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Integrated First: Dancing Wheels’ Program to Highlight Works by Choreographers with Disabilities

Meredith Aleigha Wells and Celina Speck of The Dancing Wheels Company in Od.yssey choreographed by Marc Brew. Photo credit Robert Howard.

Meredith Aleigha Wells and Celina Speck of The Dancing Wheels Company in “Od:yssey” choreographed by Marc Brew. Photo credit Robert Howard.

By Steve Sucato

Quite possibly the first dance production of its kind in the United States, Cleveland’s Dancing Wheels, America’s oldest physically integrated dance company (dancers with and without disabilities), will present Reverse.Reboot.Reveal! featuring a trio of commissioned works by a trio of choreographers with disabilities.

The program, Friday, June 14 at Playhouse Square’s Allen Theatre will also coincide with the national Dance/USA Conference being held in Cleveland for the first time.  Says Dancing Wheels founder/artistic director Mary Verdi-Fletcher of the unique production: “Few artists with disabilities have had the opportunity to hone their skills as choreographers. We want to help change that and expand the public’s vision of the artistry of those with disabilities.”

The first of two works on the 2-hour program by choreographers working from wheelchairs, the premiere of award-winning Australian choreographer Marc Brew’s “Od:yssey” explores ideas of restriction.

Brew, the best known of three commissioned choreographers, is the artistic director of Oakland’s AXIS Dance Company. A former ballet dancer and choreographic protégé of resident choreographer of England’s Royal Ballet, Wayne McGregor, Brew says the 16-minute “Od:yssey” represents a journey that starts at its end and works its way backwards. Danced to music by Iceland’s Ólafur Arnalds, the contemporary dance piece also explores a variety of relationships and interactions between the dancers.

A cast of 8 will take on Brew’s challenging choreography he says was born out of improvisation exercises in getting to know the strengths of Dancing Wheels’ dancers. “I always try in my work to get the best out of every dancer,” says Brew.

Next, the premiere of Laurel Lawson’s “the tenderness of things lost and found” had as its creative jumping off point in the dark Russian fairytale of Baba Yaga, a witch who flies around in a mortar, wields a pestle, and dwells in a forest hut standing atop chicken legs.

“I was not setting out to make narrative ballet,” says Lawson. “It’s more abstract and more about mood and relationships.”

A dancer/choreographer with Atlanta’s Full Radius Dance and disabled artists’ collective Kinetic Light, as well as a member of the USA Women’s Olympic Sled Hockey team, Lawson says of her process, “I tend toward making works that are athletic and about connections and emotional truths.”

In a recent rehearsal of the 15-minute piece for 10 dancers set to music by Prokofiev, Zoe Keating, Emmylou Harris and Norwegian folk band Byrdi, I found the work to be sculptural, dramatic and brooding.

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Justin Collin and Florent Devlesaver in “Fly”. Photo by Lou Breton/M6

In contrast, “Fly” (2012), performed by guest dancers Justin Collin and Florent Devlesaver from Belgium will be an inspirational affair. Choreographed by Collin, the 7-minute duet appeared on the French TV show La France a un incroyable talent (France Has Incredible Talent) in 2017.

Danced to music by Ludovico Einaudi and Ólafur Arnalds, the work, says Collin, was inspired by Devlesaver. “He gives 100% to his passion.  Our friendship was born through dance, and we wanted to share it on the stage.”

The pair met seven years ago and have been performing all over the globe as a duo for the past five. Says Collin, Fly and their other collaborations reflect “The desire to defend the accessibility of dance for all…and to be seen as two dancers, and not as one ‘valid’ person and one person in a wheelchair.”

After an intermission, Reverse.Reboot.Reveal’s second half will lead off with a 16-minute excerpt of Antoine Hunter’s “Giggling Flame and Roaring Waves” (2016); the third work by a choreographer with a disability (deafness).

Hunter, the founder and  director of San Francisco’s Urban Jazz Dance Company and the Bay Area Deaf International Dance Festival, says his piece danced to jazz music by Roy Hargrove and Miles Davis, was inspired by those around him and his upbringing in the Bay area. The work for 10 dancers incorporates into its movement language elements of sign language and afro jazz.

