After years of reeling from the demise of major companies, Cleveland's dance scene seems to be gaining strength. Local groups are adding new works and significant pieces from major companies, as well as building relationships through collaboration and, perhaps most important, through stable, experienced leadership.
Consider: GroundWorks, led by David Shimotakahara, is now 10 years old. Verb Ballets is now six years into its current form under the artistic direction of Hernando Cortez and the business savvy of former Cleveland Ballet dancer Margaret Carlson. And in recent years, venues from neighborhood festivals to showcases by area presenters have created reliable outlets for the region's smaller companies.
It's a typical problem in Cleveland that when the arts season begins, inevitably a whole bunch of things happen at the same time. This year, dance audiences will have to choose between GroundWorks' opening night (September 12-21 at the Ice House in Akron; tickets $12-$18) and PlayhouseSquare's Dance Showcase (September 12 at the Ohio Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, free). Since the Dance Showcase brings together six of the region's companies - African Soul International, Dance/Theater Collective, Double-Edge Dance, Inlet Dance Theatre and Lisa K. Lock, in addition to Verb - that would seem like a fine way to spend the evening.
Besides that, GroundWorks offers five more opportunities to catch its program, which is headlined by choreographer Lynne Taylor-Corbett's imagined theater/dance piece portraying the last day in the life of Virginia Woolf. "I was fascinated by the fact that she took her life at the end, and [I] questioned what that last day was like," says Taylor-Corbett. Her work is frequently an accessory to a larger story, having livened feature films like Footloose and My Blue Heaven, as well as the Disney stage production of Aladdin, but here it's the whole shebang. The role of Virginia Woolf will be danced by Amy Miller, who will interact with a cast that portrays characters from Woolf's life and work. Music is by the late composer Howard Hanson. GroundWorks performs again November 7-9 at Trinity Cathedral.
Verb's season is all about collaboration with other companies, and for its October 24 concert at the Ohio, it will be joined by not one, but two of the state's larger dance troupes: the Cincinnati Ballet and Dayton Contemporary Dance Company. The Cincinnati Ballet will perform "Rubies," a duet by the great George Balanchine, excerpted from his larger work, Jewels. It's set to Igor Stravinsky's "Capriccio." Dayton Contemporary Dance Company will perform "Unresolved" by Shonna Hickman-Matlock. The piece evokes the struggle of two lovers trying to decide the future of their relationship, and it's not breaking any suspense to note that it ends as the title suggests. Verb's repertoire for the program has not yet been set in stone but is likely to be the recently announced acquisition "Vespers," by the important American choreographer Ulysses Dove. Inspired by memories of his grandmother, it's set to a percussion score by Mikel Rouse.
Incidentally, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company will be in town for an entire evening's program as part of Tri-C JazzFest (8 p.m., October 10, at the Ohio Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, tickets $15-$30). They'll perform Donald Byrd's "J Lawrence Paint (Harriet Tubman Remix)," Ronald K. Brown and Donald McKayle's "Children of the Passage," which is set to music of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, and Dwight Rhoden's "Beyond a Cliff."
Verb offers a Christmas present by not going where dance companies usually go in December, collaborating with the Cleveland Philharmonic Orchestra in a performance of Sergei Prokofiev's Peter and the Wolf. (3 p.m. December 7, Tri-C West).
DANCECleveland Executive Director Pam Young says its series will focus on "dance-makers" this year by bringing Doug Varone and his company for a performance (October 4) and residency in cooperation with the University of Akron's dance program. Young says the visit will culminate with a world premiere dance called Alchemy, set to a musical score by Steven Reich, interspersed with the words of slain journalist Daniel Pearl and writings from the Book of Daniel.
Next up - and rounding out DANCECleveland's fall series - is a return of Lar Lubovitch, who came through town about every three years in the '80s and then stopped touring 13 years ago. Lubovitch's work is not so much about storytelling but about rendering music in movement, as in his "Concerto 622," set to music of Mozart.
Young says it was persistence and a decades-old relationship that brought Lubovitch back to Cleveland: "When he announced that he was making a tour, dance presenters lined up. We kept getting pushed off because we offer only one performance, but we contacted the company directly and reminded them that we had been presenting them for so long and love the company, and they told the promoter, 'You have to make a space for Cleveland.'" As result, Cleveland gets a first look at an unnamed piece, which the company will subsequently take to the Joyce Theater in New York (November 1, Ohio Theatre, PlayhouseSquare, tickets $20-$45).
So mark your calendars. It's getting busy around here.
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