Sunday, September 16, 2007

Groundworks @ The Icehouse

GROUNDWORKS blends dance and music at Icehouse

Groundworks Dance is like the little engine that could. It is a small company which selects unusual places to perform its programs and succeeds in making each its psychological home. For nine seasons, since its inception, the company has performed in Akron’s Icehouse. The Icehouse was, as its name indicates, a storage site where blocks of ice from the river were brought and kept in the cavernous building. Later, when refrigeration was invented, ice was made and stored there. Now the facility is in the midst of an area which is becoming Akron’s arts center. It is an unusual place for a dance company with its pillars, high ceiling and dank atmosphere. But use it Groundworks does. And, they use it well.

For this year’s two weekend residence, David Shimotakahara, Groundworks’ Artisitic Director, decided to present a two dance and musical interlude program.

The first selection, ‘NANO,’ was in its Akron premiere. The piece was performed to a composition by Gustavo Aguilar, the company’s musical director, using only the sound of a snare drum. As is typical of Shimotakahara’s choreography, the moves perfectly fit the music. Though overly long, it showcased Aguilar’s skill in producing sounds from a single instrument. ‘NANO’ found the dancers creatively bumping into each other, pushing and lifting their own and other’s bodies, while gliding, turning, twisting and sliding. Arms were in constant motion. Amy Miller, the epitome of bodily control, did an audience-pleasing solo segment. A sector by Felise Bagley, Mark Otloski and Sarah Perrett was compelling. Dennis Dugan’s lighting helped highlight the dancing by casting moving shadows on the Icehouse’s dark and deeply scarred walls.

‘MUSIC INTERLUDE’ featured a trio of musical compositions created by John Luther Adams and performed by the Akros Percussion Collective. The musical sounds were supplemented by a dance segment performed with creative competence by Amy Miller and video images by Tug Video. The percussion music, using bells, marimba and gongs, was intriguing but overstayed its welcome. Each segment could have been shortened to heighten the overall effect.

‘ANNIE REDUX’ was a creatively devised piece by choreographer David Parker to the recorded music of Irving Berlin’s ‘ANNIE GET YOUR GUN.’ Interestingly, instead of using the well-known singing versions by Ethel Merman (Broadway’s first Annie Oakley) or that of Betty Hutton (who portrayed the sassy female wild west gunslinger in the film version), vocalizations by Judy Garland were used. Garland, who was originally cast in the film role, either dropped out or was fired, depending on which version you wish to believe. However, she had recorded the songs before departing from the filming. Like the recent Broadway hit, ‘MOVIN’ OUT,’ which was choreographed by Twyla Tharpe to the music of Billy Joel, the viewer needs to listen to the music, but accept that the words they hear are not going to develop the story of each song. Once that separation is accomplished, the piece becomes pleasurable. Consisting of some unusual lifts and captivating movements, the dancing parallels the sounds of the music. A wonderful simulated tap dancing without taps highlighted “There’s No Business Like Show Business.” In an interesting take, the role of Annie was danced by Miller, Bagley, Perett and David Shimotakahara. Bill was danced by Shimotakahara, Damien Highfield, Otloski and Perett. Each used his/her distinctive style to develop the character. All in all, this was a positive experience, especially for musical theatre buffs.

Capsule judgement: Shimotakahara is not afraid to take risks. His inclusion of a musical interlude sandwiched between dances was a different take on dance concerts. As always, the overall effect of the evening was positive, but several segments tested the theory that the mind can absorb what the seat can endure, and two of the segments definitely tested the audience’s endurance limits.