GroundWorks offers modern and stimulating program at Akron Dance Festival



Cleveland’s GroundWorks Dance Theater put on a dance you could really immerse yourself in last weekend in Firestone Park, the second weekend of Akron’s three-week Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival.

It’s the 14th year of the city-sponsored free festival – a breath of fresh air to see summer dance performances in city parks after last year’s hiatus. As always, the contemporary dance company GroundWorks presented striking and stimulating original works.

The opening of the program was “Axis” by New York choreographer Adam Barruch, which he originally created with GroundWorks as a dance film that the company premiered online last summer. Now he has collaborated on the choreography with the five current GroundWorks dancers to perform the piece live on stage.

The dance, according to the program note, explores the alchemical processes that animate the world and our bodies, considering movement as a vector of collaboration and transformation. The piece features original music and sound design by Roarke Menzies.

In this dance, marked by rapid and determined movement, the movement and the soundscape create a sense of urgency. The five dancers move in tandem for much of the beginning of the dance, traveling with a clear interconnection.

When a dancer breaks out to disrupt that connection, the others bring them back. In one of the most fascinating moments, four of the dancers form a sort of circle around Nicole Hennington, taking turns pulling her head towards them with an arm wave, with Hennington changing direction quickly and precisely with each times.

The result is that the others seem to have an overwhelming physical power over Hennington, with his own body reminding me of the arms of a clock spinning rapidly in different directions.

The company, which only included dancers Annie Moran and Nicole Hennington last summer during the pandemic upheaval, now has new members Runako Campbell, a recent Princeton graduate; Jake Nahor, native of New York; and Channce Williams, originally from St. Louis.

Artistic Director David Shimotakahara’s “Sud Buster’s Dream,” which the company picked up last weekend after its Akron premiere at the festival in 2019, offered a stark contrast to the first dance. The dance is named after the title of a work by 1920s Chicago band leader Tiny Parham.

In this colorful dance, the five dancers reveal each act with the opening of a small red curtain posed on the larger dance stage.

GroundWorks Company Performs David Shimotakahara's Play

The great dance music features 1920s American jazz songs, with tunes from everyone from Fats Waller to Scott Joplin. There’s a lot of upbeat and seemingly fun music in “Sud Buster’s Dream,” which enters the world of American sideshow and lights up its dark, twisted side.

In this work, the dancers bring supporting characters to life, including Williams as the emcee in bold striped black and white pants and Hennington with tattooed arms.

The dance has lots of lively vaudeville-style movements including the tandem walk with the fingers outstretched. There are also cool kazoo sounds in two tunes from the 1920s Mound City Blowers – “I’ve Got My Fingers Crossed” and “Panama”.

Sadness and struggle are also present in this dance. In a section on Joplin’s “Palm Leaf Rag,” Hennington’s character appears to just want to leave the stage, turning her back on the audience as she walks through the red curtain as if she doesn’t want to be on display.

The mood turns darker as Jake Nahor does a contorted dance with his arms seemingly tied behind him as Morgan and Campbell do a shadow dance behind a white curtain. Here, the dance, set to Tchaikovsky’s Lullaby No. 2, becomes mournful.

For the final work in the program, Shimotakahara, who danced with the Ohio Ballet from 1983 to 1998, presented “Inside,” which choreographer Antonio Brown originally created as a film project last fall in the middle. of the pandemic. He’s now redesigned it for the stage.

In the dance, five people who are meant to be confined inside begin to create very individualized movements, disconnected from each other and moving one after another, perhaps like stiff video game characters. The sound, designed by Brown, begins with a strange whisper

Finally, Williams and Hennington touch their hands with their right arms, and connections begin to make. Each dancer interacts with a chair in the center of the stage, sitting, climbing and dancing on it. The dance soon turns into a true partnership with elevators as the confined people learn to work together.

We hear recorded voices uttering repetitive words such as “My. Now. My. Now. Maybe. We’ll see. See” as the dancers battle the memories and the voices that haunt them. At times, it seems like video game-like electronic effects are modulating in height. At the end of the dance, the five people who have learned to connect within their confinement hear whispers again as the light turns black.

Artistic writer Kerry Clawson can be reached at 330-996-3527 or [email protected]


Future : Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival Finale

Interpreters: Dayton Contemporary Dance Company

When: 8:45 p.m. Friday-Saturday

Or: Forest Lodge Park, 260 Greenwood Ave, Akron

First part: Interactive children’s program by the Akron University Dance Institute at 7:45 p.m. each evening

Cost: To free

Additional concert: Akron Symphony Virtuosi will perform their final free concert on the festival stage at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, featuring works by Scott Joplin, David Amram, WC Handy, John Philip Sousa and more

GroundWorks Dance Theater performs "Inside" by Antonio Brown Saturday at the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival in Firestone Park.


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