GroundWorks @ Cain Park

GW 1
(L to R) Felise Bagley and Annika Sheaff

GroundWorks @ Cain Park
Music Listening


We’re not trained in music nor are we particularly skilled at using the internet to do research, but even for us it’s fast and easy to learn more about the music in dance concerts by using Google and YouTube. And that’s what we did when we got home from GroundWorks DanceTheater’s recent concert at Cain Park’s Alma Theater.

The first dance on the program was Inamorata, created on GroundWorks by Guest Artist Kate Weare in 2013. Inamorata begins with a processional hymn sung by Anonymous 4, which sets a serious, spiritual tone for the opening dance, a duet danced by Felise Bagley and Annika Sheaff, but that tone is immediately undercut by the mechanical-sounding chimes and ratchets of Nannou by Aphex Twin, music for a duet between Bagley and the new man in the company, Tyler Ring, in which he manipulates her like a clockwork figure.


GW 3
Tyler Ring


Next is the tango for 2 men that we remember from Inamorata’s 2013 world premiere at Breen, danced here by Ring and Damien Highfield. The 2 men start pugnaciously nose to nose and then variously locomote about the stage in a muscular and adversarial dance.

Is that a bowed double bass we hear in said tango? Yes it is, played by Hector Console, widely considered the world’s leading tango double bassist, playing on a much-admired tango album, Mi Buenos Aires Querido. We’ve remarked before on the eclectic music Weare selected for Inamorata but after this most recent performance we dug deeper to realize that she had consistently chosen outstanding recordings.

Perhaps we make too much of a tango danced by two men. Back in the day – or so they tell the yanquis – men waiting in line outside the tango clubs of Buenos Aires would routinely partner each other for practice. No big deal.

Then there’s a women’s trio in which we get our first look at the new woman in the company, Gemma Freitas Bender. Unlike some newcomers to GroundWorks, she’s given a lot to do — in Inamorata and the rest of this concert. The women’s trio is danced to ( Ba played by Goldmund on the album Corduroy Road, piano music in a high register that presents a sharp contrast to the double base of the men’s tango.

GW 2
Gemma Freitas Bender


The plunking rural sound of Ba also provides a bridge into the next musical selection, the bluegrass hymn, ( No One Hurts Up Here by Kasey Chambers and Shane Nicholson in Rattlin’ Bones. The 5 dancers process around the stage with their hands in the same flat shapes we saw in the Nannou duet, but here the effect is one of ritual formality rather than mechanical comedy.

The hymn is in ¾ time and occasionally the choreography calls for strong accents on the 2!3! of a measure, something we saw as reflective of religious ardor.

The next dance is a duet between Freitas Bender and Highfield to one of Pablo Casals’ recordings of the Sarabande from Bach’s Suite No. 1 in G. Casals, we understand from our reading, was long an advocate of this music and Weare has chosen a much-loved recording.

In her duet with Highfield, Freitas Bender departs from convention in that she often initiates movements and sometimes lifts Highfield. Perhaps it’s the influence of CrossFit or Title 9; we’re seeing women use their strength more in concert dance. At the end of the duet she suddenly drops him to the floor, one more example of how Highfield has been getting beat up a lot for the last few years. There’s something about the way he takes it, weary but patient.

Inamorata ends with a trio for the women to another Anonymous 4 hymn, a dance which ends with Sheaff’s nicely held arabesque.

We liked Inamorata in 2013 because it gave the GroundWorks dancers a chance to do what they do best, dance, but in reviewing Weare’s musical selections we came to a better appreciation of her choices.

Guest Choreographer Monica Bill Barnes’ World Premiere Untitled begins on a raucous note with Louis Prima’s Oh Marie. The 5 dancers wear sports coats and, with broad hand gestures solicit applause from the audience. But then the sports coats come off and the dancers begin a purposeful, exercise class warmup to a Glenn Gould recording of the Goldberg Variations, counting arm circles, shoulder rolls, and pushups until the music stops.

