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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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Childhood Memories Spark Brown’s ‘BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play’

Dancers Fana Fraser and Beatrice Capote in

Dancers Fana Fraser and Beatrice Capote in “BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

By Steve Sucato

The adage “you don’t know what you’re missing until you find it” could describe the early stages of choreographer Camille A. Brown’s creative process in developing her latest work BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play.

Commissioned by DANCECleveland through a 2014 Joyce Award from the Joyce Foundation, Brown says she had the idea to make a work about black women. And like many choreographers that initial jumping off point led to something more. Through conversations with women at The Northeast Reintegration Center in Cleveland, Ohio, and with other Black women over the past 16-months or so, Brown discovered her own story as a black female, focusing on what she says she was not necessarily hearing from the black women she talked to and from the media ─ the story of Black female childhood; its joys as well as its heartaches.

Directed and choreographed by Brown in conjunction with her New York–based Camille A. Brown & Dancers, the hourlong BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play set to live original music by Scott Paterson and Tracy Wormworth along with nursery rhyme melodies and presented by DANCECleveland, will be performed by Brown and company this Saturday, November 14 at Playhouse Square’s Hanna Theatre. Says Brown, it “celebrates the unspoken rhythm and language that Black girls have through Double Dutch, social dances, and hand-clapping games such as ‘Miss Suzie had a Steamboat’ and ‘Miss Mary Mack’ that are contemporary and ancestral.”

“We are not conditioned to think of social dances as anything more than something we do at a party or social,” says Brown by phone from her New York City home. “These were actually steps that provided, and still provide, people with the opportunity to express how they are feeling, to heal, to protest, and that is what I wanted to do with the piece.”

Dancers Camille A. Brown and Catherine Foster in “BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Dancers Fana Fraser and Beatrice Capote in

Dancers Fana Fraser and Beatrice Capote in “BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Brown, 35, a former dancer with Ronald K. Brown/Evidence, has recently become a choreographer of prominence. In the past known more for her adroit skills as a dancer, Brown as a dancemaker has created works for Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Philadanco, Complexions, Urban Bush Women, Ballet Memphis and Hubbard Street II as well as for her own decade old company. Honors include: a 2015 Doris Duke Artist Award Recipient, a 2014 Bessie Award for her production Mr. TOL E. RAncE, two Princess Grace Awards and twice recipient of New England Foundation for the Arts grants.

Unlike past works, Brown says she has felt more of a level of expectation from others in the creation of BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play. Because she visited with women at The Northeast Reintegration Center, some expected the work to be about them or when she showcased a portion of the work this past January in Cleveland as part of the International Association of Blacks in Dance’s 27th Annual Conference and Festival, some expected the movement language shown then to carry throughout the entire piece.

“People sometimes create the story for you unconsciously in their minds, so when you show it they say ‘that says that is not what I was expecting,’” says Brown. “It is about the women I talked to in Cleveland; it is also about black women, black girls, all over. It is not about talking their stories and creating a work I don’t know. It’s taking their stories and my stories and putting them all together through my eyes in a way that is universal.”

Brown also took inspiration from literature in developing BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play’s themes including Lewis Carroll’s “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland,” Melissa V. Harris-Perry’s “Sister Citizen: Shame, Stereotypes, and Black Women in America” and others. In addition, she enlisted the aid of dramaturges Daniel Banks, Kamilah Forbes and Talvin Wilks to help flesh out the piece.

Dancers Mora-Amina Parker and Yusha-Marie Sorzano in

Dancers Mora-Amina Parker and Yusha-Marie Sorzano in “BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play.” Photo by Christopher Duggan.

Whatever its inspirations, BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play is ultimately Brown’s personal journey as a Black female.

“What was rewarding for me about this work was doing something I knew was a risk,” says Brown. “You are taking things that people may consider trivial and not art and claiming it as art. You are doing it for you. Not to present or teach, just be. I want black girls, black women and everyone to connect to this piece.

Part of DANCECleveland’s 60th Anniversary Season, Camille A. Brown & Dancers perform BLACK GIRL: Linguistic Play, 8 p.m., Saturday, November 14. Playhouse Square’s Hanna Theatre, 2067 E 14th Street, Downtown. $15-35. DANCECleveland.org or (216) 241-6000.

Click here to hear an interview with Camille A. Brown on ideastream-WVIZ

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Hope, Meaning and Virginia Woolf

GroundWorks DanceTheater dancers rehearsing David Shimotakahara's

GroundWorks DanceTheater dancers rehearsing David Shimotakahara’s “Shadowbox.”

By Steve Sucato

Collaboration has always been a part of GroundWorks DanceTheater’s company identity. In the past several seasons however, the company has ratcheted up their work with area arts organizations on several production including joining with the Akron Symphony Orchestra in 2013 to perform artistic director David Shimotakahara’s Rite of Spring, with ChamberFest Cleveland in 2014 for Shimotakahara’s Ghost Opera, and last season with the Aeolus Quartet and composer Steven Snowden in Shimotakahara’s Civil War-themed House of Sparrows.

