GroundWorks @ Cain Park A Look Back

It’s been a great summer, so great that we haven’t had time to write about it until now. Here are our thoughts on GroundWorks DanceTheater’s performance at Cain Park’s Alma Theater, a concert we watched on Saturday 7/21/2018.

Roughly half of new GroundWorks repertoire is from guest choreographers like Banning Bouldin who create something absolutely new on the GroundWorks dancers during a week long residency. Nothing against the artists involved, but it’s like a roll of the dice. There’s no way of knowing whether the new work will bomb or knock our socks off.

Which brings us to Bouldin’s Chronos, whose dance language — contact partnering and undulant torsos over feet planted wide apart — has much in common with the first 2 pieces in the Hubbard Street concert in Playhouse Square the following Saturday, which is perhaps attributable to Bouldin’s tenure with Hubbard Street 2.

Music in Chronos varies from plucked string instruments in Echolocations: River by Andrew Bird, atmospheric sound from Fundamental Values by Nils Frahm, and a voice over providing garbled instructions from The Way Out by The Books.

All this dance and music is sandwiched between tableaus that appear at the beginning and end of Chronos, tableaus in which Gemma Freitas Bender lies supine, surrounded and supported by the other dancers. Clearly, we’re supposed to understand that she’s ill or dying, which ties in to Bouldin’s program note differentiating between Chronos (the ticking clock), Kairos (quality time), and Aion (eternity), three terms the ancient Greeks used to described time.

Chronos is a fast, strenuous dance that the GroundWorks dancers performed with authority.

The second half of the concert, David Shimotakahara’s al-one, is danced to ChamberFest’s 48-minute Dawn of a Revolution, a musical program that consists of piano solos from György Ligeti’s Musica Ricercata interspersed with music (mostly for string quartet) by Ludwig Van Beethoven, Maurice Ravel, Arvo Pärt, Dmitri Shostakovich, and Alberto Ginastera. It’s a musical program that could easily stand alone and sometimes Shimotakahara wisely allows it to do just that, leaving the dancers off stage as the musicians play or having one or more dancers stand quietly onstage as if listening.

Restraint was also the name of the choreographic game during Arvo Pärt’s minimalist Spiegel im Spiegel. Shimotakahara had the dancers looking down at their feet for much of the time as they slowly revolved by stepping with one foot turning in and the other foot turning out, a very rudimentary step. Only occasionally did their feet follow the music’s ¾ time with a slightly dancier triplet or pas de bouree.

To say that the musicians — Elena Loskova, Piano, Miho Hashizume, Violin, Aniela Eddy, Violin, William Bender, Viola, and Erica Snowden, Cello – played well is to acknowledge the obvious, that Cleveland has more excellent classical musicians playing excellent music than we could possibly listen to if we devoted 24, seven, 365. What makes a concert stand out among all this excellence is curation, programing like Dawn of a Revolution that dares to assert a point of view.



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Dancing to this music history roller coaster, the GroundWorks dancers old and new distinguished themselves, even as everything about GroundWorks changes. From the old company only Tyler Ring stays on for the coming season. Freitas Bender accompanies her husband, William Bender, to London. Please join us in welcoming Alexis Britford, Annie Morgan, and Robert Rubama to Cleveland.

In a recent article ( we spoke with Felise Bagley and Damien Highfield as they prepared to leave GroundWorks. They were the last of the old timers and quite possibly the last of the dyed-in-the-wool ballet dancers to fill Groundworks’ ranks. We can probably also say goodbye to the long tenures we used to see at GroundWorks. Old timers Bagley, Highfield, Amy Miller, Mark Otloski, and Brian Murphy had all put down roots in Northeast Ohio before they joined GroundWorks and they stayed with GroundWorks for a long time. The younger dancers who have succeeded them have turned over much more rapidly.

The constant is Shimotakahara, who expressed confidence and enthusiasm when we chatted with him after Saturday’s concert. Like a guy on his way to the races with his rent money in his pocket, except that he usually wins.

Go to to learn what’s next for GroundWorks.

GroundWorks DanceTheater performed at Cain Park’s Alma Theater on Friday 7/20, Saturday 7/21, and Sunday 7/22/2018.

Victor Lucas

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