Tag Archives: Sarah Morrison

MorrisonDance Celebrates 20th Anniversary Season with Retrospective Showcase as part of Cleveland Public Theatre’s DanceWorks 2018


MorrisonDance Spider photo by Bob Perkoski

MorrisonDance Spider. Photo by Bob Perkoski.

By Steve Sucato

If it wasn’t for some perseverance and a bit of luck in the form of Cleveland Public Theatre (CPT) founder James Levin deciding to a chance on an unknown Case Western University dance department graduate and giving her the opportunity to mount her first show, the 1997’s groundbreaking LEAPING INTO THE NET!, dancer/choreographer Sarah Morrison might not have stayed in Cleveland.

Brought here in 1992 by a CWRU Creative Achievement Award Scholarship for her choreography, Morrison, an Atlanta-native, might have returned to Georgia without ever forming MorrisonDance, a mainstay on the Northeast, Ohio dance scene.

Now celebrating its 20th Anniversary season, MorrisonDance returns to CPT this weekend, May 24-26, for a retrospective showcase of Morrison’s staged dance works as part of Cleveland Public Theatre’s DanceWorks 2018.

In addition to performing extensively in the greater Cleveland area including site-specific and aerial works at museums, parks and other venues like Schoepfle Gardens and Edgewater Park, Morrison and her company have had tours to Pennsylvania, California, Georgia, Italy, England, Mexico and New York’s City Center, the Joyce SoHo and Joe’s Pub at Public Theatre.

A 2018 recipient of the OhioDance award for “Furthering the Artform of Dance” and a 2009 Ohio Arts Council Individual Excellence Award, Morrison has created over 75 works for her company in the past two decades as its principal choreographer. Sixteen of those works will be highlighted on this weekend’s 20th anniversary program along with “Simean Suit Sequence” (2016), choreographed by longtime MorrisonDance company dancer Taliesin Haugh.

MorrisonDance 1997-2017 Director Sarah Morrison

From 1997’s LEAPING INTO THE NET!, the first modern dance performance broadcast live online.

MorrisonDance Dali's Drawers photo by Bob Perksoski

MorrisonDance in “Dali’s Drawers”. Photo by Bob Perksoski.

MorrisonDance stars photo by Bob Perkoski

Photo by Bob Perkoski.

Morrison is best known for her highly visual works described as “zany” and “endearing” by former Plain Dealer dance critic Donald Rosenberg, that often involve a light-hearted, playful and humorous approach such as 2001’s “A Tribute to Sissy Hankshaw,” which features a solo dancer wearing oversized thumbs, and the lamp-shade-wearing improvisational solo “My Grandmother’s Lamp” (2003 / 2008).  Through those works and many others, Morrison and company have carved out a unique niche in the region as a dance company that embraces quirkiness while regularly delivering an abundance of audience smiles.

“The process I have [in creating work] is to jump on an inspiration and let it become what it needs to be,” says Morrison. “Often what my work becomes is never my first entry point.”

Morrison says not all of her works fall into that lighthearted spectrum. “Over the years I have done some dark and creepy pieces,” she says — “Dark in the sense of imaginative dark. There is a depth to my work that often explores a gestalt dual side of things.”

The 20th anniversary production will showcase that full theatrical spectrum work in a series of short 3-10 minute works and excerpts from larger works that spans the company’s history. Eight performers including Morrison and Cleveland-based performer/composer Braden Pontoli make up the cast for the 2-hour program that includes 2015’s neurotic “Phobophobia,” set to original music by composer Jeremy Allen and voiceover by Clyde Simon and featuring the dancers in inflatable bouncy ball costumes; Morrison’s zebra-striped pant solo “Zugzwang Zebra” (2015) which cleverly uses a white plastic chair with a hole in its back; the seductive and sinister Irish fairytale “Leanan Sidhe,” (an excerpt from the 2006’s Mad Mask Maker of Maigh Eo); the gravity-inspired “9.8 m/s^2”(2007 / 2009), set to music by James Brown; 2010’s “Conflict Resolution,” a duet where the dancers are connected together at their arms and “Out On the Town” (1996), one of Morrison’s oldest works to music by Tom Waits that celebrates Cleveland’s working-class persona in which the female cast is costumed a la the iconic World War II-era “Rosie the Riveter” posters.

MorrisonDance dreams photo by Bob Perksoki

Photo by Bob Perksoki

MorrisonDance monkeys photo by Bob Perkoski

Photo by Bob Perkoski.

Morrison says beyond trying to find computer keyboards from the 1990s to use as props, the toughest part about putting together this weekend’s 20th anniversary program was selecting the works that would be included on it. More a retrospective than a greatest hits production, for those unfamiliar with the company and Morrison’s work, it’s a relative crash course in it.  And for those already familiar with both, it’s a chance to revisit and reminisce on one of the region’s most long-lasting and unique dance troupes.

