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New Dance-centric Fringe Festival Invites Audiences to ‘Lose Their Marbles’ Over a Plethora of Dance and Performance Art


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Holly Handman-Lopez. Photo courtesy of the artist.

By Steve Sucato

Dance-centric fringe festival Lose Your Marbles at the Trolley Barn in Akron this Saturday, June 10, is the latest in an impressive glut of summer dance events in Northeast Ohio that most areas of the country would be envious of. Joining the venerable Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival in Akron, plus a boatload of summer dance in nearby Cleveland, Lose Your Marbles takes a somewhat different artistic approach to the rest of the region’s offerings with more experimental and avant-garde dance artists and dance works.

Founded by Neos Dance Theatre’s Robert Wesner with the support of a $100,000 Knight Foundation grant, Lose Your Marbles ─ which Wesner says takes its name from the colloquial phrase about losing one’s mental faculties and Akron’s history as a marble making behemoth in the late 1800s ─ will take its cue from other fringe festivals across the globe in allowing artists to take risks and inviting audiences into the creative process.

“With it being a fringe festival model we really are going to push work that lives on the fringe of what we might think of as a normal dance presentation,” says Wesner.

Wesner says while he wants to differentiate Lose Your Marbles from the region’s other summer dance offerings, he also wants the festival to be a partner with the others in bringing great art to the area. To that end, he has been working closely with the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival and the City of Akron in the development of Lose Your Marbles.

Wesner says the festival will adhere to a few guiding principles such as what he terms as “a good mix of tried [artists who have had their work seen by audiences] and untried artists [those who haven’t or are just beginning to].”

Another guiding principle is programming a mixture of local, statewide and national acts. Wesner feels this is important so that the festival has culls influence from as broad a spectrum of the dance and performance art communities as possible.

The goal is to serve a wide-variety of audiences with varying interests says Wesner. For this pilot year, Wesner says the festival has been curated by him and his staff. So unlike some other fringe festivals, at least this year, Lose Your Marbles will be very PG and approachable to families. In future, when Wesner plans on opening artist entry into the festival to an application process, he says future audiences might see artist-sponsored performances whose works may be more risqué or controversial.

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“Lose Your Marbles” festival founder Robert Wesner of Neos Dance Theatre. Photo courtesy of the artist.

“I am very open to people wanting to explore dance and performance art in the widest range,” says Wesner. “I think it is really important we don’t censor artists, but that we give them an opportunity to explore what they need to explore and hopefully get some feedback from the audience that is valuable to them.”

Wesner hopes to see future festivals spread out into pop-up spaces, alternative performance spaces, theater spaces and other outdoor and indoor spaces all over Akron.  Giving audiences the opportunity to explore the city while binge-watching dance and other performances.

This year, in addition to watching the performances, audience members will also be given the opportunity to vote on what they liked best with best-of-show awards given out at festival’s end.

The Knight Foundation’s funding for Lose Your Marbles is for 3-years and after that Wesner hopes to have in place a self-sustaining model based mostly on ticket sales. For this initial launch however, Wesner says he doesn’t know what to expect in terms of turnout. “We are taking a great risk at doing this in terms of what flies and doesn’t,” says Wesner. “That is part of the fun. Akron has a great reputation for supporting dance and music and we are hoping they will embrace this festival.”

Here’s a breakdown of what’s on tap (times approximate): 

 

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Dr. Jonathan Gangi. Photo courtesy of the artist.

PRE-FESTIVAL EVENT (2:00 – 2:30pm)

Classical guitarist Dr. Jonathan Gangi warms up patrons at Akron gourmet ice cream shop Chill Ice Cream (21 Maiden Lane) with a pre-festival performance.

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Timbre Cierpke. Photo courtesy of the artist.

PERFORMANCE #1 (3:30 – 5:05pm)

Dr. Jonathan Gangi, assistant professor of music and arts entrepreneurship at Penn State University kicks off  Lose Your Marbles with a classical guitar performance. Then, Nashville-based harpist/singer-songwriter Timbre Cierpke who was recently featured on former White Stripes frontman Jack White’s album, Lazaretto, will play selections from her catalog including tunes from her latest album Sun & Moon.

