Tag Archives: Dance

CorningWorks’ ‘with a shadow of…’ a Muddling of Liminal Space


CORNINGWORKS_ Catherine hires

Catherine Meredith in CorningWorks’ “with a shadow of…” Photo by Frank Walsh.

CorningWorks – with a shadow of…
New Hazlett Theater
Pittsburgh, PA
March 27-31, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

In the lead up to her latest GLUE FACTORY PROJECT work with a shadow of…, dancer/choreographer Beth Corning said “I hope nobody makes any sense of this work; none.”

Mission accomplished.

Pittsburgh’s queen of metaphor outdid herself with the hourlong collection of mind minutia and movement that proved as baffling as it was visually breathtaking.

Thematically said to reflect “the moment before sleep and the moment before waking,” with a shadow of… did well in capturing the surrealness of such moments.  Where the dance-theater work fell short was in conveying purpose beyond that initial idea and in achieving the deep-reaching emotional connections with the viewer that have been a hallmark of Corning’s works. Having over the years taken in the breadth of Corning’s works created for her now 10-year-old organization CorningWorks, in some ways with a shadow of… may be the least impressive choreographically while also being a bold visual step forward for one of the region’s most intriguing dance artists.

The final performance of the work’s run on Sunday, March 31 at the New Hazlett Theater began with a prelude dance improvisation by cast member Janis Brenner.  On a darkened stage, Brenner, an award-winning choreographer herself and the artistic director of Janis Brenner & Dancers in New York, darted in and out of shadow performing an energetic modern dance solo as audience members filtered into the theater.  The sound effect of a cell phone ringing ended her solo and officially began the work.

Danced to a montage of atmospheric music with a shadow of… bounced between vignettes that bordered on genius and tedium.  The opening vignette had New York dance icon David Dorfman pulling a curled up and supposedly sleeping Brenner in a red wagon around the stage and continuing to act as if doing so after he had let go of the wagon’s handle.  It was followed by Corning and the work’s final cast member Catherine Meredith (choreographer and rehearsal director for Cleveland’s Dancing Wheels) in each other’s arms rolling on to the stage like human tumbleweed.

CORNINGWORKS_ Janis hires1

Janis Brenner in CorningWorks’ “with a shadow of…” Photo by Frank Walsh.

That scene led into the work’s first bit of tedium, watching the cast members piled upon and rolling over one another for an extended period. A go to move for pop up improvisation sessions and student choreographers, “the moving pile of bodies” is one of dance’s most boring clichés. Undoubtedly a metaphor related to the partial inspiration for the work, Corning’s feelings that current U.S. political and social climates have created a reality in which little makes sense, the dance phrase perhaps intentionally played into that dulling of the senses.  Repeated later in the work, it was made more palatable when Brenner, standing and shadowing the pile of dancers as they rolled about, pulled from her pocket a clementine that she peeled and ate while waiting for something interesting to happen in the moving pile — nothing did and maybe that was the point.

While the work contained a few more mind-wandering-off-to-make-a-grocery-list-moments such as Brenner dragging around a potted tree on an upper side balcony, there were also delicious nuggets such as a sweeping and dreamy solo by Meredith in a long dress that she melted into after Corning carried her onstage on her shoulders, and a breathy and fun full cast unison dance that saw Dorfman become giddy with the joyful feeling of it.

The unequivocal star of the production however was Iain Court’s brilliant lighting and stage effects worthy of a Broadway production.  Bathed in an almost constant stage fog, the dancers moved through dazzling lighting patterns and spotlights that not only highlighted them but sometimes followed after them like a puppy dog.  Easily the most ambitious and successful of the Corning and Court collaborations to date, the visual theatrics culminated in a genius moment with Corning dancing a slow-moving, Isadora Duncan-like solo under a heavy waterfall of stage fog.  Partially obscured by the fog at all times, Corning’s graceful and fluid hand and arm movements appeared and disappeared from view like a siren call to the audience to come join her.

As with all of Corning’s works, they are essentially a response to the human condition. And like most choreographers she would like audiences to discover their own meanings, feelings and truths in her work. But with as celebrated a cast of performers as was assembled for with a shadow of…, one can’t help but wish the choreography and the driving purpose behind the work did more to let those talents shine.  As theatrical eye-candy however, with a shadow of… was a knockout.