MorrisonDance performs as part of Cleveland Public Theatre’s DanceWorks 2018, 7:30 p.m., Thursday, May 24 – Saturday, May 26 at CPT’s Gordon Square Theatre, 6415 Detroit Ave., Cleveland. Tickets are $12/Thursdays and $30/Fridays & Saturdays. For more information and tickets call (216) 631-2727 x 501 or visit cptonline.org

Cleveland Public Theatre’s DanceWorks 2018 continues with:

WEEK #3: INLET DANCE THEATRE – May 31 – June 2

WEEK #4: OBERLIN DANCE PROJECT & MARQUEZ DANCE PROJECT (DOUBLE BILL) – June 7 – June 9
WEEK #5: DOUBLE-EDGE DANCE – June 14 – June 16

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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MorrisonDance and Elu Dance Company Double Bill Food for the Soul


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Elu Dance Company’s (L-R) Mikaela Clark and Mackenzie Valley in “barefaced.” Photo by Lauren Stonestreet.

MorrisonDance – HUManIMALS
Elu Dance Company – barefaced
Gordon Square Theatre at Cleveland Public Theatre

Cleveland, Ohio
March 17-19, 2016

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Kicking off Cleveland Public Theatre annual DanceWorks series, the split bill of Cleveland-based modern dance troupes MorrisonDance and Elu Dance Company (formerly Without Words Movement), provided an evening of opposites; one, the dance equivalent of snack food. The other, a dish filled with complex flavors ─ both satisfying in their own rights.

The program, on March 17 at CPT’s Gordon Square Theatre, began with MorrisonDance’s HUManIMALS, choreographed by company founder Sarah Morrison and Taliesin Reid Haugh.

The multimedia work tapped into the similarities and differences humans share with our animal kingdom brethren and began with “Murmuration Improvisation,” a structured improvisation performed by the company’s dancers.

Dancing in front of a video projection of random people’s feet as they walked down a street (compiled from footage from RiMind and keepturningleft.co.uk), MorrisonDance’s performers mimicked those in the video. This was a recurring theme throughout the piece with a video being shown and then the performers emulating the action in it in some way afterwards. Moving to music by Marconi Union, the dancers walked about as Inlet Dance Theatre’s Joshua Brown seated in the audience, called out word suggestions from the audience such as “strength” and “passion” that then directed the performer’s actions. The improvisation was an exercise in the obvious and proved uninteresting.

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MorrisonDance in Sarah Morrison’s “Peacock Spider.” Photo © Bob Perkoski, http://www.Perkoski.com

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MorrisonDance in Taliesin Reid Haugh’s “Simian Suit Sequence.” Photo © Bob Perkoski, http://www.Perkoski.com

Next, video from a 2010 episode of PBS’s Nature showed a pat of Chilean flamencos moving about as a prelude to Morrison’s “Why?,” in which six dancers basically recreated what the flamencos in the videos did. Wearing flamenco heads created by Scott Radke and dancing to music by Irish cellist Vyvienne Long, the dancers’ amusing impressions of flamencos proved pleasing.  A similar vignette about the movements of the peacock spider followed.

Keeping with the uncomplicated theme of HUManIMALS, Haugh’s “Simian Suit Sequence” began with the showing of a popular YouTube video from Frans de Waal’s “Moral Behavior in Animals” TED talk in which Capuchin monkeys were given unequal rewards for doing the same task. Like humans the monkeys reacted poorly to the inequality. In Haugh’s dance work that followed, Morrison portrayed a lab worker monitoring the activity of three other dancers that acted like monkeys in feel-good, hip hop-infused choreography.

On the whole HUManIMALS was lighthearted fare suitable for audiences of all ages.

MorrisonDance’s half of the evening concluded with the group work “A Sense of belonging,” choreographed by Morrison, and its most challenging and complex work, the solo “Saudade,” created and performed by MaryPat Dorr.  Meaning a feeling of longing, melancholy, or nostalgia, “Saudade,” was danced to music by art pop collective The Irrepressibles and was an emotional cloudburst compared to HUManIMALS beaming sunshine. Dorr’s performance of the solo rendered a special beauty that was spellbinding.

Where MorrisonDance’s HUManIMALS had the simple joys of a cartoon, Elu Dance Company’s barefaced had all the earmarks of a Greek tragedy.

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Elu Dance Company’s (L-R) Mikaela Clark and Mackenzie Valley in “barefaced.” Photo by Lauren Stonestreet.

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Elu Dance Company’s Mikaela Clark in “barefaced.” Photo by Lauren Stonestreet.

Directed, choreographed and performed by company founders Mikaela Clark and Mackenzie Valley, barefaced was heavily inspired by C.S. Lewis’ 1956 novel “Till We Have Faces: A Myth Retold” and was a cut above the prior works I have seen from the pair as well as being a highlight of Cleveland’s 2015-2016 dance season.

Following the novel’s storyline, Clark and Valley played out in dance the heartbreaking tale of Psyche and her older sister Orual and their emotional bond. Set to music composed, performed and recorded by artists from Ohio-based non-profit Ancient Path, the dance-theater piece also used recorded narration of excerpts from C.S. Lewis’ novel to smartly help drive its storytelling.

In the work, Clark portrayed Psyche, the cast out wife of Cupid looking for redemption, and Valley, danced the role of her older sister Orual, a mortal woman jealous of the life of a goddess Psyche had and resentful of Cupid for luring Psyche away from her and leaving her eternally alone and lonely.