In staging the work on Dancing Wheels’ dancers who do not sign, Hunter took the approach of voicing some instructions and writing others. Says Hunter, “they [the dancers] have to learn my body language and I have to learn theirs. It’s a spiritual thing for us to connect as artists.”

Matt Bowman and Tanya Ewell of The Dancing Wheels Company in Od.yssey choreographed by Marc Brew. Photo credit Robert Howard.

Matt Bowman and Tanya Ewell of The Dancing Wheels Company in Od:yssey choreographed by Marc Brew. Photo credit Robert Howard.

Next, members of the School of Dancing Wheels Performance Ensemble will dance “Goodmorning” to music of the same name by William Fitzsimmons. The 3-minute piece choreographed by school administrator Deborah Reilly and the dancers “highlights the beautiful ability of movement to provide a voice for all.”

Then after a brief presentation by Dancing Wheels board member John Voso, Jr. and Broadway legend and friend of the company Ben Vereen, the program will close with the premiere of company resident choreographer and rehearsal director Catherine Meredith’s “Five by Nina”. The 20-minute work for a cast of 11 to a suite of songs sung by the late Nina Simone says Meredith, reflects on Simone’s life as a singer and civil rights activist as well as her fluid sexuality and turbulent relationship with her second husband.

Immediately following the production the audience is invited to a champagne and dessert reception in the lobby to meet the artists.

The Dancing Wheels Company presents Reverse.Reboot.Reveal!, 8 p.m., Friday, June 14. Playhouse Square’s Allen Theatre, 1407 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. Tickets are $40/General Admission, $35/groups of 10 or more, $30/DanceUSA Members and Conference Attendees (use the code DanceUSA) and can be purchased online at playhousesquare.org or by calling the Playhouse Square Box Office at 216-640-8600.  In addition, $125 VIP tickets are available and include pre-performance hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, silent auction, prime seating for the concert and the post-performance champagne and dessert reception. For VIP tickets visit dancingwheels.org/reverserebootreveal.

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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Quantum Physics, Environmentalism and the Me Too Movement: Cleveland Public Theatre’s Annual DanceWorks Series Continues it Daring Dance Ways


madcap’s Tyler Ring and Annie Morgan. Photo by Dominic Iudiciani.

By Steve Sucato

Cleveland Public Theatre (CPT)’s annual DanceWorks series returns for its 21st season, May 16 – June 15 with five weekends of thought-provoking dance performances by eight area dance companies at CPT’s historic Gordon Square Theatre.

DanceWorks 2019 will feature a diverse lineup of dance works and styles from first-time participants and series veterans including Travesty Dance Group co-founder/artistic director Kim Karpanty in her first solo show for the series, MONSOON.

The new 35-minute multidisciplinary and multimedia improvisational solo, says Karpanty, was inspired by recent experiences she has had as the victim of bullying, gender bias and ageism. Created in Barcelona in collaboration with Argentinian media artist Tristán Pérez-Martín and Swedish performance artist Benedikte Esperi, the work parallels the catastrophic strength and power of a monsoon to internal storms in our own lives.

Danced to soundscape of consisting silence, spoken word, sound effects and contemporary classical and classic pop music, Karpanty sees the work as a metaphor for the cycle of human storm, recovery and renewal.

“While the monsoon brings devastation, in some countries it also brings all of the rain to grow all of the food the rest of the year,” says Karpanty.

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Kim Karpanty in “MONSOON”. Photo courtesy of Kim Karpanty.

She says she arranged her solo along the arc of a monsoon beginning with calm and progressing through rising heat into microbursts of storm and destruction and ending with recovery and renewal.

Karpanty describes herself as a mid-career dance artist redefining who can dance and for how long. A professor of dance at Kent State University, Karpanty says she has in recent year been transitioning her performing career toward that of a solo artist. MONSOON represents a new direction in that transition.

In the past several years Karpanty has attended dance workshops in Spain, France and Sweden where she has embraced a different way of working that she describes as “a horizontal experimental and improvisational process that yields control of the finished product.” For her, adopting this new movement identity in MONSOON, she says, has been a challenge and a source of trepidation.

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(Archive Photo) Kim Karpanty. Photo by Larry Coleman.

“It’s a risk to go up [with the show] in this format, especially performing for Cleveland audiences that have watched me and my company perform the past 22-years,” says Karpanty. “It’s a live theater piece that will change for each audience who sees it.”

