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Cleveland’s Inlet Dance Theatre Brings To Life Best-Selling Children’s Book “What Do You Do With An Idea?”


Inlet CPT March 2016__DSC0957_177_by Suzanne Sherbundy

Inlet Dance Theatre in “What Do You Do With An Idea?” Photo by Suzanne Sherbundy.

By Steve Sucato

Although rare in life, those times when opportunity and fate collide can produce a special kind of magic with the power to enrich lives. Such was the case for Inlet Dance Theatre founder/artistic director Bill Wade in 2015 when Daniel Hahn, vice president of Community Engagement and Education at Playhouse Square, asked him to create a dance-theater work geared toward 4-8-year olds and their families as part of the Center’s LAUNCH performance creation residency program.

Given this opportunity, fate then intervened on a wintry day that year when Wade, not inspired by a list of children’s literature options Hahn had given him to make a dance work around, happened into a Barnes & Noble to escape the cold and spotted Kobi Yamada’s 2014 New York Times best-selling children’s book “What Do You Do With An Idea?”on a table. Wade began reading it and says “halfway through the book I got caught up in the story and by its end I was standing there crying.”

Wade says his emotional reaction to the book came from his identifying with the story’s central character of a young boy who has an idea but doesn’t quite know what to do with it. Wade says he felt the same way when the idea to create Inlet Dance Theatre came to him in 2001. As in Yamada’s tale, Wade’s idea for Inlet would not leave him alone until he did something with it; eventually nurturing it to fruition.

Realizing this was the book he wanted to create a dance work around for his Inlet Dance Theatre and Playhouse Square, Wade and Hahn pressed ahead with the project and contacted Yamada for the rights to use the book.

Boy and the Egg_Photo by Inlet Dance Theatre

Katie McGaha as “The Idea” and Kevin Parker as “The child” in Inlet Dance Theatre’s “What Do You Do With An Idea?” Photo courtesy of Inlet Dance Theatre.

At the idea of turning his book into a dance work Yamada says he was thrilled. “Dance is such a beautiful and athletic art form and just to know my children’s book can be interpreted in such a way is fascinating artistically but also such a great example of how ideas build on ideas,” says Yamada by phone from Seattle. “You put something creative out into the world and it inspires something else creative. You just don’t really know when you drop that pebble in the pond where the ripples end.”

Yamada in a 2015 interview with Vancouver-based podcast Essential Conversations says the inspiration for his book, “What Do You Do With An Idea?,” came from a conversation he had with his staff at Seattle-based publishing and gift company, Compendium, Inc. on the fragility of ideas: “We’ve all had experiences where we have had ideas and we just don’t know if they are good or not…when an idea first comes to you it is in its most fragile state and can be killed with an eye-roll or an exhale…I have witnessed that in my company…its human nature sometimes for us to not quite know what we have before we know what we have.”

To tell Yamada’s story of a young child and his egg-shaped, crown-wearing idea in dance Wade says he wanted to honor what Yamada had written by using the book’s text verbatim. For the work’s choreography and dance sequences Wade says he looked to the book’s lively illustrations by Mae Besom that brilliantly captured the emotions of the book’s characters and the wonder of the world they existed in.

In watching a rehearsal of What Do You Do With An Idea? recently, I found Inlet’s athletic, acrobatic and sculptural movement language a la modern dance standouts Pilobolus, tailor-made for a family-friendly production such as this that is geared toward entertaining and capturing the imagination of young audience members (ages 2 +).

Yamada, who saw an early work-in-progress showing of excerpts from What Do You Do With An Idea?, says Inlet’s dancers brought physical humor to the story. “In some ways the dancing also allows the audience to see in-between the pages and into the lives and interactions of the characters in the book.”

Idea book cover image

Courtesy of Inlet Dance Theatre and Kobi Yamada.

For his part in the dance work’s creative process, Yamada says he only played a consulting role, helping to flesh out the motivations of the book’s characters.  So impressed with Inlet’s handling of the relationship in movement between the child and the idea, and of the naysayers of the idea, Yamada says he shared a recording of those excerpts with animators from producer Steve Waterman’s (Stuart Little, Alvin and the Chipmunks) studio Film Roman who are creating an animated short of the book to help inspire them.

Set to a vibrant original score by composer and co-founder of FiveOne Experimental Orchestra, Jeremy Allen and narrated by Cleveland television (WVIZ/PBS) and radio (WCPN) icon Dee Perry, the 45-minute intermission-less production features Kevin Parker as “The child,” Katie McGaha as “The Idea” and a corps of six dancers portraying mice, deer, foxes, townsfolk and a bear along with other non-corporeal elements from the book. The work also features scenic design by Ian Petroni including pop-up book inspired set pieces, costumes by Kristin Wade and lighting by Trad Burns.

