Saturday, March 01, 2014

Spotlight on: Groundworks, Apollo's Fire and the Cleveland Pops Orchestra

Groundworks Dance Theater

Since 1998 David Shimotakahara’s Groundworks Dance Theater has delighted Cleveland and national audiences with its creative contemporary and modern dance.  Original music, world premieres, and dance were designed to fit into various settings including churches, an ice house, libraries, museums and traditional auditoriums.

It’s most recent concert, housed at the Breen Center, featured two pieces from the company’s repertoire and a world premiere.

FOR LIFE OF ME, choreographed by former company member Amy Miller, was a gymnastic piece with abandoned movements in a controlled setting.  Sans storyline, it showcased life’s issues to a variety of music and spoken accompaniment.

LUNA, choreographed by Shimotakahara, was performed to electronic sounds created by Peter Swendsen, which consisted of echoes, piercing instances and clicks.  The physical cacophony of movements well fit the music.  A solo segment by Annika Sheaff was keyed by her Pilobolus training.

Choreographer Rosie Hererra, who was attending the world premiere of her piece, HOUSE BROKEN, used various mechanical and societal attitudes to develop the eight-segment piece.   An operating lawnmower, golf balls, a large paper box, and lawn chairs were used to develop mini-themes created via the selected music, which included “It’s Not Unusual,” “Little Boxes,” “She’s A Lady,” “L’Arena,” and “Cranking an Old Lawnmower.”  Though not totally effective, the piece had some nicely conceived segments.

The evening of dance, while entertaining, had a fairly languid effect.  Maybe watching the company for so many years has allowed for the expectation for groundbreaking choreography and landmark presentations being the norm. Whether its their age or physical condition, the male dancers generally lacked dynamics.  The women were fine, but not totally compelling.  The usual audience cries of “bravo” and within-dance spontaneous applause, were missing in this concert. 

Capsule judgment:  This is not to say that the latest Groundworks’ program was poorly received or was poorly danced. For many dance companies, it would have been a fine concert.   It was just was not of the high-level enveloping presence usually experienced at a Groundworks concert. 

Groundwork’s annual benefit, “It Takes Two!,” will be held at the Silver Grille in the Higbee Building, on Saturday, April 26.  For information go to: or call 216-751-0088.


Many people in the United States, both Jewish and not, are familiar with the liturgical and joyous musical sounds of Eastern European Jews.  These Ashkenazi tunes are sung in synagogues during Sabbath and high holiday services, at weddings, bar mitzvahs, and home ceremonies.  Less known are the sounds of the Sephardic, Spanish Jews.  These Spanish-originated musical traditions, were spread around the Mediterranean world when in 1492 the Jewish inhabitants of Spain were expelled by the Catholic monarchs. 

Ladino, rather than Yiddish, was the language of these people.  Their pronunciation of Hebrew was influenced by their “native” language, their music was played by the instruments of Spain (e.g., lute, shawm, tiroba, castanet, other stringed instruments, and drums), and the sounds reflected by their social customs. 

Apollo’s Fire, noted for their distinctive sound and memorable style, recently presented a five-concert series entitled, “SEPHARDIC JOURNEY:  WANDERINGS OF THE SPANISH JEWS.”  The well-attended concerts exposed audiences to the vocal and instrumental sounds of the Sephardim.

Traditional prayers, such as “Adon Olam,” “Lecha Dodi,” and “Avinu Malkenu” took on sounds quite different from the Ashkenazi versions.

The mesmerizing concert featured vocalists Nell Snaidas, Jeffrey Strauss and Karim Sulayman, as well as musicians trained in the instruments used to create the unique music.

Capsule judgment:  Bravo to Jean Sorrell and Nell Snaidas, co-directors of the concert, as well as the entire Apollo’s Fire assemblage and the guest soloists, for creating an educational and illuminating concert.

Cleveland Pops remembers Marvin Hamlisch

Marvin Hamlisch, who recently died, is probably best known for composing the score for the legendary musical, “A CHORUS LINE,” including “What I Did for Love” and “At the Ballet.”   Hamlisch also wrote such memorable songs as “The Way We Were,” “Through the Eyes of Love,” “Nobody Does it Better” and “They’re Playing Our Song.”

Carl Topilow is the musical director of the Cleveland Pops Orchestra.  Now in its eighteenth concert season, the assemblage offers a unique blend of music, entertainment and audience interaction. 

The composer’s mystique and the pops talents came together recently in the  Severance Hall program, “THE LEGACY OF MARVIN HAMLISCH: ONE SINGULAR SENSATION.”  The program included Broadway legends Donna McKechnie, who starred in the original Broadway production of “CHORUS LINE,”  Jodi Benson, noted as the voice of Ariel in “THE LITTLE MERMAID,” and Doug LaBrecque, who starred in THE PHANTOM OF THE OPERA.”  They not only sang Hamlisch songs, but shared their personal experiences with him.

Capsule judgment:  The exceptional evening was a true once-in-a-life-time experience of great instrumental music, stellar vocals and a tribute to one of America’s greatest Broadway and pop composers.