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Quantum Physics, Environmentalism and the Me Too Movement: Cleveland Public Theatre’s Annual DanceWorks Series Continues it Daring Dance Ways


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madcap’s Tyler Ring and Annie Morgan. Photo by Dominic Iudiciani.

By Steve Sucato

Cleveland Public Theatre (CPT)’s annual DanceWorks series returns for its 21st season, May 16 – June 15 with five weekends of thought-provoking dance performances by eight area dance companies at CPT’s historic Gordon Square Theatre.

DanceWorks 2019 will feature a diverse lineup of dance works and styles from first-time participants and series veterans including Travesty Dance Group co-founder/artistic director Kim Karpanty in her first solo show for the series, MONSOON.

The new 35-minute multidisciplinary and multimedia improvisational solo, says Karpanty, was inspired by recent experiences she has had as the victim of bullying, gender bias and ageism. Created in Barcelona in collaboration with Argentinian media artist Tristán Pérez-Martín and Swedish performance artist Benedikte Esperi, the work parallels the catastrophic strength and power of a monsoon to internal storms in our own lives.

Danced to soundscape of consisting silence, spoken word, sound effects and contemporary classical and classic pop music, Karpanty sees the work as a metaphor for the cycle of human storm, recovery and renewal.

“While the monsoon brings devastation, in some countries it also brings all of the rain to grow all of the food the rest of the year,” says Karpanty.

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Kim Karpanty in “MONSOON”. Photo courtesy of Kim Karpanty.

She says she arranged her solo along the arc of a monsoon beginning with calm and progressing through rising heat into microbursts of storm and destruction and ending with recovery and renewal.

Karpanty describes herself as a mid-career dance artist redefining who can dance and for how long. A professor of dance at Kent State University, Karpanty says she has in recent year been transitioning her performing career toward that of a solo artist. MONSOON represents a new direction in that transition.

In the past several years Karpanty has attended dance workshops in Spain, France and Sweden where she has embraced a different way of working that she describes as “a horizontal experimental and improvisational process that yields control of the finished product.” For her, adopting this new movement identity in MONSOON, she says, has been a challenge and a source of trepidation.

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(Archive Photo) Kim Karpanty. Photo by Larry Coleman.

“It’s a risk to go up [with the show] in this format, especially performing for Cleveland audiences that have watched me and my company perform the past 22-years,” says Karpanty. “It’s a live theater piece that will change for each audience who sees it.”

Karpanty performs MONSOON in Week 4 on a double-bill with Movements in Motion.

Here is a brief rundown of DanceWorks 2019’s other offerings:

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Verb Ballets. Photo by Bill Naiman.

WEEK #1: VERB BALLETS
May 16 – 18, 2019

DanceWorks series regulars Verb Ballets return with Fresh Inventions, a program featuring new choreographic works by Verb’s dancers and company associate director Richard Dickinson. Included are new company dancer Daniel Cho’s first work for the company, “three lullabies for you and I”.  A contemporary dance work for a cast of eight, Cho says, “This piece was founded on the notion of relationships. I’ve recently been interested in how relationships with oneself, with another person and with a group can be represented through highly physicalized movement.”

Kate Webb’s new 11-minute contemporary ballet for six dancers, “UnHEaRd” takes its inspiration from the Me Too movement and the work that still needs to be done in achieving equality for all. Webb’s piece focuses specifically on women’s equality. She says: “The sad reality is that a woman’s voice is still second to a man’s. Our culture does not consider a female to be as viable as her male counterpart—if she is subservient, she is not heard, yet the minute she speaks up she is either ridiculed for her perspective and not taken seriously or considered to be overly aggressive and unsavory.” With “UnHEaRd”, Webb seeks to shine a spotlight on those lingering concerns.

“The Leaving Song” is the latest work by Michael Escovedo for Verb. The new piece for eight dancers is set to music by American singer-songwriter Chris Garneau and “is about how the psyche can break when faced with tragedy and the decisions made afterwards,” says Escovedo.

Rounding out Fresh Inventions are Dickinson’s new ballet, “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini” and Antonio Morillo’s “Mortal Empathy Variations,” a new 4-minute duet danced to George Gershwin’s “Preludes for Piano, No. 2 Andante con moto e poco rubato” that Morillo says explores “a young couple meeting in trying times.”

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Inlet Dance Theatre. Photo by Suzanne Sherbundy.

WEEK #2: INLET DANCE THEATRE
May 23-25, 2019

Inlet’s program From the heART is a series of non-narrative explorations, prototypes, and repertory inspired by works of art from other mediums. Included in the program are reprises of Inlet works “B’roke” (2004), “And Still I Rise” (2018), “Semiotic Variations” (2000), “Ascension” (2006), “Offaxis” (2008) and “impaired” (2004).  The program will also feature premiere works “Becoming” and “Sketches Before a Storm: Ariel and Caliban, pre-colonization (a prototype)” choreographed by company artistic director Bill Wade in collaboration with Inlet’s dancers.

