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

Photo1 Holly Handman-Lopez

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.


“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.

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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Cleveland Ballet makes admirable debut in partnership with Neos Dance Theatre

Dancers with the new Cleveland Ballet and Neos Dance Theatre perform Gladisa Guadalupe's "Schubert" Photo by Mark Horning.

Dancers with the new Cleveland Ballet and Neos Dance Theatre perform Gladisa Guadalupe’s “Schubert” Photo by Mark Horning.

Cleveland Ballet & Neos Dance Theatre – Past. Present. Future.
PlayhouseSquare Center – Ohio Theatre
Cleveland, Ohio – USA
October 3, 2015

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Gladisa Guadalupe’s new Cleveland Ballet took its first steps Saturday, October 3 at PlayhouseSquare’s Ohio Theatre on the road to becoming the city’s newest resident ballet company.

More likely a marathon than a sprint in its quest to recapture some of the artistic glory of its predecessor of the same name that departed Cleveland in 2000, the new troupe of six wisely chose to collaborate with Neos Dance Theatre for Past. Present. Future., its debut production.

Neos did most of the heavy lifting in the program, with the 10-year-old Mansfield-based troupe providing the bulk of the dancers on stage and the evening’s best dance works.

Neos Dance Theatre & Cleveland Ballet dancers in Joseph Morrissey’s “Suite for Strings." Photo by Mark Horning.

Neos Dance Theatre & Cleveland Ballet dancers in Joseph Morrissey’s “Suite for Strings.” Photo by Mark Horning.

Neos Dance Theatre & Cleveland Ballet dancers in Joseph Morrissey’s “Suite for Strings." Photo by Mark Horning.

Neos Dance Theatre & Cleveland Ballet dancers in Joseph Morrissey’s “Suite for Strings.” Photo by Mark Horning.

The stylistically diverse and entertaining program led off with choreographer Joseph Morrissey’s neo-classical ballet Suite for Strings (2015), which Neos premiered this past July at Akron’s Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival. Set to searing violin music by Janacek, the ballet for four couples spun through a series of lovely movement patterns punctuated by a recurring windmill arm movement.

Each couple then performed a pas de deux. The most memorable were dancers Brooke Wesner and Ethan Michael Lee in one defined by sweeping turns and drags, and guest dancers Kate Griffith and Alec Guthrie in one in which Guthrie anchored Griffith through a succession of lovely outstretched body poses.

Neos Dance Theatre & Cleveland Ballet dancers in Robert Wesner's "Searching for the Find."  Photo by Mark Horning.

Neos Dance Theatre & Cleveland Ballet dancers in Robert Wesner’s “Searching for the Find.” Photo by Mark Horning.

Neos Dance Theatre & Cleveland Ballet dancers in Robert Wesner's "Searching for the Find."  Photo by Mark Horning.

Neos Dance Theatre & Cleveland Ballet dancers in Robert Wesner’s “Searching for the Find.” Photo by Mark Horning.

Next, Neos artistic director Robert Wesner’s Searching for the Find (2015), set to a mix of stylized Asian music, sent six women and four men marching about the stage and uniting for brief interludes. The well-crafted and nicely danced contemporary ballet in three sections, which Neos also premiered in July, had a mostly tranquil drift to it. Patterns formed and then dissipated, leaving in their wake lingering reflections of beauty.

The first of two premieres on the program, Guadalupe’s Schubert, was the first ballet to show off Cleveland Ballet’s women alongside Neos’ dancers. Danced to live accompaniment by pianist Gerardo Teissonniere playing a Schubert score, the classical ballet quintet’s choreography, while academic, held a certain refined charm. The dancers in pointe shoes and pastel tutus by costume designer Victoria Mearini conjured up images of Degas ballet paintings.

Neos Dance Theatre's Brooke and Robert Wesner in Robert Wesner's "necessary.negatives." Photo by Mark Horning.

Neos Dance Theatre’s Brooke and Robert Wesner in Robert Wesner’s “necessary.negatives.” Photo by Mark Horning.

Neos Dance Theatre's Brooke and Robert Wesner in Robert Wesner's "necessary.negatives." Photo by Mark Horning.

Neos Dance Theatre’s Brooke and Robert Wesner in Robert Wesner’s “necessary.negatives.” Photo by Mark Horning.

