Tag Archives: Modern dance

New Summer Dance Festival in Cleveland the result of a Perfect Storm of Needs


Pilobolus opens ADF in Cleveland on Saturday, July 29 in “Shadowland.” Photo by Ian Douglas.

By Steve Sucato

DANCECleveland and the American Dance Festival (ADF) have teamed up this summer for ADF in Cleveland, an 8-day dance festival July 29-August 5 at Playhouse Square. The inaugural event will include performances by international superstars Pilobolus (July 29), hip hop troupe Rapheal Xavier (August 2) and New York modern dance company Brian Brooks (August 5). In addition there will be a four-day educational workshop series taught by ADF faculty and free community events. For a full schedule of events see below or visit adfincle.org.

Given that DANCECleveland is one of the oldest modern/contemporary dance presenters in the country and ADF, which began in 1934, has been heralded as “One of the nation’s most important institutions” by the New York Times and as “The world’s greatest dance festival” by the New York Post, the question is why has such a collaboration between the two like-minded organizations never happened before?

In talking with DANCECleveland executive director Pamela Young, it took a perfect storm of circumstances to make ADF in Cleveland happen.

“Nothing happens quickly for me,” says Young “I like to think and ruminate on things.”

Young has been in conversations with the Durham, North Carolina-based organization and ADF executive director Jodee Nimerichter for several years working out the structure and logistics of the Cleveland mini-festival.

For Nimerichter, ADF in Cleveland represented a chance to expand their brand awareness in the Midwest. Says Young, while ADF reaches nationally and internationally, it doesn’t pull much from the Midwest, especially when it comes to students attending ADF’s summer school offerings.

Locally, Young was also looking for a way to expand DANCECleveland’s performance options. “There are so many things interesting happening in dance that aren’t spectacle,” she says. “Works that don’t necessarily show well in larger theaters such as solo works or interesting cross-sections of dance and theater…it’s very hard for me to incorporate those into our season.”

In addition, Playhouse Square, feeling the district and their facilities were underutilized during the summer, was interested in adding programming and Cleveland State University’s department of theatre and dance was also looking for ways to enhance their annual summer dance workshop and having ADF’s teaching faculty here during it was, says Young, “a slam dunk for them.”

The addition of ADF in Cleveland to Northeast Ohio’s burgeoning summer dance offerings that include dance events at Cleveland Heights’ Cain Park, Akron’s Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival and the new Lose Your Marbles Dance-centric fringe festival, along with Tremont’s Arts and Cultural Festival and others, is yet another reason why the region is fast becoming one of the top destinations for summer dance in the tristate area and beyond.


Pilobolus in “Shadowland.” Photo by Ian Douglas.


While in future editions of ADF in Cleveland Young says she wants to feature perhaps lesser known artists and productions that can be seen in unconventional settings (site-specific works, etc.), for this inaugural festival she wanted to introduce the festival with more familiar dance companies.

Marquee troupe and Northeast, Ohio favorite Pilobolus will kick things off performing their highly successful work Shadowland on Saturday, July 29 at Playhouse Square’s State Theatre. Here is a description of the show that I wrote that appeared in Pittsburgh City Paper this past February:

While entertaining audiences across Europe since it premiered in 2009, Shadowland didn’t make its North American premiere until 2015. Nathaniel Buchsbaum, a member of the “Shadowland” cast since 2012 feels the success of the show abroad and not wanting to compete with Pilobolus’ regular U.S. repertory company may have accounted for the delay in American audiences getting to see the work.

Created in collaboration with Steven Banks, the lead writer of TV’s SpongeBob SquarePants and set to original music by David Poe, the 75-minute dance-theater piece combining projected shadow play, multimedia, circus arts, dance and more, tells the surreal story of a young girl’s dream of a sensational world as she comes of age.  In it, the performers contort their bodies into shadow configurations of airplanes, elephants, flowers and more.

Buchsbaum says he will perform several roles in the Pittsburgh premiere of the work from a chef to several shadow creatures. He describes his indoctrination into the show as trial by fire.  “We [he and another new dancer] got the barebones structure of the show in Connecticut [Pilobolus’ home base] and then flew to Europe. Within three weeks of performances adding us in scene by scene, we were fully integrated into the show,” says Buchsbaum.