Danced on and around a multi-tiered set piece by Mark Sugiuchi that the performers used as a symbolic ladder to the realm of the gods, the work had the feel of a Martha Graham mythology-themed ballet but with very different movement language. The athletic pair of Clark and Valley danced with strength and grace in well-crafted choreography filled with rounded arm and shoulder movements and characterized by emotionally riveting acting that brilliantly revealed the joys and plight of their characters.

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Elu Dance Company’s Mackenzie Valley in “barefaced.” Photo by Lauren Stonestreet.

Thoughtful, poignant and smartly conceived, barefaced enhanced in dance Lewis’ captivating story.  Clark and Valley were marvelous in eliciting empathy, sympathy and caring for their characters from the audience. And with its captivating story and powerful dancing, barefaced left a lasting impression that lingered long after Clark and Valley took their final bows.

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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DanceWorks 2015: Week One – Elastic Bands, Phobias and Zebra Pants


MorrisonDance performs

MorrisonDance performs “Existential Funk.” Photo by Bob Perkoski.

DanceWorks 2015: Week One
The Movement Project and MorrisonDance
Cleveland Public Theatre – Gordon Square
Cleveland, OH
April 4, 2015

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

The 15th season of Cleveland Public Theatre’s annual DanceWorks series kicked off with a double bill featuring Cleveland modern dance companies, The Movement Project and MorrisonDance.  Their performance Saturday, April 4 at CPT’s Gordon Square Theatre, began with The Movement Project’s new work All together now.

Choreographed by TMP founders Megan Lee Gargano and Rebecca J. Leuszler, and danced to a soundscape by Gargano utilizing such noises as a teakettle whistling and a clock ticking, the work, according to the program notes, was to “investigate an oversized world of “Cat’s Cradle,” the children’s yarn game. The result however turned out to be more like a not particularly engaging or entertaining exercise in the many ways to use elastic bands in a dance work.

Founded in 2009, The Movement Project is still relatively young company and the sister choreography team of Gargano and Leuszler appear to still perhaps be leaning a bit too heavily  on movement exercises they learned in college as a means of generating work.  All together now’s running theme of dancers tethered together by elastic bands was not so much plagued by its unoriginal premise, but rather turning what should have been a 5-minute prop piece into an hour-long succession of rudimentary and repetitive movement phrases that pulverized any hint of novelty out of the work’s one note theme.

The Movement Project in

The Movement Project in “All together now…” Photo by Jonny Riese.

As dancers, TMP showed some talent, especially dancer Erin Craig who was an absolute joy to watch.  With a more focused attention to creating works with depth and craft, TMP has the potential for far better dance productions.

In its 18th season, MorrisonDance is one of Cleveland’s old guard. Led by dancer/choreographer Sarah Morrison, the company has been on the cutting edge of integrating dance and technology such as in 1997 being the first to broadcast a live modern dance concert on the Internet. The company is best known however for its repertory of lighthearted dance works five of which including several new works were contained in their program entitled Compulsion to Move: Zugzwang.

Sarah Morrison in “Zugzwang Zebra.

Sarah Morrison in “Zugzwang Zebra.” Photo by Rick Klein.

The program opened with Morrison’s clever “Zugzwang Zebra.” Costumed in zebra-striped pants and using a white plastic chair with a hole in its back, Morrison took a simple prop piece and turned it into performance gold. Like a modern day Danny Kaye, Morrison’s finely-honed stage presence, humor and musicality proved magical in the solo that had her peering through and fishing her articulating hands and fingers through the chair’s hole creating a series of charming dance moments.

After the acrobatic and mildly humorous duet “Voxel” performed by Taliesin Reid Haugh and Liubomyr Shyndak, Morrison’s “If I Sit Still Long Enough, I Can Hear the Snow Falling” launched four female dancers into free-flowing, hippie-like dance movement to music by Clint Mansel. The piece blended moments of whimsy and introspection, that like the other works on MorrisonDance’s program, didn’t take itself too seriously.

Sarah Morrison and Hope Schultz perform in

Sarah Morrison and Hope Schultz perform in “If I Sit Still Enough I can Hear the Snow Falling.” Photo by Bob Perkoski.

The most appealing dance and best danced performance of the evening was turned in by dancers Jenni Hankey and Haugh in Morrison’s quirky “PhoboPhobia.” Set to commissioned score by Cleveland-based composer Jeremy Allen, the director of FiveOne Experimental Orchestra, the work had Hankey and Haugh donning kid’s inflatable bouncy ball outfits giving them the look of giant blue raspberries with legs. To Allen’s music laced with Clyde Symon reciting a list of phobias and positive affirmations sounding a bit like German existentialist character Hans Beinholtz on TV’s The Colbert Report, the dances moved through delightful balletic partnering lifts and body positions that had the dancer’s ball costumes swallowing them up, merging them together and for Hankey, acting like a tutu.

The program closed with Morrison’s breezy group dance piece “Existential Funk” performed to jazzy reggae music by Harlem Underground Band and Bobbi Humphrey.

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