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Hubbard Street Masterful in National Dance Day Performance at ADF in CLE


 

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(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “The 40s” by Lou Conte. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s hotly anticipated performance at the second annual ADF in CLE summer dance festival in Cleveland was a family affair of sorts. All five of the works on the program, Saturday, July 28, at Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace Theatre, were by choreographers from within the Hubbard Street family including three by former company dancer and current resident choreographer, Alejandro Cerrudo.

The program, presented by DANCECleveland in collaboration with the American Dance Festival, led off with Cerrudo’s latest work and perhaps his best to date, “Out of Your Mind” (2018). Created for the company’s 40th anniversary season, the “sock” work was inspired by and titled after, a lecture by 20th century British philosopher Alan Watts. A recording of Watts reading excerpts from his thought-provoking lecture about the nature of the self, was incorporated into the work’s soundtrack that also included music by Canadian DJ duo Blond:ish, American composer Keith Kenniff (a.k.a Goldmund), and English composer Greg Haines. It is the first time Cerrudo has used text in one of his creations.

While the work’s title can imply a loss of one’s sanity, Cerrudo says he sees the title as meaning “thinking outside of your mind.” It was apparent from watching it that his thought process was without restraint and truly inspired.

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(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dancers Michael Gross and Connie Shiau in “Out of Your Mind” by Alejandro Cerrudo. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

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(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “Out of Your Mind” by Alejandro Cerrudo. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Abstract and darkly atmospheric, the contemporary dance work for fifteen dancers began with group unison dancing in a series of ever-changing body positions with shifting hand and arm movements; some having the dancers’ arms swarm about their heads. Watching the precision dancing was spellbinding and Hubbard Street’s adroit dancers were exquisite in it.

As the piece progressed, group dancing gave way to various smaller dancer configurations. A duet between dancers Rena Butler and David Schultz fascinated as did a male trio in which two dancers held up and rotated in place a third in a headstand; the upside down dancer frozen in a pose looking as if he were trying to flee. The work’s many dazzling movement phrases came at you as if looking into a kaleidoscope.

The work’s final section then returned the full cast onstage, this time with the dancers entwined arm-in-arm in a line executing cascading and wave-like movements along that line that sometimes resembled a centipede in motion.

Sure to take its place as a signature work of Cerrudo’s, “Out of Your Mind” was far and away the best piece on a program filled with worthy runners-up.

Next, the curtain opened on a brief but visually startling ballooning of a large piece of parachute-like fabric that was quickly yanked into a stage wing revealing a dancer pair with a female dancer lifted over her male partner’s head and positioned in front of another large swath of similar fabric hung as a backdrop. The opening theatrics were part of former Hubbard Street dancer Robyn Mineko Williams’ 2017 dance work for the company, “Cloudline”.

Cloudline Run

(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “Cloudline” by Robyn Mineko Williams. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Cloudline Run

(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dancers Jessica Tong and Jason Hortin in “Cloudline” by Robyn Mineko Williams. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Set to a varied soundscape by Sufjan Stevens, Olafur Arnalds and others, the work, after its dramatic opening, slipped into a dreamlike haze conjuring up the hypnotic and surreal mood of the David Lynch TV series Twin Peaks.

Delivered in a series of delicious moving tableaux that drifted across the stage like a line of clouds, each tableau hinted at the joys and heartache associated with being in a romantic relationship or at the longing felt by one who is not. In one such tableau, a male dancer stood still staring into the wings at a back corner of the stage while dancers Alice Klock and Schultz engaged in sweeping and enveloping movement at its center, and a male/female couple sat pressed together at the front left of the stage watching them.

Over the course of “Cloudline” the fabric backdrop slowly sank to the floor like a setting sun and the dancers then used it to make it appear as if a few of them were dancing among the clouds. The piece then ended as dramatically as it began with a male/female couple in an embrace and tented by the billowing fabric, this time magically disappearing in the whoosh of fabric bring yanked off stage and replaced by a forlorn Jacqueline Burnett standing staring after them.

After a brief intermission, the other two Cerrudo’s works were shown beginning with his often performed, “Lickety-Split” (2006).  Danced to the folksy music of Venezuelan American singer-songwriter Devendra Banhart, “Lickety-Split” had a small town, back roads breeziness to it.  In it, you could see the early craft of a choreographic mind that would twelve years later be ready to birth a gem like “Out of Your Mind”.

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(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dancers Alicia Delgadillo and Elliot Hammans in Alejandro Cerrudo’s Lickety-Split. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Sprinkled with carefree play and a touch of humor, the work’s bendy, elongated contemporary dance movement proved as delightfully quirky as the music it was danced to. In one section to Banhart’s tune “This Beard is for Siobhan” a dancer is seen banging their nose on another’s butt cheek while we hear Banhart sing “Because my teeth don’t bite I can take them out dancing and show them a real good time.”

