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DANCECleveland’s Virtual Dance Festival a Soul-Nourishing Stand-In for Live Dance


Vertigo Dance Company in Vertigo 20. Photo courtesy of Vertigo Dance Company.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Another outcome of the global pandemic, DANCECleveland’s Dance On! Virtual Dance Festival 2020 that began Saturday, July 25 and ran for a week, replaced its planned annual in-person American Dance Festival in Cleveland (ADF in CLE). The online event treated virtual audiences to four exclusive pre-recorded dance performance videos along with virtual artist chats and a variety of differently styled dance classes.

In its usual highly thought out and expertly detailed manner of doing things, DANCECleveland, for the four performance videos being reviewed here, created a full-blown audience playbill for Dance On! – something unheard of for most virtual productions released so far. Add to that, outgoing executive director Pam Young impressively landed interviews with the choreographers/directors of each or the dance companies/works being presented that preceded each of those recorded works as background information for audiences on the artists and each work.

And what a line-up was presented: French contemporary dance duo Company WANG RAMIREZ’s 2011 masterwork Monchichi; Chicago’s Lucky Plush Productions’ Punk Yankees; Ohio’s Dayton Contemporary Dance Company in Abby Zbikowski’s Indestructible and Crystal Michelle & Sheri ‘Sparkle’ Williams’ Altar-ing, and Israel’s Vertigo Dance Company in Vertigo 20 and Birth of the Phoenix filmed in Jerusalem. Local audiences may recall DANCECleveland presented Lucky Plush Productions in 2013 and Vertigo Dance Company just last year.

Company Wang Ramirez in “Monchichi.” Photo by Nika Kramer.

COMPANY WANG RAMIREZ – MONCHICHI

The first evening-length work produced by Frenchman and former hip-hop B-boy, Sébastien Ramirez and ballet-trained Honji Wang, a German-born dancer of Korean descent as Company WANG RAMIREZ, Monchichi, here recorded in 2015 at the American Dance Festival (ADF) in Durham, North Carolina, was a cutting-edge work that I described in a 2016 review of it in Columbus, Ohio, as “combining an abstraction of hip hop dance with other dance styles and martial arts movement that could very well represent the first salvo in the next trend in contemporary dance.”  

Performed to music composed by Everdayz (Ila Koutchoukov) along with selections from Carlos Gardel, Alva Noto, Nick Cave and others, the 55-minute work, seemingly inspired by the pair’s real-life work and personal relationship, was infused with atmospheric lighting, humor and a smidge of pathos. It was delivered by the dancers with crisp, smooth, polished and efficient technique and artistry.

Monchichi began quietly with the pair in silhouette on a stage occupied by only them and a leafless tree as a set piece. Wang, costumed in white lingerie, moved first, her arms and legs carving lines in the air and space around her. Ramirez, shirtless, shoeless and in long white pants joined in looking like a hip hop flamenco dancer.

As it progressed, Monchichi played out at times like a mating ritual with each performer strutting their dancer plumage for the other to delight in and take the measure of. The pair revealed their passions, frustrations, fantasies and the fractures in their relationship.

Another unofficial performer in the work was the lighting design of Cyril Mulon that appeared to partner the pair and add further aesthetic beauty with its rapid transitions from light to dark and measured interjections of color into an otherwise monochrome world.

Company Wang Ramirez in “Monchichi.” Photo by Nika Kramer.

In one such scene where darkness starkly gave way to white light, the pair executed an onstage wardrobe change with Wang donning a red dress, silver pumps and a blonde wig, and Ramirez, a tailored men’s suit. A sensual and playful fantasy tango dance between the pair ensued but gradually devolved into shame and discomfort for Wang. Another memorable moment was a humorous vignette in which Ramirez acted as if he had thrown out his back after lifting Wang with her misguidedly aggressively patting and rubbing his back making his pain worse.

In the end, what made Monchichi such a captivating dance work was its sophisticated stagecraft in the relationship between Ramirez and Wang and the work’s blending of precision movement with a street dance physicality.

Lucky Plush Productions’ Julia Rhoads in Punk Yankees. Photo by Karen Wade.