Karpanty performs MONSOON in Week 4 on a double-bill with Movements in Motion.

Here is a brief rundown of DanceWorks 2019’s other offerings:

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Verb Ballets. Photo by Bill Naiman.

May 16 – 18, 2019

DanceWorks series regulars Verb Ballets return with Fresh Inventions, a program featuring new choreographic works by Verb’s dancers and company associate director Richard Dickinson. Included are new company dancer Daniel Cho’s first work for the company, “three lullabies for you and I”.  A contemporary dance work for a cast of eight, Cho says, “This piece was founded on the notion of relationships. I’ve recently been interested in how relationships with oneself, with another person and with a group can be represented through highly physicalized movement.”

Kate Webb’s new 11-minute contemporary ballet for six dancers, “UnHEaRd” takes its inspiration from the Me Too movement and the work that still needs to be done in achieving equality for all. Webb’s piece focuses specifically on women’s equality. She says: “The sad reality is that a woman’s voice is still second to a man’s. Our culture does not consider a female to be as viable as her male counterpart—if she is subservient, she is not heard, yet the minute she speaks up she is either ridiculed for her perspective and not taken seriously or considered to be overly aggressive and unsavory.” With “UnHEaRd”, Webb seeks to shine a spotlight on those lingering concerns.

“The Leaving Song” is the latest work by Michael Escovedo for Verb. The new piece for eight dancers is set to music by American singer-songwriter Chris Garneau and “is about how the psyche can break when faced with tragedy and the decisions made afterwards,” says Escovedo.

Rounding out Fresh Inventions are Dickinson’s new ballet, “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” and Antonio Morillo’s “Mortal Empathy Variations,” a new 4-minute duet danced to George Gershwin’s “Preludes for Piano, No. 2 Andante con moto e poco rubato” that Morillo says explores “a young couple meeting in trying times.”

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Inlet Dance Theatre. Photo by Suzanne Sherbundy.

May 23-25, 2019

Inlet’s program From the heART is a series of non-narrative explorations, prototypes, and repertory inspired by works of art from other mediums. Included in the program are reprises of Inlet works “B’roke” (2004), “And Still I Rise” (2018), “Semiotic Variations” (2000), “Ascension” (2006), “Offaxis” (2008) and “impaired” (2004).  The program will also feature premiere works “Becoming” and “Sketches Before a Storm: Ariel and Caliban, pre-colonization (a prototype)” choreographed by company artistic director Bill Wade in collaboration with Inlet’s dancers.

Set to music from the soundtrack of the 2016 film Arrival by Jóhann Jóhannsson, the sculptural work for a male trio costumed in slightly metallic red stretch fabric, takes its inspiration from the art and artistic philosophies of American sculptor Frederick Hart. Says Wade: “This piece is a way to investigate the idea that every human being is God’s artwork and the thought that perhaps creation (Genesis) is still ongoing.”

The 5-minute “Sketches Before a Storm: Ariel and Caliban, pre-colonization (a prototype)” is a male/female duet danced to excerpts from Cleveland composer Ty Emerson’s “Caliban Ascendant”. Says Wade it ponders an alternative version of the characters in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.

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(Top) MorrisonDance. Photo by Bob Perkoski. (Bottom) madcap. Photo by Dominic Iudiciani.

May 30- June 1, 2019

MorrisonDance returns to DanceWorks with the premiere of its latest science-inspired dance work aptly titled Dance meets Science: Quantum Entanglement. The 45-minute in work six sections on topics including superfluidity, quantum tunneling and Erwin Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment (Schrödinger’s cat) is choreographed and directed by Sarah Morrison with creative contributions from the company. Danced to music by London-based experimental band The Mostar Diving Club, Ludovico Einaudi and others, the work for six dancers reflects on “the profound nature of the quantum theory and universal connectivity,” says Morrison.

New to the DanceWorks series are GroundWorks DanceTheater dancers Tyler Ring and Annie Morgan a.k.a. madcap in their new 20-minute work Transcription Beta. Choreographed and performed by the duo along with fellow GroundWork’s dancer Robert Rubama, Transcription Beta delves into our ubiquitous use of voicemails that Ring says “act as a semi-permanent moment in time when two people missed one another.” The contemporary dance work also “hopes to humanize distant relationships that might only exist superficially, and at the same time, offer a lighthearted look into relationships both big and small.”

