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Che Malambo Closes DANCECleveland’s 2017-18 Season with Jaw-dropping Dance Spectacle


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Che Malambo, Photo by Slawek Przerwa.

Che Malambo
Ohio Theatre at Playhouse Square
Cleveland, Ohio
March 17, 2018

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

It was the luck of more than the Irish for those who happened to be in attendance at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre on St. Patrick’s Day to see Argentinean dance troupe Che Malambo. The performance, co-presented by DANCECleveland and Cuyahoga Community College, was a jaw-dropping, awe-inspiring spectacle of dance, music and gaucho-inspired artistry like no other.

Conceived and choreographed by Frenchman Gilles Brinas in collaboration with Che Malambo’s dancers, the program celebrated the malambo folk dance traditions of South American cowboys (a.k.a. gauchos).

As the curtain opened halfway Saturday evening to reveal the roar of drumming from Che Malambo’s dozen-member all-male troupe bathed in blinding white light, the atmosphere then took on the intensity of an oncoming train as the curtain opened completely and the boot-wearing performers, costumed in all-black and full of machismo rushed forward en mass to the delight of the audience.

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Fernando Gareis and Miguel Angel Flores. Photo by Robert Torres.

When the dust finally settled on that raucous opening dance sequence, drummer Fernando Gareis and former finalist on France’s Got Talent, dancer Miguel Angel Flores, were all that remained onstage. The two began what would be a long-running, bravura dance section centered on one-upmanship competition.  Flores, in a call and response duet with Gareis, engaged in aggressive and showy malambo tap dancing that included hard foot stomps with the heel or “el repique,” and “la cepillada,” where his feet brushed the stage in various rolled-ankle taps and steps. Flores was soon joined by dancer Daniel Medina who immediately challenged him to a dance competition which led to subsequent waves of dancers entering the stage to similarly challenge those who came before them in testosterone-fueled exhibitions of male posturing and skilled dancing punctuated by guttural vocal exclamations of “top that” pride.

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Photo by Slawek Przerwa.

Brilliantly choreographed, staged and performed, the competition section was a harbinger of even more stunning performances to come beginning with Fernando Castro dancing a barefoot solo using fast-moving and intricate “floreos” steps that barely made contact with the ground.  As with the previous competition section, Castro was then joined by other barefoot dancers showing increasingly greater skills than those that danced before them and building the dance section to a frenzied and satisfying climax.

On a bare stage and danced only to live drumming or solo acoustic guitar-playing by the troupe’s dancer-musicians, Che Malambo’s production appeared deliberately stripped down to honor its rustic gaucho heritage while also adding nothing to distract from its adroit dancers’ performances.

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Photo by Diane Smither.

In an evening full of memorable dancing, the hands down highlight of the program came in a boleadoras (a throwing weapon consisting of two or three balls on a rope) twirling solo by Medina.  With the superior skills of an Olympic rhythmic gymnast taken to seemingly impossible extremes, Medina’s performance with the boleadoras was mind-blowing. Controlled, breakneck speed whipping of a boleadora in each hand produced optical illusions of halos of light surrounding Medina as he danced across the stage crisscrossing ropes and banging the tiny balls at each end off the stage in a rhythmic pattern to match his foot tapping.

Likened to popular touring dance shows such as Riverdance and Ballroom’s Burn the Floor, Che Malambo’s program blending world-class dancers, dancing and boleadoras displays, may have topped them all, taking the term crowd-pleaser to whole other level.

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Photo by Diane Smither.

After a musical interlude by Gareis playing guitar and singing a traditional Argentinean folk tune, the program concluded with a fiesta section led by the troupe’s most diminutive member Francisco Matias Ciares, who after a humorous section of the dancers coming to the front of the stage and mugging at the audience with ear-to-ear smiles, launched into a fitful and hilarious solo that set off the rest of the troupe similar rebellious solo dancing.

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Photo by Diane Smithers.

