Tag Archives: The Dancing Wheels Company

Dancing Wheels Brings Successful New York Program That Includes New David Dorfman Work Home to Cleveland

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Dancing Wheels dancers in James Morrow’s “Neither Lost Nor Found.” Photo by Scott Shaw.

By Steve Sucato

After a successful New York debut of their program Past, Present and Future of Integrated Dance at Ailey Citigroup Theater in October, Cleveland’s Dancing Wheels brings a modified version of it to The Breen Center for the Performing Arts at Saint Ignatius High School on Saturday, November 4.

Hailed as “…remarkable …a company of first-rate trained dancers with and without disabilities” by New York dance critic Bonnie Rosenstock (click here to read the full review), the mixed repertory program of company favorites spanning Dancing Wheels’ 37 seasons will also feature the Cleveland premieres of choreographer James Morrow’s “Neither Lost Nor Found” and “Imagine, if you will …,” by Bessie Award-Winning choreographer David Dorfman. Also on the program will be a performance by students of The School of Dancing Wheels.

The company, which welcomed 6 new dancers this season, “has never been better and more jelled,” says Dancing Wheels rehearsal director/resident choreographer Catherine Meredith. “They did a fabulous job in New York.”

Putting the company’s newfound chemistry to the test was the creation of Morrow’s “Neither Lost Nor Found.” The urban-centric choreographer says he came to Dancing Wheels with a basic idea for the work and a choreographic sketch but didn’t know how it would pan out. “There was great communication between myself and the dancers… What I found extremely important was the reciprocity. We learned and evolved together.”

That choreographic sketch along with inspiration from Martin Niemoller’s iconic poem “First they came …” about the rise of Nazism, formed the basis of the work and its commentary on the current social and political landscape of the United States.

Says Morrow of the 10-minute group work: “[Niemoller’s] quote revolves around silence and the act of not speaking out when you identify injustice. As a white person navigating through this world, I have been silent when I shouldn’t have. I’ve been asleep and blinded by my own privilege…Dancing Wheels, the work they put out, the mission of the company, the performers, the community engagement they participate in, are all acts to combat silence. There is a political ‘stand’ or ‘sit’ in the representations within their performances, acts of rebellion or subversion to the hetero-normative, white supremacist, patriarchal society that many of us sleep through day in and day out. I want ‘Neither Lost Nor Found’ to evoke that will, that drive…and hopefully wake a few people ‘sleeping’ in the audience.”

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Dancing Wheels dancers in David Dorfman’s “Imagine, If you will…” Photo by Scott Shaw.

Like Morrow, Dorfman’s new work was inspired by the current social and political climate in the U.S. but filtering it through the lens of those with disabilities. A mainstay on the New York dance scene, Dorfman says a few things ran through his mind in creation process for the 17-minute “Imagine, if you will …”

“When working with folks of differing physical or emotional abilities or capacities, I often marvel at how much we as, more than not, ‘able bodied’ dancers take for granted and how much we as Americans take for granted,” says Dorfman. The group work, set to music by Liz de Lise, Omar Souleyman and Denver alternative country band Wovenhand, is an attempt says Dorfman, to let the audience “‘imagine,’ and plainly see the dancers’ greatness, courage and kindness.”

One of several repertory works to be reprised on the program will be Los Angeles choreographer Sarah Swenson’s 2015 work “Clamor.” Set to an original score by Swenson’s husband Alessandro Girasoli, the contemporary dance work reflects on disability rights and the 1990 Capital Crawl which helped propel the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act. Dedicated to the memory of activist Kenneth Irving Zola, the work, says Meredith, brings home through its “Politico” character, the realization that anyone at any time can become disabled.

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Dancing Wheels dancers in Daniel Job’s “Above” (1991). Photo by Scott Shaw.

Also on the program will be reprises of Daniel Job’s “Above” (1991), the first work Dancing Wheels’ founding artistic director Mary Verdi-Fletcher performed out of her wheelchair, and an excerpt from Donald McKayle’s 2012 work “Far East of the Blues” set to a suite of Duke Ellington music.

Rounding out the program’s offerings will be a work by Gabriella Martinez created on the students of The School of Dancing Wheels, and a reprise of Meredith’s “Pallas Athena” that premiered this past June as part of Dancing Wheels’ The Best of Bowie program.

Performed to David Bowie’s song “Pallas Athena (Don’t Stop Praying mix No 2)” off his 1993 album “Black Tie White Noise,” Meredith says of the dance work, “I drew upon my experiences in New York City and London nightclubs where people who may or may not identify as male or female, he or she, could come, be accepted, and not be ashamed of who they truly were. For many, the DJ and the club acted as a god and church/sanctuary.”