“It has been nothing but positive for me,” says Yamada of his experience having his book turned into a dance work. “I love the people at Inlet and Playhouse Square. They have been warm and welcoming to me and my family. The idea of somebody doing something different with the book is the book’s heart and soul. It’s all about believing in those ideas when they first come out. To see something that you created get recreated into a brand new piece of art is an honor and something I would absolutely do again.”

Inlet Dance Theatre performs What Do You Do With An Idea?, co-produced by Playhouse Square, 7 p.m., Wednesday, March 21 at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre, 1511 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. Tickets are $10 (Free for children under age 1) and available at playhousesquare.org, by calling (216) 241-6000, or at the Playhouse Square Box Office.

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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DanceWorks 2015: Week One – Elastic Bands, Phobias and Zebra Pants


MorrisonDance performs

MorrisonDance performs “Existential Funk.” Photo by Bob Perkoski.

DanceWorks 2015: Week One
The Movement Project and MorrisonDance
Cleveland Public Theatre – Gordon Square
Cleveland, OH
April 4, 2015

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

The 15th season of Cleveland Public Theatre’s annual DanceWorks series kicked off with a double bill featuring Cleveland modern dance companies, The Movement Project and MorrisonDance.  Their performance Saturday, April 4 at CPT’s Gordon Square Theatre, began with The Movement Project’s new work All together now.

Choreographed by TMP founders Megan Lee Gargano and Rebecca J. Leuszler, and danced to a soundscape by Gargano utilizing such noises as a teakettle whistling and a clock ticking, the work, according to the program notes, was to “investigate an oversized world of “Cat’s Cradle,” the children’s yarn game. The result however turned out to be more like a not particularly engaging or entertaining exercise in the many ways to use elastic bands in a dance work.

Founded in 2009, The Movement Project is still relatively young company and the sister choreography team of Gargano and Leuszler appear to still perhaps be leaning a bit too heavily  on movement exercises they learned in college as a means of generating work.  All together now’s running theme of dancers tethered together by elastic bands was not so much plagued by its unoriginal premise, but rather turning what should have been a 5-minute prop piece into an hour-long succession of rudimentary and repetitive movement phrases that pulverized any hint of novelty out of the work’s one note theme.

The Movement Project in

The Movement Project in “All together now…” Photo by Jonny Riese.

As dancers, TMP showed some talent, especially dancer Erin Craig who was an absolute joy to watch.  With a more focused attention to creating works with depth and craft, TMP has the potential for far better dance productions.

In its 18th season, MorrisonDance is one of Cleveland’s old guard. Led by dancer/choreographer Sarah Morrison, the company has been on the cutting edge of integrating dance and technology such as in 1997 being the first to broadcast a live modern dance concert on the Internet. The company is best known however for its repertory of lighthearted dance works five of which including several new works were contained in their program entitled Compulsion to Move: Zugzwang.

Sarah Morrison in “Zugzwang Zebra.

Sarah Morrison in “Zugzwang Zebra.” Photo by Rick Klein.

The program opened with Morrison’s clever “Zugzwang Zebra.” Costumed in zebra-striped pants and using a white plastic chair with a hole in its back, Morrison took a simple prop piece and turned it into performance gold. Like a modern day Danny Kaye, Morrison’s finely-honed stage presence, humor and musicality proved magical in the solo that had her peering through and fishing her articulating hands and fingers through the chair’s hole creating a series of charming dance moments.

After the acrobatic and mildly humorous duet “Voxel” performed by Taliesin Reid Haugh and Liubomyr Shyndak, Morrison’s “If I Sit Still Long Enough, I Can Hear the Snow Falling” launched four female dancers into free-flowing, hippie-like dance movement to music by Clint Mansel. The piece blended moments of whimsy and introspection, that like the other works on MorrisonDance’s program, didn’t take itself too seriously.

Sarah Morrison and Hope Schultz perform in

Sarah Morrison and Hope Schultz perform in “If I Sit Still Enough I can Hear the Snow Falling.” Photo by Bob Perkoski.

The most appealing dance and best danced performance of the evening was turned in by dancers Jenni Hankey and Haugh in Morrison’s quirky “PhoboPhobia.” Set to commissioned score by Cleveland-based composer Jeremy Allen, the director of FiveOne Experimental Orchestra, the work had Hankey and Haugh donning kid’s inflatable bouncy ball outfits giving them the look of giant blue raspberries with legs. To Allen’s music laced with Clyde Symon reciting a list of phobias and positive affirmations sounding a bit like German existentialist character Hans Beinholtz on TV’s The Colbert Report, the dances moved through delightful balletic partnering lifts and body positions that had the dancer’s ball costumes swallowing them up, merging them together and for Hankey, acting like a tutu.

