Monday, August 19, 2013


Dance has long been perceived as an art entertainment for the wealthy, educated and performance trained.  Terms such as “fifth position,” “adagio,” “camber,” “shag,” and “pirouette” are foreign to most people.   Dance styles such as hip hop, Tango, jazz, Samba, and Broadway may be terms that have been heard, but not known as a specific type of dance.  This combination has made attending dance programs a “no go” activity for many.

This perception seems to have changed lately with the advent of such television shows as DANCING WITH THE STARS, but most importantly, SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE.  The latter takes unknown dancers trained in a multitude of styles, and puts them into an “American Idol” competition with dance  judges explaining what the contestants are doing and why they are proficient in specific styles.  Thus, the vocabulary of dance, and the appreciation of the athletic nature of this form of the arts, has made the art form more popular.

An awareness for the role of choreographers also has been nurtured, and names like Mia Michaels, Sonya Tayeh, Mandy Moore, Travis Wall and Tyce Diorio have become known, and their talents highlighted.

This new awareness places additional pressure on local dance companies to produce higher quality performances and more creative and broader classifications of dances as audiences understand what us happening on stage.

As overheard between several people at intermission of the recent GROUNWORKS DANCE Cain Park concert, a question arose as to why local companies, some of whom are short on proficient male dancers, don’t tap into the SO YOU THINK YOU CAN DANCE performers, not only the finalists but even some of the more proficient cast offs.  Also discussed was, “how about doing some of the works of the program’s innovative choreographers, which are often seen only once and then thrown onto the choreographic junk pile.”

This is not to say that GROUNDWORKS, David Shimotakahara’s little troupe of 5 needs overhauling, but realistically Damien Highfield should be getting near the end of his long dance career, and though Gary Lenington is moving more easily since he has adjusted his body size, the artistic director may soon be needing to search for some new males.  As for the females, he is in good shape.  Felise Bagley is still the best female dancer in town, adorable and dynamic Noelle Cotler has nicely replaced Amy Miller, and Annika Sheaff is a strong soloist, but her height and movement profile sometimes make it difficult for her to blend with the petite Cotler and Bagley.

Performing before an appreciative opening night house in Cain Park’s Alma Theatre, Groundworks’ performance was a nicely balanced program.

BEFORE WITH AFTER, a 2003 piece by Shimotakahara, with composed music by J. S. Bach, found the dancers flowing to the classical sounds, with the movements clearly paralleling the rhythm.   The piece acknowledged life’s encounters, crossed and re-crossed relationships in what might be termed “physical poetic responses to Bach’s compositions.” Highlights included classic movements by Bagley, appealing facial expressions and body creations by Cotler, and athletic actions by Sheaff.

WAY LEADS TO WAY (2013) was signature Amy Miller.  The company’s Associate Artistic Director was a powerful, controlled, compelling dancer.  Her choreography mirrors those traits.  Writhing, extended gestures, strong springs, running, and body thrusts combined to illuminate “Lusine,” a sound piece described as “down tempo, placid, abstract hip-hop, haunting ambient bipping/skipping techno.”  Danced in shadows, the mood was enhanced by Dennis Dugan’s lighting.

Award winning choreographer Doug Elkins started his dance career as a B-Boy, a break dancer, is noted for combining “modern dance, hip hop, martial arts and ballet with a touch of [Buster] Keaton and [Charlie] Chaplin”  His dance creations are filled with humor and challenging movement.

The very entertaining six part, MY HUMMINGBIRD AT THE HIGH LINE (2012), was set to musical pieces on the themes of love and creativity. The dance composition was inspired by writer  Jarod Kintz’s “If my love could be represented by a blur, it would be the beating of a hummingbird’s wings.  Did you know my love is the only love that can fly backwards?”

Songs such as “A Lot of Living to Do,” “Sway,” “I Got You Under My Skin,” and ”Dis Quand Reviendra Tu,” were blended to make for a jive, rumba, modern ballet mélange of classic, modern and contemporary moods.  The amalgamation worked well.  Two highlights were the coupling of Lenington and Sheaff to create a fascinating and well-conceived segment proficiently danced to Handel’s ”Acis and Galatea,” and Bagley and Cotler creating a delightful contemporary vibe while moving to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons, “Beggin’.”

Capsule judgement: GROUNDWORKS DANCE presented another pleasing concert before an appreciative audience on opening night of their August 16-18, 2013 Cain Park presentation.  SUPPORT YOUR LOCAL DANCE COMPANIES!