In a 2015 review of “Shadowland,” New York Times writer Siobhan Burke wrote: “A teenage girl lost in a dark dream, she’s at the mercy of a mysterious giant who, with the rustle of one imposing hand, turns her into a dog from the waist up. Both before and after this transformation, she is chased, threatened, prodded, eaten, humiliated, even tied up and whipped.”

While the show’s target audience skews more mature than that of SpongeBob SquarePants – Says Buchsbaum: “It’s definitely a family-friendly show. We get a lot of kids and adults who really enjoy it.”

Raphael Xavier © Bicking Photography (2)

Raphael Xavier’s hip hop troupe performs Wednesday, August 2 at Playhouse Square’s Allen Theatre. Photo by Bicking Photography

Next, Wilmington, Delaware-native Raphael Xavier brings his award-winning hip-hop dance artistry to Playhouse Square’s Allen Theatre on Wednesday, August 2. As described by DANCECleveland’s website: Xavier has been a hip-hop dancer and breaking practitioner since 1983. He describes himself as an “Innovative Movement Conceptualist,” creating new ways to expand the vocabulary of the dance form and how it fits onto an aging body. Drawing from hip hop culture and his background in photography, music and as a sound engineer, Xavier creates a visual and musical landscape the ties into his choreography. Dance Magazine described Xavier’s dancing and works as “…Artful and mesmerizing, Xavier transforms a bravado dance style into an introspective meditation.”  

Area dancegoers may remember Brian Brooks’ choreography and dancing in a duet with New York City Ballet star Wendy Whelan as part of her production Restless Creature at the Ohio Theatre in 2015. Brooks returns to Cleveland with his dance troupe to close out ADF in Cleveland on Saturday, August 5 at the Ohio Theatre.

Brian Brooks Photo by Erin Baiano (2)

Brian Brooks dance troupe closes out ADF in Cleveland on Saturday, August 5 in “Torrent” at the Ohio Theatre. Photo by Erin Baiano.

As described by DANCECleveland’s website, Brook’s troupe will perform Torrent, set to Max Richter’s version of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons.” The lush piece full of movement sends the dancers soaring across the stage while playing with lines and texture as they perform. Brooks has received numerous awards and was recently appointed as the inaugural Choreographer in Residence at Chicago’s Harris Theater for Music and Dance. This innovative three-year fellowship supports several commissions for Brooks each season with the first year featuring Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Miami City Ballet, as well as his own New York-based group.

ADF in Cleveland runs July 29-August 5 at Playhouse Square. See schedule below for event times and dates. Individual performance tickets run $25-$50. Festival passes run $64-$119. Several events free. See adfincle.orgdancecleveland.org or call 216-241-6000 for information and to purchase tickets/passes.


Saturday, July 29 (National Day of Dance)

11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. Pilobolus Master Class – (FREE) CSU Dance Studio – Reservation Required.
1:30 p.m. – 2:30 p. m. Mega Barre Outdoor Community Ballet/Exercise Barre Class (FREE)  – E. 14th Street
3:30 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. Local Dance School Showcase (FREE) – Ohio Theatre
5:30 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. Dancing In The Street
Rehearsal to learn the So You Think You Can Dance Routine (FREE) Open to all ages and abilities.  – E. 14th Street
6:45 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. Dancing In The Street
Community Performance of the So You Think You Can Dance Routine (FREE) – E. 14th Street
7:30 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. Pilobolus – Performance Shadowland – State Theatre*
*This is a ticketed event. Please contact the Playhouse Square ticket office.
9:00p.m. – 11:00 p.m. Silent Disco Party (FREE) – U.S. Bank Plaza

Tuesday, August 1

11:30 a.m. – 12:15 p.m. Yoga (FREE) – U.S. Bank Plaza
6:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m. “Dancing Under the Stars”
Salsa Dancing (FREE) – U.S. Bank Plaza

