The road winding through Glendale Cemetery in Akron leads to a vast meadow, where people young and old gather to celebrate life. It was in this bucolic setting that GroundWorks DanceTheater shared its distinctive brand of artistry over the weekend as part of the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival.

The Cleveland dance company is led by David Shimotakahara, who was a member of Poll’s Ohio Ballet before creating his own vision of movement blending elements of ballet, modern and other styles. Some of those styles were on view in the Glendale program, which featured world premieres by Shimotakahara and artistic associate Amy Miller and revivals by Shimotakahara and Ronen Koresh.

In several previous works, Shimotakahara revealed his deep love for the bluesy and joyous riffs and complex rhythms of jazz. His newest creation, “Brubeck,” brings imaginative visual reality to seven Dave Brubeck tunes.

The jazz composer and pianist etched out a striking place in music by crafting works of disarming melodic personality and metrical intricacy. In “Brubeck,” Shimotakahara seizes the opportunity to reflect the rhythmic challenges through choreography of breezy, wistful and explosive character.

He begins with “Take Five,” perhaps Brubeck’s most famous tune, with its 5/4 time signature that keeps the motion slightly off-kilter. Set for five dancers in casual attire, Shimotakahara’s take is an avalanche of vibrant physical counterpoint full of changing combinations and interactions.

As Brubeck’s moods and meters shift, so do the dance’s relationships and shapes. Bits of humor are tossed in to giddy effect, as in the 7/4 activity and balletic zaniness in “Unsquare Dance.”

The cast shows up in bathing suits and golf clothes in the breathless finale, set to the vivaciously asymmetrical “Blue Rondo a la Turk,” to pay Brubeck exuberant homage and collapse in ensemble ecstasy. Even at evening’s end Saturday, the five GroundWorks dancers, including an impressive new member, Noelle Cotler, had reserves of energy.

Miller’s premiere, “Current Frame,” goes back more than four centuries for its music, a passacaglia from Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber’s Mystery Sonatas for solo violin. The piece takes two dancers through a series of angular and regal patterns that mirror the motion of the violin part, played at stage right with aristocratic virtuosity by Hanne- Berit Hahnemann.

Kathryn Wells Taylor and Gary Lenington performed Miller’s choreography with smooth assurance, allowing the tension to loosen at key moments as they maintained a current of vital physicality.

Shimotakahara paints a portrait of awakening lovers in “Sweet,” his pas de deux set to Bobby McFerrin’s “Sweet in the Mornin’.” The dancers (the beautifully fluent Felise Bagley and Damien Highfield) rise from the floor, interweave limbs and convey their passion in tender balances, lifts and swirls. It’s short and very sweet.

The program began with another ensemble work in seven movements, Koresh’s high-powered “CoDa.” Set to vivacious and haunting pop music by Rene Aubry, the piece melds exoticism with an array of emotional states. Jittery and anxious ensemble gestures rub shoulders with conflicted and playful solos and duets. The dancers brought tireless thrust and flexibility to Koresh’s tightly coiled aesthetic.

By Donald Rosenberg
The Plain Dealer
August 12, 2012