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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Cleveland Ballet’s Mixed Repertory Program Yields Mixed Results


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Nurlan Abougaliev and Lüna Sayag in Michel Fokine’s “Les Sylphides.” Photo by Mark Horning.

Cleveland Ballet – Les Sylphides
Ohio Theatre at Playhouse Square
Cleveland, Ohio
October 14, 2017
Reviewed by Steve Sucato

In their first mainstage performance since being named a resident company at Cleveland’s Playhouse Square center, Cleveland Ballet showed that the faith Playhouse Square put in the 3-year-old company and its potential wasn’t misplaced. The troupe of mostly young dancers acquitted themselves nicely in a varied program of ballets on October 14 at the Ohio Theatre including a beautiful performance of Michel Fokine’s 1909 ballet Les Sylphides that opened the program.

Wonderfully staged by former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancer and native of Ufa, Russia, Aygul Abougalieva, the ballet had a classical Russian style to it.  Costumed in the white tutus with small fairy wings a la the ballet Giselle, Abougalieva’s staging, beyond deftly capturing the elegance of Fokine’s choreography with its picturesque tableaus, also managed to create unity between a corps of differently skilled dancers whose lines and formations impressed.

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Cleveland Ballet in Michel Fokine’s “Les Sylphides.” Photo by Mark Horning.

Danced to a live piano rendition of Frédéric Chopin’s music for the ballet by Cleveland Institute of Music’s Ralitsa Georgieva-Smith, Les Sylphides featured a cast of eighteen including dancers from Cleveland Ballet’s Youth Company and guest dancer and former principal with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Nurlan Abougaliev.  A veteran performer, Abougaliev showed the same leading man stature and elegance in his dancing that made him a standout PBT. Partnering with rising company star Lüna Sayag, Abougaliev and the French born dancer were magic in Fokine’s classical choreography. The bright-eyed Sayag was spellbinding, dancing with a combination of grace and control. And while Cleveland Ballet is still a long way from artistic director Gladisa Guadalupe’s vision of a world-class troupe, Sayag’s recent growth and her potential as an artist is a very promising step in that direction. Also of note in the ballet were the solid performances of dancers Lauren Stenroos in the “Waltz” and Jenna Steiner in the “Prelude” section.

Next came A Collage of Frank Sinatra Songs, the first of two world-premiere ballets by Guadalupe. Set to a medley of six Sinatra favorites, the ballet had some of the vibe of choreographer Twyla Tharp’s popular masterwork Nine Sinatra Songs, but with more of the nostalgic playfulness and sensibilities of a Fred Astaire musical.

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Cleveland Ballet in Gladisa Guadalupe’s “A Collage of Frank Sinatra Songs.” Photo by Mark Horning.

Sporting luxurious formalwear costumes that included several stunning full-length gowns, the ballet’s eleven dancers performed stereotypical, yet pleasing, Broadway-infused ballet choreography. The work began with Sayag and partner Victor Jarvis in a quaint pas de deux to Sinatra’s rendition of “Young at Heart” that set a lighthearted mood that would carry throughout the ballet. Other highlights included standout dancer Rainer Diaz-Martinez bounding through energetic leaps and pirouettes in a flirty vignette with a quartet of women, and a silky-smooth pas de deux to the song “The Way You Look Tonight” with Abougaliev partnering the statuesque Silken Kelly and the pair recalling a bit of the flair of a Astaire and Cyd Charisse number.

Rounding out the program was Guadalupe’s disappointing Concerto, a banal ballet set to Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Piano in D Minor” performed with skill live by Georgieva-Smith and Sophie Van Der Westhuizen.

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Cleveland Ballet in Gladisa Guadalupe’s “Concerto.” Photo by Mark Horning.

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Rainer Diaz-Martinez (L) and Victor Jarvis in Gladisa Guadalupe’s “Concerto.” Photo by Mark Horning.

Unlike the nostalgic feel of A Collage of Frank Sinatra Songs, Guadalupe’s mostly academic choreography for Concerto, while physically challenging for its dancers, felt like a retread of decades old ballets that have long since lost their mass appeal. The ballet’s lone saving grace was the palpable effort the troupe’s dancers put into performing it.