LUCKY PLUSH PRODUCTIONS – PUNK YANKEES

Often the best way to address a problem is through humor. That approach was used to comedic brilliance by choreographer Julia Rhoads in Lucky Plush Productions’ 2009 dance theater piece Punk Yankees to call attention to the rampant piracy of the artistic and intellectual property of choreographers and dance artists.  No one exemplified this type of piracy more than Lucky Plush Productions’ main inspiration for the work, the music videos of Beyoncé in which she and her team plagiarized the choreography of Bob Fosse and Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker.

Punk Yankees itself uses the credited dance moves and choreography of others to make its point; doing so in a way that makes you smile ear-to-ear rather than cringing in disgust in them claiming it as their own.

The work begins with a mock post-performance chat by the Rhoads and the dancers with the audience. The spoof chat was not only funny with the dancers answering questions supposedly asked by audience members but were never heard by anyone, but was a clever way to set up to the rest of the work and what it was about. The chat then gave way to the first of Punk Yankees recognizable recreations of others’ choreography, Ohad Naharin’s popular Minus 16 with the dancers seated in chairs in a semi-circle and tossing their bodies backward one after the other.  

Lucky Plush Productions in Punk Yankees. Photo by Dan Merlo.

Some of the works most memorable moments were a send-up of British songstress Kate Bush’s ethereal mime dancing in version one of her music video for 1978’s “Wuthering Heights” (a second video for the song had her frolicking in the woods), and the company in a spoof of 1970’s TV series The Brady Bunch’s show opening in which the dancers projected their faces into the famous stacked grid of squares along with images of Mike (Mr. Brady) and Marsha still occupying two of the squares.

Lucky Plush Productions in Punk Yankees. Photo courtesy of Lucky Plush Productions.
Lucky Plush Productions in Punk Yankees. Photo courtesy of Lucky Plush Productions.

By work’s end the company had sampled movement from dancemakers José Limón, Stephen Petronio, Larry Keigwin, Tere O’Connor, Alvin Ailey and others — all the while driving home the message of plagiarism-bad, making fun of plagiarizing dance, laugh-out-loud funny.

Dayton Contemporary Dance Company in Abby Zbikowski’s Indestructible. Photo by @geekwithalens

DAYTON CONTEMPORARY DANCE COMPANY – INDESTRUCTIBLE AND ALTAR-ING

A work commissioned by the American Dance Festival, Abby Zbikowski’s Indestructible, like Company WANG RAMIREZ’s Monchichi puts forward another unique hybrid dance style. Zbikowski utilizes African and Afro-diasporic forms and the physicality of sports and acts of manual labor to create hers. The result is a regimented form of aerobic contemporary dance that rivals the intensity of extreme exercise programs like Insanity and P90X.

Indestructible was danced to a soundtrack of Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC) dancers’ sneaker squeaks panting, grunting and the barking out movement commands like “hut hut” and “switch” along with music by American experimental hip hop band Death Grips that was used for transitions between the work’s sections.

Simply put, DCDC’s dancers killed it in the 15-minute stamina destroying work that had them moving through a barrage of foot-stomps, runs and hops about the stage, and spins to the ground. With Indestructible, Zbikowski showed she is a choreographic force to be reckoned with and one to keep an eye on.

Sheri ‘Sparkle’ Williams

Next, the final dance work in American treasure Sheri ‘Sparkle’ Williams’ 48-year career with DCDC, Altar-ing showcased the ageless one’s incredible artistry and skill. The uplifting and spiritual solo co-choreographed by her and Crystal Michelle was danced to music by Smokie Norful and saw Williams costumed in angelic white dancing with her signature ease, speed and attack in choreography that celebrated with smiling enthusiasm Williams’ dancing and her dance career that brought joy and beauty to countless individuals.

Vertigo Dance Company in Vertigo 20. Photo courtesy of Vertigo Dance Company.

VERTIGO DANCE COMPANY – VERTIGO 20 AND BIRTH OF THE PHOENIX IN JERUSALEM

Created in 2012 in celebration of Vertigo Dance Company’s 20th anniversary, Noa Wertheim’s Vertigo 20 opened on a cold, concrete-looking set of walls that framed the stage on three sides. Vertigo’s dancers sat atop shelves that protruded from the walls with one dancer obscured by four white balloons.  

