Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Danceworks '04 (Groundworks)

Groundworks again captivates audience with Danceworks '04

David Shimotakahara, the artistic director of GroundWorks Dancetheater has a reputation for inspiring his audience’s to think. He also illustrates for them what it means to have a disciplined dance corps.

The evening, presented as part of Cleveland Public Theatre’s ‘DANCWORKS 04,’ consisted of two equal length pieces, “The Book of Water” and “At Once There Was A House.”

“The Book of Water,” as explained by Shimotakahara, the piece’s choreographer, continues his interest in connectivity. He challenges the audience to experience, as the company did, the questions: “Is life a series of isolated pools through which we pass alone in our encounters? Is memory held in separate cups, secret and contained? Or are we connected in our course?

The choreographer answers his own questions, as he leads the viewer through a seamless connection of each of the vehicle’s segments. Each unit, danced to a unique piece of music, had a feeling all its own, but with the unmistakable unity of flow and movement. Slashing hands, flying bodies danced to a heavy drum beat; bodies moving across the floor in controlled moves set to heavy organ music; slow controlled moves of arching bodies, swimming, moving like water birds to plaintive piano music. Whatever the music, whatever the movements, the parts all melded into a single unit. Even the ending, which found Shimotakahara bathed in a pool of blue light, bare-chested and breathing heavily, was a perfect fit.

Felise Bagley, Amy Miller, Mark Otloski, and Shimotakahara are all fine dancers. Bagley and Miller make the most difficult of moves look easy. They display total body control. Shimotakahara has always been a dance machine, well-oiled and in perfect sync. It has been especially interesting to watch Otloski, who was a principal dancer with the Cleveland/San Jose Ballet, mature under the tutelage of Shimotakahara into a more disciplined dancer.

“At Once There Was A House,” a Cleveland premiere choreographed by Beth Corning, and danced to the music of such composers as Tom Waits, Kathleen Brennan and Lou Harrison, was a much more complex piece.

Most interesting was listening to the audience’s conversation following the performance about what meaning the piece held for each of them. Comments were made of children playing dress-up, child abuse, the experiences of growing up and looking back at childhood, and childhood delight. One thing appeared certain. The meaning of piece remained abstract, but the concept purported by psychologists is that each of us creates our reality through our stories, narratives, and questions of life.

Dressed at the start in oversized adult shoes and children’s clothing, the company interacted with the audience with childish delight. Later segments found Felise Bagley partnering with a white picket fence that folded and bent as she created illusions of life’s experiences? Another segment was danced accapello, consisted of changing partners, searching other others and freezing in place. Often the words and the movements were not in parallel to each other causing discordant thoughts. Another portion found the dancers moving across the stage in parallel lines, never intersecting, never touching. fifth One unit found Otloski illustrating high school experiences in both movement and words. In another part Shimotakahara, with a large soft sculpture door attached to his body, danced to discordant music. Yet another unit exposed a balancing act of dancer and a chair. The finale repeated the opening in costume and theme.

The piece, a departure from the usual serious mood of Danceworks numbers, was thought-provoking for the audience and physically challenging for the dancers.

For those who have not experienced the offerings of this wonderful company, Danceworks will be performing on July 2 and 3 at Cain Park Theatre in Cleveland Heights. There will be Talk back sessions following each of those performances. For information call 216-932-0222.