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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CorningWorks’ ‘six a breast’ reveals how many women really feel


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(L-R) Beth Corning, Laurie Van Wieren and Sally Rousse in the closing section of CorningWorks’ “six a breast,” Samuel Beckett’s “Come and Go.” Photo by Foo Connor.

CorningWorks – six a breast
New Hazlett Theater
Pittsburgh, PA
September 6-10, 2017

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Billed as a work about the absurdity of expectations placed on women by society, CorningWorks’ latest The Glue Factory Project (for performers over age 45), six a breast (2017), September 9 at Pittsburgh’s New Hazlett Theater, wasted no time in thoughtfully highlighting such absurdities. Whether it was the slow-motion, Butoh-like movement performed in silence by the work’s choreographer Beth Corning to indicate women’s cautiousness or perhaps slow advancement in society, or the jazzy shuffling and side-stepping moves of dancer Sally Rousse looking as if to heed the nursery rhyme warning of “stepping on a crack,” the work’s opening volley of metaphorical imagery made a strong statement that women go through a lot to navigate their way in the world. And when the work’s trio of women (including Laurie Van Wieren) in a grand exhale, spit out mouthfuls of water they had been holding in, it was also made clear this work was going to also have some fun highlighting these absurdities.

Delivered in a series of clever vignettes, six a breast took the road less preachy in getting audience members to think about and relate to how women (perhaps more generationally) have been treated and trained to feel about their place in society and their roles in relationships with men. Illustrating those themes, the two vignettes that followed played into women’s perceived roles. The first had Corning in caretaker mode anxious to have a spill cleaned up. And when her call of a “cleanup on aisle nine” yielded no response, she wiped it up herself.  The second parodied society’s not so subtle pressures on women to look a certain way and featured the ladies in a farcical skit set to Eddie Cantor’s song “Keep Young and Beautiful” from the 1933 movie musical Roman Scandals. The prophetic tune extols the virtue of women keeping young and beautiful if they want to be loved. In the vignette, Van Wieren hilariously went overboard in a gaudy make-up application, Rousse used the crumpled pages of fashion magazines to stuff her garments and enlarge certain areas of her anatomy, and Corning stretched tape across her face to try and pull back wrinkles, all to the delight of the audience.

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(L-R) Laurie Van Wieren and Sally Rousse in CorningWorks’ “six a breast.” Photo by Foo Connor.

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(L-R) Beth Corning and Sally Rousse in CorningWorks’ “six a breast.” Photo by Foo Connor.

Throughout six a breast, the veteran trio of women were a joy to watch. Modern dancers Corning and Van Wieren and ballerina Rousse who know each other from working in the Minneapolis dance community, each showcased their varied, but finely honed skills as performers and movers and together had wonderful on stage chemistry.

Perhaps the best example of the work’s humor came in a poke at domesticity where each of the women at different times in the work took a crack at folding bed sheets. Corning approached the task with the dramatic flair of a showbiz magic trick, Rousse playfully used her feminine seductiveness to lure a male audience member into doing it for her, and Van Wieren executed it with the funny but disastrous outcome of an “I Love Lucy” episode.

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Beth Corning in CorningWorks’ “six a breast.” Photo by Foo Connor.

Balancing the ridiculousness and humor of many of the vignettes, were poignant moments such as Rousse literally dropping egg shells on to the stage and walking on them with Corning following behind to sweep them up, and in other sections where the dancers used a smiles and laughter to mask feelings of melancholy and despair or bows and curtsies to show subservience. These types of moments are the glue that often hold together Corning’s dance-theater works and raise them to high art.  No one in the region does this better and with such consistency.  The most striking of these moments, and an inspired ending to six a breast, was the inclusion of Samuel Beckett’s 1965 “dramaticule” Come and Go. In it, the three women in stylish hats sat on a bench and engaged in a round-robin gossip session about each other consisting of only 130 carefully spoken and poisoning words.

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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