French café music began as two female dancers with Eiffel Tower-shaped hairdos moved slowly across the stage walking on tiptoes and then rolling to the stage floor. Like many of Wertheim’s dance works, her contemporary choreographic movement for the dancers was mostly abstract but precise, stylized and aesthetically pleasing. And while each of her past works featured this same movement language, each brought to it its own mood and emotional impact. Vertigo 20 was no different and was jam-packed with the lush choreography Wertheim and company are known for.  

In one tender duet section, a male and female dancer pushed and pulled at each other and rocked back and forth on flat feet in an embrace like some lullaby of lovers. The pair then gave way to a quartet of women in a slow hip-gyrating waltz across the stage continuing Vertigo 20‘s fluid and languid vision of a sophisticated dance work for sophisticated dance artists who made it sing throughout.

Set to equally lush music by Vertigo’s music manager Ran Bagno, Vertigo 20 switched visual and musical moods throughout but never strayed from its achingly beautiful dance movement. The work’s final scene found Vertigo’s dancers sharing the stage with a forest of single white balloons tethered by weights to the stage floor. The dancers moved about them as they had done from the outset of Vertigo 20, in a spellbinding waltz of allure and meaning.

Vertigo Dance Company in Birth of the Phoenix. Photo courtesy of Vertigo Dance Company.

Rounding out Vertigo’s offerings was a documentary-style film of Wertheim’s 2004 work Birth of the Phoenix filmed in Jerusalem during the pandemic. The eco-dance work shot under an open geodesic bamboo dome and narrated by Wertheim, relates humanity’s destruction of the planet and now the COVID-19 crisis with the rise of the Phoenix bird from Greek mythology. Offering up hope that humanity and the planet will rise again.

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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DANCECleveland To Hold Free Facebook Live Event For Young Movers  


DANCECleveland Logo

By Sarah Hricko

CLEVELAND (April 17, 2020) – DANCECleveland, northeast Ohio’s premiere dance presenting organization is proud to offer young movers ages 3- 6 the opportunity to join in a free Facebook Live session of their movement and literacy program, Read to Learn…Dance to Move. The 30 min program will be posted on DANCECleveland’s Facebook page on Friday, April 24, 2020 at 1:30 pm- 2:00 pm.

Read To Learn…Dance to Move is a curriculum-based program that promotes language, literacy, and movement by engaging students through tactile learning, creative thinking, and imagination. Instructor, Connie Laettner will guide children through the movement and incorporate the children’s book Giraffes Can’t Dance, written by Giles Andreae.  The book leads to an exploration of the story and the dance form through virtual open-ended questions from the instructor.  Next, the children experiment with movement. Finally, the instructor teaches a dance that retells the story and everyone will perform the new dance together at home. This program was originally designed as an 8-week program for the public-school systems. To learn more about the program, visit: https://www.dancecleveland.org/educational-outreach/read-to-learn.

“We are happy to provide this free resource to parents and their preschool and kindergarten aged children while the children are at home.” Pam Young, Executive Director of DANCECleveland said. “Typically we run this program in the public school systems in the spring. Since we can’t do the normal 8 week session, we are excited to offer a free session online while students are at home. We are also working on creating a three-session version that school systems can share directly with their students”.

Read to Learn… Dance to Move is a copyrighted program of DANCECleveland that is generously supported by funders including: The Ohio Arts Council, The Reinberger Foundation, The Bruening Foundation, & Dominion Energy Charitable Foundation.

DANCECleveland is also looking forward to their 2020-2021 season of dance. Subscriptions are on sale at dancecleveland.org or by calling 216-991-9000.

 DANCECleveland, a Cleveland, Ohio based non-profit, is one of a handful of presenters in the nation that is dedicated solely to the presentation of modern and contemporary dance.  The centerpiece of the organization’s programming is its annual performance series. The performances are surrounded by an array of educational outreach events including artist-run master classes, residency programs, student matinees, pre-performance lectures and post-performance Q&A sessions, designed both to break artistic boundaries and provide community access to the dance aesthetic and dance luminaries that DANCECleveland brings to Northeast Ohio.