The program closed with Morrison’s breezy group dance piece “Existential Funk” performed to jazzy reggae music by Harlem Underground Band and Bobbi Humphrey.

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Cleveland’s Inlet Dance Theatre opens CPT’s ‘DanceWorks’ series with mostly Entertaining Program


Inlet Dance Theatre's Joshua Brown, Taran Brown, and Dominic Moore-Dunson. Photo by Lauren Stonestreet.

Inlet Dance Theatre’s Joshua Brown, Taran Brown, and Dominic Moore-Dunson. Photo by Lauren Stonestreet.

Inlet Dance Theatre
Cleveland Public Theatre – Gordon Square Theatre
Cleveland, OH
April 10-12, 2014

By Steve Sucato

Cleveland-based Inlet Dance Theatre opened Cleveland Public Theatre’s annual DanceWorks series April 10 at Gordon Square Theatre with a program of five diverse works by company founder and artistic director Bill Wade including three premieres. In its 13th season, Inlet has carved out a niche among Northeast, Ohio dance troupes for its highly accessible dance works utilizing Wade’s movement language that mixes the classical modern dance technique of Erick Hawkins with the unique body sculpting style of Pilobolus.

The sold-out performance began with excerpts from Wade’s 2014 work Nature Displays.  The nature-themed work created in conjunction with an exhibit at the Cleveland Museum of Natural History was funny, creative and utilized prop and costume theatrics a la like-minded dance troupe MOMIX’s dance work Botanica. The work featured everything from frolicking birds and bees to the migration of sex cells.  Set to a compilation of music including songs by Peter Gabriel and Vancouver’s Infinitus, Nature Displays began with a section entitled “Birds in a Field” in which five dancers lay on their backs, legs skyward while five others crouched atop them perched like birds on a branch, heads bobbing.  The perched dancers then switched positions outstretching their arms and legs to look like birds in flight. Wade’s simple, but clever choreography had an ease to it that was engaging.

Then dancer Josh Brown buzzed the stage as a manic bee in a laugh-out-loud solo after which the work turned its attention to the microscopic with a depiction of the attraction of sex cells. Inlet’s dancers rolled on and off the stage like tumbleweeds and then came together in group formations in vignettes that looked to be about meiosis and sexual reproduction.

The first of several delightful works on the program, Nature Displays was followed by Wade’s equally entertaining spiritual solo “Soon I Will Be Done” (1993) performed by dancer Dominic Moore-Dunson. Danced to gospel music by Frankie Knuckles, the modern dance solo about overcoming struggles was passionately performed by Moore-Dunson’s garnering him a standing ovation.

“Angels Unaware,” the first of three premieres in performed in succession was far less engaging. Themed around the often unknowing support we get from others in our lives, “Angels Unaware” depicted several characters in various states of emotional distress being comforted and encouraged by others. The well-intentioned work established early on that those who were being helped could then become those who helped others. Where the piece faltered was in the repetition of that one-note. Dancers hugged, cradled, lifted and uplifted those in distress in predictable choreography that, although nicely danced, became tiresome to watch.

Inlet Dance Theatre's Joshua Brown and Elizabeth Pollert. Photo by Lauren Stonestreet.

Inlet Dance Theatre’s Joshua Brown and Elizabeth Pollert. Photo by Lauren Stonestreet.

The best of the new works presented, “10” was a tribute to veteran dancers Brown and Elizabeth Pollert’s 10-years with Inlet.  The intensely physical duet set to a commissioned score by Sean Ellis Hussey played out like a greatest hits of the weight-sharing, daring lifts and Pilobolus-like movement found in many of Wade’s works.  The choreography had each of the dancers lifting, carrying, and balancing on one another in marvelously acrobatic choreography that highlighted both dancer’s strength and giving as partners.

The mostly entertaining program closed with “Fire,” the third movement of a yet-to-be-completed five movement work inspired by Laurie Beth Jones’ self-help book, The Four Elements of Success that likens the four elements to personality types.  Danced to another original score, this time from composer Jeremy Allen, a member of Cleveland-based experimental orchestra FiveOne, “Fire” featured a trio of dancers (1 male, 2 female) in familiar choreography that had dancer Dominic Moore acting as a fulcrum balancing dancers Nicole O’Malley and Michelle Sipes like weights on other side of him. Perhaps the “danciest” of the works on the program, Inlets dancers moved through pirouettes, body rolls and turns in attitude. In the end though, “Fire” was a disappointment.  Wade’s choreography for it lacked originality and the fire implied by its title. Its trio of dancers also seemed to struggle performing it.

Despite the program’s few sour notes, overall it proved entertaining and in keeping with what has made Inlet Dance Theatre a popular ticket in Cleveland on this and any other dance season.

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