Saturday, August 25, 2007

Spotlight on Martin Cespedes


Who is the best theatre choreographer in the Greater Cleveland area? If awards and critical acclaim are the measuring stick, Westlake resident and Lorain Admiral King graduate Martin Cespedes could well be the correct answer.

The forty-six year old Cespedes is the recipient of nine Times Theatre Tributes Awards. He was nominated by Northern Ohio Live for their Theater Award in 2005, 2006 and again this year. He was named by Scene Magazine as Cleveland’s Best Choreographer of 2006. He was highlighted for his theatrical work by Bravo magazine.

Cespedes’s creativity has recently been seen in Cain Park’s ‘NINE’ and ‘OLIVER,’ and Beck Center’s ‘EQUUS’ and ‘JEKYLL AND HYDE.’ He directed and choreographed ‘SMOKEY JOE’S CAFE’ and ‘FIVE GUYS NAMED MOE’ at Beck and ‘AIN’T MISBEHAVIN’ and ‘MY WAY (the music of Frank Sinatra)’ at Weathervane Playhouse.

Born in New York, Cespedes is a first generation American. His mother, who was a professional singer, is Puerto Rican. His father is Spanish.

When did he become interested in theatrical dance? He says, “Though I lived in New York, as a child I never had seen a Broadway show. When I was 7, I saw the movie ‘WEST SIDE STORY’ on television and was hit by a lightening bolt. We were quite poor and lived in a building with a fire escape and I spent a lot of time out there reliving that musical.”

He started to gain his dance knowledge when, in fifth grade, he was selected to participate in the elite Jacques d’Amboise’s National Dance Institute in New York City’s PS 161 Program. He was active in that group until, after his parent’s divorce, he moved to Lorain to be near his mother’s family.

During his Admiral King days, he danced in and choreographed local shows and was selected to appear on Cleveland TV’s ‘DANCE FEVER’ and NBC’s ‘WEEKDAY FEVER.’ After graduation he continued his training as an apprentice at the Denver Dance Theatre. While studying there, he saw a casting call for a professional western area tour of ‘GUYS AND DOLLS.’ He tried out, was selected, dropped out of the Denver company, and his professional career was underway.

He went on to appear in the national tours of ‘MAN OF LA MANCHA’ with Jack Jones, ‘THE KING AND I’ with Hayley Mills, ‘SOUTH PACIFIC’ with Robert Goulet and ‘WEST SIDE STORY’ with Bebe Neuwirth. He danced in opening acts for “Earth, Wind and Fire” and the “Bee Gees.”

Cepedes worked as John Kenley’s assistant, and performed and ran dance rehearsals, during the legendary producer’s last several seasons in Akron. He recently served as associate choreographer and fight captain for the PBS production of ‘LE CID’ with Placido Domingo. He has also choreographed for Great Lakes Theatre Festival, Cleveland Opera and University of Akron Opera Department.

In addition to choreographing, Cespedes has taught dance for the School of the Cleveland Ballet and at Beck Center.

What is Cespedes’ choreographic style? He states, “Dancing original choreography of musical theatre classics has helped me forge my own craft and made me somewhat of a hybrid choreographer.”

His personal life? As he states, “I have none. Between touring and long rehearsal times I not only don’t have time for socialization, but I even miss important family events like weddings and holidays. Sometimes people in the shows I’m working on don’t understand why I don’t go to cast parties or out with them after rehearsals. They don’t understand that my personal privacy is very important to me and sometimes I just need to be alone.”

What’s in the future? Having just been inducted into SSDC, the national union for directors and choreographers, Cespedes feels he is “at the point where I am ready to break out.” Does this mean he will leave Cleveland? Though locals may hope not, it is going to be hard to keep this talented man in the area if Broadway or other prestige venues call.

Whatever happens in the future, the contributions Martin Cespedes has made to the local theatre scene will never be forgotten!

(The factual information for this article was supplied by Martin Cespedes.)