Wednesday, August 2

9:30a.m. – 5:30p.m.  ADF Dance Workshop @ CSU Dance Studios
6:15 p.m. Raphael Xavier Pre-Performance Chat – Allen Theatre
7:30 p.m. Raphael Xavier Performance – Allen Theatre*
*This is a ticketed event. Please contact the Playhouse Square ticket office. ​

Thursday, August 3

9:30a.m. – 5:30p.m.  ADF Dance Workshop @ CSU Dance Studios
7:30 p.m. Dance Cinema Night – “Singing in the Rain” Connor Palace Theatre*
*This is a ticketed event. Please contact the Playhouse Square ticket office.

Friday, August 4

9:30a.m. – 5:30p.m.  ADF Dance Workshop @ CSU Dance Studios
7:30 p.m. Dance Cinema Night – “Top Hat” Connor Palace Theatre*
*This is a ticketed event. Please contact the Playhouse Square ticket office.

Saturday, August 5

9:30a.m. – 5:30p.m.  ADF Dance Workshop @ CSU Dance Studios
6:15 p.m. Brian Brooks Pre-Performance Chat – Ohio Theatre
7:30 p.m. Brian Brooks Performance – Ohio Theatre*
*This is a ticketed event. Please contact the Playhouse Square ticket office.
8:45 p.m. Brian Brooks Post-Performance Q & A – Ohio Theatre

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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Case Western Reserve University’s ‘Au Courant’ an Emotional Journey

Ensemble dancers in Shannon Sterne's "Inundation".  From L to R: Christina Coppel, Kristy Clement, Andrea Alvarez, Emma Steele, Karlie Budge and Abbey Hafer. Photo by Brad Petot.

Ensemble dancers in Shannon Sterne’s “Inundation”. From L to R: Christina Coppel, Kristy Clement, Andrea Alvarez, Emma Steele, Karlie Budge and Abbey Hafer. Photo by Brad Petot.

Case Western Reserve University Department of Dance – Au Courant
Mather Dance Center at CWRU

Cleveland, Ohio
November 1, 2013

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Fervent emotion appeared to be the underlying theme of Case Western Reserve University’s Department of Dance Fall concert Au Courant (aware). The mixed repertory program performed by students, faculty and guest dancers at CWRU’s Mather Dance Center, explored a range of emotions in four diverse dance works including Mark Morris’ delightfully playful “Canonic 3/4 Studies”.

ZiYing Cui in Karen Potter's "Veiled Tears". Photo by Brad Petot.

ZiYing Cui in Karen Potter’s “Veiled Tears”. Photo by Brad Petot.

The program led off with dance department chair Karen Potter’s new work “Veiled Tears” set to music by composer Henry Purcell. It began with a woman’s shrilled moaning cries of woe and despair that pierced the darkness of the theater. The stage lights then slowly came up on guest artist Beth McGee (the one moaning) along with several other dancers veiled by portions of their long tulle skirts pulled up over their heads. In fits and starts the work’s eight performers then scurried about the stage as if lost and anguished.  Potter’s simplistic choreography for them ran through a variety of formations that appeared to merely shuffle the performers around to little end. Beyond a sense of foreboding by the dancers who at one point executed a succession of seemingly self-punishing, violent jumps in the air with arms rod-stiff at their sides and a few visually beautiful scenes of posed veiled dancers in deep knee lunges, arms raised as if buoyed by them, “Veiled Tears” did little to engage an audience. The program’s next work, Shannon Sterne’s “Inundation”, proved the opposite.

Set to an eclectic mix of music from French singer Coralie Clement to Canadian modern chamber music group Esmerine, Sterne’s large group work in five sections exuded the range of dark emotions associated with the breakup of a romantic relationship.

Shannon Sterne and Ryan Andrew Dick in Sterne's "Inundation". Photo by Brad Petot.

Shannon Sterne and Ryan Andrew Dick in Sterne’s “Inundation”. Photo by Brad Petot.

