Category Archives: Dance Reviews 2016

Sophisticated Choreography Highlights GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Fall Concert Series


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(L-R) GroundWorks’ Lauren Garson, Stephanie Terasaki and Michael Marquez in David Shimotakahara’s “Chromatic.” Photo by Mark Horning.

GroundWorks DanceTheater
2016 Fall Concert Series
Akron-Summit County Library
Akron, Ohio
November 18-19, 2016

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

After a successful run in Cleveland at Playhouse Square’s Allen Theatre in October, Cleveland-based GroundWorks DanceTheater’s 2016 Fall Concert Series moved to nearby Akron and the Akron-Summit County Library. The program on November 18 opened with the latest work by GroundWorks’ artistic director David Shimotakahara entitled “Chromatic.” The 20-minute piece set to a suite of music by American composer Conlon Nancarrow (1912 –1997) was a stylistic departure for Shimotakahara in the type of movement he created for the troupe’s five dancers.

Costumed in the colors of piano keys, the dancers engaged in a form of movement split personality. From the waist down, they adopted simple dance poses. From the waist up, they were a flurry of activity with hands and arms moving up and down and side-to-side seemingly without regard to rhythm.

Shimotakahara’s unconventional choreography was a reaction to Nancarrow’s cacophony of player piano music that sounded like three different songs being played simultaneously. The effect of both the dance and music was unnerving yet compelling rejecting staid notions of dance as pleasantry. The work’s succession of solos, duets and group dancing found grace and a modicum of humor in sometimes stiff movement, dancers falling and the slapping of hands on thighs.

Next former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancer Robyn Mineko Williams’ new commission for GroundWorks, “Part Way,” set a different tone. Danced to Rachmaninoff’s doleful “Trio Elégiaque No. 1 in G Minor,” Williams’ fluid choreography on the dancers cascaded like water tumbling over rocks in a gently flowing stream. GroundWorks’ five dancers touched, grasped, leaned into and folded over each in beautifully-crafted contemporary dance movement. Rachmaninoff’s music and Williams’ choreographic reaction to it, built a tension in the work that spilled out over the stage that was piqued by brief moments of distress and distraction displayed in the dancer’s demeanor. One such moment happened during an intertwining pas de deux danced by Felise Bagley and Damien Highfield in which Bagley, lifted above Highfield’s head, looked sharply about as if her name had been called out from somewhere off in the distance.

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(L-R) GroundWorks’ Lauren Garson, Michael Marquez and Stephanie Terasaki in Robyn Mineko Williams’ “Part Way.” Photo by Mark Horning.

Also of note in the piece, was a solo by Stephanie Terasaki in which she appeared to be pulled backward by her head by some unseen force.  Her body undulated and gave into gravity and her momentum elegantly collapsed to the stage floor at times.

With “Part Way,” Williams created a sophisticated dance work marrying finely crafted contemporary dance movement with emotional vulnerability and drama. It was performed deftly by GroundWorks’ dancers and is a work well worth revisiting by the company.

On the subject of works worth revisiting, the program concluded with a revamped version of Pittsburgh-based dancer/choreographer Beth Corning’s “At Once There Was A House.”

Created on GroundWorks in 2004, the funny and poignant dance-theater piece is one of Corning’s most memorable and best.

Posing the question: Whatever 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, “At Once There Was A House” catches up with a dysfunctional group of Dick and Janes who life has appeared to have done a number on.

The setting for the dance-theater work was a reunion of sorts where this collection of stereotypical characters (jock, wallflower, prude) with some not-so-stereotypical emotional issues, paraded about to Tom Waits’ song “Table Top Joe” and spoke to the audience as if they were old acquaintances.

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(L-R) GroundWorks’ Lauren Garson, Stephanie Terasaki, Damien Highfield, Felise Bagley and Michael Marquez in Beth Corning’s “At Once There Was A House.” Photo by Mark Horning.

Dancer Lauren Garson was the former homecoming/prom queen, Highfield, the bombastic former star athlete turned car salesman, Terasaki, a nervous shrinking violet, dancer Michael Marquez as a flamboyant character and Bagley as a prudish neat freak who scolded Marquez for his cartoonish pelvic gyrations, calling to him “inappropriate.”