And what would a celebration be without more feats with the boleadoras? The fiesta also included a dazzling group boleadoras number and another astonishing solo display of boleadoras skill this time by Walter Kochanowski who whipped the spinning ropes so fast around his head as to beat up a cloud of sweat from his long hair to the cheers of the audience.

While not DANCECleveland’s typical dance offering, Che Malambo stands as one of its best in recent years in terms of spectacle. The boisterous standing ovation the troupe received at program’s end showed there is an appetite by area dancegoers for high quality, universally appealing programming such as this.

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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Brazilian Dance Troupe Grupo Corpo Bewitching in Program at Playhouse Square


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Grupo Corpo in Cassi Abranches’ “Suíte Branca.” Photo by Jose Luiz Pederneiras.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

After more than a decade of trying to book Brazilian dance super group Grupo Corpo, DANCECleveland executive director Pamela Young finally got what she desired. This past weekend the troupe, co-presented by DANCECleveland and Cuyahoga Community College, wowed audiences at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre proving the wait was well worth it and in the process fueled an appetite to see even more from the troupe.

The globally popular Grupo Corpo (meaning “body group” in English) is known for their stylistically unique group works mixing classical technique, modern dance and Afro-Brazilian forms. Their program Saturday night was no different. What was different was the program contained a dance work choreographed by someone other than resident choreographer Rodrigo Pederneiras.  Only the second person ever to choreograph on the company, former Grupo Corpo dancer Cassi Abranches’ 32-minute “Suíte Branca” was one of two works on the program created in celebration of the company’s 40th anniversary in 2015.

Set to an original instrumental score by Samuel Rosa the frontman for Skank – one of Brazil’s best-known pop rock bands, 19-dancers costumed in all white entered in stages a white on white stage design —whose rumpled backdrop had the look of a mountainous glacier — beginning with short solo by petite powerhouse Dayanne Amaral.

Having danced Pederneiras’ works from 2001-2013, it was clear with Abranches’ choreography that the apple hadn’t fallen too far from the tree.  The familiar, relaxed, lead with the hip movement language of Pederneiras was evident in the work yet Abranches managed to take it in differing and interesting directions.  Leg-bicycling leaps, weight-sharing movements, dancers wriggling on their backs and rolling across the stage floor, and pendular movements and suspensions a la Michael Jackson’s groundbreaking 1988 music video “Smooth Criminal,” suggested a testing of the laws of gravity.

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Grupo Corpo in Cassi Abranches’ “Suíte Branca.” Photo by Jose Luiz Pederneiras.

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Grupo Corpo in Cassi Abranches’ “Suíte Branca.” Photo by Jose Luiz Pederneiras.

The non-stop piece mixed full group dancing with various smaller clusters of dancers including a trio of men who passed between them waif Silvia Gaspar who appeared to dance on air, and a bubbly duet by Amaral and partner Filipe Bruschi danced to a Beatle-esque tune that encapsulated the overall lightness and ease vibe of “Suíte Branca.” Also of note was the performance of dancer Malu Figueiroa who attacked Abranches’ athletic and acrobatic choreography with abandon.

While Abranches’ “Suíte Branca” was an introduction to the future of Grupo Corpo, Pederneiras’ “Dança Sinfônica” that came next, was a nostalgic look back at its past.

Danced to a recorded symphonic score that featured music from several the company’s recent works composed by Marco Antônio Guimarães and performed by the Philharmonic Orchestra of Minas Gerais and Brazilian instrumental group Uakti, the 42-minute group work combined “a memorialist theme” with reprised and original choreography.

In contrast to the stark white set and costume design of “Suíte Branca,” “Dança Sinfônica” showcased crimson red side curtains and a panel backdrop containing a collage of 1080 informal photos of Grupo Corpo’s dancers, ballet masters, teachers, producers, and set designers and lighting and costume technicians from over the past four decades.

