Sunday, January 28, 2007

Groundworks Dancetheatre 1/07

GROUNDWORKS continues to entrance audiences

It’s been 9 years now since David Shimotakahara left Ohio Ballet to found his own dance company. GroundWorks Dancetheater bills itself as a highly innovative company of ballet trained artists dedicated to the development and presentation of new choreography and encourages collaboration with other art disciplines. It is that, and more!

It is one of the few companies that revels in not having a home of its own. The troupe can be found performing in churches, dedicated entertainment venues (such as Cleveland Public Theatre) and public buildings (e.g., The Cleveland Botanical Garden).

Its mottos include: “undiluted,” “unfiltered,” and “unprocessed.”

In its short history, GroundWorks has established itself as a major force in Cleveland dance. As evidenced by the sold-out performances at their recent run at the Botanical Garden, David and his dancers, have gained a loyal following. The dance-ophiles show up no matter the venue.

In their most recent program, part of the Landmarks Series 2007, the company premiered, “U ME U,” choreographed by Artistic Associate Amy Miller.
Centering on the theme “the repetition of an idea in continually changing contexts,” the piece was a collaborative effort between Miller, dancers Felise Bagley and Mark Otloski, and guitarist/music composer James Marron. The selection, though very precise in its movements, had the feeling of being created on the spot. The visual interaction between the dancers and the musicians, who seemed to pick up their cues from each other, was strong. As Marron’s strumming slowed, the dancers moved slowly. When the performers sped up, so did the music. The sounds varied from discordant, to riffs, to a flow of melodic sound. The piece was, at times, serious, at other times playful. This kind of performance takes a special relationship between the choreographer, musician and dancers. Fortunately, Groundworks has all three in place! “U ME U” is a fine addition to the company’s repertoire.

The remaining two segments, Shimotakahara’s ‘MAJOR TO MINOR” and “THE MUSIC ROOM” were restagings of former presentations. Both were danced to a collection of musical creations.

“MAJOR TO MINOR” used such music as “I Wished On The Moon,” “The Way You Look Tonight,” and “Every Time We Say Goodbye” to investigate the bittersweet and sometimes humorous take on people in the pursuit of love.” Dancers Felise Bagley, Amy Miller, Mark Otloski and David Shimotakahara were excellent in making the transition from jazzy, to finger snapping, to humorous, with ease. The highlight was the delightful segment created around the song, “Peanut Vendor.”

“THE MUSIC ROOM” centers around a door, created by Narelle Sissons’, which becomes the sixth performer as it moves, flips, is slammed and opens and closes as it serves as a means for entrances, exits, being a barrier, a hindrance, and finally, a piece of bewilderment.

One must wonder how long some of the company members will continue to carry on their arduous dancing. Several of the group are no long youngsters and have passed the age at which dancers tend to slow down or retire. It would be a shame for Groundworks to cease its wonderment because of the lack of new performers. It is rumored that the company has been holding tryouts to expand its dancing corps. It’s going to be hard to have anyone come in and match the skills of Shimotakahara, Miller, Bagley and Otloski. We’ve seen the difficulty that Jennifer Lott, a well trained dancer has had in matching the precision of the present company. When she dances in tandem with Bagley or Miller, as happened in the Botanical Garden program, the differences in technique and polish shine through. It can only be hoped that when necessary, Shimotakahara can find the likes of the present company.

Capsule judgment: Groundworks is one of the top dance companies in the area and deserves the adulation it is receiving.