PERFORMANCE #2 (5:20 – 6:10pm)

Oberlin College dance faculty member Holly Handman-Lopez joins forces with Lose Your Marbles founder and Neos Dance Theatre artistic director Robert Wesner in the duet “eleven years in”, choreographed and performed by the pair. Set to music by Mike Wall, the work evolved out of an experiment in entanglement of the dancer two bodies. Following every slip, spiral and slide Handman-Lopez says: “Our experiments evolved into a slippery ‘relationship piece’ that feels luscious and edgy to perform.”

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Robin Pritchard. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Professor of dance at The University of Akron Robin Prichard likes to joke early in life she sold her soul to the devil in exchange for amazing dancing ability and is still waiting for the amazing dancing ability. While she is waiting that hasn’t stopped her from creating work that utilizes her god given abilities as a dance artist. In her “The Art of Making Dances (Not About Ferguson)” she responds to the Black Lives Matter movement and to the violence against African American men in 2016.  “It asks: what can artists do to respond to violence and injustice?” The dance uses 19th century minstrelsy, ballet, modern dance, and hip hop movement test and song  and pairs it with the sounds from the violent police encounters.

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Verb Ballets. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Verb Ballets will present two short pas de deuxs including choreographer Daniel Precup’s “Ne Me Quitte Pas” (2013) set to music by Jacques Brel and danced by Verb’s Kelly Korfhage  and  Antonio Morillo. The other, former Akron University and Ohio Ballet alum Andrew Carroll’s “3:00am” (2014),  danced by Verb’s Kate Webb and Michael Hinton to Abel Korzeniowski’s “Satin Birds” from the 2011 film W.E., tells of two people in love basking in “that window of time when no one else exists in the world, 3 a.m.,” says Carroll.

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Ashley Pavy. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Rounding out Program #2 will be 2017 graduate from Wright State University Ashley Pavy and her work “Barakat”. The piece for 8-dancers says Pavy tells of the cycle of spiritual life. “You will see a cycle that begins with innocence and the idea of being ‘born again,’ to the feeling of eternal happiness…to melancholy, and finally to awareness and realization,” says Pavy.

PERFORMANCE #3 (6:20 – 7:00pm)

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Kaustavi Sarkar. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Third year doctoral student at Ohio State University, dancer-choreographer Kaustavi Sarkar will present “Radhike,” a duet for her and dancer Julia Ayau that Sarkar sees and a “joint collaboration between Indian classical aesthetics and literary theory.” Danced to live music, the work expresses the mythological character Radha’s travels in love as she expresses the various hues of it in text, rhythm, and movement. Says Sarkar: “The dance has been adapted to twelfth century poet Jayadeva’s Gitagovinda that is a lyrical ballad describing the celestial love story between Radha and her eternal lover Krishna.”

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Fenn & Company. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Neos Dance Theatre dancer/choreographer Mary-Elizabeth Fenn’s side-project Fenn & Company will present “Playing House,” two duets danced by Fenn and Molly Mingey that showcase a family’s peculiar interactions including a brother and sister fighting over a Barbie Doll head and a Mother and Father serving up flatulence and chicken drumsticks for dinner.

Also on the program will be a reprise of Holly Handman-Lopez duet “eleven years in” and a performance by host company Neos Dance Theatre.

PERFORMANCE #4 (7:15 – 8:00pm)

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Duane Gosa, a.k.a. Helen Highwaters. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Central Ohio native and 2008 University of Akron grad Duane Gosa, a.k.a. Helen Highwaters of drag company Ballet Trockadero will perform the first of his two solos at Lose Your Marbles, a variation from Marius Petipa’s ballet Paquita, about a Spanish gypsy girl. Also on Program #4 will be performances by Mansfield, Ohio-native and member of NYC’s Complexions Contemporary Ballet, Terk Lewis Waters, a reprise of Verb Ballets’ pas de deuxs and Neos Dance Theatre in a ballet by director of dance at Michigan’s Interlochen Center for the Arts, Joseph Morrissey.

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Terk Lewis Waters. Photo courtesy of the artist.

PERFORMANCE #4 (8:15 – 9:15pm)

Inlet Dance Theatre will present a reimagined version of “10”, a 2013 duet by Inlet artistic director/choreographer Bill Wade to celebrate dancers Joshua Brown and Elizabeth Pollert’s tenth season with company. The duet performed by Inlet’s Katie McGaha and Kevin Parker will feature a commissioned score by Sean Ellis Hussey and live interactive video projections by Mihaela Kavdanska.