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Grupo Corpo in Rodrigo Pederneiras’ “Dança Sinfônica.” Photo by Jose Luiz Pederneiras.

As with “Suíte Branca,” Amaral opened “Dança Sinfônica” with a solo. As she danced, male/female couples began filtering onto the stage with the women lifted and carried in standing positions and the men walking backwards as Amaral’s bouncy solo weaved in and around them.

Like a greatest hits of Pederneiras’ choreography, “Dança Sinfônica” contained all the rhythmic hops, swivels, gyrations, stomps, stamps, shuffles and undulations that have helped define the company’s unique movement language.  After decades of crafting this style, there is a palpable sophistication, precision and beauty to Pederneiras’ choreography that one hopes Abranches and future choreographers for the company will be able to achieve.

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Grupo Corpo in Rodrigo Pederneiras’ “Dança Sinfônica.” Photo by Jose Luiz Pederneiras.

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Grupo Corpo in Rodrigo Pederneiras’ “Dança Sinfônica.” Photo by Jose Luiz Pederneiras.

Leaning more heavily on the excellent group work of the piece’s 17 adroit dancers, like “Suíte Branca,” individual standout moments surfaced.  One such moment was a pas de deux in spotlight between Gaspar and dancer Edmárcio Junior. Infused with grace and sensuality, the beautiful partnering sequence between the two dancers once again involved Gaspar being airborne for much of it.  Her ability to be as rigid as a board one moment, then as airy as a jellyfish the next, spoke to her versatility and talent as a dancer.

Also making an impression was a bravura solo by Elias Bouza toward the end of the work that earned him around of applause from the audience.

With its majestic soundtrack, fabulous choreography and dancing, “Dança Sinfônica” had all the hallmarks of becoming a signature work for the company.

While Grupo Corpo’s program at Playhouse Square proved the company is worthy of its universal acclaim. Surprisingly in the copycat world of dance, few, if any, major North American or European dance companies have embraced Grupo Corpo’s movement style or repertory. The troupe remains one-of-a-kind and one local dance fans hope they will not have to wait another decade to see again.

Next on DANCECleveland’s 2017-18 season, all-male Argentinean dance company Che Malambo, co-presented with Cuyahoga Community College.  7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 17 at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre, 1511 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. $25-$60. (216) 241-6000 or playhousesquare.org/events/detail/che-malambo

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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New Summer Dance Festival in Cleveland the result of a Perfect Storm of Needs


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Pilobolus opens ADF in Cleveland on Saturday, July 29 in “Shadowland.” Photo by Ian Douglas.

By Steve Sucato

DANCECleveland and the American Dance Festival (ADF) have teamed up this summer for ADF in Cleveland, an 8-day dance festival July 29-August 5 at Playhouse Square. The inaugural event will include performances by international superstars Pilobolus (July 29), hip hop troupe Rapheal Xavier (August 2) and New York modern dance company Brian Brooks (August 5). In addition there will be a four-day educational workshop series taught by ADF faculty and free community events. For a full schedule of events see below or visit adfincle.org.

Given that DANCECleveland is one of the oldest modern/contemporary dance presenters in the country and ADF, which began in 1934, has been heralded as “One of the nation’s most important institutions” by the New York Times and as “The world’s greatest dance festival” by the New York Post, the question is why has such a collaboration between the two like-minded organizations never happened before?

In talking with DANCECleveland executive director Pamela Young, it took a perfect storm of circumstances to make ADF in Cleveland happen.

“Nothing happens quickly for me,” says Young “I like to think and ruminate on things.”

Young has been in conversations with the Durham, North Carolina-based organization and ADF executive director Jodee Nimerichter for several years working out the structure and logistics of the Cleveland mini-festival.

For Nimerichter, ADF in Cleveland represented a chance to expand their brand awareness in the Midwest. Says Young, while ADF reaches nationally and internationally, it doesn’t pull much from the Midwest, especially when it comes to students attending ADF’s summer school offerings.

