Tag Archives: GroundWorks DanceTheater

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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New Look Groundworks Dancetheater Launches 20th Anniversary Season With Two New Dance Works On Opposite Ends Of The Stylistic Spectrum


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GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Gemma Freitas Bender and Tyler Ring. Photo courtesy of GroundWorks DanceTheater.

By Steve Sucato

With the retirement of longtime company members Felise Bagley and Damien Highfield plus the departure of dancer Taylor Johnson and the addition of three new dancers, Cleveland-based contemporary dance troupe GroundWorks DanceTheater is essentially a brand new company.  And after their upcoming Summer Series performances at Cain Park, July 20-22 and at Glendale Cemetery in Akron, August 3 & 4 as part of Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, star dancer Gemma Freitas Bender will also be departing the company leaving only Tyler Ring as the lone returning dancer from last season.

For followers of the 5-member tiny troupe with the big reputation for quality work, many of the faces may be new entering the company’s 20th Anniversary season, but the guiding force behind it founder and resident choreographer David Shimotakahara remains the same.

“I’m loving this new group,” says Shimotakahara. “Their spirit and energy is right on. They are very generous, curious and it feels right.”

New to the company this season are Columbus-native Alexis Britford who trained at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts’ high school classical ballet program and at Wright State University before dancing professionally with Dayton Contemporary Dance Company,  Robert Rubama, a recent graduate of George Mason University who hails from Virginia Beach, Virginia and is the founder of his own project-based dance troupe Terre Dance Collective, and Birmingham, Alabama-native Annie Morgan a recent graduate of Pittsburgh’s Point Park University.  While at Point Park, Morgan was the recipient of the Loti Falk Scholarship and was highlighted by Pittsburgh City Paper as one of eight local standout performances in 2017 for her mesmerizing performance in Adam Hougland’s “Cold Virtues”.

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(L-R) GroundWorks dancers Robert Rubama, Gemma Freitas Bender, Annie Morgan, Alexis Britford and Tyler Ring. Photo by Beth Rutkowski.

The new look troupe will perform two new works as part of their 2018 Summer Series program at Cain Park and in Akron.

Half of that program will be comprised of a reprise of Shimotakahara and GroundWorks’ latest collaboration with ChamberFest Cleveland featured in ChamberFest’s June 30 concert at the Maltz Performing Arts Center entitled Dawn of a Revolution.  The two groups previously collaborated in 2015 on Tan Dun’s Ghost Opera (see video below). The theme of Dawn of a Revolution says Shimotakahara was organizing a program around the progression of ideas in the chamber music canon throughout time. ChamberFest’s Frank and Diana Cohen assembled several touchstone musical moments in that canon and connected them via solo piano sections from György Ligeti’s “Musica Ricercata” that was used in director Stanley Kubrick’s final film the 1999 erotic drama, ”Eyes Wide Shut”.

“It intrigued me that the spine of the work would be these solo piano moments,” says Shimotakahara.

In “al-one,” which is a play on words meaning “all” and “one” at the same time, Shimotakahara created movement for all five of GroundWorks’ dancers to seven of the eleven compositions included in the piece. Those stylistically diverse compositions include works by Beethoven, Ravel, Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera, and Arvo Pärt’s melancholy work “Spiegel im Speigel”.

Shimotakahara says his choreography for “al-one,” began with ideas related to the moment of inspiration and creation for an artist.  “That spark, is a revolutionary thing in my thinking,” he says; “A moment of change when something shifts in one’s perceptions and in the possibility of what can be.”  Expanding on that idea, the 50-minute abstract dance work then delves into the processes of creation from trial and error to how information and ideas are passed along to inspire new creative ideas.

Attending the June 30 premiere of the work, I found Shimotakahara’s choreography to be dialed back and more reserved than usual. It was as if Shimotakahara was purposefully giving over the spotlight to ChamberFest’s musicians and the music.  His back and forth choreography for the dancers, which had an ease and simple beauty to it, was delivered in small chunks and in various dancer configurations from solos to all five dancers performing as a group.

Audiences at Cain Park and in Akron will see and hear a different group of ChamberFest musicians perform the work live than had premiered it. One of those musicians will be dancer Freitas Bender’s husband William Bender who was recently appointed assistant principal violist with the Philharmonia Orchestra in London led by music director Esa-Pekka Salonen.

Says the soon-to-be-departing Freitas Bender, a Buffalo-native:  “It has been a wonderful blessing coming to Cleveland to be with my husband, and finding my way into Groundworks. David [Shimotakahara] provides his dancers with such a consistent work environment and a plethora of opportunities to work with well-known choreographers. I feel I have been enriched by the experience and will really miss the people and the community.”