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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Vertigo’s ‘One, One & One’ Leaves Heads Spinning with Delight


Vertigo Dance Company in “One, One & One”. Photo by Rune Abro.

Vertigo Dance Company – One, One & One
Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre
Cleveland, Ohio
March 9, 2019

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

The theme of the individual versus the group is nothing new in dance. Countless works have explored some aspect of it. Choreographer Noa Wertheim’s hour-long One, One & One (2017) performed by her Vertigo Dance Company Saturday night at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre, however, offered up a rather unique take on it.

Presented by DanceCleveland, the contemporary dance work by the Jerusalem-based company in their Ohio debut had the visual aesthetics and movement characteristics of works seen regularly on Israeli and European stages. For area audiences who see less of that, it was refreshingly brilliant.

Sound effects of surf and storm, a shovel repeatedly digging in the earth and the distant sound of a dog barking ushered in dancer Daniel Costa slowly pouring a line of dirt from a bucket across the front of the stage to open the work.  As he did, dancer Shani Licht began a slow, dreamlike solo in place, her measured movements lifting and stretching one limb at a time.  Then, joining the two on the bare, stark white stage containing two long bench areas on either side, others began to filter in to lift Licht skyward and move her about the stage — the scene set the tone for a carefully-crafted abstract work ripe with imagery one could read into its theme, but also left open countless interpretations.

Like Wertheim’s fabulous 2015 work Reshimo for the company, One, One & One found lingering beauty in the ordinary. The work’s dancers in grey pants and dark colored shirts executed multiple variations on pedestrian movement such as little shimmies, shakes and butt wiggles along with modern dance head stands and bursts of bending and swooping moment to Avi Balleli’s cinematic original score for the work.

Vertigo Dance Company in “One, One & One”. Photo by Rune Abro.

The atmospheric piece then switched gears as Licht and dancer Hagar Shachal squared off facing each other with arms high in the air and mirroring each other’s movements.  Another metaphor as to “the one” in relationship to a larger concept of “one,” the two women pushed into each other looking like a bird-like courtship dance, brushing the air space mere inches from the other without making contact.

As the work progressed, Wertheim’s choreography painted many more pictures of “the one” in solos, duets, trios and group dancing. The choreography constantly morphed, adding new elements such as hints of Israeli folk dance. For the most part, the movement flowed from the dancers’ bodies in a seamless succession of disparate movement phrases that felt connected. Only a scant few times did some phrases appear forcibly adjoined.

After more dirt was spread covering the stage, repetitive loud bangs in the score like gun shots invaded the theater space and jarred the senses. During this the dancers moved about drawing patterns in the dirt with their feet and kicking up dust clouds that, as in choreographer Pina Bausch’s famous The Rite of Spring (1975) with its dirt covered stage, the visual effect was dramatic but caused some audience members in the front rows to cough and a few to head for the exits.

Vertigo Dance Company in “One, One & One”. Photo by Rune Abro.
Vertigo Dance Company in “One, One & One”. Photo by Rune Abro.

Then, as another visual element of stage fog rolled in from above, below it dancers Korina Fraiman and Costa began a tender duet where the petite Fraiman was lifted and flipped about by Costa as if he were a gust of wind sweeping her up. The duet culminated in him grabbing her by the wrists as you would a child and spinning her round and round for a seemingly head-spinning eternity. 

Wertheim’s clever choreography also juxtaposed lively group dancing with near slow-motion solos. One such example saw Licht move around the perimeter of a quirky and athletic men’s group dance.

One, One & One hit its intensity height when Shachal began to try to separate herself from the other dancers. Turning on her as a group or perhaps seeking to save her from herself, the others surrounded Shachal, who darted and lunged desperately to escape their grasps.  They, like cats with a bird under paw, only reacted to her frantic attempts at escape and all was calm when she lay still on the stage floor resigned to her fate.

The engaging work then ended as quietly as it began, but perhaps with the dancers as a group more as “one” and with the audience of one appreciative mind, standing and applauding.

