Dancing Wheels Production to Celebrate Music Icon David Bowie


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Dancing Wheels’ Demarco Sleeper and Sara Lawrence-Sucato in Dezaré Foster’s “Labyrinth: A Tribute”. Photos by Dale Dong and Design by G. Michael Bargas.

By Steve Sucato

Last summer when a freakish windstorm knocked out power at Cleveland Heights’ Cain Park, it also took with it Dancing Wheels’ scheduled world-premiere of “Labyrinth: A Tribute,” a dance work based on the 1986 film Labyrinth starring the David Bowie. While the cancellation was certainly unfortunate, it did provide the 36-year-old Cleveland-based physically integrated dance company with the opportunity to now create an entire evening themed around Bowie and his music. The Best of Bowie at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica will not only feature several Bowie-scored dance works, but the production will be interspersed with facts, lesser known trivia and video footage about the late rock icon provided by local Bowie aficionado, CoolCleveland’s Thomas Mulready and be followed by a Bowie-themed post-performance party.

Acting as master of ceremonies for the evening, Mulready says he has had a lifelong interest in Bowie and his music that has weathered the many stylistic changes in Bowie’s music over the span of his career.

“Everything he would come up with was very different from the thing he did before so if you got hooked into the androgyny of Ziggy Stardust and then a few years later he’s doing ‘Young Americans’ and he is like a soul singer, people would turn off and he would get a whole new audience and lose the old one,” says Mulready. “I was there all along.”

Whether as musical alter egos the “Thin White Duke,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Aladdin Sane” or “Major Tom,” David Robert Jones, a.k.a. David Bowie, is one of the most recognizable and revered figures in popular music history. With a string of hits and record sales of some 140 million over his 50-year career, Bowie was one of the world’s best-selling music artists. The multi-talented singer-songwriter, actor, painter, art collector and 1996 Rock Hall-inductee’s death of liver cancer at age 69 in 2016 sent shockwaves worldwide.

In celebration of Bowie’s legacy, The Best of Bowie will open with the premiere of Dancing Wheels’ rehearsal director Catherine Meredith’s “Pallas Athena.” Danced to Bowie’s “Pallas Athena (Don’t Stop Praying mix No 2)” off 1993’s Black Tie White Noise album, the work and the song’s title come from the Greek goddess, Athena, who is depicted in Athenian statues under the form of Pallas Athena. For Bowie, the song grew out of his interest in how man relates to God.

Says Meredith of the piece, “The impetus for the movement came from my years spent in NYC/London nightclubs. For many, the DJ and the club acted as a god and church/sanctuary where people were free to be who they were without judgment.” In it, Meredith says Dancing Wheels’ dozen dancers will represent the individual’s struggle to have their voice heard above the crowd.

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Dancing Wheels in Michael Uthoff’s “Straight Down the Middle”. Photo credit: Ellie Montenegro.

Next, Pittsburgh-based choreographer Beth Corning’s new work “These Are The Days,” reunites Meredith and Dancing Wheels founder/artistic director Mary Verdi-Fletcher with former company dancers Hoang (Mac) Dang, Libby Dang and Shannon Sterne. Corning, whose ongoing Glue Factory Project for dancers over forty has earned her critical acclaim nationally, brings that same sensibility in working with veteran dancers to this work. She describes it as a visceral, metaphoric reflection of her confusion, disbelief and uncertainty at the current social and political climates in U.S. and abroad. Set to a remastered version of Bowie’s “Space Oddity” along with music by Philip Glass, the work will be performed with the cast in wheelchairs.

“My choice to put all the dancers into [wheel]chairs was a conscious one,” says Corning. The [wheel]chair was not a replacement for movement, but rather a vehicle. The armchair liberal, the strange act of passively sitting while physically having to propel yourself in space in circles — an equalizer of sorts — as we pass each other, trying to connect, constantly moving, almost afraid to stop, to connect, to take responsibility, to relate to the moment.”

