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Dancing Wheels Production to Celebrate Music Icon David Bowie


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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.

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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)

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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

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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]
MADCO [HANNA BRICSTON]

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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)

Location

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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Dancing Wheels Company’s “Lasting Legacy” Concert & Tour to Commemorate Two National Anniversaries


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By Michael Bargas

On October 10, 2015, The Dancing Wheels Company will present a world premiere concert commemorating the 35th anniversary of America’s first and foremost Physically Integrated Dance Company and the 25thanniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA); the iconic law that changed the face of equality for persons with disabilities throughout the Unites States.

The “Lasting Legacy” concert, which will be presented in the Allen Theatre at Playhouse Square (7:30 p.m.), will give homage to this historic law by reflecting on the five core themes of the ADA: employment, education, transportation, communication and public access.  Choreographers Heidi Latsky, Sarah Swenson, Mark Tomasic, Dianne McIntyre, David Rousseve and Catherine Meredith were chosen from a nationwide search to create works that portray the history, evolution, and the importance of each theme in their own creative and impactful approaches.  “Each choreographer utilized unique methodologies to bring to the forefront the essence of the law, drawing inspiration from the theme itself or a personal historic memory,” said Mary Verdi-Fletcher, President/Founding Artistic Director of the Dancing Wheels Company & School.

About the Choreographers:

Sarah Swenson, international artist and Artistic Director of VOX Dance, brought to life the “Capital Crawl” in “Clamor” which she dedicated to the memory of Kenneth Irving Zola (1935 to 1994), an early disability rights activist, proponent of Independent Living, prominent advocate for the ADA, and dear family friend.  Her inspiration for this work was Zola’s participation in the “Capitol Crawl.”  This act of civil disobedience helped propel the passage of the ADA.  Ms. Swenson created this work to an original score created by Alessandro Girasoli, a composer and multi-instrumentalist and expert on the folk music of southern Italy where he resides.

Mark Tomasic is a choreographer and educator residing in Los Angeles, California.  His choreographic works have been performed and acclaim throughout the country.  Mr. Tomasic has served as the Dancing Wheels Company’s Artistic Advisor for the past five years and has created three previous works on the Company that are among the favorites in their extensive repertory.  His theatrical, explosive movement vocabulary is on full display in “Going Up,” a work of Dance Theater set in an imaginary elevator.  With each new floor the elevator reaches, riders and audience members come face-to-face with stereotypes and obstacles people with disabilities encounter daily.  Personal stories reveal universal truths via live and recorded text fused with a divergent range of music from EDM artist Judson Mohawke to Puccini to Antônio Carlos Jobim.

Heidi Latsky, former Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company member, is now a New York City based choreographer who is best known for her award-winning production of “Gimp.”  Her work is dedicated to redefining beauty by emphasizing differences and honing the unique attributes of the dancers through juxtaposition and counterpoint.

For this concert, Ms. Latsky chose to restage an excerpt from “Interlude” one of her most personal and meaningful pieces which started as an expression of her journey of grief after her father passed away suddenly last summer.  The work evolved into an abstract piece investigating the juxtaposition of dynamic music with stillness, contained movement versus traveling fluid movement and soloists versus the group.  In this piece, her exploration of loss often equates to the initial losses felt by physical or emotional trauma onset of an accident or injury.  Ms. Latsky chose Judy Garland’s rendition of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” which was representative of her emotional state of grief and recovery.

