GroundWorks DanceTheater, a Knight Arts grantee, always brings something new and intense not only when in performance but to contemporary dance itself.

If you’ve ever attended a dance concert and after a while you say something like “That’s great, but can they do something different?” because of limited dance vocabulary and vision, you’ll know what a treat it is to watch a group like GroundWorks. This company keeps pushing its artistic boundaries.

At the recent performance on March 22 at the Akron Summit-County Public Library auditorium, David Shimotakahara, artistic director of the company, premiered for the Akron audience his “LUNA.” When watching it, I was acutely aware that the movement I was seeing seemed to be unlike anything Shimotakahara had done before.

Always concerned with the notion of space and boundaries in dance terms, the choreographer this time took away the usual entrances and exits from the wings by focusing a light down on the stage to form a circle (like the luna or moon of the title) into which the dancers entered and exited as if at random. The dancers perform, as Shimotakahara noted in an interview, in “a circle of light” – a notion that gets not only at the title but the emotional edges of the 16-minute piece as well.

Felise Bagley and Gary Pennington in “LUNA” by David Shimotakara. Photo by Mark Horning
The dancers tug and push one another, circle around and step over and beyond as though unsure of how to connect, or in some cases to show how unwilling they want to be with the other at the moment. These are deft moves, subtle but revealing of the interplay of ideas of lost and found, giving and taking that the choreographer was looking to explore.

In the premiere of Kate Weare’s “Inamorata,” we see a very musical interpretation of melodies as far ranging as medieval chant through classical and country pieces – including a male duet based on the struggle and toughness inherent in a tango. Movement was freer than in the first piece shown, but taut and clearly orchestrated.

The underlying question of the piece, according to Shimotakahara, is about one’s place in society and relationships. How one fits, how one gets along, how one learns to behave and indeed to survive – these are all explored in this half-lilting, very melodic, and visually interesting presentation.

Felise Bagley and Annika Sheaff in “Inamorata” by Kate Weare. Photo by Mark Horning
In a completely different vein, GroundWorks reprised Shimotakahara’s paean to jazz artist Dave Brubeck. The musical pieces stretched from the light and lively to the seriously dark and somber. In this work, dancers took more to the air than in the close to the earth “LUNA” and visually seductive “Inamorata.” Maybe the thing with jazz is the dancer’s awareness of the emotional story or ambience being developed. To understand it all, one need only watch dancer Felise Bagley. She got the idea, and showed all the emotional nuances in her every fling of arm or foot, and in the expression on her face.

GroundWorks DanceTheater will be back in town when it performs its version of the “Rite of Spring” with the Akron Symphony Orchestra, a Knight Arts grantee, in the middle of April.

By Roger Durbin
Knights – Witnessing the transformational power of the arts.

Photo by Mark Horning