Students from the Dancing Wheels School will then take the stage in “Lightning,” a new work choreographed by school coordinator Emma Parker along with Brittany Kaplan and Gabriella Martinez. Danced to Bowie’s 1983 hit “Let’s Dance” and the Bowie/Queen collaboration “Under Pressure,” the lighthearted work will be a toe-tapping lead-in to the program’s final work, “Labyrinth: A Tribute.”

Choreographed by former Dancing Wheels’ star Dezaré Foster, the Northeast Ohio premiere of “Labyrinth: A Tribute” is a dance re-envisioning of Jim Henson’s cult classic film. Set to Bowie’s soundtrack for the film, the family-friendly story ballet, like the film, combines drama, humor and a host of quirky characters to tell the tale of young Sarah’s perilous journey to save — in this version — her sister Toby from the malevolent Goblin King.

“I watched this movie as a young child and David Bowie’s music stayed close to my heart,” says Foster. “I hope the combination of music, movement and story will invite you into this fantastical world where goblins are under your bed and just beyond the meadow is a maze full of mystery and magic.”

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Dancing Wheels. Photo by Dale Dong.

Following the production, audience members are invited to stick around for a post-performance party featuring Cleveland glam band Vanity Crash They’ll take the stage to play Bowie and glam rock tunes. There’ll also be dancing, desserts and drinks (cash bar), a silent auction and a dancer meet-and- greet. For those wanting the full VIP experience, Dancing Wheels is also offering a pre-show cocktail party beginning at 6:30 p.m. with hors d’oeuvres, open bar, silent auction and Best of Bowie bling. Funds raised from this event go to supporting Dancing Wheels’ outreach and educational programming and touring.

Dancing Wheels presents The Best of Bowie, 8 p.m., Saturday, June 10; Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica, 2014 Sycamore Street, Cleveland. General admission $40, Groups of 10 or more $30/each, VIP tickets $125. (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.

This article was first published on CoolCleveland.com, June 3, 2017. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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Leaving Neverland – Film Review of ‘Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan’


9_WFarewell2_Courtesy of Paul Kolnick

A scene from Got The Shot Films Production “Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan.” Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnick.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

A single file line of female corps de ballet dancers in silhouette shuffles across the back of the stage at Lincoln Center’s David H. Koch Theater. Accompanied by the haunting string music of composer Philip Glass and looking like some cliché of automaton factory workers, the line of dancers is suddenly juxtaposed by New York City Ballet’s Wendy Whelan lifted by partner Tyler Angle soaring across the stage like some goddess exalted.  The scene out of Jerome Robbins’ Glass Pieces played out like a metaphor for the charmed career Whelan, and few others have attained, basking in the spotlight of stardom for decades while the all but anonymous line of corps dancers trudge along in the background, for most, their careers never to see such heights.

But Linda Saffire and Adam Schlesinger’s 90-minute documentary Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan (2016) isn’t about the fickle nature of stardom nor so much about Whelan’s ascent to it, but rather what she feels is her impending descent from it and the loss of her identity. It’s a very personal, somewhat inner circle, glimpse into her coming to grips with aging, injury and what happens next.

Filmed beginning in 2013 when she was 46, the documentary takes us through her battle with a painful hip injury, her inner battles over her career, and through her final performance with NYCB and the beginnings of a new chapter in her life.

Like any great athlete that has self-realized or been told that they have lost a step and subsequently see the finish line to their careers is in sight, early on in the film Whelan is knowingly rather fatalistic about her future.

“’If I don’t dance, I’d rather die’—I’ve actually said that,” recalls Whelan in the film. “I feel the ticking clock.”

Shattered and heartbroken at times in the film, Whelan’s penetrating and sometimes mournful expressions harken back to anguished images of runner Mary Decker after falling in the women’s 3,000m final at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics, watching in tears as her dreams of Olympic gold ran away from her.

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A scene from Got The Shot Films Production “Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan.”

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A scene from Got The Shot Films Production “Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan.”

Born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, Whelan’s early training at the Louisville Ballet Academy led her to New York and the School of American Ballet. In 1984, she was named an apprentice with NYCB and in 1986 she joined its corps de ballet. One of the first post-Balanchine stars of the company, Whelan went on to spend a record-setting 30-years at NYCB, 23 of them as a principal dancer.

