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Of Sideshows, Photo Memories and Atoms: GroundWorks Dance Theater’s ‘Summer Series’ Promises a Carnival of Visual Delights


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GroundWorks’ artistic director David Shimotakahara (rear) rehearsing with dancers Spencer Dennis (left) and Annie Morgan. Photo courtesy of GroundWorks Dance Theater.

By Steve Sucato

Childhood memories of Looney Tunes cartoons and circus sideshows provided the creative spark for GroundWorks DanceTheater artistic director/choreographer David Shimotakahara’s latest dance work, “Sud Buster’s Dream”. The animated work will make its premiere as part of GroundWorks’ season opening Summer Series program this weekend, July 19-21 at Cain Park’s Alma Theater in Cleveland Heights.

The 30-minute contemporary dance work is set to an early American jazz score, a type of music Shimotakahara says he has always been drawn to since hearing it as the backdrop to the cartoons he watched as a child.

“I was always thinking it would be fun to do a work with cartoon movement zaniness; like where the dog gets stretched into a hot dog, a giraffe’s neck gets twirled up like a pretzel stick or where feet dance without a body,” says Shimotakahara.

Using those images and that style of music as a starting point, Shimotakahara says he was also inspired by images from iconic sideshow acts such as sword swallowers, The Seal Boy, The Bearded Lady and The Siamese Twins as further influences for movement invention in the work.  

“Those popular acts represented what people felt was odd and unusual,” says Shimotakahara. “Then, and now, we see oddities in ‘the other’ and fear being cast as such.” 

In a recent rehearsal of the work I sat in on, second –year company dancer Annie Morgan moved through a solo that twisted her fingers, arms and legs up in knots, almost immobilizing her.  Shimotakahara says with that imagery he was thinking back to escape artists like Harry Houdini wriggling and twisting to free themselves from ropes, chains or a straitjacket in their acts. Morgan had a less challenging task to untwist herself.

The work features a large stage curtain set piece from which its five dancers emerge from to perform various dances. The set piece lends a “show within a show” motif to the bizarrely entertaining work. Titled after one of the period songs used in it by Tiny Parham and his Musicians, Shimotakahara also draws parallels to The Roaring Twenties period of the last century and to the changes in culture, the opportunities available to the populous and the great disparity of wealth, to what is going on in the country today. “There were definitely winners and losers,” says Shimotakahara.

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GroundWorks’ Annie Morgan. Photo courtesy of GroundWorks Dance Theater.

Also premiering on the 17th annual Summer Series program at Cain Park will be award-winning Chicago choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams’ latest commissioned work for the company, “We Three”.  The 17-minute piece is performed to a suite of songs by Canadian music group Timber Timbre including their 2011 hit “Lonesome Hunter”.  Says Mineko Williams by phone from Michigan, “I like creating worlds that feel timeless. Each section [of the work] makes sense in the order it is presented, but maybe that’s not the real story’s order.”

Continuing a recurring pattern present in her recent works of assembling a series of non-linear memories that are played out in vignettes by the dancers, Mineko Williams compares “We Three’s” viewing experience to leafing through a photo album where each of the photos you look at comes to life for a few seconds. The viewer then decides what story or relationship to attach to those in the photos.  “I don’t know what the relationship is between the characters in work,” says the former dance with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago dancer. “But in my imagination they all existed in these photos together. There is a lot of reflection going on with the characters in the work. It could be reflections on relationships with the other characters in the work or a reflection of themselves. ”

From the relationship of human beings to the relationship of the relative combining capacity of an atom, a reprise of GroundWorks artistic associate Amy Miller’s “Valence” (2009) rounds out the works on the program.

Created to an original sound score by composer Peter Swendsen, Dean of the Conservatory at Oberlin College and Conservatory, the 20-minute “Valence” began as an exploration of how dance could become music and music could become dance,” says Miller. “The overall visual concept work uses circular running patterns not unlike the electrons in every atom setting up collisions of these orbits that manifest in the form of dancer duets, trios and group sections.  Each dancer ends up having a different ‘valence’ or capacity to connect with every other dancer.  I think the piece also reminds us of the power of connection to create great things in an often chaotic world.”

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GroundWorks’ artistic director David Shimotakahara (rear) rehearsing with new dancers Spencer Dennis (left) and Michael Arellano. Photo courtesy of GroundWorks Dance Theater.

New to GroundWorks this season are dancers Michael Arellano, a recent graduate of Western Michigan University, and Phoenix, Arizona-native Spencer Dennis. The pair replace departing dancers Robert Rubama and Tyler Ring. Arellano and Dennis together with returning dancers Morgan, Alexis Britford and Nicole Hennington make up perhaps GroundWorks’ youngest company to date.