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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Akron’s ‘Lose Your Marbles’ Festival Returns with a Decidedly Different Approach


Neos Dance Theatre. Photo by Dale Dong.

By Steve Sucato

After taking a year off in 2018, Akron’s dance-centric Lose Your Marbles festival is back with a smaller, regionally focused event taking place Friday, March 1 at the Akron Civic Theatre.

Founded by Neos Dance Theatre artistic director Robert Wesner with the support of a three-festival, $100,000 John S. and James L. Knight Foundation grant, Lose Your Marbles (a reference to Akron’s history as a marble making center in the late 1800s), first go round in the summer of 2017 was an ambitious undertaking that featured a diverse group regional and national music and dance acts.

With the initial goal of presenting more experimental and avant-garde artists in traditional and alternative performance spaces a la the many “Fridge” festivals seen around the country, Wesner says although the pilot festival was a success in many ways, he and his fellow festival organizers felt more evaluation was needed to develop a sustainable path forward for the event.

“It was decided [for Lose Your Marbles II] to dial back the numbers of different groups and really focus on local artists so we could further develop relationships with existing dance audiences in the area and survey their interest in seeing other types of contemporary artists in future, says Wesner.”

This year’s scaled down festival is part of a strategy to get future festivals to a place where the initial goal of presenting tried and untried local, state and national artists in varying performance spaces around Akron can be realized.  

“The third year is going to be a continuation of what we have done in these first two festivals,” says Wesner. “This is a full on exploration of what Lose Your Marbles is and can be and the audience is in it with us.”  

Returning for Lose Your Marbles II are 2017 festival participants GroundWorks DanceTheater, Inlet Dance Theatre, Neos Dance Theatre and Verb Ballets.  Familiar to area dance goers, three out of the four troupes annually perform at the City of Akron’s Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival.

GroundWorks DanceTheater. Photo courtesy of Lose Your Marbles.

GroundWorks DanceTheater will open the one-night-only event with company artistic director and former Ohio Ballet star David Shimotakahara’s “LUNA” (2012).  Set to an original score by Oberlin Conservatory of Music grad Peter Swendsen, the work, says Shimotakahara “explores the nature of desire and its deeply held and often conflicting motivations. These polarities developed into a series of physical relationships that reveal many facets in a cycle of experience. That cycle is like the moon, as unknown and primal as it is familiar.”

“LUNA’s” celestial motif will fit in nicely with Akron Civic Theatre’s Moorish castle decor complete with an atmospheric twinkling starlit sky and moving clouds ceiling display.  

Inlet Dance Theatre. Photo courtesy of Lose Your Marbles.

Next, highlighting the humanitarian crisis of over 60 million refugees fleeing war, famine, violence and persecution worldwide, Inlet Dance Theatre’s work “Sojourn” offers up a message of compassion, empathy and grace for those in desperate need. Choreographed by Inlet founder/artistic director Bill Wade in collaboration with the company’s dancers, the work in five-section is danced to music by Max Richter.


Neos Dance Theatre. Photo by Dale Dong.

Wesner’s Neos Dance Theatre then reprises choreographer Joseph Morrissey’s “Near Light” that premiered at last summer’s Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival. Performed to music by composer Ólafur Arnalds, Wesner describes the ballet as being a dynamic and fairly aggressive work movement-wise with a lot of twists and turns in its partnering sequences.

Verb Ballets. Photo by Bill Naiman.

The roughly two hour program will close with Verb Ballets in choreographer Adam Hougland’s “K281” (2007). Originally created on Cincinnati Ballet, the 14-minute ballet gets its name from Mozart’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in B-flat major, K. 281 that it is danced to.  Staged by Jill Marlow Krutzkamp and original cast member, the ballet for three male-female couples is full of quirky contemporary dance movement. Each couple has their own distinct personality says Marlow; the first has a fun, free relationship, the second’s mood is somber and the third has a peculiar relationship where the woman moves like a rag doll.

Neos Dance Theatre with the support of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation presents Lose Your Marbles II, 8 p.m., Friday, March 1, Akron Civic Theatre, 182 South Main Street, Akron. Tickets are $23 for reserved seating, $18 general admission, and $5 for students with ID and available online at loseyourmarbles.org and at the door that evening.

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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