Says current NYCB Ballet Master in Chief Peter Martins about his hiring of Whelan, “It’s not rocket science, when somebody pops up with that gift it’s very easy to identify, you just grab it.”

Unlike other dance documentaries about a single artist, Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan isn’t filled with film/video clips of her dance oeuvre which includes works by choreographers William Forsythe, Alexei Ratmansky, Twyla Tharp, Christopher Wheeldon and her performing most every major Balanchine role, instead the focus is on getting to know the affable waif during a most crucial intersection in her life ─ career reinvention or permanent retirement from the stage.

Cognizant of her gifts as a dancer and her stardom, Whelan says in the film, “I had the world in my hands. I was getting every part under the sun…it was like gold streaming into my world.”

Having worked closely with Jerome Robbins twelve years, originated more roles at NYCB than any other dancer in its history, guested with the Kirov Ballet and The Royal Ballet’s, received numerous awards including the Dance Magazine Award (2007), the Jerome Robbins Award (2011) and a 2011 Bessie Award, Whelan is considered by many as one of the modern era’s most important ballerinas.

It is perhaps that fear of falling from such great heights that seems to haunt Whelan most in the film ─ adulation and stardom are but holes in your parachute once they disappear.

Unusual in its approach to revealing Whelan as a person and an artist during a time of personal crisis, Saffire and Schlesinger’s documentary is a powerfully engaging, wonderfully choreographed and edited film that like any great dance work or film, speaks passionately to the human condition.

The documentary moves through scenes of Whelan reminiscing with the recurring male dance partners she has had in her career (Jock Soto, Craig Hall, Tyler Angle), shows her discussing and rehearsing a new ballet with Ratmansky and Wheeldon for her final performance at NYCB, and details a few somewhat uncomfortable encounters with boss Martins.

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A scene from Got The Shot Films Production “Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan.” Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnick.

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A scene from Got The Shot Films Production “Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan.” Photo courtesy of Paul Kolnick.

Particularly engaging are scenes of Whelan discussing her hip surgery with Dr. Marc Philippon of Colorado’s Vail Valley Medical Center, who says to her “Ballerinas are probably God’s best athletes,” and operation room footage of  Whelan’s hip surgery, from prepping her to the first scalpel incision with Whelan awake during it.

The most thoughtful and riveting scenes of the film however are of Whelan’s final performance with NYCB on October 18, 2014. Saffire and Schlesinger masterfully intercut her backstage routine with Whelan dancing onstage for the final time. The soundtrack to these scenes bounces between audio from a backstage hallway monitor and from the performance hall. Cameras  from seemingly every angle capture Whelan’s movements. Especially poignant are the silent, reflective and distant stares of Whelan feeling what that ending is like; a different Wendy leaving Neverland knowing she has to grow up.

At films end, Whelan comes to realize that this is not the end for her and dance. That she can take her dancing, career, and stardom to new places and new heights, which we see she has already begun to do.

Abramorama presents a Got The Shot Films Production Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan, directed and produced by Adam Schlesinger and Linda Saffire, executive producer, Diana Dimenna, edited by Bob Eisenhardt, A.C.E., director of photography, Don Lenzer with original music composed by Philip Sheppard. Running time: 1h 30min, WW Dance, LLC © 2016. www.restlesscreaturefilm.com

Abramorama will release Restless Creature: Wendy Whelan in New York at the Elinor Bunin Theater and Film Forum today, May 24, 2017.

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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Arch Contemporary Ballet Premieres A New Ballet using American Sign Language and Poem by Luis Pons


Arch Contemporary Ballet Sheena Annalise x Hues of Memory x Photo by Luis Pons x Dancer Katelyn Somers (3)

By Annie Yang

Arch Contemporary Ballet, in its mission to launch ballet and music to an inclusive 21st century audience, performs a world premiere by Artistic Director Sheena Annalise, presented by the Davenport Theatre354 W 45th St., New York, NY, with four performances Tuesday, May 30th  – Thursday, June 1st at 8:00 pm.

