GroundWorks’ ‘Spring Program’ Inspired by Dreams and Spirits

From 2014, GroundWorks’ Felise Bagley and Damien Highfield in David Shimotakahara’s “Ghost Opera.” Photo by Dale Dong.

By Steve Sucato

All of us at one time or another have had a dream so vivid or bizarre that it stuck with us after we woke from it. Strong feelings, emotions and images that felt so real as to become a part of our memory. Such was the case for New York City-based choreographer Loni Landon, who sparked by a recurring image she held on to from several chaotic and anxiety-filled dreams she had after Hurricane Sandy, created a new dance work for GroundWorks DanceTheater. The company will premiere the yet-to-be-titled 30-minute contemporary dance work this weekend, March 4 & 5 at The University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall. The program will then repeat March 18 & 19 in Cleveland at St. Ignatius High School’s Breen Center for Performing Arts.

“The piece is like a rolling dream ─ a fluid, abstract stream of consciousness,” says Landon by phone from New York.  She also sees the work like as being like a surreal movie organized into scenes. “One scene is a trio, another, a duet, all with different tones,” she says. The piece takes shape around a single character’s point of view. That character, danced by GroundWork’s Michael Marquez, is part of a non-linear storyline Landon likens to a David Lynch movie.

The work is also scored like a movie soundtrack with an eclectic mix of classical, contemporary classical and pop music.

Choreographer Loni Landon. Photo by Mallory Lynn.

A Juilliard graduate who danced with Aszure Barton and Artists, Ballet Theater Munich, and The Metropolitan Opera before becoming an award-winning freelance choreographer, Landon has created works for Keigwin + Company, BODYTRAFFIC, Hubbard Street II, BalletX, Ballet Austin, Seattle’s Whim W’Him, and her own company, Loni Landon Dance Projects.

“I work in a very collaborative way,” says Landon. “I kept pushing them [GroundWork’s dancers] to have more input while we were working together.”

One of those dancers being pushed was Landon’s classmate at Juilliard, Annika Sheaff who turned her on to the company who she describes as unique. “The dancers are all very different from each other – different styles, personalities, experiences, training – I’ve never met such a diverse group before,” says Landon.

The work’s creation process of was a quick one. Landon had just two weeks to put together the bones of the work whose choreography is derived from a single movement phrase that is manipulated, picked apart and strung together.  “The work is more theatrical than I tend to go,” says Landon. “We are using a set and props.”

From 2014, GroundWorks’ Annika Sheaff in David Shimotakahara’s “Ghost Opera.” Photo by Dale Dong.
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GroundWorks dancers in a recent rehearsal of David Shimotakahara’s “Ghost Opera.” Photo courtesy of GroundWorks DanceTheater.

Where Landon’s work stems from a dream image, the reprise of GroundWorks artistic director David Shimotakahara’s Ghost Opera takes its inspiration Chinese composer Tan Dun’s score of the same name that delves into spirits and the supernatural found in shamanistic “ghost operas” popular in Chinese peasant culture. Says Dun: the composition uses “very ancient theatrical methods to approach a modern idea, linking the different kinds of territory across media and across lives, and across decades, and let all those souls talk to each other.”

The score, which features the sounds of water, stones, metal, paper the Chinese Pipa (a four-stringed lute) will be played live Cleveland Institute of Music graduates Solomon Liang (Violin 1), Andrea Belding (Violin 2), Aaron Mossburg (Viola), Erica Snowden (Cello) and Yihan Chen (Pipa).

Shimotakahara’s Ghost Opera originally premiered during GroundWorks’ 2014 season. In a review of the work performed at Akron’s Glendale Cemetery I wrote for Canada’s Dance International magazine, I said “Shimotakahara’s choreography ebbed and flowed between the dancers en masse huddling and cleaving to each other and duets and solos that spoke of earth, family and, oddly enough, the music of Bach and the writings of Shakespeare.”

No doubt the work will have a different feel on the stage at E.J. Thomas Hall but promises to be no less powerful and haunting.

GroundWorks DanceTheater presents its Spring Series program, 7:30 p.m., Friday, March 4 and Saturday, March 5, 2016 at The University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall, 198 Hill St, Akron, OH. Tickets are $25.00/general and $10.00/child & student. (330) 253-2488, or

The Spring Series program will repeat 7:30 p.m., Friday, March 18 and Saturday, March 19, 2016 at St. Ignatius High School’s Breen Center for Performing Arts, 2008 West 30th Street, Cleveland, Ohio. Tickets are $25.00/preferred, $20.00/general and $10.00/child & student; (216) 751-0088 or

Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of


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