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Akron Beacon Journal – Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival reaches more deeply into neighborhoods

By Kerry Clawson, Akron Beacon Journal

Last year, more than 11,000 people attended free dance performances at the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival in Akron’s parks.

Ten years after the city launched the festival to preserve the free, outdoor dance tradition begun in 1974 by the Ohio Ballet, festival organizers want to reach even more deeply into Akron’s neighborhoods.

Over the festival’s four weekends, the Dance Institute’s popular children’s pre-show program will continue, allowing youngsters the opportunity to dance on the festival stage. Also, master classes taught by a member of each company will continue to be offered Saturday mornings at 11 a.m. at the University of Akron’s Albrecht Dance Studio. (Call 330-990-5263 to register. Cost is $10.)

A new component this summer will be residencies run by ROAD (Reach Out and Dance), an arm of Ballet Excel Ohio in Cuyahoga Falls, which will present three days of workshops in the neighborhood where the festival will be held that weekend. They will be offered to children in grades 2-5, ages 7-11.

The free sessions will be taught by professional dancers, and a dancer from that weekend’s performing company will visit the children’s classes, excluding Keigwin + Company. No registration and no experience are required.

Here is the workshop schedule:

• Monday, Wednesday and Thursday, Firestone Park Community Center, 1480 Girard St., 1 to 2 p.m.

• July 25, 26 and 28, Northwest Community Center, 1730 Shatto Ave., 10:30 to 11:30 a.m.

• Aug. 1, 3 and 5, Balch Street Community Center, 220 S. Balch St. A, 3 to 4 p.m.

• Aug. 9, 10 and 11, Reservoir Park, 1735 Hillside Terrace, 3 to 4 p.m.

Director Jane Startzman had been wondering how to broaden the reach of the festival: “We always say we go into their backyard’’ with the outdoor performances.

Adding another educational component through ROAD made sense, considering the organization offers after-hours workshop residencies in area schools.

“This just seemed to be a perfect fit,’’ Startzman said of the festival’s new partnership with ROAD. “It helps us reach deeper into each neighborhood.”

The city of Akron has supported summer dance performances since the Ohio Ballet, founded by Poll, began them in parks in 1974.

“There isn’t another community in the United States that has the tradition that Akron has established in presenting dance,” said Mayor Dan Horrigan in a release. “To sustain something this important for 43 years makes a statement about Akron’s appreciation for the performing arts.”

The festival will kick off Friday and Saturday at Firestone Park with Neos Dance Theatre, headquartered in both Mansfield and Akron. The program will include the world premiere of Karelia Suite by artistic director Robert Wesner, a classically centered work featuring the entire 12-member company and set to music by Sibelius.

Neos also will premiere guest choreographer Stephanie Martinez’ The Grace of White, which she created with the company in a recent two-week summer residency at the University of Akron.

Another world premiere will be company member Mary-Elizabeth Fenn’sNowhere — an en pointe, contemporary ballet inspired by the dancers coming from different worlds — and the duet necessary.negatives, choreographed and performed by Wesner and his wife, Brooke.

Finally, Neos will reprise Fenn’s cartoonish, colorful Nothing in Particular, which it premiered at the Akron Civic Theatre in March, including animation and visual effects by Andy Gardner and costumes by Inda Blatch-Geib of Akron.

Dancers who have recently joined Neos are Brianna Habel, Katherine Tackett, Brian Murphy (formerly of the Ohio Ballet) and Matthew Roberts.

Hardesty Park

Verb Ballets of Shaker Heights will perform July 29-30 at Hardesty Park. Its diverse program will feature the full company in a new work that guest choreographer Charles Anderson created for it, Aposiopesis. The contemporary ballet explores a circular theme. Anderson, who danced with New York City Ballet, founded Company C Contemporary Ballet in San Francisco, where he is artistic director. (Company C performed at the festival in 2008.)

Also on the program will be the world premiere of guest choreographer Roger C. Jeffrey’s at your feet. Jeffrey has recently worked with the Metropolitan Opera Ballet Company and Lar Lubovitch Dance Company.

Rounding out Verb’s program will be Cleveland choreographer Terence Greene’sSecrets From Within, which Verb premiered in Cleveland in May, and Poll’s 1988 pas de deux Andante Sostenuto.

Glendale Cemetery

GroundWorks DanceTheater of Cleveland will return to Glendale Cemetery Aug. 5-6, featuring an adaptation of Carl Orff’s scenic cantata Carmina Burana, which it performed with the Akron Symphony in May. The 1935-’36 composition by Orff, which mixes the primal and the ethereal, is based on 24 poems and dramatic texts from the medieval collection of the same name.

“The music’s driving rhythms and rich imagery are sublimely suited for dance and I am delighted we were able to realize the huge range of Orff’s dynamic score in a way that is uniquely GroundWorks,” said Artistic Director David Shimotakahara.

World premieres have been a longstanding component of the festival, and GroundWorks will continue that tradition with New York choreographer Adam Barruch’s Hex, which explores themes of mysticism, magic and creation. Barruch has worked with the GroundWorks dancers on what he calls “kinetic gesture,’’ the multidimensional use of the upper body and arms.

Goodyear Metro Park

Keigwin + Company, a contemporary dance troupe from New York, will close the festival Aug. 12-13 at Goodyear Metro Park.

Founder Larry Keigwin, who has also choreographed on Broadway, has created 29 dances on his company. Locals will remember the Akron-centric dance he created as a community project, Akron Bolero, performed at E.J. Thomas Hall in 2010.

The troupe’s repertory for the festival includes Episodes, inspired by the high spirits and youthful verve of the musical On the Town. The dance integrates theatricality and vigorous athleticism.

Love Songs is a romantic, playful series of duets to classics by Aretha Franklin, Roy Orbison and Nina Simone. Trio, commissioned for the Guggenheim, is inspired by the movement of waves and set to Adam Crystal’s original score on violin and piano.

Finally, the suite Air, from the evening-length work Elements, puts witty, paradoxical twists on one of the four building blocks of nature.

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