Locally, Young was also looking for a way to expand DANCECleveland’s performance options. “There are so many things interesting happening in dance that aren’t spectacle,” she says. “Works that don’t necessarily show well in larger theaters such as solo works or interesting cross-sections of dance and theater…it’s very hard for me to incorporate those into our season.”

In addition, Playhouse Square, feeling the district and their facilities were underutilized during the summer, was interested in adding programming and Cleveland State University’s department of theatre and dance was also looking for ways to enhance their annual summer dance workshop and having ADF’s teaching faculty here during it was, says Young, “a slam dunk for them.”

The addition of ADF in Cleveland to Northeast Ohio’s burgeoning summer dance offerings that include dance events at Cleveland Heights’ Cain Park, Akron’s Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival and the new Lose Your Marbles Dance-centric fringe festival, along with Tremont’s Arts and Cultural Festival and others, is yet another reason why the region is fast becoming one of the top destinations for summer dance in the tristate area and beyond.

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Pilobolus in “Shadowland.” Photo by Ian Douglas.

THE SKINNY

While in future editions of ADF in Cleveland Young says she wants to feature perhaps lesser known artists and productions that can be seen in unconventional settings (site-specific works, etc.), for this inaugural festival she wanted to introduce the festival with more familiar dance companies.

Marquee troupe and Northeast, Ohio favorite Pilobolus will kick things off performing their highly successful work Shadowland on Saturday, July 29 at Playhouse Square’s State Theatre. Here is a description of the show that I wrote that appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper this past February:

While entertaining audiences across Europe since it premiered in 2009, Shadowland didn’t make its North American premiere until 2015. Nathaniel Buchsbaum, a member of the “Shadowland” cast since 2012 feels the success of the show abroad and not wanting to compete with Pilobolus’ regular U.S. repertory company may have accounted for the delay in American audiences getting to see the work.

Created in collaboration with Steven Banks, the lead writer of TV’s SpongeBob SquarePants and set to original music by David Poe, the 75-minute dance-theater piece combining projected shadow play, multimedia, circus arts, dance and more, tells the surreal story of a young girl’s dream of a sensational world as she comes of age.  In it, the performers contort their bodies into shadow configurations of airplanes, elephants, flowers and more.

Buchsbaum says he will perform several roles in the Pittsburgh premiere of the work from a chef to several shadow creatures. He describes his indoctrination into the show as trial by fire.  “We [he and another new dancer] got the barebones structure of the show in Connecticut [Pilobolus’ home base] and then flew to Europe. Within three weeks of performances adding us in scene by scene, we were fully integrated into the show,” says Buchsbaum.

In a 2015 review of “Shadowland,” New York Times writer Siobhan Burke wrote: “A teenage girl lost in a dark dream, she’s at the mercy of a mysterious giant who, with the rustle of one imposing hand, turns her into a dog from the waist up. Both before and after this transformation, she is chased, threatened, prodded, eaten, humiliated, even tied up and whipped.”

While the show’s target audience skews more mature than that of SpongeBob SquarePants – Says Buchsbaum: “It’s definitely a family-friendly show. We get a lot of kids and adults who really enjoy it.”

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Raphael Xavier’s hip hop troupe performs Wednesday, August 2 at Playhouse Square’s Allen Theatre. Photo by Bicking Photography

Next, Wilmington, Delaware-native Raphael Xavier brings his award-winning hip-hop dance artistry to Playhouse Square’s Allen Theatre on Wednesday, August 2. As described by DANCECleveland’s website: Xavier has been a hip-hop dancer and breaking practitioner since 1983. He describes himself as an “Innovative Movement Conceptualist,” creating new ways to expand the vocabulary of the dance form and how it fits onto an aging body. Drawing from hip hop culture and his background in photography, music and as a sound engineer, Xavier creates a visual and musical landscape the ties into his choreography. Dance Magazine described Xavier’s dancing and works as “…Artful and mesmerizing, Xavier transforms a bravado dance style into an introspective meditation.”  