A last minute replacement for choreographer Crystal Pite’s “Grace Engine” due to lighting requirements that couldn’t be met, Cerrudo’s “PACOPEPEPLUTO” (2011) was another piece of choreographic kitsch wrapped in some serious solo male dancing by Schultz and dancers Kevin J. Shannon and Michael Gross. Set to classic songs by Dean Martin including “Memories Are Made of This” and “That’s Amore,” the work, usually performed wearing nothing but a “dance belt” (jockstrap), had the performers here opting for a more full coverage bottoms. In those, keisters wiggled, hips gyrated and the men leaped and bounded about the stage to the approving shouts of audience members.

The 40's

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “The 40s” by Lou Conte. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

The 40's

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (Florian Lochner, above) in “The 40s” by Lou Conte. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Hubbard’s program concluded with a signature work from its repertory Stone Age prior to the company becoming the global contemporary dance juggernaut audiences have come to know and love. Choreographed by company founder Lou Conte in 1978, “The 40s” was nonetheless a beauty of a jazz dance piece performed to big band music by Sy Oliver. Fast, light-footed and full of Broadway  “cool cat” spunk, the work unfolded like a grand Gene Kelly movie production number. It was a joyous end to a monster evening of dance capped by a rousing standing ovation from the audience.

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.

The ADF in CLE summer dance festival concludes with Caleb Teicher & Company (Tap), 8 p.m., Saturday, August 4 at Cain Park’s Evans Amphitheater. For information and tickets visit ADFinCLE.org

 

 

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New Look Groundworks Dancetheater Launches 20th Anniversary Season With Two New Dance Works On Opposite Ends Of The Stylistic Spectrum


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GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Gemma Freitas Bender and Tyler Ring. Photo courtesy of GroundWorks DanceTheater.

By Steve Sucato

With the retirement of longtime company members Felise Bagley and Damien Highfield plus the departure of dancer Taylor Johnson and the addition of three new dancers, Cleveland-based contemporary dance troupe GroundWorks DanceTheater is essentially a brand new company.  And after their upcoming Summer Series performances at Cain Park, July 20-22 and at Glendale Cemetery in Akron, August 3 & 4 as part of Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, star dancer Gemma Freitas Bender will also be departing the company leaving only Tyler Ring as the lone returning dancer from last season.

For followers of the 5-member tiny troupe with the big reputation for quality work, many of the faces may be new entering the company’s 20th Anniversary season, but the guiding force behind it founder and resident choreographer David Shimotakahara remains the same.

“I’m loving this new group,” says Shimotakahara. “Their spirit and energy is right on. They are very generous, curious and it feels right.”

New to the company this season are Columbus-native Alexis Britford who trained at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts’ high school classical ballet program and at Wright State University before dancing professionally with Dayton Contemporary Dance Company,  Robert Rubama, a recent graduate of George Mason University who hails from Virginia Beach, Virginia and is the founder of his own project-based dance troupe Terre Dance Collective, and Birmingham, Alabama-native Annie Morgan a recent graduate of Pittsburgh’s Point Park University.  While at Point Park, Morgan was the recipient of the Loti Falk Scholarship and was highlighted by Pittsburgh City Paper as one of eight local standout performances in 2017 for her mesmerizing performance in Adam Hougland’s “Cold Virtues”.

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(L-R) GroundWorks dancers Robert Rubama, Gemma Freitas Bender, Annie Morgan, Alexis Britford and Tyler Ring. Photo by Beth Rutkowski.

The new look troupe will perform two new works as part of their 2018 Summer Series program at Cain Park and in Akron.

Half of that program will be comprised of a reprise of Shimotakahara and GroundWorks’ latest collaboration with ChamberFest Cleveland featured in ChamberFest’s June 30 concert at the Maltz Performing Arts Center entitled Dawn of a Revolution.  The two groups previously collaborated in 2015 on Tan Dun’s Ghost Opera (see video below). The theme of Dawn of a Revolution says Shimotakahara was organizing a program around the progression of ideas in the chamber music canon throughout time. ChamberFest’s Frank and Diana Cohen assembled several touchstone musical moments in that canon and connected them via solo piano sections from György Ligeti’s “Musica Ricercata” that was used in director Stanley Kubrick’s final film the 1999 erotic drama, ”Eyes Wide Shut”.

“It intrigued me that the spine of the work would be these solo piano moments,” says Shimotakahara.

In “al-one,” which is a play on words meaning “all” and “one” at the same time, Shimotakahara created movement for all five of GroundWorks’ dancers to seven of the eleven compositions included in the piece. Those stylistically diverse compositions include works by Beethoven, Ravel, Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera, and Arvo Pärt’s melancholy work “Spiegel im Speigel”.