DANCECleveland is generously funded by Cuyahoga County residents through Cuyahoga Arts and Culture.

The Ohio Arts Council helped fund DANCECleveland with state tax dollars to encourage economic growth, educational excellence and cultural enrichment for all Ohioans.

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DANCECleveland’s 2020-2021 Season is Here! Don’t miss Caleb Teicher & Company with Conrad Tao, Alonzo King LINES Ballet, BODYTRAFFIC, MOMIX, Ronald K.Brown/Evidence, and Pam Tanowitz Dance with Simone Dinnerstein! 
Visit www.dancecleveland.org for more information. Like DANCECleveland on Facebook & follow us on Twitter!

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Compagnie Hervé KOUBI’s ‘What the day owes to the night’ takes Audience on an Unforgettable Dance Journey [REVIEW]


Ce que le jour doit à la nuit - Crédit Photo - Karim AMAR

Compagnie Hervé KOUBI in “What the day owes to the night.” Photo by Karim Amar.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

The second to last production of DANCECleveland’s 2019-2020 season, French troupe Compagnie Hervé KOUBI arrived in Cleveland to a sold-out show last Saturday, February 15 at Playhouse Square’s Mimi Ohio Theatre.  Those attending got what they came for as the all-male company (for this production) of 15 mostly former street dancers from Algeria, Morocco France, Italy, Israel and Slovenia eagerly lived up to audience expectations in a dazzling performance of choreographer Hervé Koubi’s 2013 work What the day owes to the night.

Presented by DANCECleveland and Tri-C Performing Arts, What the day owes to the night gets its title and a bit of inspiration from Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra’s 2010 novel of the same name about a boy moved from one family to the next. Koubi, who grew up in Cannes, France, took that idea and applied it to his own personal journey of discovery of his Algerian heritage that the abstract contemporary dance piece explores. Anchored in capoeira, gymnastics, parkour and breakdance movement, What the day owes to the night took the audience along for a ride of extremes in athleticism and grace.

The company’s physically-ripped bare-chested and barefoot dancers in long white flowing skirts atop white pants tempered the rawness of North African/Mediterranean street dance with the well-rehearsed stage choreography of Koubi that made for a potent combination that was both mesmerizing and awe-inspiring.

Cie Koubi - Ce que le jour doit à la nuit - Argentat 31 mai 2018

Compagnie Hervé KOUBI in “What the day owes to the night.” Photo by Olivier Soulie.

Ce que le jour doit à la nuit - Crédit Photo Nathalie STERNALSKI (9)

Compagnie Hervé KOUBI in “What the day owes to the night.” Photo by Nathalie Sternalski.

Danced to a wide-ranging atmospheric score comprised of original music by Belgian musician/sound designer Maxime Bodson along with music by Hamza El Din, Jean-Sébastien Bach, Sufi music and silence, the mood of the work shifted from high-energy to dreamlike and mystical and back again.  Within that, the dancers performed an array of upside down whirling dervish spins on their heads and hands, gymnastic tumbling runs and various capoeira-inspired jumps and leg sweeps. The dancer’s high-flying machismo-fueled antics at times gave way to periods of lush, slow movement reminiscent of butoh dance troupe Sankai Juku with the occasional dancer coming to a dead stop to take in his surroundings and the efforts of his fellow dancers or marching in rows like some kind of street dance clergy on the move to sacred choral music.

The non-stop piece sans intermission appeared to follow no central figure along this journey, instead showcasing a bevy of solos, duets and group dances that gave each of the company’s dancers room to shine.

One of many visually bold movement sequences repeated a few times in the work found long-dreadlock-haired dancer El Houssaini Zahid lifted backwards onto the shoulders of several fellow dancers and falling backwards to the ground, taking the entire company of dancers onstage with him like collapsing dominoes — the effect was spiritual.

What the day owes to the night concluded with dancer Bendehiba Maamar emerging from the full company of dancers to the front of the stage to quietly recite in Arabic a poem by Koubi as the stage lights gradually dimmed. He repeated the phrase “I went there” followed by those places that were perhaps reflected in the dance work’s journey. Fittingly, as the curtain closed on the troupe, the audience erupted with a well-deserved standing ovation.

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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