But what’s wrong? With the theater in silence, a member of the tech staff comes out and speaks to the dancers sotto voce. We can’t hear what’s said, but we’re fairly certain it’s a put on. In fact, we know by now that the whole of Untitled is a put on.

To mournful, heavy–on-the-pedal-steel country western music, Please Don’t Tell Me How the Story Ends sung by Joan Osborne, the dancers apply eye drops and deodorant as the audience laughs. Then it’s boxing drills, time out for more business with meds, more boxing drills taking punches, time out for more business with meds, mouth guards, Band-Aids. Footwork drills end with arms raised in victory.

There’s more in a similar vein, aerobics to Pavarotti singing Nessun Dorma!, a time out for drinks from water bottles, and an aerobic finale to that perennial aerobics class favorite, I Melt With You by Modern English.

It’s pretty silly stuff but well done by the GW dancers who are good at putting a face on silly stuff. In their hands, silly becomes funny. Also worth noting, Untitled makes demands on the GW dancers’ energy; the steam room humidity of the Alma Theater that night leads us to suspect that that was real sweat on the dancers.

The very last dance on the program was Chromatic, a piece Shimotakahara choreographed last year to Conlon Nancarrow’s Studies for Player Piano. If you’re not already familiar with this music, consider a quote from an article in New York Review of Books, Prince of the Player Piano. Nancarrow “was drawn to the technical possibilities of the machine, which can play faster and with greater precision than the most virtuosic pianist.”

Now geek out with us as we go a bit deeper into Studies for Player Piano, which are not only faster and more precise but also unusual in Nancarrow’s use of mensural canons, canons in which one voice imitates the melody of another but in a different tempo. That overlapping of different tempos goes a long way toward explaining the disorienting weirdness we heard in the music but it posed another question, “How the heck are you going to dance to this stuff?” Dancers could maintain unison by dancing with each other in juxtaposition with the music but we suspect it would be very difficult to actually dance to Studies for Player Piano.

At the beginning of Chromatic, the 5 dancers line up downstage and hold antic poses while we get a good look at Janet Bolick’s black and white costumes. We particularly remember Tyler Ring’s vest, 4 inches longer on one side than the other, much as the mensural canons keep coming out uneven.

When the actual dancing starts to Studies #6 and #11, the rhythm of the music sounds unpredictable to us, but the dancers preserve rhythmic unison, including unison claps, by dancing – we suspect — with each other rather than to the music.

The dance to Study #2 presents a study in contrasts between 2 couples. Sheaff and Ring are downstage sitting in chairs, one black, one white; she pats her knee and he snaps his fingers but they cannot get along and no wonder because the music is impossible to dance to. Their mutual frustration motivates dancing over and around the chairs in an entertaining duet.

Meanwhile, upstage, Bagley and Highfield are smoothly flowing through a pas de deux, dancing, we suspect, with each other.

Next, putting aside the to / with dichotomy, the 2 new dancers, Freitas Bender and Ring, danced a pas de deux. We were impressed at their ability to maintain a strong kinetic flow despite the intricate choreography.

Nancarrow gave the player piano a rest from time to time. His Andantino played by a woodwind trio was music for a solo danced by Freitas Bender. Is this the ( music referred to in the program note? Listen to it with us and tell us, what’s the time signature? Perhaps she danced to the music. More importantly, she drew the audience in with a slow, introspective solo.

Chromatic wraps up with a rousing dance for the entire company.

Learn more about GroundWorks DanceTheater’s 2 newest members ( HERE and ( HERE.

We saw GroundWorks DanceTheater at Cain Park’s Alma Theater on Friday 7/14/2017.

Northeast Ohio audiences have one more opportunity to see GroundWorks this summer, Friday and Saturday August 4 & 5 at Goodyear Heights Metro Park, 2077 Newton St., Akron, OH 44305. See our ( preview in

Elsa Johnson and Victor Lucas


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