dance worth watching this weekend

Submitted by Susan Miller on Thu, 03/27/2008 - 22:11.
03/28/2008 - 20:00
03/30/2008 - 15:00

Amy Miller and Damien Highfield foolin' around

I'm a snob when it comes to dance. I want the envelope pushed. I am annoyed when I pay money and commit my time to watch some freeze dried reiteration of so much that has already been done. I think ballet is largely over and should be retired to museum status so young choreographers can get on with the innovation the field of dance so desperately needs. So with that introduction (since now you know where I stand), I encourage you to get off your ass and see Groundworks Dance at CPT this weekend. You missed the opening tonight at $10/admission, but whatever... pay them the money - the show is worth it.

I have been watching David Shimotakahara's work off and on for about a decade - before the nine year old company began. At first, I found a lot that made me uncomfortable. Ballet slippers and buns make me uncomfortable (unless it is a period piece where the bun is appropriate, but who besides ancient shushing librarians and ballerinas wear buns in 2008?). I prefer my dancing barefoot or in real shoes, not slippers. These pet peeves aside, if the dancing is good enough, if the choreography is engaging, the shoes at least can fade from my attention. Tonight I had more to look at than the shoes. (I still find the bun and the shiny earrings distracting - they seem leftovers from a bygone Balanchine era.)

David outdid himself with a sweet little duet aptly titled "Sweet". The dancers never stopped their continuous connected twining. It wasn't contact improv, but it showed how much David has learned by being pushed and prodded, working with a range of choreographers outside the ballet idiom. Because the dancers, Felise Bagley and Damien Highfield had "stuff to do" and all of it was connected and none of it was theatrical, we were drawn into the movement not because it might have had an overtone of sensuality, but because it had linear structure - the kind of linear structure that is sort of like how socks would move around each other in the dryer except with gravity at play. The music my Bobby McFerrin dictated all of the timing and Shimo was exacting in his method of filling every note and every nuance of McFerrin's vocal stylings with more than enough to keep the eye engaged. Bravo David!

Shimo and longtime performance tour de force partner Amy Miller took a turn with Gina Gibney's "Several Truths Duet". These two have settled in to each other. The chemistry has taken on a new blending since the last time I saw them dance this sort of spare work together. They have learned a new way of performing that has moved beyond the occasional lapse into ballet habit. The performance has relaxed, it breathes, they breathe, they are two humans (important, because ballet dancers are superhuman), we breathe with them, we are allowed into the dialogue they share with each other and the space, we are allowed to sense the architecture of the dance, the rooms that are created and dissolved, the passageways traveled. Great score, too.

The entire cast performed the opening and closing works and I want to be sure to point out that Sarah Perret is a welcome spark in the ensemble. She has all the ability, but fewer mannerisms to shed. I can see the habits falling away from David and I know he has struggled with them - he was after all the spark that drew audiences to watch Ohio Ballet for many years before launching his own choreographic career and company. Perret comes with less baggage from the ballet studio; she is able to "strike a pose" when required, but she is mercurial with a wider palate from the get go. There’s the full price of admission right there in this bundle – she graffs the space like an aerosol artist “getting away with it” in the night.

I had seen Shimo's closer "Latitude" before at the Icehouse in Akron. I may have been too close to appreciate the fun of this work. It has the sort of feel of Robbin's "Dances at a Gathering", but with a much smaller cast. There is more work to be done here, I think, but the work is a pleasing several rounds of dancing, and it is relaxed like a picnic in the country. Musician/composer Hal Walker alone is worth the price of admission. Even when his instruments break, he makes a silk purse out of it. (By the way, if that was a fall or a falter in "Sweet", I say keep it in...)

The opening work was a premiere by up-and-coming artistic associate Amy Miller. She's got the goods, folks. There was enough innovative movement in the 5 short vignettes to fill an entire evening. The best part? Not an arabesque, not a pirouette in sight. She has learned the language of Laban, even if she doesn't know it. Here's what her dance did have - float, punch, glide, slash, dab, wring, flick, and press. It had bound and free movement, it had swing and momentum and stop and turn and flip and hover, and cheer and playfulness and joy and silliness and rest periods for the eye and the mind. Amy Miller has astonished us with her growth as a performer all along. Now she has shed more ballet studio habits, she's cut her hair (lessening the severity of her look) and she's dropped the polarity of tragedy and comedy offering us instead the full range of Amy onstage. All the way from the back of the house I could see her sweat, and she was not apologizing for it. She has left the mask of performance on some old dressing table with the bobby pins, and it is delightful to see her in her utter joyous completeness both as an emerging choreographer and as a performer with a whole new expanded palate. Brava Amy! You go girl!

So unless you’re otherwise engaged, I suggest you call for reservations now. (216) 631-2727 extension 501 Go to CPT online and make your plans for this weekend. Have fun.


Cleveland Public Theater
6415 Detroit Avenue Gordon Square Theater
Cleveland, OH
United States
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It's nice to read you write

It's nice to read you write something nice about dance in Cleveland. I regret not seeing the performance.