this mean for the future of Neos Dance Theatre?

I am not quite ready to announce our plans for 2020, but I will have summers off and foresee programming for Neos in Northeast Ohio during those summer months as well as mounting other projects that are in the works.

Neos will no longer be a full-time dance company?

It will revert to how it began as a project-based company where we hire dancers as we need them and will rehearse and present work in the summer months. It will be a bittersweet ending to see the dancers we have been working with for so long transition out of Neos and look for other opportunities. I have been talking with the dancers and other directors about job placement for them.

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Photo courtesy of Neos Dance Theatre.

Was there any thought of maintaining the company and organization as is and handing it over to another artistic director?

The board of directors and me knowing the intricacies of how I work and the infrastructure of the organization didn’t think that was viable. We are still a fairly young organization, only 7-years old, and we just didn’t have the time to institutionalize the organization for long-term sustainability.

You are giving your 1940s-themed The Nutcracker production a rest this holiday season in favor of a new holiday-themed show, tell me about it.

I have done collaborations with a couple big bands in the past but this is the first time we [Neos Dance Theatre] will be doing a holiday production with classic Christmas songs everybody recognizes such as “Sleigh Ride,” “Run Run Rudolph,” “White Christmas” and “Silver Bells,” plus some great Christmas songs that haven’t been so overplayed.

Who are your musical collaborators for this?

Acclaimed area singer Kelly Knowlton will join a band of high-caliber live musicians from the Cleveland Jazz Orchestra and elsewhere assembled by band leader Paul Martin.

Kelly Knowlton

Kelly Knowlton. Photo courtesy of Neos Dance Theatre.

Paul Martin

Paul Martin. Photo courtesy of Neos Dance Theatre.

I understand you and the company will be singing and tap dancing in this.

This production has that variety show feel and is a lot of fun. A couple of things that guided my decision making on what music we selected were how diverse of a range of movement genres I could choreograph in. We’re doing some classical ballet, some musical-theater style jazz, contemporary works, swing, tap dance and more. It has been really fun to artistically push the dancers.

It is also going to be a family-affair as well I hear.

All four of my daughters will be singing in it. I will be singing at least two songs and we will do one with the entire family in a sort Wesner/von Trapp number a la “The Sound of Music”.

While Wesner’s new post represents a big change for him and his family, he is keen to emphasize this is not the end of Neos Dance Theatre but a transition that will maintain its presence in Northeast Ohio at the minimum during the summer months. As for how that will look for the communities Neos has served in Akron, Ashland, Mansfield, Oberlin and beyond, and the future of the Neos Center for Dance as well as projects like the Akron-based dance-centric fringe festival Lose Your Marbles Wesner started in 2017, that remains to be seen.

Neos Dance Theatre presents Home for the Holidays, a Big Band Christmas, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, December 21 and 2 p.m., Sunday December 22 at Lorain County Community College’s Hoke Theatre of Stocker Arts Center, 1005 N. Abbe Road, Elyria. Tickets are $15-35. For Tickets and information call (440) 366-4040 or visit neosdancetheatre.org or lorainccc.edu/stocker.

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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The Debut of Canada’s RUBBERBANDance Group Brings with it a Unique Blend of Hip Hop and Contemporary Dance Styles


Vic's Mix photo 1 - Credit Bill Hebert

RUBBERBANDance Group in “Vic’s Mix”. Photo by Bill Hebert.

By Steve Sucato

One of the early pioneers of the seamless blending of hip hop dance styles and those of contemporary dance, Victor Quijada’s Montreal-based RUBBERBANDance Group has, the past decade or so, been creating the future of dance while waiting for the dance world to slowly catch up to that future.

Presented by DANCECleveland and Tri-C Performing Arts, the critically acclaimed company will make its Ohio debut on Saturday, November 9 at Playhouse Square’s Mimi Ohio Theatre for one performance only.

Born and raised in Los Angeles to Mexican parents (his father a foundry worker and his mother a factory worker), Quijada found his way to dance at age 8 through b-boying circles and hip-hop clubs. Formal training in other dance styles followed with Quijada becoming a member of LA’s Rudy Perez Performance Ensemble. His career as a professional dancer took off in the late 1990’s when he joined Twyla Tharp’s dance company THARP! and continued in stints with Eliot Feld’s Ballets Tech and Les Grands Ballets Canadiens de Montréal. His choreographic career came with the founding RUBBERBAND in 2002.

In a 2013 article for The Scotsman, Quijada said he is the product of “the culture I grew up in, the respect and wonder I have for art, the professional career I had in those high caliber classical and contemporary dance companies, and the interface between those places… If one of those things had been missing, it wouldn’t have led me here.”

Along with starting RUBBERBAND as an experiment in the movement blending of what he calls “the two poles that inhabit him,” Quijada conceived a technique for dancers he calls the RUBBERBAND Method that “combines the energy of hip hop, the refinement of classical ballet, and the angular quality of contemporary dance.”

Vic's Mix photo 14 - Credit Bill Hebert

RUBBERBANDance Group in “Vic’s Mix”. Photo by Bill Hebert.

That signature technique will be seen in full force in the company’s presentation of Vic’s Mix (2016), a retrospective and remix show that Quijada says he revises and remounts every 5-years and samples some of what he feels is his best bits of choreography from some 40 creations he has made for RUBBERBAND and other dance companies. Saturday’s 75-minute Vic’s Mix program will spans works from 2002-2013.

