Dance is often inspired by the music that merges with the physical imagery. This is certainly true of the pieces GroundWorks DanceTheater performed Friday in the Alma Theater at Cain Park.

Each of the dances is seamlessly wed to the sounds produced by the composers, singers and instrumentalists on the recordings chosen by choreographers Lynne Taylor-Corbett and David Shimotakahara.

The program’s world premiere, Taylor-Corbett’s “Hindsight,” pays tribute to Akron rocker Chrissie Hynde and her band, The Pretenders. Using six Hynde songs as the starting point, the New York choreographer created a series of groovy ensemble riffs and intimate encounters that vibrantly reflect the music’s heart and soul.

It’s a work of frolicsome fun and atmospheric mystery accompanied by video images (designed by Adam Larsen) that add vivid, cheeky and shimmering commentary to the narratives. There are scenes of open roads, Akron, postcards of animals nuzzling, abstract paintings and Hynde herself – all employed with poetic or tongue-in-cheek sensitivity.

The most haunting section, set to the bittersweet “Hymn to Her,” finds Felise Bagley wrapped in black fabric, from which she frees herself and then is suspended in air by Damien Highfield and Gary Lenington. Candles on the screen evoke an almost religious aura as Bagley – ultra-flexible and charismatic, as always – takes an expressive journey.

But much of “Hindsight” is hip and goofy, as the music suggests, and Victoria Mearini’s punky and colorful costumes are spot-on realizations of various Hynde attitudes. The GroundWorks ensemble, also featuring Sarah Perrett and Kathryn Taylor, was keenly responsive to Taylor-Corbett’s inventive pizazz.

Legendary blues artists are the catalysts for “Boom Boom,” artistic director Shimotakahara’s off-and-on-the-wall explosion of gleeful and sensual tableaux. Nine tunes take the company, including Shimotakahara, through an array of emotional situations that make deft use of an upstage wall (blue, of course).

The vertical surface serves many purposes, providing points of repose, support to play out passions and, in one breathtaking instance, an opportunity for Bagley to walk horizontally as carried by Highfield.

Shimotakahara’s choreography here is a blend of the acrobatic, graceful and quirky, full of surprises and smooth transitions. Along with sweaty interplay, playfulness abounds. At the piece’s end, the six dancers howl and throw themselves at the wall to the tune of “Hound Dog.”

In a complete shift in texture and style, Shimotakahara’s “Kabila” (Tribe) employs contemporary African music to conjure scenes of communal resiliency. Dressed in striking yellow and black costumes (by Janet Bolick and fabric artist Esther Montgomery), five dancers move in buoyant and lyrical patterns shaded by tiny steps, tender gestures and whirling arms.

The mesmerizing chants and instrumental colors were swallowed briefly Friday by jazz sounds intruding from the nearby Evans Amphitheater. But the GroundWorks ensemble maintained concentration, exulting in the beauty of Shimotakahara’s gentle and jubilant creation.

By Donald Rosenberg
The Plain Dealter
July 16, 2011