GroundWorks Dancetheater Review

GroundWorks Dancetheater
November 17-19, 2006
Trinity Cathedral – Cleveland, Ohio
Reviewed by Steve Sucato

With a backdrop of gothic arches, organ pipes and stained glass windows, GroundWorks Dancetheater presented a program of three new works as part of its ongoing Landmarks Series that brings dance to historic venues in Northeast Ohio.

The program opened with GroundWorks artistic director/choreographer David Shimotakahara’s Before with After set to a compilation of J.S. Bach piano compositions.
Five dancers costumed in white began a dance that seemed to exude exaltation. Shimotakahara’s contemporary ballet choreography bent and lifted the dancers into well-patterned groupings and relationships that shifted with the pace and mood of Bach’s music.

Billed as “a response to Bach’s magnificent compositions for keyboard” and an “intersection of life’s joy and sorrow”, the ballet overall lacked an
emotional connection between dancer and dance. GroundWorks’ dancers more often than not appeared detached from Shimotakahara’s pristine choreography, which progressed from section to another with uncertain purpose. Danced solidly by the ensemble, of note in the work were an off kilter and energetic solo performed by Felise Bagley, and a pas de deux by dancers Jennifer Lott and Mark Otloski that had the pair pushing and pulling at each other and alternating the crash of outstretched arms that flung one away from their bodies suggesting the volatile nature of the pairs relationship.

In contrast to Before with After’s seeming emotional ambiguity,

Felise Bagley in Through the Lens – Photo: Dale Dong
dancer/choreographer Amy Miller’s eleveneleven, seethed with emotion and tension that had one on edge throughout. Four dancers (2 men and 2 women) entered the stage linked in a chain and glancing at one another for signs of sexual interest that would signal a pairing off from the group. As if caught in a love quadrangle, male/female pairings were drawn together for brief periods only to be dissolved by feelings of jealousy and lust as the other dancers broke them apart and new pairings were formed. Set to a delicate piano score laced with ethereal vocal sound bites by composer Ryan Lott, the work portrayed a desperate need for these individuals to unite in some manner. Their need drawn out in cold stares, fitful embraces and impassioned hearts. Eleveneleven showed Miller’s brilliance as a young choreographer and left me with the hope that we will see more of her choreography on the company in the near future.

The program closed with Through the Lens by the New York choreographer team of Art Bridgman and Myrna Packer. Two large fabric screens staggered one adjacent and behind the other covered the width of the stage as an original composition by longtime GroundWorks collaborator Gustavo Aguilar sent the silhouetted body of Bagley into motion behind one of screens. Bagley’s flowing movement had her shadow-self appear to shrink and grow in size as she moved away from and toward the light creating her shadow image. Four more dancers joined Bagley in silhouette behind both screens as the work progressed performing solo, duet, and group modern dance choreography that at times had them bursting through seams in each screen’s fabric and emerging in front of it to continue their dancing. Through the Lens’s visual effects were like watching one of the current Apple iPod television commercials where dancers in silhouette groove to popular music. Only in Through the Lens, the dancers then appear as if they are leaping out from inside the TV screen to become their 3-dimensional dancing selves.
While the visual effects used in Through the Lens are nothing new to dance, they are uncommon, and as such are oh so much eye candy for audiences. But beyond the work’s visual effects, Bridgman and Packer created some tenacious and rather effective and interesting choreography that GroundWorks’ dancers performed with impeccable timing.

With this latest installment of their successful Landmark Series, GroundWorks Dancetheater continues to show it is a dance company of high standard and taste and that they are one of the finest regional contemporary dance ensembles in the country.

For more information on GroundWorks Dancetheater visit

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