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(Top) Kim Karpanty of Travesty Dance Group. Photo courtesy of Kim Karpanty. (Bottom) Movements in Motion. Photo by William G. Barnard.

June 6-8, 2019

Joining the aforementioned Travesty Dance Group’s Kim Karpanty’s solo work MONSOON, Movements in Motion will make their DanceWorks debut in RASA, a 45-minute production blending Indian classical (Manipuri and Kathak) dance techniques, Indian martial arts and contemporary dance. First performed in 2008 in Krakow, Poland, the work for three dancers, an actor and a singer, “conceptualizes how to control and balance emotions in order to create a harmony of peace and love.”

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(Top) Shri Kalaa Mandir. Photo by Srini Ranganathan. (Bottom) Terre Dance Collective’s Robert Rubama. Photo courtesy of Robert Rubama.

June 13-15, 2019

Founded in 1993 by Sujatha Srinivasan, Shri Kalaa Mandir (Center for Indian Performing Arts) make their DanceWorks debut in Srinivasan’s Vivarta – Transformations. The new hour-long piece for ten dancers is performed in the Bharathanatyam classical Indian dance form to a selection of Carnatic music (South Indian classical music) composed primarily by the Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan and Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi. Says Srinivasan: “It is an artistic expression of the state of our environment today…telling a story of beneficence, abuse, redemption and triumph.”

Also making their DanceWorks debut is Terre Dance Collective in Blood Orange. The newish 25-minute piece choreographed by Robert Rubama in collaboration with the dancers is danced to a mix of ambient electronic and classical music. It will be performed by dancers Chelsi Knight, Emily Liptow, Shannon Metelko and Oberlin College grad Akane Little. Says Rubama: “The piece, in a nutshell, is a nonlinear exploration of dependency, vulnerability, connection and the breaking down of barriers we place in our own way.”

Cleveland Public Theatre’s DanceWorks 2019 runs 7:30 p.m., every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 16 – June 15 at CPT’s Gordon Square Theatre, 6415 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland. Tickets are $15-25. Students/Seniors receive $5 off on Friday and Saturday nights. All Thursdays are $15.  For feeless tickets and more information visit cptonline.org or call the CPT Box Office at (216) 631-2727 ext. 501. Group discounts are available.

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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Ailey Magic Returns to Playhouse Square [REVIEW]

AAADT in Jessica Langs EN. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Jessica Lang’s “EN”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater
Playhouse Square’s KeyBank State Theatre
Cleveland, Ohio
April 27, 2019

By Steve Sucato

The return of Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater to Northeast, Ohio is always a hotly anticipated event. The company’s 60th anniversary tour performances this past weekend (April 26-28) at Playhouse Square’s KeyBank State Theatre in Cleveland rewarded that anticipation with memorable works and dancing.

Presented by Playhouse Square in partnership with DANCECleveland to close out its 2018-19 dance season, Ailey’s program on Saturday, April 27 featured the Cleveland premieres of works by choreographer Jessica Lang, company artistic director Robert Battle, Ailey dancer Jamar Roberts and Alvin Ailey’s iconic “Revelations”.

The program opened with Lang’s dreamy ballet “EN” (2018) to an original score by NYC-based Polish composer Jakub Ciupinski. The ballet’s title is taken from a Japanese word with multiple meanings including circle, destiny, fate or karma. Lang says of the 21-minute piece, it “reflects on the universal experience of coming full circle and, as time passes, we recognize the people we meet along life’s journey who play a part in the fate and destiny of our lives.”

Those sentiments were driven home in Lang’s varied paced choreography that played into those notions of time passing and the circularity of life, offering up moments of motion with the feel of drifting sand and those tinged with idealism. Adding to that, the minimalist stage setting by Lang and lighting designer Nicole Pearce of a color-changing circular disc at the rear of the stage representing the sun and an overhead illuminated globe representing the moon (that was raised and lowered) both symbolized the passage of time from day to night and back.