Area dancegoers may remember Brian Brooks’ choreography and dancing in a duet with New York City Ballet star Wendy Whelan as part of her production Restless Creature at the Ohio Theatre in 2015. Brooks returns to Cleveland with his dance troupe to close out ADF in Cleveland on Saturday, August 5 at the Ohio Theatre.

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Brian Brooks dance troupe closes out ADF in Cleveland on Saturday, August 5 in “Torrent” at the Ohio Theatre. Photo by Erin Baiano.

As described by DANCECleveland’s website, Brook’s troupe will perform Torrent, set to Max Richter’s version of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” The lush piece full of movement sends the dancers soaring across the stage while playing with lines and texture as they perform. Brooks has received numerous awards and was recently appointed as the inaugural Choreographer in Residence at Chicago’s Harris Theater for Music and Dance. This innovative three-year fellowship supports several commissions for Brooks each season with the first year featuring Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Miami City Ballet, as well as his own New York-based group.

ADF in Cleveland runs July 29-August 5 at Playhouse Square. See schedule below for event times and dates. Individual performance tickets run $25-$50. Festival passes run $64-$119. Several events free. See adfincle.orgdancecleveland.org or call 216-241-6000 for information and to purchase tickets/passes.

2017 ADF IN CLEVELAND SCHEDULE

Saturday, July 29 (National Day of Dance)

11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Pilobolus Master Class – (FREE) CSU Dance Studio – Reservation Required.
1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p. m. Mega Barre Outdoor Community Ballet/Exercise Barre Class (FREE)  – E. 14th Street
3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Local Dance School Showcase (FREE) – Ohio Theatre
5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. Dancing In The Street
Rehearsal to learn the So You Think You Can Dance Routine (FREE) Open to all ages and abilities.  – E. 14th Street
6:45 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Dancing In The Street
Community Performance of the So You Think You Can Dance Routine (FREE) – E. 14th Street
7:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. Pilobolus – Performance Shadowland – State Theatre*
*This is a ticketed event. Please contact the Playhouse Square ticket office.
9:00p.m. – 11:00 p.m. Silent Disco Party (FREE) – U.S. Bank Plaza

Tuesday, August 1

11:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Yoga (FREE) – U.S. Bank Plaza
6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. “Dancing Under the Stars”
Salsa Dancing (FREE) – U.S. Bank Plaza

Wednesday, August 2

9:30a.m. – 5:30p.m.  ADF Dance Workshop @ CSU Dance Studios
6:15 p.m. Raphael Xavier Pre-Performance Chat – Allen Theatre
7:30 p.m. Raphael Xavier Performance – Allen Theatre*
*This is a ticketed event. Please contact the Playhouse Square ticket office. ​

Thursday, August 3

9:30a.m. – 5:30p.m.  ADF Dance Workshop @ CSU Dance Studios
7:30 p.m. Dance Cinema Night – “Singing in the Rain” Connor Palace Theatre*
*This is a ticketed event. Please contact the Playhouse Square ticket office.

Friday, August 4

9:30a.m. – 5:30p.m.  ADF Dance Workshop @ CSU Dance Studios
7:30 p.m. Dance Cinema Night – “Top Hat” Connor Palace Theatre*
*This is a ticketed event. Please contact the Playhouse Square ticket office.

Saturday, August 5

9:30a.m. – 5:30p.m.  ADF Dance Workshop @ CSU Dance Studios
6:15 p.m. Brian Brooks Pre-Performance Chat – Ohio Theatre
7:30 p.m. Brian Brooks Performance – Ohio Theatre*
*This is a ticketed event. Please contact the Playhouse Square ticket office.
8:45 p.m. Brian Brooks Post-Performance Q & A – Ohio Theatre

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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