Dancing Wheels presents Past, Present and Future of Integrated Dance, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, November 4; The Breen Center for the Performing Arts at Saint Ignatius High School, 2008 W 30th Street, Cleveland. $20 general, $15 students/seniors. (216) 432-0306 or dancingwheels.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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Dancing Wheels Production to Celebrate Music Icon David Bowie


Dancing Wheels’ Demarco Sleeper and Sara Lawrence-Sucato in Dezaré Foster’s “Labyrinth: A Tribute”. Photos by Dale Dong and Design by G. Michael Bargas.

By Steve Sucato

Last summer when a freakish windstorm knocked out power at Cleveland Heights’ Cain Park, it also took with it Dancing Wheels’ scheduled world-premiere of “Labyrinth: A Tribute,” a dance work based on the 1986 film Labyrinth starring the David Bowie. While the cancellation was certainly unfortunate, it did provide the 36-year-old Cleveland-based physically integrated dance company with the opportunity to now create an entire evening themed around Bowie and his music. The Best of Bowie at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica will not only feature several Bowie-scored dance works, but the production will be interspersed with facts, lesser known trivia and video footage about the late rock icon provided by local Bowie aficionado, CoolCleveland’s Thomas Mulready and be followed by a Bowie-themed post-performance party.

Acting as master of ceremonies for the evening, Mulready says he has had a lifelong interest in Bowie and his music that has weathered the many stylistic changes in Bowie’s music over the span of his career.

“Everything he would come up with was very different from the thing he did before so if you got hooked into the androgyny of Ziggy Stardust and then a few years later he’s doing ‘Young Americans’ and he is like a soul singer, people would turn off and he would get a whole new audience and lose the old one,” says Mulready. “I was there all along.”

Whether as musical alter egos the “Thin White Duke,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Aladdin Sane” or “Major Tom,” David Robert Jones, a.k.a. David Bowie, is one of the most recognizable and revered figures in popular music history. With a string of hits and record sales of some 140 million over his 50-year career, Bowie was one of the world’s best-selling music artists. The multi-talented singer-songwriter, actor, painter, art collector and 1996 Rock Hall-inductee’s death of liver cancer at age 69 in 2016 sent shockwaves worldwide.

In celebration of Bowie’s legacy, The Best of Bowie will open with the premiere of Dancing Wheels’ rehearsal director Catherine Meredith’s “Pallas Athena.” Danced to Bowie’s “Pallas Athena (Don’t Stop Praying mix No 2)” off 1993’s Black Tie White Noise album, the work and the song’s title come from the Greek goddess, Athena, who is depicted in Athenian statues under the form of Pallas Athena. For Bowie, the song grew out of his interest in how man relates to God.

Says Meredith of the piece, “The impetus for the movement came from my years spent in NYC/London nightclubs. For many, the DJ and the club acted as a god and church/sanctuary where people were free to be who they were without judgment.” In it, Meredith says Dancing Wheels’ dozen dancers will represent the individual’s struggle to have their voice heard above the crowd.

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Dancing Wheels in Michael Uthoff’s “Straight Down the Middle”. Photo credit: Ellie Montenegro.

Next, Pittsburgh-based choreographer Beth Corning’s new work “These Are The Days,” reunites Meredith and Dancing Wheels founder/artistic director Mary Verdi-Fletcher with former company dancers Hoang (Mac) Dang, Libby Dang and Shannon Sterne. Corning, whose ongoing Glue Factory Project for dancers over forty has earned her critical acclaim nationally, brings that same sensibility in working with veteran dancers to this work. She describes it as a visceral, metaphoric reflection of her confusion, disbelief and uncertainty at the current social and political climates in U.S. and abroad. Set to a remastered version of Bowie’s “Space Oddity” along with music by Philip Glass, the work will be performed with the cast in wheelchairs.

“My choice to put all the dancers into [wheel]chairs was a conscious one,” says Corning. The [wheel]chair was not a replacement for movement, but rather a vehicle. The armchair liberal, the strange act of passively sitting while physically having to propel yourself in space in circles — an equalizer of sorts — as we pass each other, trying to connect, constantly moving, almost afraid to stop, to connect, to take responsibility, to relate to the moment.”

Students from the Dancing Wheels School will then take the stage in “Lightning,” a new work choreographed by school coordinator Emma Parker along with Brittany Kaplan and Gabriella Martinez. Danced to Bowie’s 1983 hit “Let’s Dance” and the Bowie/Queen collaboration “Under Pressure,” the lighthearted work will be a toe-tapping lead-in to the program’s final work, “Labyrinth: A Tribute.”