Teissonniere then played the music of Bach to accompany Brooke and Robert Wesner in the evening’s finest work, necessary.negatives. Choreographed by Robert Wesner, the exquisite contemporary ballet pas de deux reflected on the Wesners’ many years of dancing together. Filled with delicate touches, deep bending holds and slowly evolving turns, the work enjoyed a sumptuous performance.

The program closed with Glazunov, staged by Guadalupe and Cynthia Graham and set to music by the composer (and the night’s pianist) Jee-Won Oh. A collection of excerpts from Marius Petipa’s ballet Raymonda, the ballet revealed the technical unevenness of the two company’s dancers in classical repertoire. Cleveland Ballet’s young dancers, still refining their talents, mostly fared well — especially dancers Victor Jarvis and Luke Potgieter — in a sequence of nicely executed double tour en l’air jumps.

Cleveland Ballet & Neos Dance Theatre dancers in "Glazunov" (excerpts from Marius Petipa's Raymonda set by Cynthia Graham and Gladisa Guadalupe).  Photo by Mark Horning.

Cleveland Ballet & Neos Dance Theatre dancers in “Glazunov” (excerpts from Marius Petipa’s Raymonda set by Cynthia Graham and Gladisa Guadalupe). Photo by Mark Horning.

Cleveland Ballet & Neos Dance Theatre dancers (Brooke Wesner - center) in "Glazunov" (excerpts from Marius Petipa's Raymonda set by Cynthia Graham and Gladisa Guadalupe).  Photo by Mark Horning.

Cleveland Ballet & Neos Dance Theatre dancers (Brooke Wesner – center) in “Glazunov” (excerpts from Marius Petipa’s Raymonda set by Cynthia Graham and Gladisa Guadalupe). Photo by Mark Horning.

Though beautifully costumed, and featuring some bright moments by lead couple Brooke Wesner and guest dancer Seth Parker, the ballet overall lacked the energy and fullness given to it by an orchestrated score.

Past. Present. Future. was a qualified success, thanks in large part to Neos Dance Theatre, whose presence on Cleveland stages has been long overdue. The new Cleveland Ballet’s first steps were respectable, if a bit shaky. The opportunity for Clevelanders to witness the growth and transformation of this new company in the coming years should offer a unique and compelling view on what it takes to build a high-caliber ballet company.

This article first appeared October 6, 2015 on The Plain Dealer’s webstie Cleveland.com. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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The new Cleveland Ballet makes its debut alongside Neos Dance Theatre

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Photo by Mark Horning.

By Steve Sucato

It is a bit ironic that the ballet company now looking to be a serious contender to fill the void left by the long departed Dennis Nahat led Cleveland Ballet (a.k.a. Cleveland San Jose Ballet) as Cleveland’s resident professional ballet troupe has decided to adopt the same name.  Nevertheless that is the plan for former Cleveland Ballet dancer and artistic associate Gladisa Guadalupe’s new company. It will actually be the third organization to adopt the Cleveland Ballet moniker, the first being a group of Russian emigres in the 1930’s.

Guadalupe says this new company is not trying to recreate the troupe founded by Nahat and Ian Horvath that was an institution in the city for nearly 25-years beginning in the mid 1970’s and became one of the nation’s top ballet companies before departing to Silicon Valley in 2000 because of financial woes.

“I am not doing this to enhance my career,” says Guadalupe. “I am doing this because I see how much talent Cleveland has. There are a lot of good dance companies here and I feel there is room for a phenomenal resident ballet company. The city deserves it and I hope we can become that company.”

Board Chairman Michael Krasnyansky says the name “Cleveland Ballet” was in the public domain for anyone to trademark and that he and Guadalupe wanted to follow the lead of other great organizations in the city that use the city’s name in theirs such as the Cleveland Orchestra and the Cleveland Clinic.

Guadalupe and Krasnyansky say that the building of the new troupe will be a carefully paced and fiscally responsible process. Currently the company has six paid dancers hailing from Michigan, New York and the greater Cleveland area. One of those dancers is Bath native Lauren Stenroos, a former dancer with Dayton Ballet.

