Friday, March 28, 2008

Groundworks (Danceworks Festival 2008)

GROUNDWORKS sparkles at Danceworks Festival

Groundworks Dance Theater, which is presently performing as part of Cleveland Public Theatre’s Danceworks Festival, is David Shimotakahara’s sparkling modern dance company. It is about to enter its tenth year of existence. It looks like it will be a year of excitement and possible change for the company.

Next spring they will be performing in New York, allowing the Big Apple folk to find out what North Coasters have known for a long time….this is a very special and talented company with a talented and special Artistic Director.

There are questions, however. Company member Mark Otloski, who is presently injured, will fade permanently from the dance floor and spend full time on the company’s outreach program. That leaves only Shimotakahara and Damien Highfield as the ensemble’s male dancers. As good as they both are, they are of the age when it starts to get difficult to continue the hectic and physical pace required by modern dance. For example, both of them performed in three pieces in the present program. That would be a challenge for twenty year-olds.

So, the question must be raised, “Wither goest thou Groundworks?” New company members? Cutting down on the length and number of productions? A change in company philosophy? Only the next year will tell.

Their present program consisted of four highly entertaining pieces. ‘FOR THE LIFE OF ME,’ a world premiere choreographed by Artistic Associate Amy Miller, combined six pieces of music which had no apparent theme and used a blend of contemporary bumps, lifts, flowing arms, and fast moves to create a cheerful collage. Maybe with a view of self-revelation, the choreographer used Amy Borkowsky’s comedy routine parody, “Where’s Amila?,” based on her mother’s over-possessiveness, as the highlight segment.

‘SWEET,’ a Cleveland premiere choreographed by Shimotakahara, used Gospel music as the center for sensual exploration. Felise Bagley and Damien Highfield skillfully intertwined bodies and melded together to create a wonderfully danced and interpreted number.

‘SEVERAL TRUTHS DUET, choreographed by Gina Gibney, who has done a number of creations for Groundworks, used pansonic and micizoscopic music to create a powerful piece which displayed unusual lifts, static interactions and compelling leaps and turns. Miller and Shimotakahara, two movement perfectionists, interpreted the concept with skill. Ironically, just before the dance came to its climax, a dark piece of gel floated out of a light above the stage and gently floated down in perfect time to the music. It was a wonderful addition to the composition. Too bad that accident of theatricality can’t be added on a regular basis.

The program ended with one of my favorites, ‘LATITUDE.’ Developed to the music of Hal Walker, who plays a series of instruments in his live accompaniment, the piece takes on different attitudes according to Walker’s musical instrument and style. County music, twanging sounds, hand slapping, Eastern European folk songs, clinking balls and mouth organ reverberations, all were interpreted into appropriate movements which examined people in transition and the soul’s search for a place and the need for connection.

Capsule judgement: Groundworks is a gem of a company. If you haven’t seen them in performance you should! Yes, you definitely should!