The GroundWorks Dancers Ekphrastic Dance

We talked with the 5 dancers of GroundWorks DanceTheater (GW) recently – Alexis Britford, Nicole Hennington, Annie Morgan, Tyler Ring, and Robert Rubama — and got some insight into the inner workings of the company and information about upcoming concerts.

First we sat down with Annie Morgan and Tyler Ring. They explained GW’s outreach program, finishing each other’s sentences.

Annie & Tyler: All 5 of us are under Rebecca Burcher. She has worked with a lot of hearing-impaired and visually-impaired kids, she does a lot of sign language, and she’s very familiar with those communities. And she’s really great at navigating a class setting with those types of learners. So, every Wednesday from August through mid-December, the 5 of us go to Willson Elementary School. (http://www.clevelandmetroschools.org/willson). Willson is very proactive at finding different ways of teaching and learning.

Vic: Are all the kids at Willson hearing impaired or visually impaired?

A&T: No, but the hearing and visually-impaired kids are distributed throughout the school, in classes alongside kids with no disabilities. It’s really beautiful. You’ll see kids with no disabilities signing with hearing-impaired kids. Rebecca leads the whole class and then we split off into smaller groups of 5 to 7 kids, the same kids every week, so we get to know them and they get to know us. We’re teaching their core curriculum with a focus on movement. The goal is not to get them to dance. Right now we’re in their math curriculum and we’re learning about coordinate systems through movement. So, how many ways can you locomote — walk, run, skip, crawl, and roll – and how can you use that to plot a point? Physicalizing math. The kids love it and they get it. It’s a wonderful opportunity to have an impact in a child’s life.

A&T: And then we have our Cleveland shows and our Akron shows. We always go to 3 schools in each city and dance for them, then this fall they come to the Allen Theatre, see how a theater works, perform a dance that we’ve created on them, and then we have a Q&A onstage. Then we repeat that in the spring.

Vic: Cool.

A&T: Very cool. Outreach is big with GW. And in another aspect of our outreach, Alexis (Britford) teaches at Rainey Institute 3 times a week. It’s a residency through GW. When I auditioned for this company, outreach was a major topic of conversation. What was my comfort level working with kids? What was my interest level? And it’s the most satisfying part of our job.

When we caught up with Alexis Britford by phone, we asked her about teaching ballet at Rainey Institute (http://www.raineyinstitute.org/).

Alexis Britford: I’m the ballet instructor for the dance mastery program. I teach on Tuesday and Thursday evenings and Saturday mornings and I have a wide range of ages from 6 all the way up to12. And they’re all at different levels; some are just being introduced to the fine art of ballet and some already have a little knowledge of ballet and want to continue learning more. So it’s been really exciting. I’ve been teaching them vocabulary, how the definitions of the French words relate to the execution of the steps. They always giggle when I pronounce a word but once they know how to do the step their confidence comes up a couple of notches and it’s really exciting to see. I look forward to every class.

When we spoke by phone to Nicole Hennington we noted that her choreography was well-received at University of Arizona where she earned her BFA. Then we asked, “Can you see yourself continuing to choreograph while you’re in GW?”

Nicole Hennington: Yes. Actually, we have something coming up called ChoreoLab. In it, we can set our work on other GroundWorks dancers. It’s just a way for us to continue choreographing and developing that skill. David’s really good about giving us that opportunity.

When we spoke on the phone with Robert Rubama, we asked him about Terre Dance Collective, a group he started while he was earning his BFA at George Mason University. “Have you considered doing something like that in Cleveland?” we asked.

Robert Rubama: Yes, I’m actually still doing things with the collective. I’ve found dancers in Cleveland who were willing to do stuff. I find time after rehearsals slash on the weekends.

Vic: How can our readers find Terre Dance Collective?

RR: There’s a website, https://terredance.wordpress.com/terre-dance-collective/), or just type “Terre Dance Collective” into Google search and it should come right up.

Vic: Ah, here’s the website, which tells about a concert coming up at 7pm Friday and Saturday, 12/7 & 8 at Spaces Gallery. Six local choreographers including you, Robert Rubama, present Interplay, An Evening of Ekphrastic Dance. And more details about the concert (https://www.spacesgallery.org/events/interplay-12-07-2018) here.

When we asked the dancers about the upcoming GW concerts, Robert gave a succinct summary of the repertoire for the Allen Theatre concert.

RR: The dance we’re doing in collaboration with the Akron Art Museum (AAM), The Shape of Distance, is in response to a piece in their collection, Dzesi II, which means “sign” or “identity”. Identity, heritage, and history are ideas present in the work.

Another piece, a rep piece called LUNA, we’ve revamped since the company has new members now. We kept timing and spacing from the old work but created new vocabulary.

And the third piece, Hindsight, is an homage to Ohio. Parts of it are upbeat and other parts are more serious and intimate. It’s a fun piece to dance.

Alexis emphasized the advantages of seeing The Shape of Distance at AAM.

AB: At the Akron Art Museum there’s going to be a very intimate relationship between the audience and the dancers and I think the audience will enjoy that, seeing and feeling the dancers in a completely different way.

Nicole emphasized the dancers’ process in working on two of the pieces.

NH: Ok, first I’m going to talk about the AAM piece; before we started setting anything on the Shape of Distance, David took us on a company field trip to AAM so that the work, Dzesi II, could speak to us.

Then a word about LUNA. It’s an old work of David’s that’s been renovated to compliment the styles of the dancers. David’s always talking about the push / pull aspect of LUNA – how the moon causes tides – so we’re using that as an inspiration – trying to feel the push / pull, in creating the new movement.

At 7:30pm Friday and Saturday, October 26 & 27, GroundWorks DanceTheater performs Hindsight, LUNA, and The Shape of Distance at the Allen Theatre. Tickets $25 and $30 at PlayhouseSquare.org

At 6:30pm and 7:45pm Thursday and Friday, November 8 & 9 at Akron Art Museum, GroundWorks DanceTheater performs Shape of Distance in the same gallery as El Anatsui’s Dzesi II followed by discussion. Go to (https://akronartmuseum.org/calendar/) to register for FREE admission.

Victor Lucas

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