AAADT in Jessica Langs EN. Photo by Paul Kolnik2

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Jessica Lang’s “EN”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

AAADT in Jessica Langs EN. Photo by Paul Kolnik3

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Jessica Lang’s “EN”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

An ensemble of 13 dancers led by Roberts costumed all in white moved through athletic choreography that melded together ballet, modern and jazz movements. The dancers came together in various groupings, formed circles and rendered a sequence of thematic poses and tableaus across the stage. At one point a group of dancers lifted and repeatedly tossed a female dancer in the air like a cheerleader.

Well-known to Northeast, Ohio-area audiences for her works performed by her now defunct company Jessica Lang Dance on DANCECleveland’s 2014 and 2017 seasons, “EN,” her debut ballet for the company, further stretched Ailey’s repertory range along with audience expectations of the types of works the company presents.

Next, Roberts’ “Members Don’t Get Weary” (2017) proved an impressive debut work for the company by the fledgling choreographer.  Danced to jazz music by John Coltrane, the 24-minute contemporary/modern work for 10 dancers was inspired by his watching disturbing world events on CNN that conjured the feelings of “having the blues”.  Titled after a 1968 Max Roach album and a Negro spiritual of the same name, the work says Roberts uses “the dancing body to inspire the audience, allowing them to transcend their own personal blues momentarily.”

AAADT in Jamar Roberts' Members Don't Get Weary Photo by Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Jamar Roberts’ “Members Don’t Get Weary”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

AAADT in Jamar Roberts Members Dont Get Weary. Photo by Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Jamar Roberts’ “Members Don’t Get Weary”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Roberts’ idiosyncratic movement language was bold, fresh and inspiring to watch. The work began with the dancers in large-brimmed, disc-shaped straw hats that seemed to suggest the toiling of field hands. The dancers’ faces often obscured by the hats, moved through illustrative choreography and some imagery a la “Revelations” that spoke of a harsh existence.  As the work progressed the dancers removed the hats and the mood of the piece, along with Coltrane’s expansive music, began to spark optimism.  Danced beautifully from beginning to end, the piece was highlighted by a lively male quartet in which dancer Jacqueline Green chimed in with a marvelous solo full of abandon and grace.

AAADTs Jacqueline Green in Jamar Roberts Members Dont Get Weary Photo by Paul Kolnik

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Jacqueline Green in Jamar Roberts’ “Members Don’t Get Weary”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

AAADTs Ghrai DeVore _ Jeroboam Bozeman in Jamar Roberts Members Dont Get Weary Photo by Paul KolnikCrop

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s Ghrai DeVore (front) and Jeroboam Bozeman in Jamar Roberts’ “Members Don’t Get Weary”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Also of note was a lover’s duet by dancers Jeroboam Bozeman and Ghrai DeVore in which the pair exchanged desperate embraces, one in which DeVore pulled down the top of Bozeman’s blue jumpsuit to reveal his bare chest. The duet ended with a downtrodden DeVore slumped on the stage floor with her back to the audience as the rest of the cast returned to the stage. DeVore’s brilliance in the role left a lasting impression.

Battle’s 2016 work “Ella” was then performed in its original form as a solo instead of the now more commonly seen male/female duet. The comedic piece was danced by Chalvar Monteiro to a live recording of Fitzgerald’s song “Airmail Special.” In it, Fitzgerald’s nonsensical jazz scatting that included lines from the songs the “Ballad of Davy Crockett” and “That’s Amore,” was matched in quirky, fun-loving playfulness by Monteiro who mugged and hammed it up for the appreciative audience.

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Aileys Revelations. Photo by Paul Kolnik 13

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations”. Photo by Paul Kolnik.


Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations”. Photo by James R. Brantley.

“Ella” proved a delectable appetizer for the closing meal that was Ailey’s “Revelations.” THE signature work of the company performed on almost all of their programs, “Revelations” is one of dance’s most beloved masterpieces. Volumes have been written on it leaving critics like myself with nothing more to say than perhaps comparing casts who have performed it since its debut in 1960.  Suffice it to say of the dozen times I have seen the work over the past few decades, this current cast acquitted themselves very nicely to the delight of all present.

Alvin Ailey Spring Gala 2018

Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in Alvin Ailey’s “Revelations”. Photo by Donna Ward.

Check out DANCECleveland’s 2019-2020 season offerings at dancecleveland.org  And if you unfortunately missed Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater’s performances this weekend or would like to see them again, the company will be performing in nearby Pittsburgh on Tuesday, May 5, 2020 at the Benedum Center.

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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