In the work’s opening section “Effusion”, Sterne and former Dancing Wheels company member Ryan Andrew Dick danced a duet to Clement’s music that pointed to a dissolving of said romantic relationship. On a stage filled with horizontal rows of wooden dining chairs, a troubled Sterne, costumed in a black dress, reached out desperately to her mostly unreceptive partner. The pair engaged in a back and forth dance filled with arching lifts and unrequited embraces on Dick’s part.  That section gave way to another entitled “Agitation”, in which an ensemble of eleven female dancers also in black dresses seemed to embody the varying levels of hurt and anger going on in Sterne’s character’s mind. Dancers Karlie Budge as an angry, pouty incarnation and Kristy Clement as a somber one, made the strongest impressions of the group.

The rest of the work saw a return of Sterne and Dick’s duet only more desperate and tumultuous, and the ensemble from “Agitation” again only this time climbing along a winding path chairs.

The nicely crafted and performed work’s finest moment however came in its final section “Submersion”, where Sterne’s character joined several of the emoticon-like ensemble dancers onstage. As the others acted out their various emotional motivations Sterne stood hauntingly still, staring out into the audience, sadness pooling in her eyes, beckoning humanity for comfort.

Dani Dowler and Karina Browne in Gary Galbraith's "Remote Encounters". Photo by Brad Petot.

Dani Dowler and Karina Browne in Gary Galbraith’s “Remote Encounters”. Photo by Brad Petot.

Reminiscent of the interactive digital media works by New York dance troupe Troika Ranch, Case dance department artistic director Gary Galbraith’s “Remote Encounters” (2012) was a duet that utilized video cameras in front of and behind a large video screen and partition that fed real-time images of dancers Karina Browne and Dani Dowler to that screen as they danced. The effect was to make it appear as if each dancer at various points in the work was being echoed in or even sucked into a digital realm a la the TRON movies.  The pair also took turns partially appearing from and disappearing behind the video screen in choreography that made them look as if they were caught between the digital and real worlds. While the work’s premise was an old one and the technology used was somewhat rudimentary in this day and age, “Remote Encounters”, and the two dancer’s performances in it were pleasing.

For Au Courant, the best really was saved for last.  Morris’ “Canonic 3/4 Studies” ─ which the Mark Morris Dance Group performed in Cleveland just this past March ─ was a thoroughly entertaining lark.  Set to a collection of piano waltz’s arranged by Harriet Cavalli and played beautifully by Karen Tooley, “Canonic 3/4 Studies” was a clever and humorous study in the manipulation of a dance phrase. Morris once likened his choreography for the work to the more creative variations on the song Row, Row, Row, Your Boat.  The deliciously constructed and musical piece was in part a tongue-in-cheek bashing of ballet’s somewhat rigid conventions. It had Case’s dancers on the floor, in the air, and marching around as if staring into the pages of an imaginary book. Perhaps the work’s most memorable moment was when dancer Richard Oaxaca in a trio with two female dancers circling him, gave each dancer a slight lift in the air as they passed in front of him coinciding with Tooley dinging a bell. The comedic bit continued for a time with one of the women reversing direction to add a delightful twist to section.  While Case’s student dancers lacked the technique and poise of say Morris’ troupe in the work, their performance was respectable.

Copyright Steve Sucato – 2013

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GroundWorks’ Program Proves Intriguing and Entertaining

Photo by Dale Dong.

Photo by Dale Dong.

Cain Park – Alma Theater
Cleveland Heights, Ohio
August 18, 2013

By Steve Sucato

For the 11th straight summer GroundWorks DanceTheater presented a program of repertory works at Cleveland Heights, Ohio’s Cain Park. The 5-member troupe, which for the past 15-years has been the Cleveland-Akron area’s most consistent in quality continued that trend with a trio of works performed in the Park’s intimate Alma Theater.

The program opened with artistic director David Shimotakahara’s 2003 work “Before With After”.

Set to 11 keyboard compositions by J.S. Bach, the work mixed ballet and modern dance styles. Shimotakahara’s light and airy choreography early on resembled a court dance, with the work’s quintet of dancers stepping in to greet one another then pausing to exchange sheepish grins or pensive looks.