After this weekend’s performances at Cain Park, the Summer Series program will be repeated in free performances at Akron’s Goodyear Metro Park on August 2 & 3 as part of The Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival.

GroundWorks Dance Theater presents its Summer Series, 7 p.m., Friday, July 19 & Saturday, July 20 and 2 p.m., Sunday, July 21. Alma Theater, Cain Park, 14591 Superior Road, Cleveland Heights, Ohio.  Tickets are $25/advance, $28/day of show. For tickets and information visit: https://www.cainpark.com/281/GroundWorks-Dancetheater or call (216) 371-3000.

GroundWorks Dance Theater presents its Summer Series in Akron, 8:45 p.m., Friday, August 2 & Saturday, August 3 at Goodyear Metro Park, 2077 Newton St, Akron, Ohio. FREE admission. For more information visit http://akrondancefestival.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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Hubbard Street Masterful in National Dance Day Performance at ADF in CLE


 

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(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “The 40s” by Lou Conte. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago’s hotly anticipated performance at the second annual ADF in CLE summer dance festival in Cleveland was a family affair of sorts. All five of the works on the program, Saturday, July 28, at Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace Theatre, were by choreographers from within the Hubbard Street family including three by former company dancer and current resident choreographer, Alejandro Cerrudo.

The program, presented by DANCECleveland in collaboration with the American Dance Festival, led off with Cerrudo’s latest work and perhaps his best to date, “Out of Your Mind” (2018). Created for the company’s 40th anniversary season, the “sock” work was inspired by and titled after, a lecture by 20th century British philosopher Alan Watts. A recording of Watts reading excerpts from his thought-provoking lecture about the nature of the self, was incorporated into the work’s soundtrack that also included music by Canadian DJ duo Blond:ish, American composer Keith Kenniff (a.k.a Goldmund), and English composer Greg Haines. It is the first time Cerrudo has used text in one of his creations.

While the work’s title can imply a loss of one’s sanity, Cerrudo says he sees the title as meaning “thinking outside of your mind.” It was apparent from watching it that his thought process was without restraint and truly inspired.

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(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dancers Michael Gross and Connie Shiau in “Out of Your Mind” by Alejandro Cerrudo. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

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(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “Out of Your Mind” by Alejandro Cerrudo. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Abstract and darkly atmospheric, the contemporary dance work for fifteen dancers began with group unison dancing in a series of ever-changing body positions with shifting hand and arm movements; some having the dancers’ arms swarm about their heads. Watching the precision dancing was spellbinding and Hubbard Street’s adroit dancers were exquisite in it.

As the piece progressed, group dancing gave way to various smaller dancer configurations. A duet between dancers Rena Butler and David Schultz fascinated as did a male trio in which two dancers held up and rotated in place a third in a headstand; the upside down dancer frozen in a pose looking as if he were trying to flee. The work’s many dazzling movement phrases came at you as if looking into a kaleidoscope.

The work’s final section then returned the full cast onstage, this time with the dancers entwined arm-in-arm in a line executing cascading and wave-like movements along that line that sometimes resembled a centipede in motion.

Sure to take its place as a signature work of Cerrudo’s, “Out of Your Mind” was far and away the best piece on a program filled with worthy runners-up.

Next, the curtain opened on a brief but visually startling ballooning of a large piece of parachute-like fabric that was quickly yanked into a stage wing revealing a dancer pair with a female dancer lifted over her male partner’s head and positioned in front of another large swath of similar fabric hung as a backdrop. The opening theatrics were part of former Hubbard Street dancer Robyn Mineko Williams’ 2017 dance work for the company, “Cloudline”.

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(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “Cloudline” by Robyn Mineko Williams. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Cloudline Run

(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dancers Jessica Tong and Jason Hortin in “Cloudline” by Robyn Mineko Williams. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Set to a varied soundscape by Sufjan Stevens, Olafur Arnalds and others, the work, after its dramatic opening, slipped into a dreamlike haze conjuring up the hypnotic and surreal mood of the David Lynch TV series Twin Peaks.

Delivered in a series of delicious moving tableaux that drifted across the stage like a line of clouds, each tableau hinted at the joys and heartache associated with being in a romantic relationship or at the longing felt by one who is not. In one such tableau, a male dancer stood still staring into the wings at a back corner of the stage while dancers Alice Klock and Schultz engaged in sweeping and enveloping movement at its center, and a male/female couple sat pressed together at the front left of the stage watching them.

Over the course of “Cloudline” the fabric backdrop slowly sank to the floor like a setting sun and the dancers then used it to make it appear as if a few of them were dancing among the clouds. The piece then ended as dramatically as it began with a male/female couple in an embrace and tented by the billowing fabric, this time magically disappearing in the whoosh of fabric bring yanked off stage and replaced by a forlorn Jacqueline Burnett standing staring after them.