Entering its 17th season, Shimotakahara and GroundWorks keep up that trend with the world-premiere of Shimotakahara’s Shadowbox in conjunction with Violins of Hope Cleveland’s community-wide collaboration inspired by Amnon Weinstein’s Violins of Hope.

Photo by Debra Yasinow.

Photo by Debra Yasinow.

Violins of Hope is a project begun by Weinstein in 1996 in which he has been locating and restoring violins that were played by Jews in the camps and ghettos during WWII so they can be brought to life again on the concert stage. Although most of the musicians who originally played the instruments perished during the Holocaust, their voices and spirits live on through the violins.

Part of the GroundWorks’ 4th annual Fall Concert Series at PlayhouseSquare’s Allen Theatre, Oct 16 and 17, the work, in partnership with the Maltz Museum of Jewish Heritage, Jewish Federation of Cleveland and Cleveland Institute of Music, will feature an original score by award-winning Israeli composer Oded Zehavi who is in residence in Cleveland as a Schusterman Visiting Israeli Artist under the auspices of the Israel Institute. It will be played live in-part by violinist Mirabai Weismehl Rosenfeld.

Shimotakahara’s 20-minute Shadowbox draws on the spirit behind Violins of Hope in a less obvious way. Says Zehavi of Shimotakahara’s choreography: “There are issues of the moment when something human becomes very monstrous, when people turn on each other, all that is in the work without forcing any one interpretation.”

[Foreground] GroundWorks DanceTheater's Michael Marquez, Lauren Garson, and Annika Sheaff. [Background] Composer Oded Zehavi, Violinist Mirabai Weismehl Rosenfeld.

[Foreground] GroundWorks DanceTheater’s Michael Marquez, Lauren Garson, and Annika Sheaff. [Background]
Composer Oded Zehavi, Violinist Mirabai Weismehl Rosenfeld.

Shimotakahara says his way into this delicate subject matter centers around children’s games (tag, hop scotch, cat’s cradle and the like) that become dark metaphors for life in WWII concentration camps.  “Games have rules everyone is to follow, there are winners and losers but often there outcomes can be arbitrary.” says Shimotakahara.

For Zehavi’s part, he says he stayed away from a lot of compositional conventions that would have worked with something that had a storyline. “Games don’t necessarily have a narrative,” he commented.

The work also references images of confinement and memory which led to the idea of shadow boxes and the work’s title.

Choreographer Kate Weare (center) in rehearsal with GroundWorks DanceTheater dancers on

Choreographer Kate Weare (center) in rehearsal with GroundWorks DanceTheater dancers on “Far and Near.”

New York-based choreographer Kate Weare’s second commission for GroundWorks, Far and Near involves less heavy subject matter.

Set to excerpts of Caroline Shaw’s Pulitzer Prize-winning composition “Partita in 8 Voices” and music by Bang on a Can music collective founder Michael Gordon, the world-premiere of Weare’s 18-minute, abstract work for Groundworks’ five dancers, draws inspiration from Czeslaw Milosz’s existentialist poem Meaning.

“The dancers themselves were also a huge source of inspiration for me in making this work,” says Weare. “I spent a lot time just watching each of them move one at a time for about 45 minutes the first day, directing them, responding to them verbally, telling them what I saw and asking for subtle changes.”

Audiences may remember Weare’s 2013 piece Inamorata for the company. The second time working with GroundWorks’ dancers Shimotakahara says he noticed a certain ease from the Guggenheim Fellowship Award-winner. “She took some more risks with the dancers and ended up with great results,” says Shimotakahara.

As a curious choreographer himself, Shimotakahara says: “I am always so amazed and fascinated with how choreographers start work. It’s great to be able to see how somebody just dives in and where they get traction and when that happens.”

Archival image from the original cast of September 12, 2008 at The Ice House, Akron, featuring Felise Bagley, Kelly Brunk, Damien Highfield, Amy Miller and Sarah Perrett.

Archival image from the original cast of Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s “Unpublished Dialogues” from September 12, 2008 at The Ice House, Akron, featuring Felise Bagley, Kelly Brunk, Damien Highfield, Amy Miller and Sarah Perrett.

Rounding out the program, GroundWorks will reprise Tony-nominated choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett’s Unpublished Dialogues (2008).

Set to music by American composer Howard Hanson, the single-act dance-theater work imagines the last day of author Virginia Woolf.  Says Taylor-Corbett: “I was fascinated by the fact that she took her life at the end and questioned what that last day was like.”

GroundWorks DanceTheater performs its 2015 Fall Concert Series, 8 p.m., Friday, October 16 & Saturday, October 17 at PlayhouseSquare’s Allen Theatre, 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, $3 off for Maltz Museum and Jewish Federation supporters (Use Promo Code VOH). For tickets: (216) 241-6000, (866) 546-1353, groundworksdance.org/allentheatre or playhousesquare.org.

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