Like a lyric from Waits’ song, “And I dreamed I’d be famous,” the characters appeared to regret in some way how their lives had turned out.

Costumed in white schoolboy and schoolgirl-ish dresses and shorts, the audience got a glimpse into the lives of each of the characters via a series of vignettes that elicited a laugh or broke your heart. From Marquez poignantly dancing behind a life-size puppet in a skirt to a disillusioned Garson dancing a duet with a length of white picket fence and lamenting that the stereotypical American dream wasn’t all it was cracked up to be for her, “At Once There Was A House” touched that universal nerve called empathy.

The most thoughtful, melancholy and gripping performance however belonged to Bagley, whose character’s anger and sorrow lay exposed like an open wound. In a most telling scene, Bagley, seemingly bereft of joy and happiness, set aflame a metal dollhouse, and true to her character’s nature it was a neatly controlled burn; one that perhaps symbolized the controlled burning rage and heartache within her.

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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Corning Triumphs in One-Woman Show about Loss


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Beth Corning in CorningWorks’ “Remains -A One-Woman Show.” Photo courtesy of CorningWorks.

CorningWorks
Remains — A One-Woman Show
New Hazlett Theater
Pittsburgh, PA
September 7-11, 2016

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

In 2013, after an extensive creative residency with Tony Award-winning physical-theater director Dominique Serrand, dancer/choreographer Beth Corning felt ready to tackle the complicated emotions and aftereffects of a string of recent personal tragedies.  The resulting dance-theater work Remains, co-created with Serrand, was a hit with audiences and critics alike for its poignant portrayal of a woman dealing with the feelings and memories generated from going through the physical items left behind by departed family members.

In this latest incarnation of the work entitled Remains — A One-Woman Show, Corning and Serrand teamed up again to rework and refine the original work in order to strip away any extraneous elements and further clarify the intent and arc of the work and Corning’s character within it.  In a lot of ways, they achieved that goal. Doing so without sacrificing any of the empathetic connection the original instilled in audiences.

Backed by a new set design by Britton Mauk of Pittsburgh’s Quantum Theatre that depicted a wall of cardboard moving and storage boxes, and costumed in a new cream-colored coat-dress by award-winning costume designer Sonya Berlovitz, the hour-long multimedia work on September 11 at Pittsburgh’s New Hazlett Theater, began with a quote from the Mahabharata, one of the world’s oldest religious Sanskrit texts that was projected on the wall of boxes. It read: “No man, although he sees others dying around him, believes that he himself will die.” And with that, Corning emerged from a box triumphantly holding a pair of men’s dress shoes; her father’s. Then placing the shoes on her hands, she camel-walked around the stage as the sound effect of a person in heavy-stepped walking rang out.

Like the appearance of a ghost from the past onto the stage, Corning then drifted into a memory of her father in those shoes, remembering and reacting to the sounds of him walking, inhaling the smell of them and drinking in the warm feelings they conjured up in her before the reality of his absence from this world took hold and yanked back to the present.

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Beth Corning in CorningWorks’ “Remains -A One-Woman Show.” Photo courtesy of CorningWorks.

In this scene and all that followed, Corning showcased her adroit acting abilities. Skilled in the art of gesture, she built into her choreography for the work several small, subtle gestures that helped paint a vivid portrait of her character; a woman haunted, often delighted and at times emotionally consumed by the memories that surfaced from within her surrounding the objects contained within those storage boxes.  One repeated gesture, a brief scratch at the back of her calf with her other foot, acted as an unconscious reminder of the uncomfortable feelings itching to break through and spoil her happier memories of departed loved ones.

Set to an eclectic mix of music including that of composer Olafur Arnalds, the work, the latest in CorningWorks’ Glue Factory Project, for nationally or internationally known performers over age 40, as with its previous incarnation, was delivered via a series of moving and dramatic vignettes.

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Beth Corning in CorningWorks’ “Remains -A One-Woman Show.” Photo courtesy of CorningWorks.

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Beth Corning in CorningWorks’ “Remains -A One-Woman Show.” Photo courtesy of CorningWorks.