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Inlet Dance Theatre. Photo by Alexandru Patatics.

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GroundWorks DanceTheater. Photo courtesy of the artist.

GroundWorks DanceTheater will reprise artistic director/choreographer David Shimotakahara’s “Chromatic,” a work the company performed at the Akron-Summit County Library last November. Danced to a suite of player piano roll music by American composer Conlon Nancarrow, the work mixes opposing dance movements by the dancers from the waist up and down.

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Ma’Sue. Photo courtesy of the artist.

Akron-based theatre company Ma’Sue will present “Body Memories,” a theatre/movement piece engaging in a dialogue about the concept of the mother/son bond. The work looks at how this relationship grows and changes over time.

Closing out the program will be the second of Duane Gosa as Helen Highwaters’ solos, dancing a humorous interpretation of Michel Fokine’s legendary ballet “The Dying Swan” with music by Camille Saint-Saens.

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Lucky Plush Productions. Photo courtesy of the artist.

The festival’s performances conclude at 9:30pm with headliners Lucky Plush Productions from Chicago and their work “Cinderbox 2.0” which company artistic director Julia Rhoads says “explores the comedy and anxiety in our hyper-networked culture through a fragmented narrative, witty commentary, and a performance that blurs the distinctions between observer and observed, personal and presentational, scripted and off-the-cuff.”

The first annual Lose Your Marbles fringe festival then concludes at 10:00pm with the audience-voted Best of Show Awards and closing remarks by Wesner and staff.

Lose Your Marbles Fringe Festival takes place 3:30pm-10pm, Saturday, June 10 at the Trolley Barn, 47 N. Main  Street, Akron, Ohio. Tickets $10-25. Visit loseyourmarbles.org for a full listing of ticket options and to purchase as well as get detailed information on the artists performing and up-to-date scheduling.

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Sophisticated Choreography Highlights GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Fall Concert Series


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(L-R) GroundWorks’ Lauren Garson, Stephanie Terasaki and Michael Marquez in David Shimotakahara’s “Chromatic.” Photo by Mark Horning.

GroundWorks DanceTheater
2016 Fall Concert Series
Akron-Summit County Library
Akron, Ohio
November 18-19, 2016

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

After a successful run in Cleveland at Playhouse Square’s Allen Theatre in October, Cleveland-based GroundWorks DanceTheater’s 2016 Fall Concert Series moved to nearby Akron and the Akron-Summit County Library. The program on November 18 opened with the latest work by GroundWorks’ artistic director David Shimotakahara entitled “Chromatic.” The 20-minute piece set to a suite of music by American composer Conlon Nancarrow (1912 –1997) was a stylistic departure for Shimotakahara in the type of movement he created for the troupe’s five dancers.

Costumed in the colors of piano keys, the dancers engaged in a form of movement split personality. From the waist down, they adopted simple dance poses. From the waist up, they were a flurry of activity with hands and arms moving up and down and side-to-side seemingly without regard to rhythm.

Shimotakahara’s unconventional choreography was a reaction to Nancarrow’s cacophony of player piano music that sounded like three different songs being played simultaneously. The effect of both the dance and music was unnerving yet compelling rejecting staid notions of dance as pleasantry. The work’s succession of solos, duets and group dancing found grace and a modicum of humor in sometimes stiff movement, dancers falling and the slapping of hands on thighs.

Next former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancer Robyn Mineko Williams’ new commission for GroundWorks, “Part Way,” set a different tone. Danced to Rachmaninoff’s doleful “Trio Elégiaque No. 1 in G Minor,” Williams’ fluid choreography on the dancers cascaded like water tumbling over rocks in a gently flowing stream. GroundWorks’ five dancers touched, grasped, leaned into and folded over each in beautifully-crafted contemporary dance movement. Rachmaninoff’s music and Williams’ choreographic reaction to it, built a tension in the work that spilled out over the stage that was piqued by brief moments of distress and distraction displayed in the dancer’s demeanor. One such moment happened during an intertwining pas de deux danced by Felise Bagley and Damien Highfield in which Bagley, lifted above Highfield’s head, looked sharply about as if her name had been called out from somewhere off in the distance.

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(L-R) GroundWorks’ Lauren Garson, Michael Marquez and Stephanie Terasaki in Robyn Mineko Williams’ “Part Way.” Photo by Mark Horning.