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GroundWorks’s dancers with Banning Bouldin (center). Photo by Beth Rutkowski.

The other half of GroundWorks Summer Series program will be Nashville-Based choreographer Banning Bouldin’s commissioned work for the company, “Chronos”.

A 2002 graduate of Juilliard, Bouldin formerly danced with Lar Lubovitch Dance Company, Sweden’s Cullberg Ballet, Aszure Barton and Artists and Portland’s Rumpus Room Dance.  As a choreographer, she has created works for Nashville Ballet, Visceral Dance Chicago, Seattle’s Whim W’Him and her own contemporary dance company, New Dialect.

Stylistically on the other end of the dance spectrum to Shimotakahara’s “al-one,” Bouldin’s “Chronos” will follow somewhat in the choreographic footsteps of her previous catalog of highly physical dance-theater works.  Although she calls “Chronos” the most “concert dance” piece she has made in a long time, it will also challenge GroundWorks’ dancers’ physicality.

Inspired by the sudden death of a close family member as well as perhaps her own recent health issues, Bouldin says she has been thinking a lot lately about time and how we relate to it.

“We recognize the most meaningful moments in our lives through hindsight,” says Bouldin. “The pressure of keeping up with the clock can also cause us to miss meaningful moments as they are passing.”

Set to a varied soundscape including selections from Andrew Bird’s nature field recordings, “Echo Locations” and music by German composer Nils Frahm, the 25-minute work says Bouldin evolved into a non-narrative piece using a dance vocabulary illustrative of those themes of time and loss.

Of Banning working with GroundWorks Shimotakahara says: “It was quite astonishing to see somebody be able to articulate their ideas and the physicality of those ideas so clearly. It was also great for the new company to work in such an intensive way creating a positive bonding experience.”

GroundWorks DanceTheater performs its 2018 Summer Series dance program, 7 p.m., Friday, July 20 & Saturday, July 21 and 2 p.m., Sunday, July 22. Cain Park’s Alma Theater, 14591 Superior Rd., Cleveland Heights, Ohio. $25 Advance, $28 Day of show. groundworksdance.org/tickets, cainpark.com or (216) 371-3000. Post- Show Receptions: Free Beer Friday – Following Friday’s performance, free beer, wine and soft drinks will be offered. Dessert Reception Saturday – Following Saturday’s performance, a dessert reception featuring sweet treats will be offered. Ice Cream Sunday – Following Sunday’s performance, Mitchell’s Ice Cream will be offered.

The program repeats as part of the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival at dusk (8:45 p.m.), Friday, August 3 and Saturday, August 4. Glendale Cemetery, 150 Glendale Ave, Akron, Ohio.  Admission is Free. More information at groundworksdance.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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Program a Triumph for Company and Two Retiring Dancers


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GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Damien Highfield and Taylor Johnson in James Gregg’s “éveillé.” Photo by Mark Horning.

GroundWorks DanceTheater – 2018 Spring Concert Series
EJ Thomas Hall at University of Akron

Akron, Ohio
March 3, 2018

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

There can be no doubt that many of those who came to see  GroundWorks DanceTheater’s 2018 Spring Concert Series on Saturday, March 3 at Akron University’s EJ Thomas Hall, did so to see retiring company stalwarts Felise Bagley and Damien Highfield’s last performance with the company in Akron.  Not only did those assembled get to see the pair excel in all three works on the program, they also got to take in James Gregg’s “éveillé”, one of the best dance works the company has ever mounted and one of the best presented by anyone in the region in recent memory.

The world-premiere of Gregg’s semi-narrative dance work heavily-infused with urban-influenced (hip hop, break dance) dance movement, took its inspiration from Italian poet Giambattista Basile’s dark and perverse version of the Sleeping Beauty story entitled “The Sun, Moon and Talia,” included his 1634 collection of fairytales, the Pentamerone.  It tells of Talia, a great lord’s daughter who falls into a magical slumber as foretold by astrologers after a splinter of flax pierces her skin. The lord places her in one of his country estates where she is discovered after a time by a King who mistakenly thinks she is dead but is so enraptured by her beauty, that he has his way with her before returning to his castle. Talia then gives birth to twins she names Sun and Moon, waking her from her slumber. The King then discovers Talia is alive and he is the father of her children as does his wife the Evil Queen who hatches a plan to kill Talia and punish her adulterous husband by having him eat a meal made from the flesh of Sun and Moon.