The work’s two male dancers, Damien Highfield and Gary Lenington saw plenty of action alternately lifting its three female dancers up and around their shoulders or onto their backs.

Various temporary interpersonal relationships formed between dancers. One involved Highfield and dancer Annika Sheaff, who when not casting looks of disappointment at Highfield, darted her eyes about. At one point they landed on her outstretched arm and traced a path down to her hand, palm flat, as she began paddling the air, drawing her body to follow in the direction of momentum created from her arm’s movement. The statuesque former Pilobolus dancer’s performance in the work was an appealing blend of delicacy and strength.

GroundWorks DanceTheater dancers Damien Highfield and Noelle Cotler. Photo by Dale Dong.

GroundWorks DanceTheater dancers Damien Highfield and Noelle Cotler. Photo by Dale Dong.

Also captivating, was GroundWorks’ newest dancer, the spunky Noelle Cotler. In a playful duet with Lenington she shot him come hither eyes and a mischievous smile as the pair came together to maneuver in tight, intertwining circles.

Sheaff and Cotler then joined forces for a friendly and somewhat zany competition in which the two skipped with, stomped at and teased one another.

While the work’s many vignettes contained solid dancing and entertaining moments, a few felt like filler and the piece seemed to go on a bit long. 

“Delightfully peculiar” best described the program’s next work; former GroundWorks star Amy Miller’s latest commission for the company “Way Leads to Way” (2013).  Set to a cinematic collage of music including selections from Texas ambient music composer Jeff McIlwain (a.k.a. Lucine ICL) and Mexican electronica artist Fernando Corona (a.k.a. Murcof),  “Way Leads to Way” was the program’s most intriguing offering. 

The work for the full complement of GroundWorks’ dancers, took snippets of unrelated scenes such as snaking dance club moves, sprinters in blocks before the start of a race and slow-motion movement, and combined them with an ambient soundtrack infused with buzzes, static noise, humming and whines, to produce an avant-garde contemporary dance work that was eminently compelling in its disjointed quirkiness.

Sheaff once again showed her range as a performer pulling attention from her fellow dancers with a series of bizarre facial expressions that were at odds with the beauty of her outstretched body positions that spoke of buoyancy and grace.

The tone of the work switched gears mid-way with its soundtrack now reflecting a thunderstorm sounds, the effect bolstered by Dennis Duggan’s dark, atmospheric lighting for the piece.  The dancing also appeared more improvisational with the dancers taking on child-like attitudes and executing movements reminiscent of a game of hopscotch.  Solidly danced by GroundWorks’ ensemble, “Way Leads to Way” made the unusual, memorable.

New York-based choreographer Doug Elkins’ “My Hummingbird At The High Line” (2012) added the final textural layer to GroundWorks diverse program.

Danced to an interesting mix of classic crooner tunes from “Rat Pack” members Sammy Davis Jr., Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra along with a Handel aria and other selections, the work tinged with humor, sexual overtones and dancer comradery had the feel of an episode of TV’s Friends.

GroundWorks DanceTheater dancers Felise Bagley and Damien Highfield. Photo by Dale Dong.

GroundWorks DanceTheater dancers Felise Bagley and Damien Highfield. Photo by Dale Dong.

From the outset, Elkins’ choreography had an ease about it blending jazz, hip hop and modern dance styles, while seeming to not take itself too seriously. A comedic confrontation between Highfield and Lenington led things off, the two casting capoeira-style high kicks in each other’s direction.  That lighthearted attitude continued in a duet between Sheaff and Lenington. The duet was full of guffaws in their partnering of each other causing them to stop and retry lifts and movements. The two vocalized instructions to one another along with various grunts and noises that come from physical exertion.

Frivolity then gave way to a more serious tone in the latter part of the work with a provocative duet between Cotler and longtime company member Felise Bagley. Set to rock music by Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, the pair moved in and out of brief entanglements suggesting a mutual attraction that was later cemented by a stolen kiss by Cotler.

An overall success, GroundWorks’ program proved entertaining with marvelous performances by its ensemble. GroundWorks’ current dancer lineup perhaps the most balanced and cohesive the company has fielded in years.  

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