“I am excited to be a part of new company that is just starting up in my home town,” says Stenroos. “The environment is very positive and Gladisa is wonderful to work with. I feel she knows how to bring out the best in each individual dancer.”

Cleveland Ballet company members. Clockwise: Kathryn Tokar, Lauren Stenroos, Victor Jarvis, Luke Potgieter, Elizabeth Pantuso and Madeline Taylor.

Cleveland Ballet company members. Clockwise: Kathryn Tokar, Lauren Stenroos, Victor Jarvis, Luke Potgieter, Elizabeth Pantuso and Madeline Taylor. Photo by Jonathan Koslen.

Guadalupe’s vision for the company is to steadily build it to 14-18 dancers that will perform a repertory of downsized versions of classic story ballets, new contemporary ballets and classic masterworks. That vision also includes maintaining her thriving School of Cleveland Ballet (formerly known as Cleveland School of Dance) in Bedford Heights to train future generations of professional dancers that might one day join the professional company’s ranks.

Long range plans for new downtown studios/headquarters and a black box theater are in the works along with possible future collaborations with the Cleveland Orchestra and others.

For the company’s inaugural 2015-2016, which they are terming as their “preview season,” Guadalupe and company have entered into a season-long collaboration with fellow Northeast Ohio dance troupe Neos Dance Theatre.  The two stylistically compatible troupes will share dancers, repertory, facilities and performances this season.

“What is really wonderful is Gladisa is hungry for her dancers to dance,” says Neos artistic director Robert Wesner. “She wants them on stage and to give them experience. She is providing them opportunities to continue to rehearse with us and to dance wherever we go this season.”

In addition to the two joint performances this season including Past. Present. Future this Saturday, October 3 at PlayhouseSquare’s Ohio Theater and May 12-14, 2016 for the ballet Coppélia, Cleveland Ballet’s dancers will take part in Neos’ Count … The Legend of Dracula, October 17 at the Renaissance Theatre in Mansfield and October 30 at the Akron Civic Theatre.

The two companies will take a wait and see approach to the continuation of their mutually beneficial collaboration beyond this season. Says Wesner:  “We are two different companies with two different goals combining for one common goal this season. What happens after that? We will have to see.”

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Photo by Mark Horning.

For Saturday’s debut in the 90-minute Past. Present. Future, Cleveland Ballet and Neos will present five stylistically diverse ballets beginning with two Neos premiered this past July as part of the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival in Akron.

Choreographer Joseph Morrissey’s “Suite for Strings” (2015), set to music by Leoš Janáček, is a 15-minute ballet for eight dancers Wesner describes as “grand and uplifting.” The neo-classical/contemporary ballet contains some meaty sections with virtuosic dancing.

Next, the Wesner choreographed “Searching For The Find” (2015) is a thoughtful, precise and well-crafted contemporary ballet that will show off both troupes’ talented dancers.

A common arm movement she noticed amongst a group of dancers in class became the inspiration for Guadalupe’s “Schubert.” The first of two premiere ballets on the program, the ballet for five women on pointe has the feel of a Degas ballet painting come to life. It will be danced to live accompaniment by pianist Gerardo Teissonnière.

Wesner and wife Brooke will then perform the premiere of his pas de deux “necessary.negatives.” Set to music by Bach, also performed live Teissonnière, the 5-minute pas de deux was inspired by the idea of looking at old photo negatives and by the couple’s 25-years of dancing together,” says Wesner.

The program will conclude with “Glazunov.” Staged by Guadalupe and fellow former Cleveland Ballet dancer Cynthia Graham, the classical ballet capper is essentially excerpts from Marius Petipa’s ballet Raymonda set to music by Glazunov that will be played live by pianist Jee-Won Oh.

Launching a new professional ballet company is no easy task even without adopting the name of a cherished predecessor organization. From all indications Guadalupe, Krasnyansky and company are on the right track to make a go of it. With a healthy respect for the name’s past and those who used it, they are about building a new Cleveland Ballet for today’s audiences in the hopes of making their own lasting mark on the city of Cleveland and the dance community.

Cleveland Ballet and Neos Dance Theatre perform Past. Present. Future, 7 p.m., Saturday, October 3. Ohio Theatre, Playhouse Square, 1501 Euclid Ave., Cleveland. $20-$49. playhousesquare.org or (216) 241-6000.

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