By Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer
March 14, 2017
CLEVELAND, Ohio – The muses could not have been kinder to GroundWorks DanceTheater than they were going into the 2017 Spring Dance Series.
Not only did the group’s three-part program this week at the Breen Center for the Performing Arts coalesce around a theme of connections. It did so entirely by accident and in a manner that exemplifies that very theme.
“I never point people in any kind of direction,” said GroundWorks director and choreographer David Shimotakahara, in describing the program featuring a new work by him alongside creations by choreographers Gina Gibney and Eric Handman.
“But it occurred to me that there’s going to be this thread, this satisfying feeling of being taken through experiences reinforcing the idea of connection. Consciously or not, we’re all responding to this feeling of being connected. I really like how it’s coming together.”
Shimotakahara himself embarked on his as-yet-untitled new work thinking about light, hearing in the music of David Lang, Jennifer Higdon, Nico Muhly, and Steve Reich a certain luminous quality and seeking to put forth light as a metaphor for the human condition.
Thus were born four dance movements, each of them bearing out the fact that in the human spirit, “There’s a kind of hope or instinct, an urge to go toward the light,” Shimotakahara said.
But that idea was not to remain exclusive or dominant for long.
As Gibney’s “Drafting Hindsight,” a series of duets inspired by the dynamics of conversation set to the music of Ezekiel Honig, took shape, with their unified video and costume elements, the artist began to see her work and his as celebrations of humanity.
Further complicating his conception of the pieces: his increasing sense of uncertainty in an uneasy and rapidly changing political climate.
“There are a lot of things beyond our control, and we don’t know where they’re going to land,” Shimotakahara said. “I’m feeling like I need to be closer to the people I care about.”
All that remained was “Remora,” the third and final work slated for the Spring Dance Series. No need to make any conceptual adjustments for this one. The 2015 creation by Utah-based choreographer Eric Handman fit right in, dealing explicitly with connections.
In Handman’s own words, the piece “depicts struggle, teamwork, solitude and the redemptive power” of collaborative movement. “Things are kind of hatched from each other,” Shimotakahara said.
The director couldn’t have framed it better if he’d tried. Even if Shimotakahara had set out to remind us that, as he said, “art has the power to remind us of the things that bind us,” he likely wouldn’t have found himself with a program as cohesive as this one.
“I think we’re all responding to this need for connection,” he said. “In some way, that affirmation should be satisfying and reassuring.”