By Steve Sucato
Childhood memories of Looney Tunes cartoons and circus sideshows provided the creative spark for GroundWorks DanceTheater artistic director/choreographer David Shimotakahara’s latest dance work, “Sud Buster’s Dream” that will make its premiere as part of the company’s new dance season-opening its 17th Summer Series program this weekend, July 19-21 at Cain Park’s Alma Theater in Cleveland Heights.
The 30-minute contemporary dance work is set to an early American jazz score of the music Shimotakahara says he has always been drawn to since hearing some of it as the backdrop to the cartoons he watched as a child.
“I was always thinking it would be fun to do a work with that kind of cartoon movement zaniness; like wear the dog gets stretched into a hot dog, a giraffe’s neck get twirled up like a pretzel stick or feet were dancing without a body,” says Shimotakahara.
Using those images and that style of music as a starting point, Shimotakahara says he also was inspired to use images of iconic sideshow acts – Sword swallowers, The Seal Boy, The Bearded Lady and The Siamese Twins as influences for movement invention in the work for GroundWorks’ five dancers.
“Those popular acts represented what people felt was odd and unusual. Then, and now, we see oddities in ‘the other’ and fear being cast as such,” says Shimotakahara.
In a recent rehearsal of the work I sat in on, second –year company dancer Annie Morgan moved through a solo that twisted her fingers, arms and legs up in knots, almost immobilizing her. Shimotakahara says with that imagery he was thinking back to images of escape artists like Harry Houdini wriggling and twisting to free themselves from ropes, chains or a straitjacket in their acts.
The work, featuring a large set piece of a stage curtain the dancers emerge from behind for various dances, lends a show within a show motif to the bizarrely entertaining piece. Titled after one of the period songs used in the work by Tiny Parham and his Musicians, “Sud Buster’s Dream,” Shimotakahara also draws parallels to The Roaring Twenties of the last century and the changes in culture, the great disparity of wealth and in opportunities available, to what is going on in the country today. “There were definitely winners and losers,” says Shimotakahara.
Also premiering on the Summer Series program will be award-winning Chicago choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams’ latest commissioned work for the company, “We Three”. The 17-minute piece is performed to a suite of songs by Canadian music group Timber Timbre including their 2011 hit “Lonesome Hunter”. Says Mineko Williams by phone from Michigan, “I like creating worlds that feel timeless. Each section [of the work] makes sense in the order it is presented, but maybe that’s not the real story’s order.”
Continuing a recurring pattern in her recent works of assembling a series of non-linear memories played out in vignettes by the dancers, for “We Three”, the former dance with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancer says “To me all of characters and sections all belong in the same environment. There is a lot of reflection going on with the characters in the work. It could be reflections on relationships with others of a reflection of themselves. ”
Williams uses the analogy of leafing through a photo album where each of the photos you look at comes to live for a few seconds. The viewer decides what story or relationship those in the photo have. “I don’t know what the relationship is between the characters in work, but in my imagination they all existed in these photo album photos together,” says Williams.
From the relationship of human beings to the relative combining capacity of an atom, the remaining work on the program will be a reprise of GroundWorks’ artistic associate Amy Miller’s “Valence” (2009).
Created to an original sound score by composer and Dean of the Conservatory at Oberlin College and Conservatory, Peter Swendsen , “Valence” began as an exploration of how dance could become music and music could become dance,” says Miller. “The overall visual concept the 20-minute work uses circular running patterns not unlike electrons in every atom that throughout the work set up collisions of these orbits that manifest in the form of dancer duets, trios and group sections. Each dancer ends up having a different ‘valence’ or capacity to connect with every other dancer. I think the piece also reminds us of the power of connection to create great things in an often chaotic world.”
New to GroundWorks this season are dancers Michael Arellano, a recent graduate of Western Michigan University and Phoenix, Arizona-native Spencer Dennis, who replace departing dancers Robert Rubama and Tyler Ring. Arellano and Dennis together with returning dancers Morgan, Alexis Britford and Nicole Hennington, they make up perhaps GroundWorks’ youngest company to date.
The Summer Series program will also be repeated in free performances at Akron’s Goodyear Metro Park, August 2 & 3 as part of The Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival.
GroundWorks Dance Theater presents its Summer Series, 7 p.m., Friday, July 19 & Saturday, July 20 and 2 p.m., Sunday, July 21. Alma Theater, Cain Park, 14591 Superior Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio. Tickets are $25/advance, $28/day of show. For tickets and information visit: https://www.cainpark.com/281/GroundWorks-Dancetheater or call (216) 371-3000.
GroundWorks Dance Theater presents its Summer Series in Akron, 8:45 p.m., Friday, August 2 & Saturday, August 3 at Goodyear Metro Park, 2077 Newton St, Akron, Ohio. FREE admission. For more information visit http://akrondancefestival.org/.