Saturday, September 04, 2010

Groundworks Dancetheater at The Akron Ice House

GROUNDWORKS says goodbye to Amy Miller in strong Ice House program

In 1998, Amy Miller was the first dancer asked to join Groundworks, David Shimotakahara's fledgling dance company. She also served the company as its Artistic Associate. She and Shimotakahara have been the backbone of the company since. Unfortunately, for the company, and the audiences who have come back again and again to see the ensemble, Miller is moving to New York City. She will continue to have creative ties with Groundworks, probably in the form of choreography, but her physical presence will be missing and missed.

Nothing could more exemplify Shimotakahara and Miller's bond, than the last 30 seconds of 'DnA,' which received its world premiere at the company's latest concert at Akron's Ice House. The duo piece, co-choreographed by Amy and David to music by Mark Hollis and Marc Mellits, was a tribute to the strength and depth of relationships. Obviously a reference to the choreographers' strong bond, it highlighted how “connections are tested over time and recognizes the miracle of finding friendship.” The piece ended with the duo facing each other, looking intently into each other's faces, sharing years of joint ventures and what appears to be a lasting emotional relationship. It was a tribute to the connection that comes from two very talented individuals who melded into a powerful artistic force to give joy to both each other and audiences. Bravo!

Groundworks is noted for placing dance in unexpected places. Their venues are churches, parks, museums and the Akron Ice House. For eleven years the company has used the former site where blocks of ice were stored, starting in 1870, for use by the residents of the Tire City. This is not an ideal place to present dance. The lack of a raised dance floor, poor sight lines and lack of raked seating, cause problems. The venue became even more cramped when an overflow of people appeared for the Friday night performance. Fifty chairs had to be crammed in between the already seated audience and the stage, causing sight blockage. In spite of this, the appreciative assemblage got what it came for...a fine evening of dance.

The opening number, the world premiere of choreographer Jill Sigman's 'SPLIT STITCH,' was set to original music by Gustavo Aguilar. Dressed in white fragments of material created by costumer Kristin Davies, the dancers, displaying fine body control, effectively interpreted Sigman's desire to display the “splits and tensions within ourselves, our culture and our country.”

Each of the four-part movements, found the dancers displaying a different set of emotions. Coordinated and segmented moves, interaction, lack of interaction, lyrical and static bodily actions, all highlighted by Dennis Dugan's lighting which cast shadows and moved in coordination and discordance with the dancers, created a series of illusions. The last segment, which found Felice Bagley, standing mid-stage, repeating the same movement over and over as she mumbled incoherent phrases, climaxed a thought provoking piece.

The final piece, 'JUST YESTERDAY,' in its Akron premiere, was a recreation of a Dianne McIntyre choreographed number, that the company has performed before. It is a series of vignettes, based on stories being told by the dancers, which are recreated in movement. Nostalgia, joy, sadness, personal traditions as they related to food, hijinks, fads, movies, family, and people who touched the dancers' lives, flowed forth. Though sometimes hard to hear because of the poor acoustics, the over all effect was strong. The piece is highlighted by the live guitar presence of Phillip Smith and Dan Wilson who are choreographed into the movement. All in all, this is a fascinating selection, which got a wonderful performance

Capsule judgement: With the loss of Amy Miller, Groundworks moves to a new challenge, of continuing its high level of dance performances without its Associate Artistic Director. The company said goodbye to Miller with a fine evening of dance at The Akron Ice House.