Sunday, March 02, 2003

Danceworks/03 (Groundworks Dancetheatre)

Wonderful, wonderful dance program by Groundworks

David Shimotakahara is not only a brilliant choreographer and dancer, but selects other dancers and choreographers of great ability to flesh out his company’s performances. This was proven again when Groundworks Dancetheater presented its ‘DANCEWORKS/03’ at Cleveland Public Theatre February 28 through March 2. The only regret is that the program ran only for three days and those who couldn’t get in to the sold-out performances won’t have a chance to experience the wonderful program.

Groundworks is built on a very solid foundation. Mix creative choreography, excellent dancers, add precision, get the audience close-up, and let the whole mixture blend together. Shimotakahara is the master chef. As the founder of the group in 1998, after years with the Ohio Ballet, he has built a loyal following of not only devoted viewers, but performing professionals. He calls upon his artisans to blend their skills together. The results are consistently deserved standing ovations.

The program opened with choreographer Gina Gibney’s tribute to Patsy Cline. The segment was danced to recordings of six of the country singer’s most popular songs including her signature“Somebody.” Gibney used the company in creative ways. Her signature moves of strong twisting, powerful arm movements, unusual lifts and using the floor as not only a place to dance upon but to writh and interact on, were integrated into each segment. Amy Miller’s finely toned body was used to its powerful utmost as she gymnastically moved through “Love Letters in the Sand.” Mark Otloski and Xochitl Tejeda de Cerda intertwined on the floor effectively in “You Took Him Off My Hands.” It is exciting to see the progress that Otloski has made in recent years. He has moved from a competent dancer to an extraordinary one under Shimotakahara’s guidance. “Does Your Heart Beat for Me” found double tandems of dancers interacting. “Crazy Arms” and “Always” were cleverly conceived pieces. Russ Borski’s costume design of cowboy gear added to the mood. This portion of the evening was fresh, creative, and audience pleasing.

Besides dance Shimotakahara often includes additional arts insertions. piano soloist Michael Root added texture to the program by playing a series of Claude Debussy pieces entitled “Images I.” Root’s rendition on the Steinway isolated on the bare stage, back-lite in red, was marvelous.

Groundworks chooses performance settings with care. Shimotakahara wants the audience to hear the shoes squeak, hear the dancers breathe, see them sweat, share their emotions. This was well illustrated in ‘Hush.’ choreographed by Beth Corning, a piece previously performed by the company. During the number, one of the dancers is placed on the laps of several audience members who hold her for much of the piece. ‘Hush’ touches on the longing for comfort found in moments throughout our lives. Done in slow turning and stretching movements, first to the humming of a single dancer, then segueing into an orchestra of the lullaby, the piece is full of measured moves. Felise Baley, Amy Miller and David Shimotakahara were captivating throughout this thought-provoking dance.

‘Before With After,’ in it’s world premiere, was a well-crafted and danced, if a little over long performance. Danced to the live piano accompaniment of Michael Root, the Shimotakahara choreography was well-supported by Ray Zander’s flowing costumes and Dennis Dugan’s creative lighting. The choreography included interludes of dancers moving together without touching, propelling slowly in parts, rapidly in others to parallel to the moods of the music, and acting and interacting with each other. The company was in total unity throughout. The dancers obviously were enjoying themselves and the audience caught the spirit. Clever humor paralleled with stark drama. Especially effective was a solo segment by Felise Bagley whose lovely moves were elegantly performed. A funny segment between Miller and deCerda was delightful and brought prolonged giggles from the audience.

It is sad to announce that Xochitl Tejeda de Cerda, after many years, is leaving the Cleveland area and this was her last performance. Her talent and personality will be sorely missed.