As a rising pioneer for ballet and music, Annalise’s choreography unveils unconventional lines of a dancer’s body in the world premiere ballet, ‘Hues of Memory’. American Sign Language is seamlessly integrated into the movement of two pas de deuxs, three-dimensionally revealing the poetic debut of world renowned photographer, Luis Pons. The bi-lingual interpretation of dance and ASL transports the audience to lush landscapes galvanized by romantic memory. Award winning composer Matthew AC Cohen sets the temperature of the work with a euphoric guitar and violin score performed by Arch Sound Ensemble, and displayed visually with synced lighting technology to the vibrations of the instruments. The theatre space is encapsulated with a greenery maze, setting the backdrop for this madly passionate work and an extension of the photo story series created by Annalise and Pons leading up to the performance.

“Arch Contemporary Ballet (ACB) challenges the past and launches into the future with new pointe work, new music, and new ideas about the potential of ballet,” remarks Annalise. “I’ve drawn inspiration about communicating our memories through different language forms and was inspired by ASL. Pons’s secret stashes of poems were the perfect backdrop for my vision. We continue to portray themes relevant to today, and create work to resonate with new audiences. We want ballet to be and continue to be relevant to the entire community.” Pons adds, “Poetry explains without having to explain, the depth and great heights of the human condition. Annalise’s work embodies how I would visually see my words into movement which made it a perfect fit – the innovation of integrating other art forms translated to this whirlwind of artistry around my poetic story.”

There will be an autism friendly modified performance on Wednesday, May 31st at 6:00 pm as part of ACB’s Arch for Autism Initiative.

PERFORMANCE INFORMATION

Tuesday, May 30th 8:00 pm
Wednesday, May 31st 6:00 pm (Autism Friendly performance)
Wednesday, May 31st 8:00 pm
Thursday, June 1st 8:00 pm
Running time 30 minutes

Advanced general admission tickets are $25, VIP tickets are $35.
Tickets can be purchased online at www.archballet.com.

DANCERS

Katelyn Somers, Andy Fernandez, Tori Hey, Henry Max McCall.

DIRECTIONS In New York

The Davenport Theatre is located at 354 W 45th Street, between Eighth and Ninth Avenue in Manhattan and is accessible by Subway A,C,E at 42 St Port Authority Bus Terminal and 1,2,3,N,Q,R,7,S at Times Sq 42 St.

Arch Contemporary Ballet Sheena Annalise x Hues of Memory x Photo by Luis Pons x Dancer Katelyn Somers (8)

Arch Contemporary Ballet’s Katelyn Somers. Photo by Luis Pons.

ABOUT ARCH CONTEMPORARY BALLET

Founded in 2013, New York City’s Arch Contemporary Ballet was established with a bold spirit and innovative vision to create an artistic process that enhances the connection between ballet and music. All of ACB’s works are choreographed without music. Commissioned composers then create an original music score for each repertoire program. In addition to her innovative way of joining movement and music, Artistic Director and choreographer, Sheena Annalise, challenges classicism with a cutting-edge approach to partnering, pairing women on pointe together as partners. ACB has performed across the country including the Paramount Theatre in Boston, Tempe Center for the Arts in Tempe, AZ, Marlene Boll Theatre in Detroit, New York City’s Sheen Center, and more. Learn more at www.ArchBallet.com.

SHEENA ANNALISE, ARTISTIC DIRECTOR

Artistic Director and choreographer, Sheena Annalise, at age 14, was honored to work with Wayne McGregor | Random Dance in “Equator Project”, nurturing her choreographic talent. She quickly found a distinct voice by creating innovative body lines and exploring her fascination with the connection between movement and music. In her early work she began to play with creating her own tempos, accents, and pauses in her ballets without the limitations of existing music. Looking to accentuate her silent yet rhythmic choreography, she developed her artistic process of commissioning artists to create music specifically to each repertoire program. Annalise spent 2012 mentoring with the Mark Morris Dance Group, when she then founded Arch Contemporary Ballet the following year. Through ACB she has received residencies and space grants throughout NYC and has been named a “Prodigy” by The Women’s Project.

