By Steve Sucato
After a successful New York debut of their program Past, Present and Future of Integrated Dance at Ailey Citigroup Theater in October, Cleveland’s Dancing Wheels brings a modified version of it to The Breen Center for the Performing Arts at Saint Ignatius High School on Saturday, November 4.
Hailed as “…remarkable …a company of first-rate trained dancers with and without disabilities” by New York dance critic Bonnie Rosenstock (click here to read the full review), the mixed repertory program of company favorites spanning Dancing Wheels’ 37 seasons will also feature the Cleveland premieres of choreographer James Morrow’s “Neither Lost Nor Found” and “Imagine, if you will …,” by Bessie Award-Winning choreographer David Dorfman. Also on the program will be a performance by students of The School of Dancing Wheels.
The company, which welcomed 6 new dancers this season, “has never been better and more jelled,” says Dancing Wheels rehearsal director/resident choreographer Catherine Meredith. “They did a fabulous job in New York.”
Putting the company’s newfound chemistry to the test was the creation of Morrow’s “Neither Lost Nor Found.” The urban-centric choreographer says he came to Dancing Wheels with a basic idea for the work and a choreographic sketch but didn’t know how it would pan out. “There was great communication between myself and the dancers… What I found extremely important was the reciprocity. We learned and evolved together.”
That choreographic sketch along with inspiration from Martin Niemoller’s iconic poem “First they came …” about the rise of Nazism, formed the basis of the work and its commentary on the current social and political landscape of the United States.
Says Morrow of the 10-minute group work: “[Niemoller’s] quote revolves around silence and the act of not speaking out when you identify injustice. As a white person navigating through this world, I have been silent when I shouldn’t have. I’ve been asleep and blinded by my own privilege…Dancing Wheels, the work they put out, the mission of the company, the performers, the community engagement they participate in, are all acts to combat silence. There is a political ‘stand’ or ‘sit’ in the representations within their performances, acts of rebellion or subversion to the hetero-normative, white supremacist, patriarchal society that many of us sleep through day in and day out. I want ‘Neither Lost Nor Found’ to evoke that will, that drive…and hopefully wake a few people ‘sleeping’ in the audience.”
Like Morrow, Dorfman’s new work was inspired by the current social and political climate in the U.S. but filtering it through the lens of those with disabilities. A mainstay on the New York dance scene, Dorfman says a few things ran through his mind in creation process for the 17-minute “Imagine, if you will …”
“When working with folks of differing physical or emotional abilities or capacities, I often marvel at how much we as, more than not, ‘able bodied’ dancers take for granted and how much we as Americans take for granted,” says Dorfman. The group work, set to music by Liz de Lise, Omar Souleyman and Denver alternative country band Wovenhand, is an attempt says Dorfman, to let the audience “‘imagine,’ and plainly see the dancers’ greatness, courage and kindness.”
One of several repertory works to be reprised on the program will be Los Angeles choreographer Sarah Swenson’s 2015 work “Clamor.” Set to an original score by Swenson’s husband Alessandro Girasoli, the contemporary dance work reflects on disability rights and the 1990 Capital Crawl which helped propel the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Dedicated to the memory of activist Kenneth Irving Zola, the work, says Meredith, brings home through its “Politico” character, the realization that anyone at any time can become disabled.
Also on the program will be reprises of Daniel Job’s “Above” (1991), the first work Dancing Wheels’ founding artistic director Mary Verdi-Fletcher performed out of her wheelchair, and an excerpt from Donald McKayle’s 2012 work “Far East of the Blues” set to a suite of Duke Ellington music.
Rounding out the program’s offerings will be a work by Gabriella Martinez created on the students of The School of Dancing Wheels, and a reprise of Meredith’s “Pallas Athena” that premiered this past June as part of Dancing Wheels’ The Best of Bowie program.
Performed to David Bowie’s song “Pallas Athena (Don’t Stop Praying mix No 2)” off his 1993 album “Black Tie White Noise,” Meredith says of the dance work, “I drew upon my experiences in New York City and London nightclubs where people who may or may not identify as male or female, he or she, could come, be accepted, and not be ashamed of who they truly were. For many, the DJ and the club acted as a god and church/sanctuary.”
Dancing Wheels presents Past, Present and Future of Integrated Dance, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, November 4; The Breen Center for the Performing Arts at Saint Ignatius High School, 2008 W 30th Street, Cleveland. $20 general, $15 students/seniors. (216) 432-0306 or dancingwheels.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.