Also of note in the piece, was a solo by Stephanie Terasaki in which she appeared to be pulled backward by her head by some unseen force.  Her body undulated and gave into gravity and her momentum elegantly collapsed to the stage floor at times.

With “Part Way,” Williams created a sophisticated dance work marrying finely crafted contemporary dance movement with emotional vulnerability and drama. It was performed deftly by GroundWorks’ dancers and is a work well worth revisiting by the company.

On the subject of works worth revisiting, the program concluded with a revamped version of Pittsburgh-based dancer/choreographer Beth Corning’s “At Once There Was A House.”

Created on GroundWorks in 2004, the funny and poignant dance-theater piece is one of Corning’s most memorable and best.

Posing the question: Whatever happened to Dick and Jane? – those idealized elementary school educational icons used to teach children in the U.S. to read from the 1930’s through the 1970’s, “At Once There Was A House” catches up with a dysfunctional group of Dick and Janes who life has appeared to have done a number on.

The setting for the dance-theater work was a reunion of sorts where this collection of stereotypical characters (jock, wallflower, prude) with some not-so-stereotypical emotional issues, paraded about to Tom Waits’ song “Table Top Joe” and spoke to the audience as if they were old acquaintances.

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(L-R) GroundWorks’ Lauren Garson, Stephanie Terasaki, Damien Highfield, Felise Bagley and Michael Marquez in Beth Corning’s “At Once There Was A House.” Photo by Mark Horning.

Dancer Lauren Garson was the former homecoming/prom queen, Highfield, the bombastic former star athlete turned car salesman, Terasaki, a nervous shrinking violet, dancer Michael Marquez as a flamboyant character and Bagley as a prudish neat freak who scolded Marquez for his cartoonish pelvic gyrations, calling to him “inappropriate.”

Like a lyric from Waits’ song, “And I dreamed I’d be famous,” the characters appeared to regret in some way how their lives had turned out.

Costumed in white schoolboy and schoolgirl-ish dresses and shorts, the audience got a glimpse into the lives of each of the characters via a series of vignettes that elicited a laugh or broke your heart. From Marquez poignantly dancing behind a life-size puppet in a skirt to a disillusioned Garson dancing a duet with a length of white picket fence and lamenting that the stereotypical American dream wasn’t all it was cracked up to be for her, “At Once There Was A House” touched that universal nerve called empathy.

The most thoughtful, melancholy and gripping performance however belonged to Bagley, whose character’s anger and sorrow lay exposed like an open wound. In a most telling scene, Bagley, seemingly bereft of joy and happiness, set aflame a metal dollhouse, and true to her character’s nature it was a neatly controlled burn; one that perhaps symbolized the controlled burning rage and heartache within her.

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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GroundWorks’ Fall Triple Bill Offers Up Two World Premieres


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GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Michael Marquez in Beth Corning’s “At Once There Was a House.” Photo courtesy of GroundWorks DanceTheater.

By Steve Sucato

Writing about the three choreographers on GroundWorks DanceTheater’s 2016 Fall Dance Series is familiar ground for me. I’ve known and published articles and reviews about dancer/choreographer Beth Corning and GroundWorks’ artistic director David Shimotakahara and their works for well over a decade. The other, former Hubbard Street Dance Chicago company member Robyn Mineko Williams, for just a handful of years including profiling her for Dance Magazine’s prestigious 2015 “25 to Watch” issue. All are gifted and experienced professionals with diverse artistic voices and approaches to creating dance works. So to include works by each on one program offers the potential for pure magic.

I first saw Beth Corning’s “At Once There Was a House” when GroundWorks debuted it in 2004. Since then I have been witness to several iterations of it in Pittsburgh by Corning’s former company Dance Alloy Theater and her current project-based company, CorningWorks. The 30-minute dance-theater piece is a one whose bones essentially remain the same each iteration, but whose skin changes with each new cast of performers.

“It’s a piece you don’t reset,” says Corning.  “You have to rebuild the entire piece based on completely different characters. Audiences who have seen the work before may recall a particular section, but it will be done very differently.”

“At Once There Was a House” poses the question: What ever happened to Dick and Jane?  Those idealized elementary school educational icons used to teach children in the U.S. to read from the 1930’s through the 1970’s.

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Beth Corning rehearsing GroundWorks DanceTheater in “At Once There Was a House.” Photo by Beth Rutkowski.

