New work by Rosie Hererra highlights GroundWorks DanceTheater’s richly satisfying Winter Series program

GroundWorks DanceTheater dancers in Rosie Hererra’s  “House Broken”.
GroundWorks DanceTheater dancers in Rosie Hererra’s “House Broken”.

GroundWorks DanceTheater
Breen Center for the Performing Arts
Cleveland, Ohio
February 28, 2014

Reviewed by Steve Sucato

Winter may have had Northeast Ohio in its icy grip, but Miami-based choreographer Rosie Hererra’s world premiere work “House Broken” did its best to warm things up at Cleveland’s Breen Center for the Performing Arts with a laugh-out-loud dark comedy filled with sight gags and prop humor and tinged with the heartache of broken dreams and unfulfilled lives. It was one of three works on GroundWorks DanceTheater’s highly entertaining Winter Series program. The diverse program began however with choreographer Amy Miller’s joyful 2008 work for the company, “For the Life of Me”.  Set to music by Ingrid Michaelson, Amy Borkowsky, Giorgio Conte with a recorded story reading by Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, the work for five dancers had a youthful, playful vibe a la the opening of an episode of TV’s Friends. Miller’s contemporary choreography in the opening section had the dancers leaning into, lifting, and ducking under one another.

In the work’s second section Miller juxtaposed the dancer’s carefree movements ─ contacting each other via leg taps and knee bumps ─ with Tyler recounting a story of feeling invisible as a child in a sweets shop, helpless to act on his desire for a piece of coffee cake.  A third section found the dancers frolicking along an imaginary tightrope further illustrating an underlying theme in the work of growing up and walking a line between acting like an adult and letting your inner child rule.  The inventive work concluded with an amusing vignette in which the dances engaged in a children’s schoolyard game while answering machine messages played of an overprotective mother and those whom she had contacted in search of her adult daughter.

“Luna” by David Shimotakahara.  Photo by Mark Horning.
“Luna” by David Shimotakahara. Photo by Mark Horning.

Next, GroundWorks artistic director David Shimotakahara’s “Luna” (2013) set a more impersonal tone. Danced to Oberlin Conservatory of Music’s Peter Swendsen’s new music soundtrack laden with machine-like whirs and hisses along with distant background voices, the dark and stylized work felt cold and the dancers in it, detached. Despite its impersonal approach, Shimotakahara’s choreography for “Luna” was a finely crafted exercise in circular patterns that had its dancers circling arms and moving in and around a moon-like circle projected on the stage. The dancers methodically rose and fell with changes in Swendsen’s music, dancing with ordered precision and intense purpose.

GroundWorks DanceTheater dancers in Rosie Hererra’s  “House Broken”.
GroundWorks DanceTheater dancers in Rosie Hererra’s “House Broken”.

The aforementioned “House Broken” closed GroundWorks’ richly satisfying program on a lighter note. In it, dancer Damien Highfield aboard a working treadmill portrayed a modern man hectically juggling work and suburban home life.  Fed a string of props by the other dancers in the piece including baby dolls, a stroller and a cell phone, Highfield humorously tried to keep pace with all of life’s demands on him. With “House Broken”, set to a mix of popular tunes by Tom Jones, The Turtles, Pete Seeger and Roberta Flack, Hererra created an introspective  microcosm of suburban life where outward appearances of fun loving women and men and dutiful fathers and mothers concealed lonely, unhappy and unfulfilled lives.  Hererra’s quirky cast of lawn mowing husbands and hair whipping housewives made a lasting impression as did the performances of Groundworks’ dancers as them especially dancer Annika Sheaff who shone in episodes of uncontrolled crying, dog barking and as a figurative blade of grass in a green bodysuit mowed down like the dreams of so many of the characters in the work.

GroundWorks DanceTheater will perform its Winter Series program, 7:30 p.m., Saturday, March 29, 2014. Akron-Summit County Public Library Main Branch Auditorium, 60 S. High Street, Akron, Ohio. $10-25. 216-751-0088 or

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