“It’s a look back on things that are still relevant to me and a chance for me to re-appropriate my own works that I have made for other companies,” said Quijada on the phone from Montreal.

Set to a soundtrack by various composers including original music from longtime company collaborator Jasper Gahunia, Vic’s Mix is delivered in 2 acts. Act 1 covers excerpts from Quijada’s early creations from 2002-2005 performed in sneakers. It will give audiences a taste of Quijada’s evolution as a choreographer and his use of the RUBBERBAND Method. Included in the act will be “The Traviattle” (2003) set to Giuseppe Verdi’s “Libiamo ne’ lieti calici” from the opera La traviata, a piece Quijada originally choreographed as part of his evening-length work Metabolism that has become an audience favorite.

Act 2 revisits excerpts from works made between 2008-2013 including “Second Coming,” a piece Quijada made for Scottish Dance Theatre in (2012). The aptly named work followed Quijada’s very first commission outside of RUBBERBAND, 2003’s “Self Observation Without Judgement” for Scottish Dance Theatre that earned the United Kingdom’s Peter Darrell Choreographic Award. Also a part of act 2 will be an excerpt from 2008’s Punto Ciego, inspired by the nonlinear approaches of author Milan Kundera and filmmaker Quentin Tarantino.

Vic's Mix photo 8 - Credit Bill Hebert

RUBBERBANDance Group in “Vic’s Mix”. Photo by Bill Hebert.

Vic’s Mix will be performed by RUBBERBAND’s 8-member company who are all steeped in the RUBBERBAND Method after intense training.

“Time here with RUBBERBAND kind of passes like dog years,” says Quijada. “The amount of change and growth in one year for a dancer is enough for 7-years.”

And while Saturday’s program will be RUBBERBAND’s area debut, Quijada’s work has been seen here before with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s performance of his “Physikal Linguistiks” in 2010 presented by DANCECleveland.  And the RUBBERBAND Method’s influences were seen recently in former company member James Gregg’s work “éveillé” (2018) for GroundWorks DanceTheater.

With Vic’s Mix Quijada says audiences will experience those things that drove the creation of his works in the first place: “human interactions, intimacy and connection, comedy and the feelings of highs and lows.”

RUBBERBANDance Group performs Vic’s Mix, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, November 9; Playhouse Square’s Mimi Ohio Theatre, 1511 Euclid Ave., Downtown, Cleveland. Tickets are $25-50. For tickets and information visit playhousesquare.org or call (216) 241-6000.

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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Of Gods and Mortals: Elu Dance Company Remounts their Acclaimed 2016 Production ‘barefaced’


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Elu Dance Company’s (L-R) Mikaela Clark and Mackenzie Valley in “barefaced.” Photo by Lauren Stonestreet.

By Steve Sucato

One of the best local dance productions of the 2015-16 season, Elu Dance Company‘s barefaced was a thoughtful, poignant and smartly conceived dance-theater work based on C. S. Lewis’ 1956 novel “Till We Have Faces” — a retelling of the Greek myth of Cupid and Psyche from The Golden Ass of Apuleius.

Now, after a 3-year hiatus, a newly enhanced and expanded version of barefaced returns to the stage, Saturday, September 14 at Playhouse Square’s Hanna Theatre in downtown Cleveland.

Directed, choreographed and performed by Elu company founders Mikaela Clark and Mackenzie Valley, the 90-minute production tells the harrowing and heartbreaking tale of Psyche and her older sister Orual and their loving bond as sisters that transcends gods and realms.

Told from the perspective of Orual, as an accusation against the gods, barefaced is set in the fictive kingdom of Glome where the beautiful Psyche has been sentenced as a human sacrifice to the unseen “God of the Mountain”. But instead of meeting her fate on the mountain, Orual discovers her sister is very much alive and is now the bride of “God of the Mountain”. A fantastical tale of deception and devotion ensues spanning lifetimes that Clark and Valley play out onstage in contemporary dance movement.

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Elu Dance Company’s (L-R) Mackenzie Valley and Mikaela Clark in “barefaced.” Photo by Lauren Stonestreet.

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Elu Dance Company’s (L-R) Mikaela Clark and Mackenzie Valley in “barefaced.” Photo by Lauren Stonestreet.

Set to music composed, performed and recorded by Ken and Patt Wadenpfuhl from Cleveland-based non-profit Ancient Path, the dance-theater piece also uses recorded narration of excerpts from C.S. Lewis’ novel to help drive the story line.

Clark and Valley will also once again share the stage with local artist and sculptor Mark Sugiuchi’s mixed-medium mountain sculpture and for this updated production. What has changed for this production is Clark and Valley say they have almost entirely re-choreographed the work. They have also added another layer to their storytelling in the form of dance film snippets created by Mark Valley that are weaved throughout the production and depict additional scenes from the Lewis’ tale performed by 10 area professional dancers.

“We wanted to make the storytelling more concrete,” says Valley.

The hope for Clark and Valley is that the changes made to the production will make an already great production more readable for audiences. Suffice it to say, if that is the case this new barefaced production may be one of this new dance season’s early hits.

Elu Dance Company presents barefaced…inspired by C. S. Lewis’ “Till We Have Faces,” 7:30 p.m., Saturday, September 14; Playhouse Square’s Hanna Theatre, 2067 E 14th Street, Cleveland; Tickets are $22–45 and available online at playhousesquare.org or by calling (216) 241-6000.

 

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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