Choreographed by former Dancing Wheels’ star Dezaré Foster, the Northeast Ohio premiere of “Labyrinth: A Tribute” is a dance re-envisioning of Jim Henson’s cult classic film. Set to Bowie’s soundtrack for the film, the family-friendly story ballet, like the film, combines drama, humor and a host of quirky characters to tell the tale of young Sarah’s perilous journey to save — in this version — her sister Toby from the malevolent Goblin King.

“I watched this movie as a young child and David Bowie’s music stayed close to my heart,” says Foster. “I hope the combination of music, movement and story will invite you into this fantastical world where goblins are under your bed and just beyond the meadow is a maze full of mystery and magic.”

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Dancing Wheels. Photo by Dale Dong.

Following the production, audience members are invited to stick around for a post-performance party featuring Cleveland glam band Vanity Crash They’ll take the stage to play Bowie and glam rock tunes. There’ll also be dancing, desserts and drinks (cash bar), a silent auction and a dancer meet-and- greet. For those wanting the full VIP experience, Dancing Wheels is also offering a pre-show cocktail party beginning at 6:30 p.m. with hors d’oeuvres, open bar, silent auction and Best of Bowie bling. Funds raised from this event go to supporting Dancing Wheels’ outreach and educational programming and touring.

Dancing Wheels presents The Best of Bowie, 8 p.m., Saturday, June 10; Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica, 2014 Sycamore Street, Cleveland. General admission $40, Groups of 10 or more $30/each, VIP tickets $125. (216) 432-0306 or dancingwheels.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.

This article was first published on CoolCleveland.com, June 3, 2017. Copyright Steve Sucato.

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2016 ‘Spring to Dance Festival’ Swan Song for Founder Uthoff

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Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (DCDC) performs Sunday, May 29, 2016 at Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall. Photo courtesy of Dance St. Louis.

By Steve Sucato

Dance St. Louis’ 9th annual Emerson Spring to Dance Festival, May 27-29 at the Touhill Performing Arts Center on the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis, will be a bittersweet one for Festival founder Michael Uthoff. After a decade as executive and artistic director of the 50-year-old Missouri presenting organization, Uthoff is stepping down to pursue other opportunities.

The product of a dancer household in Santiago, Chile, Uthoff’s parents, Ernst Uthoff and Lola Botka were dancers and founded the Chilean National Ballet. Uthoff took up dance late by today’s standards beginning after high school. Moving to the U.S., he studied at New York’s Juilliard School, the School of American Ballet and the Martha Graham School of Contemporary Dance. His professional career as a dancer included stints with the José Limón Company and as a principal dancer with Joffrey Ballet. In 1973, he founded Hartford Ballet and in 1992 he became artistic director of Ballet Arizona in Phoenix. As a choreographer, he has created ballets for numerous companies including Ballet Nacional Chileno, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Hartford Ballet and Ballet Arizona.


Michael Uthoff

In taking over the leadership of Dance St. Louis in 2006, among the many initiatives Uthoff started or built upon at Dance St. Louis was the Emerson Spring to Dance Festival.

“I felt there was a great deal of talent especially in the mid-west that wasn’t seen,” says Uthoff.  “I was in awe of the quality and variety of dance that nobody knew about.”

With Spring to Dance, Uthoff says he saw an opportunity to make dance more accessible to audiences by featuring an eclectic mix of those undiscovered artists and troupes.

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Aerial Dance Chicago performs Sunday, May 29, 2016 in Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall. Photo courtesy of Dance St. Louis.

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Grand Rapids Ballet performs Saturday, May 28, 2016 in Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall. Photo courtesy of Grand Rapids Ballet.

Uthoff says he receives around 100 applications per year from dance artists and companies wanting to be a part of the $200,000 plus Festival. And while the main focus has been on choosing local and regional dance artists and troupes, past Festivals have also included performances by members of more recognizable companies including Joffrey Ballet, Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Dance Theatre of Harlem and Pilobolus.

While other dance festivals of this type such as New York City Center’s Fall for Dance Festival rely more heavily on big name dance companies to attract audiences, Uthoff and Dance St. Louis did so by offering audiences a lot of dance of varying styles at an affordable price. In the process they created one of the most important national dance festivals for regional dance artists and troupes there is.

“You look at companies such as Ballet Memphis, Lucky Plush, Eisenhower Dance and others that got themselves moving forward very fast because of the Festival.” says Uthoff.

In addition, the festival has shined a spotlight on Dance St. Louis and dance in St. Louis with regular appearances at Spring to Dance by local dance troupes including Saint Louis Ballet, The Big Muddy Dance Company, Modern American Dance Company (MADCO) and others.

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Helen Simoneau Danse performs Saturday, May 28, 2016 in the Lee Theater. Photo courtesy of Dance St. Louis.

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The Big Muddy Dance Company performs Sunday, May 29, 2016 in the Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall. Photo courtesy of Dance St. Louis.

