DANCE REVIEW: GroundWorks DanceTheater @ Cain Park by Roy Berko


Fri 7/14-Sun 7/16

As television programs such as So You Think You Can Dance and World of Dance convince more and more people to appreciate dance as an art form, they also create a higher barrier for local companies to leap. With superb choreographers such as Tony-winning Mia Michaels, Travis Wall, Sonya Tayeh and Tyce Diorio creating visual marvels, and national and world-wide dancers modeling what is “good” in dance, expectations for local companies rise.

GroundWorks DanceTheater, David Shimotakahara’s Cleveland-based company, was founded in 1989 and “is a vibrant and sustainable organization, nationally recognized for making a unique contribution to the art form and enriching human experiences through the creation of original contemporary dance.” It is noted for being innovative, collaborative, unique and “creating meaningful and intimate experiences and exchanges.”

These qualities were clearly on display as, on a hot and sticky evening at the Alma Theater in Cain Park, an enthusiastic audience saw the company, with two new members, present three outstanding compositions, which were in the form and performance level of those which flash across the television screens.

The program opened with the world premiere of guest choreographer Monica Bill Barnes’ “Untitled.” Danced to a mélange of such musical selections as Louis Prima’s “Oh Marie,” Goldberg Variations J. S. Bach, BWV 966, “Aria’” as performed by Glenn Gould, and Joan Osborne’s “Please Don’t Tell Me How The Story Ends,” the blend of humor, “the stress on celebration of individuality and chronicling of the innate theatricality of everyday life,” the piece was encompassing and audience pleasing.

“Inamorata,” choreographed by Kate Weare and restaged by Douglas Gillespie, is a nonstop exhausting dance featuring the entire company (Felise Bagley, Gemma Freitas Bender, Annika Sheaff, Damien Highfield and Tyler Ring).  Encompassing a full display of human emotions, the feelings of longing, hope, doubt and mystery were highlighted through a pastiche of various dance styles.

The final selection, the audience-pleasing “Chromatic” conceived by Shimotakahara in collaboration with past and present company members, found the entire company dancing to musical selections played on player pianos.

Groundworks’ two newest company members are Tyler Ring and Gemma Freitas Bender. Ring, an Indiana native, is a lanky Tommy Tune-type dancer. He displayed excellent flexibility, athleticism and an engaging personality, which blended well with the rest of the troupe. He is a nice addition.

The attractive Bender, who is from Buffalo, New York, was a 2014-2015 recipient of the Princess Grace USA Award and is a graduate of Julliard. Her style of dance fits well with the gymnastic/Pilobolus form of Annika Sheaff, also a Julliard grad, and the elegant movements of the elegant Felise Bagley.

CAPSULE JUDGMENT: Groundworks continues to be the premiere small dance company of the Cleveland area. Their opening night Cain Park program was well received by the near capacity audience at the Alma Theater.

[Written by Roy Berko, member, American Dance Critics Association]


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