A dance with a well worn coat, a tête-à-tête using full wine glasses pushed around with her feet and the discovery of forgotten notes in the pockets of garments, all conjured carefully cultivated imagery and emotional states that drew one in as if to take part in them. Most memorable for its heartbreaking impact and fine detail was a scene where Corning dragged out an oblong table and began to set it as she may have done in the past for an extended family dinner. She then mimicked those she imagined seated around the table in conversation — laughing with one another, arguing, and on occasion grabbing at another’s derriere in a marvelous and imaginative dance-pantomime sequence. Overwhelmed with the sudden realization of being the only one left alive to attend such a dinner party, Corning climbed up onto the table and under its white tablecloth, pulling it over her head and laid there corpse-like, shaking and sobbing. It was an achingly sorrowful moment that brought tears to the eyes of this reviewer.

As in 2013, Corning’s performance in Remains — A One-Woman Show was a tour-de-force of well-honed artistic brilliance. More movement theater than straight-up dancing, it along with 2015’s BECKETT & beyond is Corning at her very best. Her collaboration with Serrand once again proved fruitful, yielding a must-see production for any dance and theater-goer.

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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Jones’ ‘Analogy/Dora: Tramontane’ is Pure Theatrical Magic


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Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company in Bill T. Jones’ “Analogy/Dora: Tramontane.” Photo by Paul B. Goode.

Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company
Analogy/Dora: Tramontane
EJ Thomas Hall
Akron, Ohio
October 9, 2016

By Steve Sucato

Dancer I-Ling Liu stood with her back pressed to a wall, slowly and deliberately moving her stiffly pointed index finger from above toward the outstretched palm of her other hand like a dagger. Steps away on the stage of The University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall, fellow dancer Jenna Riegel achingly voiced the words of Dora Amelan, recounting the death of her 20-year-old sister from an infection caused by a botched abortion during World War II. Lu embodied the cold anguish felt in Amelan’s words, her dark eyes a window into a woman who had seen untold horrors, perhaps none as haunting as the memory of this moment.

The heartbreaking scene was one of many played out in Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company’s Analogy/Dora: Tramontane (2015), performed by the company Oct. 9 in Akron, Ohio.

The first part in Bill T. Jones’ Analogy trilogy, the production, presented by DANCECleveland in collaboration with The University of Akron’s Dance Department, is based on a riveting oral history that artistic director/choreographer Bill T. Jones conducted with his now 96-year-old French-Jewish mother-in-law in 2002. In Amelan’s own words and those of Jones, the 90-minute intermissionless dance-theater work told of Amelan’s harrowing experiences escaping the Nazis and serving as a nurse/social worker in occupied France.

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Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company in Bill T. Jones’ “Analogy/Dora: Tramontane.” Photo by Paul B. Goode.

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Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company in Bill T. Jones’ “Analogy/Dora: Tramontane.” Photo by Paul B. Goode.

Set to a masterfully crafted original score sung and performed live by its composer, Nick Hallett, and pianist Emily Manzo, the piece, in 25 chapters, fully embraced the “theater” in dance-theater. The combination of the dancers skillfully voicing dialogue (often while dancing), Hallett’s powerful score and Jones’ abstract yet illustrative choreography made for a deeply moving experience that drilled into the core of our humanity, producing swells of disparate emotions and entrancing us with marvelous storytelling.

Perhaps the production’s only shortcoming was that the music and dialogue sometimes overshadowed the dancing in dramatic impact. When all the elements did come together — such as in a scene when Amelan recalled a female co-worker saying goodbye to her husband who was being sent to a concentration camp, and a happier one depicting a visit from her entertainer cousin Marcel Marceau — it was pure theatrical magic.

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(foreground) Dancers Antonio Brown and I-Ling Liu in Bill T. Jones’ “Analogy/Dora: Tramontane.” Photo by Paul B. Goode.

Overall, the entire cast of nine dancer/actors performed with aplomb. Of particular note were the performances of Riegel and Cain Coleman who handed the bulk of the emotionally potent dialogue with calming vocal control, dancers Liu and Rena Butler who expertly illustrated the trauma and heartache contained in Amelan’s words, and Cleveland-native Antonio Brown, in his last season with the company, who lent a quiet strength to Jones’ words.

A modified version of this review first appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper on October 19, 2016.

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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