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The Dancing Wheels Company performs Saturday, May 28, 2016 in the Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall. Photo courtesy of The Dancing Wheels Company.

Not only are introduces audiences to new dance companies, Utoff says another by-product is introducing the dance companies to each other.

“These companies were watching each other for the first time,” says Uthoff. “In many cases they didn’t know the other existed. A cross-pollination began to occur where choreographers from one company were being hired by another because of what had been seen at Spring to Dance.”

Having been a dancer, choreographer and artistic director for decades, Uthoff says he loved being on the other side of the fence as a dance presenter with Dance St. Louis.

“I was given the freedom to implement certain artistic endeavors that fostered creativity in other people,” says Uthoff.  “Part of that was allowing lesser known companies to be seen in an environment that hopefully will bring them greater acclaim and success.”

Here’s a look at the Festival’s nightly performances (subject to change) at Touhill Performing Arts Center’s two theaters:

Friday, May 27, 2016

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Push Dance Company performs Friday, May 28, 2016 in the Lee Theater. Photo by Matt Haber.

Lee Theater – 6 -7 PM

PUSH Dance Company (San Francisco, CA)
Barkin/Selissen Project (New York, NY)
Laura Careless/Alchemy for Nomads (Brooklyn, NY)
Afriky Lolo (St. Louis, MO)

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Peridance Contemporary Dance Company performs Friday, May 28, 2016 in Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall. Photo by Cherylynn Tsushima.

Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall – 7:30 – 9:30 PM

Owen/Cox Dance Group (Kansas City, MO)
Houston METdance Company (Houston, TX)
Peridance Contemporary Dance Company (New York, NY)
Saint Louis Ballet (St. Louis, MO)
Jennifer Muller/The Works (New York, NY)
Giordano Dance Chicago (Chicago, IL)

Saturday, May 28, 2016

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Project 44 performs Saturday, May 28, 2016 in the Lee Theater. Photo courtesy of Dance St. Louis.

Lee Theater – 6 -7 PM

Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company (St. Louis, MO)
Project 44 (Astoria, NY)
Helen Simoneau Danse (Winston-Salem, NC)
BODYART (Los Angeles, CA)

Chicago Tap Theatre_Photo Credit Josh Hawkins

Chicago Tap Theatre performs Saturday, May 28, 2016 in Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall. Photo courtesy of Dance St. Louis.

Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall 7:30 – 9:30 PM

MADCO (St. Louis, MO)
Thodos Dance Chicago (Chicago, IL)
Joel Hall Dancers (Chicago, IL)
Chicago Tap Theatre (Chicago, IL)
The Dancing Wheels Company (Cleveland, OH)
Grand Rapids Ballet (Grand Rapids, MI)

Sunday, May 29, 2016


Cheyenne Phillips performs Sunday, May 29, 2016 in the Lee Theater. Photo by Gerry Love.

Lee Theater – 6 -7 PM

3 Soloists
Tayia Deria
Tyra Kopf
Cheyenne Phillips

Common Thread Contemporary Dance Company [LINDSAY HAWKINS]
The Big Muddy Dance Company [AUDREY SIMES]

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Ballet Memphis performs Sunday, May 29, 2016 in Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall. Photo courtesy of Dance St. Louis.

Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall 7:30 – 9:30 PM

The Big Muddy Dance Company (St. Louis, MO)
Eisenhower Dance (Southfield, MI)
Joffrey Ballet Duet (Chicago, IL)
Aerial Dance Chicago (Chicago, IL)
Dayton Contemporary Dance Company (Dayton, OH)
Ballet Memphis (Memphis, TN)


The Blanche M. Touhill Performing Arts Center on the campus of the University of Missouri-St. Louis
1 University Blvd
St. Louis, MO 63121
(866) 516-4949

Single Ticket Prices

Lee Theater – $10 per night
Anheuser-Busch Performance Hall – $15 per night
Tickets to see all of the performances in both theaters – $20 per night (while supplies last)
Tickets are available at the Dance St. Louis box office at 3310 Samuel Shepard Drive (in Grand Center), St. Louis, MO 63103, or by calling 314-534-6622 or by visiting dancestlouis.org

Dance St. Louis

Dance St. Louis is widely recognized as the leading dance presenter in St. Louis, the Midwest and by the professional dance community. Founded in 1966, Dance St. Louis has been bringing the greatest dance of the world to St. Louis audiences for 50 years. Dance St. Louis is dedicated to the enrichment of the cultural landscape and artistic reputation of St. Louis by presenting great dance companies and educational opportunities that make dance accessible to everyone. Dance St. Louis also conducts a broad range of education programs for the St. Louis community. Each year, the Education Outreach Program introduces thousands of schoolchildren to the magic of dance through in-school workshops and mainstage performances. For more information, please visit dancestlouis.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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