A world of contemporary dance passes before your eyes at most performances by GroundWorks DanceTheater. The results may be abstract or narrative-driven, dance for dance’s sake, or something completely off the charts.

For its first program of 2013, GroundWorks explores many facets of its adventurous art at the Breen Center for the Performing Arts, offering two world premieres and the revival of a recent work by artistic director David Shimotakahara. The pieces vary widely in style, but they all share the GroundWorks stamp of thoughtful and often provocative creativity.

Shimotahakara’s new piece is “Luna,” which the company’s five members dance mostly within a large moon summoned by lighting designer Dennis Dugan. In a program note, the choreographer speaks of polarities and “how our experience of them constantly overlaps and affects the recurring cycles in our lives.” The work was developed with the dancers and composer Peter Swendsen, whose haunting music blends glistening and unearthly electronics with crowd sounds.

As they make their way in and around the moon, the dancers perform quirky flights in solo or ensemble encounters. The movement language veers between angular and swirling, with relationships that favor combative gestures – pushes, grasps, twirls, bumps. “Luna” abounds in compelling imagery, even if the overall impact is chilly and distant. At Friday’s performance, the dancers thrust themselves into the intricacies, leaving Annika Sheaff onstage at the end to grope her way into a state of tranquility.

The night’s other world premiere was Kate Weare’s “Inamorata,” which delves into various emotional worlds as evoked by music ranging from ancient chants to tangos and country. The New York choreographer has a gift for juxtaposing the playful and the ardent, the mechanical and the elegant.

All of these qualities are discernible in the seven sections of “Inamorata.” Weare sets the dancers vibrating in duets, trios and ensembles that challenge their physicality and expressive range. There are times when the activity proceeds through a series of silences, as if taking big breaths.

The work has moments of animated interaction, as in the running duet for the men (Damien Highfield and Gary Lenington), and ritualistic buoyancy (a section for Sheaff, Felise Bagley and Noelle Cotler). The work’s title comes into heated focus in a duet for Cotler and the bare-chested Shimotakahara, in a rare performance that reminds us of the nimble urgency of his artistry. It’s an impassioned rendezvous destined for disappointment.

The final image again is entrusted to Sheaff, who strikes a solitary pose. Wherever Weare weaves her choreographic fabric in “Inamorata,” she places bodies and souls in arresting contexts.

Shimotahakara the choreographer can be found in whimsical and exuberant frame of mind in “Brubeck,” a salute to late jazz master Dave Brubeck. It’s a lark of a piece that exults in the composer’s rhythmic and thematic irresistibility.

Even after two demanding pieces, the GroundWorks dancers were pumped for the work’s gleeful and soaring exertions. Cavorting in bathing suits and golf clothes in the final section, set to “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” the company raced madly through the giddy material, only to collapse at the end. Pure mirth.

By Donald Resenberg
The Plain Dealer
February 16, 2013