Shimotakahara says his choreography for “al-one,” began with ideas related to the moment of inspiration and creation for an artist.  “That spark, is a revolutionary thing in my thinking,” he says; “A moment of change when something shifts in one’s perceptions and in the possibility of what can be.”  Expanding on that idea, the 50-minute abstract dance work then delves into the processes of creation from trial and error to how information and ideas are passed along to inspire new creative ideas.

Attending the June 30 premiere of the work, I found Shimotakahara’s choreography to be dialed back and more reserved than usual. It was as if Shimotakahara was purposefully giving over the spotlight to ChamberFest’s musicians and the music.  His back and forth choreography for the dancers, which had an ease and simple beauty to it, was delivered in small chunks and in various dancer configurations from solos to all five dancers performing as a group.

Audiences at Cain Park and in Akron will see and hear a different group of ChamberFest musicians perform the work live than had premiered it. One of those musicians will be dancer Freitas Bender’s husband William Bender who was recently appointed assistant principal violist with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London led by music director Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Says the soon-to-be-departing Freitas Bender, a Buffalo-native:  “It has been a wonderful blessing coming to Cleveland to be with my husband, and finding my way into Groundworks. David [Shimotakahara] provides his dancers with such a consistent work environment and a plethora of opportunities to work with well-known choreographers. I feel I have been enriched by the experience and will really miss the people and the community.”

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GroundWorks’s dancers with Banning Bouldin (center). Photo by Beth Rutkowski.

The other half of GroundWorks Summer Series program will be Nashville-Based choreographer Banning Bouldin’s commissioned work for the company, “Chronos”.

A 2002 graduate of Juilliard, Bouldin formerly danced with Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, Sweden’s Cullberg Ballet, Aszure Barton and Artists and Portland’s Rumpus Room Dance.  As a choreographer, she has created works for Nashville Ballet, Visceral Dance Chicago, Seattle’s Whim W’Him and her own contemporary dance company, New Dialect.

Stylistically on the other end of the dance spectrum to Shimotakahara’s “al-one,” Bouldin’s “Chronos” will follow somewhat in the choreographic footsteps of her previous catalog of highly physical dance-theater works.  Although she calls “Chronos” the most “concert dance” piece she has made in a long time, it will also challenge GroundWorks’ dancers’ physicality.

Inspired by the sudden death of a close family member as well as perhaps her own recent health issues, Bouldin says she has been thinking a lot lately about time and how we relate to it.

“We recognize the most meaningful moments in our lives through hindsight,” says Bouldin. “The pressure of keeping up with the clock can also cause us to miss meaningful moments as they are passing.”

Set to a varied soundscape including selections from Andrew Bird’s nature field recordings, “Echo Locations” and music by German composer Nils Frahm, the 25-minute work says Bouldin evolved into a non-narrative piece using a dance vocabulary illustrative of those themes of time and loss.

Of Banning working with GroundWorks Shimotakahara says: “It was quite astonishing to see somebody be able to articulate their ideas and the physicality of those ideas so clearly. It was also great for the new company to work in such an intensive way creating a positive bonding experience.”

GroundWorks DanceTheater performs its 2018 Summer Series dance program, 7 p.m., Friday, July 20 & Saturday, July 21 and 2 p.m., Sunday, July 22. Cain Park’s Alma Theater, 14591 Superior Rd., Cleveland Heights, Ohio. $25 Advance, $28 Day of show. groundworksdance.org/tickets, cainpark.com or (216) 371-3000. Post- Show Receptions: Free Beer Friday – Following Friday’s performance, free beer, wine and soft drinks will be offered. Dessert Reception Saturday – Following Saturday’s performance, a dessert reception featuring sweet treats will be offered. Ice Cream Sunday – Following Sunday’s performance, Mitchell’s Ice Cream will be offered.

The program repeats as part of the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival at dusk (8:45 p.m.), Friday, August 3 and Saturday, August 4. Glendale Cemetery, 150 Glendale Ave, Akron, Ohio.  Admission is Free. More information at groundworksdance.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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MorrisonDance Celebrates 20th Anniversary Season with Retrospective Showcase as part of Cleveland Public Theatre’s DanceWorks 2018


MorrisonDance Spider photo by Bob Perkoski

MorrisonDance Spider. Photo by Bob Perkoski.

By Steve Sucato

If it wasn’t for some perseverance and a bit of luck in the form of Cleveland Public Theatre (CPT) founder James Levin deciding to a chance on an unknown Case Western University dance department graduate and giving her the opportunity to mount her first show, the 1997’s groundbreaking LEAPING INTO THE NET!, dancer/choreographer Sarah Morrison might not have stayed in Cleveland.