Set to music from the soundtrack of the 2016 film Arrival by Jóhann Jóhannsson, the sculptural work for a male trio costumed in slightly metallic red stretch fabric, takes its inspiration from the art and artistic philosophies of American sculptor Frederick Hart. Says Wade: “This piece is a way to investigate the idea that every human being is God’s artwork and the thought that perhaps creation (Genesis) is still ongoing.”

The 5-minute “Sketches Before a Storm: Ariel and Caliban, pre-colonization (a prototype)” is a male/female duet danced to excerpts from Cleveland composer Ty Emerson’s “Caliban Ascendant”. Says Wade it ponders an alternative version of the characters in Shakespeare’s play The Tempest.

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(Top) MorrisonDance. Photo by Bob Perkoski. (Bottom) madcap. Photo by Dominic Iudiciani.

WEEK #3: MORRISONDANCE & MADCAP [DOUBLE BILL]
May 30- June 1, 2019

MorrisonDance returns to DanceWorks with the premiere of its latest science-inspired dance work aptly titled Dance meets Science: Quantum Entanglement. The 45-minute in work six sections on topics including superfluidity, quantum tunneling and Erwin Schrödinger’s famous thought experiment (Schrödinger’s cat) is choreographed and directed by Sarah Morrison with creative contributions from the company. Danced to music by London-based experimental band The Mostar Diving Club, Ludovico Einaudi and others, the work for six dancers reflects on “the profound nature of the quantum theory and universal connectivity,” says Morrison.

New to the DanceWorks series are GroundWorks DanceTheater dancers Tyler Ring and Annie Morgan a.k.a. madcap in their new 20-minute work Transcription Beta. Choreographed and performed by the duo along with fellow GroundWork’s dancer Robert Rubama, Transcription Beta delves into our ubiquitous use of voicemails that Ring says “act as a semi-permanent moment in time when two people missed one another.” The contemporary dance work also “hopes to humanize distant relationships that might only exist superficially, and at the same time, offer a lighthearted look into relationships both big and small.”

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(Top) Kim Karpanty of Travesty Dance Group. Photo courtesy of Kim Karpanty. (Bottom) Movements in Motion. Photo by William G. Barnard.

WEEK #4: TRAVESTY DANCE GROUP & MOVEMENTS IN MOTION [DOUBLE BILL]
June 6-8, 2019

Joining the aforementioned Travesty Dance Group’s Kim Karpanty’s solo work MONSOON, Movements in Motion will make their DanceWorks debut in RASA, a 45-minute production blending Indian classical (Manipuri and Kathak) dance techniques, Indian martial arts and contemporary dance. First performed in 2008 in Krakow, Poland, the work for three dancers, an actor and a singer, “conceptualizes how to control and balance emotions in order to create a harmony of peace and love.”

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(Top) Shri Kalaa Mandir. Photo by Srini Ranganathan. (Bottom) Terre Dance Collective’s Robert Rubama. Photo courtesy of Robert Rubama.

WEEK #5: SHRI KALAA MANDIR & TERRE DANCE COLLECTIVE [DOUBLE BILL]
June 13-15, 2019

Founded in 1993 by Sujatha Srinivasan, Shri Kalaa Mandir (Center for Indian Performing Arts) make their DanceWorks debut in Srinivasan’s Vivarta – Transformations. The new hour-long piece for ten dancers is performed in the Bharathanatyam classical Indian dance form to a selection of Carnatic music (South Indian classical music) composed primarily by the Lalgudi G.J.R. Krishnan and Lalgudi Vijayalakshmi. Says Srinivasan: “It is an artistic expression of the state of our environment today…telling a story of beneficence, abuse, redemption and triumph.”

Also making their DanceWorks debut is Terre Dance Collective in Blood Orange. The newish 25-minute piece choreographed by Robert Rubama in collaboration with the dancers is danced to a mix of ambient electronic and classical music. It will be performed by dancers Chelsi Knight, Emily Liptow, Shannon Metelko and Oberlin College grad Akane Little. Says Rubama: “The piece, in a nutshell, is a nonlinear exploration of dependency, vulnerability, connection and the breaking down of barriers we place in our own way.”

Cleveland Public Theatre’s DanceWorks 2019 runs 7:30 p.m., every Thursday, Friday and Saturday, May 16 – June 15 at CPT’s Gordon Square Theatre, 6415 Detroit Avenue, Cleveland. Tickets are $15-25. Students/Seniors receive $5 off on Friday and Saturday nights. All Thursdays are $15.  For feeless tickets and more information visit cptonline.org or call the CPT Box Office at (216) 631-2727 ext. 501. Group discounts are available.

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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