After a brief intermission, the other two Cerrudo’s works were shown beginning with his often performed, “Lickety-Split” (2006).  Danced to the folksy music of Venezuelan American singer-songwriter Devendra Banhart, “Lickety-Split” had a small town, back roads breeziness to it.  In it, you could see the early craft of a choreographic mind that would twelve years later be ready to birth a gem like “Out of Your Mind”.

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(Archive Photo) Hubbard Street Dancers Alicia Delgadillo and Elliot Hammans in Alejandro Cerrudo’s Lickety-Split. Photo by Cheryl Mann.

Sprinkled with carefree play and a touch of humor, the work’s bendy, elongated contemporary dance movement proved as delightfully quirky as the music it was danced to. In one section to Banhart’s tune “This Beard is for Siobhan” a dancer is seen banging their nose on another’s butt cheek while we hear Banhart sing “Because my teeth don’t bite I can take them out dancing and show them a real good time.”

A last minute replacement for choreographer Crystal Pite’s “Grace Engine” due to lighting requirements that couldn’t be met, Cerrudo’s “PACOPEPEPLUTO” (2011) was another piece of choreographic kitsch wrapped in some serious solo male dancing by Schultz and dancers Kevin J. Shannon and Michael Gross. Set to classic songs by Dean Martin including “Memories Are Made of This” and “That’s Amore,” the work, usually performed wearing nothing but a “dance belt” (jockstrap), had the performers here opting for a more full coverage bottoms. In those, keisters wiggled, hips gyrated and the men leaped and bounded about the stage to the approving shouts of audience members.

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Hubbard Street Dance Chicago in “The 40s” by Lou Conte. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

The 40's

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago (Florian Lochner, above) in “The 40s” by Lou Conte. Photo by Todd Rosenberg.

Hubbard’s program concluded with a signature work from its repertory Stone Age prior to the company becoming the global contemporary dance juggernaut audiences have come to know and love. Choreographed by company founder Lou Conte in 1978, “The 40s” was nonetheless a beauty of a jazz dance piece performed to big band music by Sy Oliver. Fast, light-footed and full of Broadway  “cool cat” spunk, the work unfolded like a grand Gene Kelly movie production number. It was a joyous end to a monster evening of dance capped by a rousing standing ovation from the audience.

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.

The ADF in CLE summer dance festival concludes with Caleb Teicher & Company (Tap), 8 p.m., Saturday, August 4 at Cain Park’s Evans Amphitheater. For information and tickets visit ADFinCLE.org

 

 

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Robyn Mineko Williams’ ‘Undercover Episodes’ returns to Chicago, June 15-18


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Robin Mineko Williams Rehearsal. © Todd Rosenberg Photography

By Robyn Mineko Williams

Choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams and her creative team, composer/musicians Robert F. Haynes and Tony Lazzara of Chicago band Verger and art director/designer JT Williams, are excited to announce the return of Undercover Episodes to Chicago this summer, June 15-18th, 2018.

Undercover Episodes, the innovative dance-based performance series spearheaded by in demand, award-winning choreographer, Robyn Mineko Williams, is back this summer with a four show Chicago run, including a family friendly matinee*.

Presented by Apologue Liqueurs and danced by Jacqueline Burnett, Elliot Hammans and Michael Gross, all current members of internationally renowned Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, the chameleon-like series offers the chance to see extraordinary dance set in a curated melange of distinctly Chicago locations.

Repeat attendance is encouraged – each show will meld to its surroundings and have a signature of its own.

*Undercover Episode 008: The Charleston marks the series’ first family friendly performance.

Williams, choreographer of two critically acclaimed, full length children’s dance works originally presented by the Kennedy Center, Harold and the Purple Crayon in 2010 and Mariko’s Magical Mix in 2015, is thrilled to adapt Episode 008: The Charleston to appeal not only to adults but children, as well. The 50-minute performance is interactive, colorful, fun and engaging for audiences of all ages.

