By Steve Sucato
Last summer when a freakish windstorm knocked out power at Cleveland Heights’ Cain Park, it also took with it Dancing Wheels’ scheduled world-premiere of “Labyrinth: A Tribute,” a dance work based on the 1986 film Labyrinth starring the David Bowie. While the cancellation was certainly unfortunate, it did provide the 36-year-old Cleveland-based physically integrated dance company with the opportunity to now create an entire evening themed around Bowie and his music. The Best of Bowie at Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica will not only feature several Bowie-scored dance works, but the production will be interspersed with facts, lesser known trivia and video footage about the late rock icon provided by local Bowie aficionado, CoolCleveland’s Thomas Mulready and be followed by a Bowie-themed post-performance party.
Acting as master of ceremonies for the evening, Mulready says he has had a lifelong interest in Bowie and his music that has weathered the many stylistic changes in Bowie’s music over the span of his career.
“Everything he would come up with was very different from the thing he did before so if you got hooked into the androgyny of Ziggy Stardust and then a few years later he’s doing ‘Young Americans’ and he is like a soul singer, people would turn off and he would get a whole new audience and lose the old one,” says Mulready. “I was there all along.”
Whether as musical alter egos the “Thin White Duke,” “Ziggy Stardust,” “Aladdin Sane” or “Major Tom,” David Robert Jones, a.k.a. David Bowie, is one of the most recognizable and revered figures in popular music history. With a string of hits and record sales of some 140 million over his 50-year career, Bowie was one of the world’s best-selling music artists. The multi-talented singer-songwriter, actor, painter, art collector and 1996 Rock Hall-inductee’s death of liver cancer at age 69 in 2016 sent shockwaves worldwide.
In celebration of Bowie’s legacy, The Best of Bowie will open with the premiere of Dancing Wheels’ rehearsal director Catherine Meredith’s “Pallas Athena.” Danced to Bowie’s “Pallas Athena (Don’t Stop Praying mix No 2)” off 1993’s Black Tie White Noise album, the work and the song’s title come from the Greek goddess, Athena, who is depicted in Athenian statues under the form of Pallas Athena. For Bowie, the song grew out of his interest in how man relates to God.
Says Meredith of the piece, “The impetus for the movement came from my years spent in NYC/London nightclubs. For many, the DJ and the club acted as a god and church/sanctuary where people were free to be who they were without judgment.” In it, Meredith says Dancing Wheels’ dozen dancers will represent the individual’s struggle to have their voice heard above the crowd.
Next, Pittsburgh-based choreographer Beth Corning’s new work “These Are The Days,” reunites Meredith and Dancing Wheels founder/artistic director Mary Verdi-Fletcher with former company dancers Hoang (Mac) Dang, Libby Dang and Shannon Sterne. Corning, whose ongoing Glue Factory Project for dancers over forty has earned her critical acclaim nationally, brings that same sensibility in working with veteran dancers to this work. She describes it as a visceral, metaphoric reflection of her confusion, disbelief and uncertainty at the current social and political climates in U.S. and abroad. Set to a remastered version of Bowie’s “Space Oddity” along with music by Philip Glass, the work will be performed with the cast in wheelchairs.
“My choice to put all the dancers into [wheel]chairs was a conscious one,” says Corning. The [wheel]chair was not a replacement for movement, but rather a vehicle. The armchair liberal, the strange act of passively sitting while physically having to propel yourself in space in circles — an equalizer of sorts — as we pass each other, trying to connect, constantly moving, almost afraid to stop, to connect, to take responsibility, to relate to the moment.”
Students from the Dancing Wheels School will then take the stage in “Lightning,” a new work choreographed by school coordinator Emma Parker along with Brittany Kaplan and Gabriella Martinez. Danced to Bowie’s 1983 hit “Let’s Dance” and the Bowie/Queen collaboration “Under Pressure,” the lighthearted work will be a toe-tapping lead-in to the program’s final work, “Labyrinth: A Tribute.”
Choreographed by former Dancing Wheels’ star Dezaré Foster, the Northeast Ohio premiere of “Labyrinth: A Tribute” is a dance re-envisioning of Jim Henson’s cult classic film. Set to Bowie’s soundtrack for the film, the family-friendly story ballet, like the film, combines drama, humor and a host of quirky characters to tell the tale of young Sarah’s perilous journey to save — in this version — her sister Toby from the malevolent Goblin King.
“I watched this movie as a young child and David Bowie’s music stayed close to my heart,” says Foster. “I hope the combination of music, movement and story will invite you into this fantastical world where goblins are under your bed and just beyond the meadow is a maze full of mystery and magic.”
Following the production, audience members are invited to stick around for a post-performance party featuring Cleveland glam band Vanity Crash They’ll take the stage to play Bowie and glam rock tunes. There’ll also be dancing, desserts and drinks (cash bar), a silent auction and a dancer meet-and- greet. For those wanting the full VIP experience, Dancing Wheels is also offering a pre-show cocktail party beginning at 6:30 p.m. with hors d’oeuvres, open bar, silent auction and Best of Bowie bling. Funds raised from this event go to supporting Dancing Wheels’ outreach and educational programming and touring.
Dancing Wheels presents The Best of Bowie, 8 p.m., Saturday, June 10; Jacobs Pavilion at Nautica, 2014 Sycamore Street, Cleveland. General admission $40, Groups of 10 or more $30/each, VIP tickets $125. (216) 432-0306 or dancingwheels.org.
Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.
This article was first published on CoolCleveland.com, June 3, 2017. Copyright Steve Sucato.