Brought here in 1992 by a CWRU Creative Achievement Award Scholarship for her choreography, Morrison, an Atlanta-native, might have returned to Georgia without ever forming MorrisonDance, a mainstay on the Northeast, Ohio dance scene.

Now celebrating its 20th Anniversary season, MorrisonDance returns to CPT this weekend, May 24-26, for a retrospective showcase of Morrison’s staged dance works as part of Cleveland Public Theatre’s DanceWorks 2018.

In addition to performing extensively in the greater Cleveland area including site-specific and aerial works at museums, parks and other venues like Schoepfle Gardens and Edgewater Park, Morrison and her company have had tours to Pennsylvania, California, Georgia, Italy, England, Mexico and New York’s City Center, the Joyce SoHo and Joe’s Pub at Public Theatre.

A 2018 recipient of the OhioDance award for “Furthering the Artform of Dance” and a 2009 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, Morrison has created over 75 works for her company in the past two decades as its principal choreographer. Sixteen of those works will be highlighted on this weekend’s 20th anniversary program along with “Simean Suit Sequence” (2016), choreographed by longtime MorrisonDance company dancer Taliesin Haugh.

MorrisonDance 1997-2017 Director Sarah Morrison

From 1997’s LEAPING INTO THE NET!, the first modern dance performance broadcast live online.

MorrisonDance Dali's Drawers photo by Bob Perksoski

MorrisonDance in “Dali’s Drawers”. Photo by Bob Perksoski.

MorrisonDance stars photo by Bob Perkoski

Photo by Bob Perkoski.

Morrison is best known for her highly visual works described as “zany” and “endearing” by former Plain Dealer dance critic Donald Rosenberg, that often involve a light-hearted, playful and humorous approach such as 2001’s “A Tribute to Sissy Hankshaw,” which features a solo dancer wearing oversized thumbs, and the lamp-shade-wearing improvisational solo “My Grandmother’s Lamp” (2003 / 2008).  Through those works and many others, Morrison and company have carved out a unique niche in the region as a dance company that embraces quirkiness while regularly delivering an abundance of audience smiles.

“The process I have [in creating work] is to jump on an inspiration and let it become what it needs to be,” says Morrison. “Often what my work becomes is never my first entry point.”

Morrison says not all of her works fall into that lighthearted spectrum. “Over the years I have done some dark and creepy pieces,” she says — “Dark in the sense of imaginative dark. There is a depth to my work that often explores a gestalt dual side of things.”

The 20th anniversary production will showcase that full theatrical spectrum work in a series of short 3-10 minute works and excerpts from larger works that spans the company’s history. Eight performers including Morrison and Cleveland-based performer/composer Braden Pontoli make up the cast for the 2-hour program that includes 2015’s neurotic “Phobophobia,” set to original music by composer Jeremy Allen and voiceover by Clyde Simon and featuring the dancers in inflatable bouncy ball costumes; Morrison’s zebra-striped pant solo “Zugzwang Zebra” (2015) which cleverly uses a white plastic chair with a hole in its back; the seductive and sinister Irish fairytale “Leanan Sidhe,” (an excerpt from the 2006’s Mad Mask Maker of Maigh Eo); the gravity-inspired “9.8 m/s^2”(2007 / 2009), set to music by James Brown; 2010’s “Conflict Resolution,” a duet where the dancers are connected together at their arms and “Out On the Town” (1996), one of Morrison’s oldest works to music by Tom Waits that celebrates Cleveland’s working-class persona in which the female cast is costumed a la the iconic World War II-era “Rosie the Riveter” posters.

MorrisonDance dreams photo by Bob Perksoki

Photo by Bob Perksoki

MorrisonDance monkeys photo by Bob Perkoski

Photo by Bob Perkoski.

Morrison says beyond trying to find computer keyboards from the 1990s to use as props, the toughest part about putting together this weekend’s 20th anniversary program was selecting the works that would be included on it. More a retrospective than a greatest hits production, for those unfamiliar with the company and Morrison’s work, it’s a relative crash course in it.  And for those already familiar with both, it’s a chance to revisit and reminisce on one of the region’s most long-lasting and unique dance troupes.

MorrisonDance performs as part of Cleveland Public Theatre’s DanceWorks 2018, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, May 24 – Saturday, May 26 at CPT’s Gordon Square Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., Cleveland. Tickets are $12/Thursdays and $30/Fridays & Saturdays. For more information and tickets call (216) 631-2727 x 501 or visit cptonline.org

Cleveland Public Theatre’s DanceWorks 2018 continues with:

WEEK #3: INLET DANCE THEATRE – May 31 – June 2

WEEK #4: OBERLIN DANCE PROJECT & MARQUEZ DANCE PROJECT (DOUBLE BILL) – June 7 – June 9
WEEK #5: DOUBLE-EDGE DANCE – June 14 – June 16

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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