“Rare is the opportunity to see these dancers and this choreographer’s work from an arm’s length away, and her ability to work in intimate spaces might be Robyn Mineko Williams’ best kept secret.” – Lauren Warnecke, Art Intercepts

“unforgettable… intimate and irreplicable” — Elena Zinchenko, Host Of Undercover Episode 005: Hyde Park

Undercover Episodes

The performance schedule is as follows:

Undercover Episode 007: Storefront on Damen/Firecat Projects

Friday, June 15th, 2018, 7:30pm

@ Firecat Projects, 2124 N. Damen Ave., Chicago, IL 60647

Undercover Episode 008: The Charleston

Saturday, June 16th, 2018, 1:00pm

@ Charleston Bar, 2076 N. Hoyne Ave., Chicago, IL 60647

*** FAMILY FRIENDLY MATINEE – Kids under 10 are free with guardian admission

Undercover Episode 009: Danny’s Tavern

Sunday, June 17th, 2018, 7:30pm

@ Danny’s Tavern, 1951 W Dickens Ave, Chicago, IL 60614

Undercover Episode 010: Mott Street Chicago

Monday, June 18th, 2018, 7:30pm

@ Mott Street, 1401 N. Ashland Ave., Chicago, IL 60622

Tickets are available online at <A HREF=’http://www.eventbrite.com/e/undercover-episodessummer-2018-tickets-46029259755&#8242; TARGET=_blank>www.eventbrite.com/e/undercover-episodessummer-2018-tickets-46029259755</A>

All performances are limited capacity.

Pricing is as follows:

• ONE SHOW Ticket – $35/one performance

• TWO SHOW Ticket – $60/two performances of your choice ($10 discount)

• THREE SHOW Ticket – $85/three performances of your choice ($15 discount)

• ALL IN Ticket – $110/four performances + Cocktail class with Robby Haynes ($20 discount + lesson)</b>

Undercover Episodes was developed in part during a residency at the Baryshnikov Arts Center, New York, NY and awarded through the Princess Grace Foundation-USA Works In Progress program.

ABOUT ROBYN MINEKO WILLIAMS

Robyn Mineko Williams danced for River North Dance Chicago and was a member of Hubbard Street Dance Chicago for twelve seasons, during which she performed choreography by numerous renowned artists including Ohad Naharin, Jiri Kylian, William Forsythe and Johan Inger, and originated roles in new works by Jorma Elo, Sharon Eyal, Twyla Tharp and Lar Lubovitch, among others. She began making her own work in 2001 through Hubbard Street’s Inside/Out Choreographic Workshop and, in 2010, co-choreographed with Terence Marling Hubbard Street 2’s Harold and the Purple Crayon: A Dance Adventure, designed for young audiences. She has since created multiple premieres for Hubbard Street’s main company including the Art of Falling, a full evening production by the artists of The Second City and Hubbard Street and has made work for Charlotte Ballet, Atlanta Ballet, Grand Rapids Ballet, Visceral Dance Chicago and The Nexus Project, presented at the Kennedy Center, the American Dance Festival, the Joyce Theater and other venues. Named one of Dance Magazine’s “25 to Watch” for 2014, Williams was one of Northwest Dance Project’s 2012 International Choreography Competition winners, received a 2013 Princess Grace Choreographic Fellowship and was selected as an E-choreographer for Springboard Danse Montreal the same year. In 2015 she completed a Princess Grace Foundation–USA Works In Progress Residency at the Baryshnikov Arts Center and received a Choreography Mentorship Co-Commission Award from the Princess Grace Foundation–USA in support of Mariko’s Magical Mix: A Dance Adventure, her second full-length children’s program in collaboration with shadow puppetry performance collective, Manual Cinema. In 2016, Williams was selected as one of NewCIty’s Players: 50 People Who Really Perform for Chicago and Best Choreographer in Chicago Magazine’s Best Of Issue. robynminekowilliams.com

ABOUT VERGER – ROBERT F. HAYNES AND TONY LAZZARA

Drawn to its vibrant and eclectic music scene, North Carolina native Robert F. Haynes packed up his gear and moved to Chicago in the early 2000’s. Since then the multi-instrumentalist’s work has run the gamut from the blissed out guitar antics of The Record Low and primal basement fuzz of underground synth punks Treasurer to the fractured electro compositions of Verger. Through Verger, Haynes and collaborator Tony Lazzara (Bloodiest, Atombombpocketknife) create rich narrative landscapes for Robyn Mineko Williams’ choreography, melding seemingly disparate elements – haunting melodies, ambient drone, pulsing rhythms and wire-y guitars – into something otherworldly. Visit verger.bandcamp.com to learn more.

ABOUT JT WILLIAMS

Minneapolis based designer, Jt Williams, has spent his career connecting business and human centered design to guide innovation and nurture creativity. Currently working as a product designer for SportsEngine, Jt spends his most productive time sucking the creative energy from his two daughters to fulfill his endless need to make things. Jt has a Bachelor of Arts in Graphic Design with a minor in Psychology from Iowa State University. Recent projects include collaboration with Robyn Mineko Williams for Undercover, collaboration with photojournalist Reed Young for Finding Vietnam’s War Children—Chon Thanh Refugees Then and Now (on exhibit this fall at the National Veterans Art Museum), and regular contributor to TheBolg.

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