Dianne McIntyre and David Rousseve, two incredibly gifted and nationally acclaimed choreographers and directors, agreed to collaborate by blending excerpts of their individual pieces created on the Dancing Wheels Company for two previous anniversaries.  Mr. Rousseve’s 25th anniversary premiere of “Walking on Clouds” reflected on the quest for equality by African American and disabled rights advocates.  The piece reenacts such scenes as the capturing of city busses to bring about full and equal access to public transportation.  Ms. McIntyre’s 30th anniversary dance-theater work “Dancing on a Dream” tells the real life story of President/Founding Artistic Director Mary Verdi-Fletcher.  “Many people do not know my life as an advocate and are not aware of the amount of hard work required from a disabled activist to make our communities accessible for everyone,” stated Ms. Verdi-Fletcher.  “Dancing on a Dream” reveals a time in her life where disabled advocates took to the streets with picket signs and demonstrated to make mainline transportation accessible.  She thought it appropriate and interesting to blend the two excerpts together with Ms. McIntyre’s influence in the melding process for the piece now entitled “The Quest for Equality.”

Catherine Meredith, Rehearsal Director for the Dancing Wheels Company, came to Cleveland from New York City where she danced with Cortez and Company.  She followed Hernando Cortez to Cleveland to help evolve the Cleveland Repertory Company into the now Verb Ballets.  Ohio Northern University, Verb Ballets, The University of Akron, and The Institute have all commissioned her choreography.   With a master’s degree in dance and an interest in integrated dance Ms. Meredith has created two full length works for the Dancing Wheels Company including the 2014 world premiere of “Babes in Toyland,” a delightful animated mixed medium of dance, theater and video production.   For this concert she took on the theme of communication with “Incommunicado,” a piece centered on the rights for persons with disabilities to have equal access to effective communication.  Audiences will share in a sensorial experience as they bear witness to what can happen when such access is denied.  Individual stories are told through technically driven movement and partnering in a series of duets, trios, and solos.  Global Communication, using electronic music, provides the sound score.

In addition to these new company works, the Dancing Wheels School will showcase a piece choreographed by Emma Parker for the School’s Performance Ensemble.  The Ensemble is comprised of their own students as well as students from the School’s outreach activities.  The children have studied the five themes of the ADA over the past few months and are able to integrate their own perceptions and artistic personalities into the piece with the guidance of School Coordinator, Ms. Parker.

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About the Company:

The Company now celebrating its 35th anniversary season under the Artistic Direction of Mary Verdi-Fletcher, its founder, is Cleveland’s longest running dance company.  Maintaining a full time ensemble of dancers, the Company tours throughout the United States and abroad reaching more than 30,000 people in over 75 performances each year.  The Dancing Wheels Company members are Kelly Clymer, Antonio DeBerry, Tanya Ewell, Rebecca Fleisher, Kevin Marr, Demarco Sleeper, Sara Lawrence-Sucato (Dance Captain), Mary Verdi-Fletcher, Lianne Zdydowicz, and apprentices Kristen Knabel and Ja’Vaughn White.  Also joining the Company this year are apprentices Emily Schwarting, and Colin Cedric Bolthouse.

About the Tour:

Almost immediately following the Cleveland premiere, the Company will begin a nationwide tour that will continue throughout its 2015/16 season with a goal of performing in 35 universities, performing arts facilities and VSA organizations as part of their community recognition of the Americans with Disabilities Act.  Although the official ADA’s anniversary was in July 2015, the issues and lasting impressions of this law is meant to be in the forefront of the minds and hearts of all Americans beyond its 25 years and the works in this concert will be certain to make it a “Lasting Legacy.”

Ticket Information:

VIP seats are $50 and include a celebratory after party with the choreographers and Company members. General admission tickets are $35 and groups of 10 or more are $17 per person.  For details on the celebratory after party or to purchase tickets through the Dancing Wheels’ office, please visit www.dancingwheels.org or call (216) 432-0306.  Tickets are also available through the Playhouse Square box office at www.playhousesquare.org or by calling (216) 241-6000.  Follow the Dancing Wheels Company & School on Facebook.com/DancingWheels and Twitter.com/DancingWheels.

Sponsors:

The Lasting Legacy Concert & Tour is made possible through the generous support from the following funders:  Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, Cleveland Foundation, Ohio Arts Council, The George Gund Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, The Kuhn Family Foundation, and Kulas Foundation.

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