ARCH FOR AUTISM

Arch for Autism is an initiative for families and friends with children or adults who are diagnosed with an autism spectrum disorder or other sensitivity issues to come together and enjoy the benefits of dance and music. Our goal is to make ballet and music accessible to all by including Autism Friendly performances during our performance season. Adjustments to the production include reduction of obscure lighting, shorter running time, and reduction of any sudden sounds. Plus, there will be areas in the lobby for quiet time or activities staffed with autism specialists for those who need to leave their seats during the performance.

MATTHEW A.C. COHEN

Matthew A.C. Cohen has composed and performed around the globe and is a Remi Platinum Award winner for the short film”@Social #Connection”.  He attended Hofstra University, where he got a B.S. in Music Theory/Composition, with special interests in Film Scoring, Jazz Improvisation and arranging, and orchestration, and went on to get an MFA in Scoring for Media from Columbia College Chicago. He writes for network television shows, including “Reign” and “Vikings”, studio films including “Brick Mansions”, “The Funhouse Massacre”, and “Christmas Land”, and triple A video game titles including “Dragon Age: Inquisition”. He is a versatile and inventive musician and composer.

LUIS PONS
Luis Pons is a New York based world renowned dance photographer whose images are described as eternal, exquisite, and breathtakingly memorable. His photography envisions the pursuit of beauty, symmetry, color and contrasts and is noted for capturing fleeting moments in the human experience. The defining moments where all the energies in the human heart, body and spirit fuse together at 1/500th of a second, are captured eternally by his work. His motivation for photography is to remind himself of the potential in all of us to be beautiful, serene and at peace, and he shares this reminder to the world through his photographs. His work can be seen in publications across the world, such as Buzzfeed,  HuffPost Arts & Culture Feature, Elle, Epoch Times, Capezio’s world campaign, to name a few and he has captured the most distinguished ballet dancers from ballet companies throughout the world including New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, San Francisco Ballet, Arch Contemporary Ballet, and more.

Exclusive Photostory:

Hues of Memory Ballet Poem |’Memory’ by LUIS PONS | Choreography by Sheena Annalise

I have only seen you in these three years like sunlight through a white veil.

Ethereal and diffused, your silhouette like a curved black river through which time had frozen my heartbeat.

In the wind you sway gently, out of reach…
If any man has ever embraced memory, I have…
If any man has ever loved memory, I have…

I stood outside that great door to the ark that housed all our memories.
My broken fingernails like little steps embedded in your heart as you float away with everything that was mine.

This cleansing rain, who is it for?
Swept out to sea.
Unfathomable ocean roar
In the depths I swallow salt and remember your taste…
I remain stained with memory.

In your crucible of truth my hope died.
Left with vague pictures in my mind that I was loved by something grand, that I walked with her in the summer, somewhere green under a blue sky.

A vision of cathedral ceilings filled with golden stars.
A dead end road where a river appeared and kisses under a high moon.

This shell with a heartbeat wakes, walks and sleeps with memory.
So that any hand that touches feels cold and any words that might be said in love are ignored.

My heart beats wildly for you as If to implore you to hear that it has found the answer to the question it never asked.  I held your hand to the thundering of my heart. And you knew in that moment I was alive for you and only you.

My love for you dies in blinding hues of lilacs, reds and blues…

Like bones that have passed through great fires and glow in bright gold and white before turning to dust…
You tried to wake me from this sleep but I fell through too many layers of your silk.
Unlocked too many doors into the paradise that is you
You will never find me to push me out.

In your gardens, I am the lowly dandelion that you walk past to smell your roses.

In your forests, I am the moss that faces north on the old oaks that you dance under.

On your shores, I am the white foam at your feet….

Upcoming Events

May 30 – Jun 1 Spring Season II : World Premiere
May 31st – Autism Friendly Performance
June 1 Cocktails & Conversation for Patrons
Aug 7 – 13 Summer Ballet Intensive at NY City Center
Aug 7 – 13 Summer Composer’s Intensive at NY City Center
Aug 12 – Autism Friendly Performance
Aug 11 – 13 Summer Performance Season at Sheen Center
More information at: www.ArchBallet.com

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