bravo…Bravo…BRAVO!!! This was the standing ovation reaction of the crowd to Saturday night’s performance of Igor Stravinsky’s “The Rite of Spring” at EJ Thomas Hall as the Akron Symphony Orchestra and GroundWorks Dance Theater performed together.

Unlike the violent riots that took place 100 years ago at the Paris premiere, the hall was filled with exuberant demonstrations of love and admiration for the orchestra, the five core members of GroundWorks Dance Theater (supplemented with three local professional dancers) and the fifteen young dancers from the Akron City School District.

What made this performance so extraordinary was a combination of factors. The first of course was the exquisite choreography by David Shimotakahara and the dedication of the young Akron students who have spent their Sunday afternoons since February rehearsing for this one night. David’s take on this Stravinsky piece fit so seamlessly with the orchestra that it was hard to tell where one ended and the other began.

Through most of the work you had young bodies literally flying through the air at breakneck speed with a practiced precision that kept them from colliding with each other. Costuming was very plain so as not to detract from the story which left all attention focused on the dancers and the dancers alone. This put tremendous pressure on the performers, yet the company was up to the challenge. It truly was a flawless exhibition of dance and one that all of the dancers should be proud of.

The story-line of the work is one of an independent free spirit (known as “The Other”) vs. the community. She is introduced early on and is soon joined by two helpmates who act as her peers but are soon forced to abandon her due to the social pressures of the community. Rather than succumb to the pressure of the community, “The Other” dances herself to death in an act of total rebellious self sacrifice. Throughout the work, Shimotakahara fused dance to music in a vibrant display of synchronization that carried undertones of imminent catastrophe.

Of special note was Noelle Cotler who starred as “The Other” (the pagan sacrificial offering to the gods of spring). Her combination of strength and grace brought an unparalleled beauty to the role. It was one of the high-water marks of the performance. Dancing with her and serving as her hand maidens were Felise Bagley and Annika Sheaff. The three of them danced as one and were a marvel to the eye. Special note is also due to exceptional job of lighting design by Dennis Dugan.Deceptively well lit, his use of shadow and texture added an unearthly dimension to the work that matched the tome of the piece.

As for the orchestra, under the guidance of Christopher Wilkins, in spite of the fact that they were relegated to a three tier arrangement in the back stage area, the power of the musicians was able to overcome this challenge and project the music with all its detail and feeling through the dancers and out into the audience. Proper attention to the myriad of details of this musical selection allowed room for the various emotions to come forth with full realization.

It should be noted that “Rite of Spring” was performed in the second half of the evening program. In the first half, the Akron Symphony Orchestra gave a heart touching performance of Dvorak’s Symphony No. 8 that had the orchestra seated clear to the edge of stage front which gave members of the audience an intimate listening experience. I was also quite impressed at the smooth and quick transition that the Akron Symphony Staff were able to clear the stage of chairs and music stands and re-set the orchestra at the back of the stage.

It was an exceptional night of music and dance as one of the world’s most challenging works was brought to task and phenomenally executed. Bravo…Bravo….BRAVO!!!!

By Mark Horning, The Examiner