With the ever increasing popularity of reality television shows like SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE and DANCING WITH THE STARS, the interest in dance is expanding. Local evidence was the large enthusiastic audience at Doug Elkin’s ‘FRÄULEIN MARIA, recently presented by DanceCleveland at the Hanna Theatre and the sold-out Cain Park run of the GroundWorks DanceTheater’s at Cain Park.
With that increased interest, as was evidenced by the comments made at intermission and after the GroundWorks’ performance, has come a higher awareness for the quality of the dance.
It’s impossible to watch SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE and not gain appreciation for both the dancers’ skills and the abilities of the choreographers like Mia Michaels to tell stories and create visual beauty. People in the Alma Theatre courtyard sounded like Nigel Lithgoe and Mary Murphy, the reality show’s judges, as they commented on the performance.
The opening number, BOOK OF WATER, choreographed by David Shimotakahara, the company’s artistic director, was a multi-sectioned piece which dramatized substance in its many forms as a metaphor of the images of dance. In this selection, “each image is part of a journey touching on memory, chance legacy and ultimately the ways we are joined together.” Joining together is a Shimotakahara signature theme. Using gymnastic moves, flowing hands, and strong lifts, each segment mirrored the varied sounds of the music, which ranged from digital, to jazz, to atonal, to vocal. Though well performed, the piece was somewhat long.
SWEET, staged by Shimotakahara, was a compelling selection danced to the mellow sound of Bobby McFerrin’s “Sweet in the Morning.” The always precise and engaging Felise Bagley and the dependable Damien Highfield melded together, flowing to the musical sounds, in movements reminiscent of Heinz Poll’s poetic choreography.
CURRENT FRAME, getting its Cleveland premiere, is the work of Amy Miller, former GroundWorks dancer and its Artistic Associate. Miller was a powerful and athletic dancer. Her choreography mirrors her dance form. Exploring the dramatic interplay between the formal structure of Baroque composer Heinrich Biber’s Passacaglia violin solo, brilliantly performed by Hanne-Berit Hahnemann, and the emotional undercurrent found in the music’s themes and cadences, the piece mirrored intertwining sounds with intertwining bodies. Filled with strong lifts, no facial expression, and effective intensity, Kathryn Wells Taylor and Gary Lenington well carried out Miller’s design.
The highlight of the evening was BRUBECK, getting its Cleveland premiere. Dedicated to Jim Branagan, an active GroundWorks supporter who recently died, the involving dance was everything Brubeck.
Combining seven of Brubecks’ lexicon of compositions, including, Take Five, Bluette, Pick Up Sticks and Unsquare Dance, Shimotakahara has given a snapshot of the sounds of the American jazz icon as physical movements.
Each section highlighted a different side of Brubecks’ experimentation with moods and time signatures. His style has been epitomized as “motion and commotion” as “creating infectious melodies and dynamic rhythms,” and this was well reflected in the dancing.
The dancers switched gears as the moods of the music changed from plaintive, to sassy, to happy, to sensual. Noelle Cotler added a special presence with her ever reflective appropriate facial expression.
Kristine Davies’ costume design was confusing. The female short shirt-waist pink dresses and then the varying styles of bathing suits didn’t parallel to the musical moods. Lenington’s white tank top and belted brief shorts accentuated his increased bulk and, as with the women’s costumes, did little to create the needed visual image.
Capsule judgement: GroundWorks DanceTheater is one of the area’s finest small dance companies. Their recent tenth anniversary concert at Cain Park again highlighted their versatility and proficiency.
By Roy Berko