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GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Lauren Garson rehearsing Beth Corning’s “At Once There Was a House.” Photo by Beth Rutkowski.

Set to a collage of music from classical to Tom Waits, the dark, often poignant, and sometimes humorous work, looks in on a group of current day Dicks and Janes whose lives barely resemble those of the idyllic storybook characters.

In adapting the critically-acclaimed work to GroundWorks’ current cast of five – including Felise Bagley who was an original cast member – Corning uses material derived in part from each of the dancer’s personal lives.

“It’s fun that way,” she says. “You don’t act this piece. It has to be real.”

Whereas Corning and dancers bring new life to older work, the world premiere of Shimotakahara’s “Chromatic” has him boldly going where he hasn’t gone before in terms of movement language.

Set to a suite of music by American composer Conlon Nancarrow (1912 –1997), the 20-minute work for the full company, says Shimotakahara, “is a response to his (Nancarrow’s) idiosyncratic sounding music more than anything else.”

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Conlon Nancarrow.

Nancarrow, who is best remembered for his studies for player piano that are un-performable by humans, says  Shimotakahara, layers various styles of music in his compositions to create an intriguing disconnect. “Chromatic,” he says, explores parallel ideas found in the music to develop a physical disconnect in the way the dancers move.

“I like this idea of things being a little off,” says Shimotakahara.

The result is a new movement vocabulary for Shimotakahara where elements from social dances like tango and others occupy the dancers’ lower bodies while a completely different movement vocabulary simultaneously occupies the dancers’ upper bodies.

The recipient of a 2013 Princess Grace Foundation Choreographic Fellowship and several other awards, Mineko Williams is a sought after contemporary dance choreographer. I first saw her work on Grand Rapids Ballet in 2014 and was impressed by her compositional clarity and her way of infusing fragility and heartfelt emotion into her choreography. For the world premiere of her “Part Way,” created for GroundWorks, Mineko Williams does more of the same but in a different way.

“A lot of how I approach a new works has to do with the dancers I am working with at the time,” says Mineko Williams. “Those individuals, their chemistry, and the way they work together drive the creation for me.”

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Choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams rehearses her new work “Part Way” with GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Michael Marquez. Photo by Beth Rutkowski.

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GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Michael Marquez and Stephanie Terasaki rehearse choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams’ new work “Part Way.” Photo by Beth Rutkowski.

The 15-minute, non-narrative dance work is stylistically more in the vein of those she has created for Hubbard Street and Visceral Dance Chicago. In a rehearsal of it I watched this past July, the choreography was detailed and gestural. The dancers twisted, turned and leaned into each other for support.

Says Mineko Williams, the work is in part inspired by the idea of perseverance and moving forward.

“To move on sometimes you need to access the help of your friends and family and the experiences you have had in the past,” says Mineko Williams.

In support that idea she says the dancers sometimes act as mirrors or echoes of the past.

“Part Way” is set to Sergei Rachmaninoff’s sorrowful “Trio (piano, violin and cello) Elégiaque No. 1 in G Minor.” Like Shimotakahara with regard to movement language, Mineko Williams says the choice of music is something new for her.

“I haven’t used an emotional, classical work like this before,” says Mineko Williams. “There is something cyclical about it. There are a lot of emotions…deep guttural feelings contained within the music.”

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GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Felise Bagley rehearses choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams’ new work “Part Way.” Photo by Beth Rutkowski.

Emblematic of the notion of perseverance, GroundWorks, now in its 18th season, continues to forge ahead as one of the region’s best and most forward-thinking dance troupes. This program is in keeping all those qualities.

GroundWorks DanceTheater performs its 2016 Fall Dance Series, 7:30 p.m., Friday, October 14 & Saturday, October 15 at the Allen Theatre at Playhouse Square, 1407 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. Reserved Seating $20-25, Children under 18 and students $10 (Use Promo Code 1STU), CSU Students with a Valid ID FREE. For tickets: (216) 241-6000, groundworksdance.org or playhousesquare.org.

The 2016 Fall Dance Series repeats 7:30 p.m., Friday, November 18 & Saturday, November 19 at the Akron-Summit County Public Library, 60 S High St, Akron. Reserved Seating $20-25, Children under 18 and students $10, University of Akron Students FREE with valid ID (available night of show only). For tickets: (216) 751-0088 or groundworksdance.org.

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