While Gregg’s dance version loosely-based on Basile’s tale maintained the same characters (although Talia was renamed Beauty in his version), his altered storyline was far less gruesome. The Los Angeles-based choreographer’s genius with the work was in capturing the emotions surrounding the characters’ interactions rather than trying to present a concrete visualization of the Basile’s story.

Set to music by Ben Frost, Bach and others, “éveillé” (French for “awake”), began with Highfield as the King in spotlight standing atop a platform several feet above the stage that was part of an abstract, modular set. On this perch, Highfield lit into a series of gestural motions, moving his hands and arms back and forth as the work’s other four dancers filtered onto the stage below him. Then coming down to meet them, Highfield and dancer Taylor Johnson as Beauty engaged in a similarly animated and aggressively active duet that had them in partially hunched body postures and intently moving in and around each other.

Gregg’s hybrid movement language for the work that he says stems from the use of “fixed points” that the dancers launch themselves from, appears derived in part from his own personal experiences as a former dancer with Bodytraffic, Les Ballet Jazz de Montreal and most notably Victor Quijada’s RUBBERBANDance Group whose movement language employs similar upright torso, weight shifting and space carving motions. Gregg’s expansive and emotive choreography stretched the talents of GroundWorks’ dancers in ways unlike any other prior Groundwork’s piece. Each of the work’s five dancers which also included Gemma Freitas Bender as Sun, Tyler Ring as Moon and Bagley as the Evil Queen, delivered a plethora of delicious dance phrases that illustrated their characters’ motivations. Bagley as the Evil Queen was eerily cold and calculated.

The work’s most moving dancing came in a closing pas de deux performed by its stars, Highfield and Johnson. Emotionally powerful, the pair’s forceful and staccato dancing to music that matched, movingly captured the complicated feelings of love the two had for each other. And like the rest of the work, it left the audience noticeably affected and impressed by what they had just witnessed.

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GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Taylor Johnson, Tyler Ring, Gemma Freitas Bender and Damien Highfield In David Shimotakahara’s “Passenger.” Photo by Mark Horning.

Next came the world-premiere of GroundWorks artistic director David Shimotakahara’s “Passenger,” a 20-minute work danced primarily to five sections of American composer John Adams’ chamber work “John’s Book of Alleged Dances.”

Said to be a visual interpretation of the music, Shimotakahara’s choreography mirrored the moods and stylistic shifts in the music with his own shifts in movement style that blended a variety of dance styles.  While Gregg’s work surprised the audience with something bold and new for the company, “Passenger,” and Shimotakahara’s “Circadian” that followed, reminded fans of Groundworks of what drew them to them to the company in the first place.

“Passenger’s” sections had its five dancers engaging in various solos, duets and group dancing that moved from a jazzy hoedown feel to a Bagley and Highfield duet that included Latin ballroom-like moves, turns and butt wiggles.  Highlighting the piece was a compelling duet danced by Freitas Bender and Ring set to music by pianist and composer Dustin O’Halloran.

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GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Felise Bagley and Damien Highfield in David Shimotakahara’s “Circadian.” Photo by Mark Horning.

Capping the program and Bagley and Highfield’s nearly two decades-long careers with GroundWorks, was the reprise of “Circadian” (2000). Described by him as being built on “a gesture that becomes an extended reach” and “the force of attraction,” the 13-minute duet set to a dynamic original score by Gustavo Aguilar, proved a fitting send off to Bagley and Highfield whose innumerable talents, range, and stage presence were encapsulated in it.  Both dancers displayed a measure of refined dancing, polish and emotional intensity in the beloved duet that began with them dancing as isolated beings slowly and inexorably being drawn toward each other.  Once together they fell into intertwining partnering moves, lifts, holds and intermittently, knee-to-chest hops. One such hop startlingly had Bagley caught mid-jump by Highfield right on a musical punctuation in Aguilar’s music.

Perhaps no better send-off for Bagley and Highfield, GroundWorks’ 2018 Spring Concert Series was a triumph as was the performances of the pair in it. And although Bagley and Highfield will no longer be with the company, both dancers will remain a memorable and enduring part of GroundWorks’ legacy and that of dance in Northeast, Ohio.  Area audiences will have one more chance to see the pair dance with the company this Saturday, April 7 at Saint Ignatius High School’s Breen Center for the Performing Arts.

GroundWorks DanceTheater performs its 2018 Spring Concert Series, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, April 7 at Saint Ignatius High School’s Breen Center for the Performing Arts, 2008 W. 30th St., Cleveland. Tickets are $10-30. For more information and tickets visit groundworksdance.org or call (216) 751-0088.

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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