Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Groundworks - Botanical Garden

GROUNDWORKS shines at Botanical Garden

The first time I saw David Shimotakahara dance with the Ohio Ballet I knew that I was watching a very talented performer. When I saw his first choreographed piece for the same ballet company, I was equally impressed. The work was creative, the dancers well-disciplined, the piece polished.

When Heinz Poll left his post as Artistic Director of OB, I was hoping that Shimotakahara would be appointed to continue the company's creative work. Unfortunately, the post went to someone else. Instead of giving up, Shimotakahara founded GroundWorks Dancetheater, which has become a leading modern and contemporary dance company in the area. He has developed a loyal following which supports his every effort. This was obvious at the sold out performance where viewers thoroughly enjoyed GroundWorks Landmark Series performance at the Cleveland Botanical Garden.

The Landarks Series places the company in various settings in the community. These are as diverse as churches and abandoned buildings. His purpose is to bring dance to the community. While in the venues, he often expands beyond the performances of production. For example, the company's Botanical Garden stay included exhibitions for Cleveland school students, for a group of seniors, and a fund raiser for the Garden.

The recent program included 'ALWAYS,' a piece centering on the vocals of Patsy Kline, which premiered in 2003. The piece is a collaborated invention of the original performers Amy Miller, Shimotakahara, Mark Otloski and Xotchiti Tejeda de Cerda (who has left the area). In this case the thoroughly enjoyable 'ALWAYS' was danced by Miller, Felise Bagley, Shimotakahara and Brain Murphy.

Murphy, a dancer with Ohio Ballet, was a replacement for Mark Otloski who in mid- January, injured his leg and will shortly be having surgery to correct the problem. Murphy, by far OB's best male dancer, stepped in with less than two weeks of rehearsal and added much to the performance. To add to the awe, Murphy continued to rehearse with Ohio Ballet which will perform in Cleveland (February 18 & 19) and Akron (February 25 & 26).

Murphy's presence aesthetically helped the balance of the dancers. The very talented Otloski is very tall and thin. He towers over the rest of the company. This works in many pieces, especially when he is dancing solo or with a petite female partner. However, his size often creates unbalanced visual lines. Murphy, who is parallel in size to the other dancers, physically fits into the many intertwining movements of Shimotakahara's choreography.

'ALWAYS' is a humorous, creative and delightful piece. Miller, a powerhouse of a dancer, has unbelievable physical control and makes every movement a total picture...beginning, middle and ending. Though the piece's movements don't develop the story of the words, the actions parallel well the mood of the music.

'SEVERAL TRUTHS,' is a duet created by choreographer Gina Gibney, who often showcases her works with GroundWorks. Premiered in 2001 the piece uses sounds rather than music to convey various moods. An emotionally and physically exhausting dance it is dependent on the controlled intertwining of bodies, strong movements, powerful carries, and the execution of parallel precision. Dancers Amy Miller and David Shimotakahara were up to the task. The startling ending, with no sound accompaniment, was greeted with enthusiastic applause.

'BEFORE WITH AFTER,' choreographed by Shimotakahara to music by Bach, according to program notes "suggests life's encounters, steps and crossings but ultimately acknowledge what it means to be alone." This theme was carried out by use of solos, duets, triads, quartets and quads of dancers. As with the whole program, the piece was well-performed. Precise, strong and fast movements were at the center of the concept. Brian Murphy's solo and his duet with newcomer Jennifer Lott were among the highlights, as were duets by Shimotakahara and Miller and Miller and Felise Bagley. Lott, the newest member of the GroundWorks company is an attractive dancer. Her skills, especially her body control, are not yet up to the levels of the other GoundWorks dancers, but under the tutelage of perfectionist Shimotakahara she should develop into a good addition.

The Cleveland Botanical Garden space was a perfect setting for the company. Dancing on a raised stage against a wall of sheer shades, the performers were highlighted by natural as well as artificial light. The trees and even people walking in gardens behind the dancers added to the naturalness of the choreography. Having the audience within feet of the performers allows for an in-your-face experience. Hearing the shoes squeak, the floor lightly creak, and the breathing of the cast, as well as watching their muscles move and flex, makes for audience involvement in the entire process.

Capsule Judgment GroundWorks Dancetheater once again proved in its Cleveland Botanical Garden presentation that it is the area's premiere modern and contemporary dance company. Their next presentation will be as part of 'DANCE WORKS 05'--Cleveland Public Theatre which salutes their residence dance companies: Groundworks (March 31-April 03); Verb Ballet (April 7-10); Inlet Dance Theatre (April 14-17), and SAFMOD (April 21-24). Location: 6415 Detroit Road at W. 65th Street. Tickets: 216-631-2727.