Friday, July 31st, 2015 12:00 PM
AKRON, Ohio – Add modern dance to the Rubber City's list of exports.
The new home of only the second National Center for Choreography in the United States, Cleveland's neighbor to the south already is developing a small but significant cultural industry, welcoming artists from around the country and enabling them to realize their dreams.
One choreographer and her team already have visited and fine-tuned a new work at the University of more › Akron facility, and another is on the way. Still another served as a kind of test case, when the idea was still under consideration. Pretty soon, people are going to start using the term hotbed.
"Having this opportunity pushed us to get this thing created," said Carrie Hanson, artistic director of Chicago's The Seldoms, at end of a week-long residency during which she finalized a new piece called "RockCitizen."
"This puts us way ahead of the game. We are really prepped now."
The importance of the center – a project spearheaded by DanceCleveland and funded by a five-year, $5 million pledge from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation – is difficult to convey, given that it's essentially an abstraction.
Though housed in Guzzetta Hall at the University of Akron, the center – the second such facility after the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography at Florida State University – has no bricks-and-mortar building, dedicated office space or employees. A five-member board of directors remains to be established.
Even when it's fully up and running, the center, a standalone nonprofit, will basically amount to a network, a collection of diverse regional resources for choreographers to access as they conceive and create new dance.
For instance, while in Akron developing "RockCitizen," an evening-length work exploring the impact and legacy of 1960s counterculture (and the sequel to "Power Goes," below), Hanson took advantage of the center's connections to do research at both Kent State University and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Had she needed them, Hanson also could have tapped other campus facilities or any other institution in Northeast Ohio.
"It was really crucial in realizing the vision," Hanson explained.
The lack of a physical headquarters notwithstanding, the center is far from without allure. On the contrary, so bright, ample and high-tech are the facilities at Guzzetta Hall, few dancers or choreographers could resist them.
No wonder Neil Sapienza, associate dean of the Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Akron, is so proud. Giving a tour of Guzzetta's seven studios, several complete with seating and video-conferencing, a therapy room, and on-site costume and set shops, he had good reason to label his school "one of the nicest academic dance facilities in the country."
And The Seldoms only used the studios to warm up. Because "RockCitizen" entails a complicated backdrop – a wall of bras, to be precise – and the group sought to simulate the space where they usually perform in Chicago, most of their real work took place in Sandefur Experimental Theatre, a black-box theater without a sprung floor but with ample lighting and rigging.
Combine these facilities, smack in the middle of a busy music and dance school, with a week of free time in which to create and rehearse, and you have all the conditions under which modern dance flourishes and new works leap into existence. Happily, as a privately funded, independent organization, the new center is likely to be unaffected by the recent closing of EJ Thomas Hall at the University of Akron.
"It's a real luxury," Sapienza said. "Uninterrupted time in a theater is almost unheard of."
Much about the center remains unknown. How often and how many artists will use it; whether the works they create will be performed in Northeast Ohio; who will direct it. All of these are questions yet to be answered. Although two choreographers, including Camille A. Brown, already have made use of the center, and a third, John Jasperse of New York, is en route, the project is still in "pilot" status.
But about its potential, there is no doubt. Host of an already noted dance program, Sapienza said the University of Akron is likely to see a rise in both the quantity and quality of applicants as students bid for regular, one-on-one work alongside real professionals.
"It's going to be an amazing resource," Sapienza said.
Northeast Ohio, meanwhile, will benefit on two fronts. Not only will local patrons and students relish the opportunity to view and possibly have a hand in the creation of new art, but the region as a whole also will gain prominence in the larger dance world.
It's no small matter, in other words, that the nation's second dance laboratory has been established outside New York, in a small Midwest city. All of a sudden, Hanson said, the heart of "flyover land" is a national dance destination.
"The fact that this shifts the focus a little bit is amazing," she said.
Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer
Tuesday, July 28th, 2015 12:00 PM
CLEVELAND HEIGHTS, Ohio – We should all look so good at 60 as DanceCleveland did Saturday night at Cain Park.
Kicking off its diamond jubilee season a bit earlier than usual with a series of events in honor of National Dance Day, including a pre-concert dance sequence open to the public, the esteemed series evinced all the vitality and joie de vivre of a freshly minted startup.
And yet it also displayed more › great wisdom and good sense. In selecting Parsons Dance, one of its most popular guests, for the occasion, DanceCleveland virtually guaranteed, and indeed provided, a fun, rewarding experience on its first show at Cain Park in 10 years.
Fun, in fact, was how the night opened and closed. With the new "Whirlaway" and 1990's "Nascimento," two bright, spirited works by Parsons, the eight-member company welcomed and sent home its fans in a festive mood.
A crisp setting of New Orleans-style R&B, "Whirlaway" lived up to its name with flowing, rhythmically precise dance laced with twirls and spins of every sort. Attitude and energy were as abundant as the pastel colors in the costumes.
The backdrop to "Nascimento," meanwhile, was the lively music of Brazilian singer-songwriter Milton Nascimento. No less colorful than its predecessor, this early work delighted the eyes with unison or tightly symmetrical moves and a host of frolicsome, devil-may-care exchanges. A stately exploration of arm gestures in the middle provided thoughtful respite.
Shorter but weightier were two works by well-known choreographers other than Parsons: Trey McIntyre's "Hymn" and "Train" by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater director Robert Battle.
Stunning in its cool intricacy, the former entailed movement for dancers Ian Spring and Omar Roman De Jesus that was breathtakingly close but not exactly intimate. "Train," by contrast, was anything but cool, a wild, ritualistic tirade full of floor work set to fierce, relentless drumming. If that vehicle had a destination, it was ecstasy.
But if there was one piece in which music and dance melded perfectly, it was Parsons' "Kind of Blue." There, loose but highly intentional choreography for four black-clad dancers dovetailed seamlessly with Miles Davis' "So What?," and even conveyed some of the music's improvisational aura. Like DanceCleveland itself, the artists saw free space, and filled it beautifully.
Parsons Dance Audience Participation
in celebration of National Dance Day, the audience at Parsons Dance Saturday at Cain Park prepared and performed a routine in hopes of being televised on "So You Think You Can Dance."
The Plain Dealer, Zachary Lewis
RELATED COMPANY: Parsons Dance
Monday, May 18th, 2015 12:00 PM
You enter a theater and take your seat. The house lights dim, the curtain goes up and a dance performance by a national touring company begins to unfold. The talented dancers, stunning lighting, exquisite costumes, inspiring music and standing ovation during the final bows create an evening to remember.
Though the beautiful memory will linger, you will likely not think of the struggles that the choreographer overcame to bring the performance more › to the stage.
The fact is choreographers in the United States are sorely underserved and lack the resources to create and rehearse their craft. If dance is to thrive and endure nationally, dance makers need rehearsal time and space, the bodies to move through that space, and community resources to bring their works into the public domain.
Over the past decade of collaboration to offer one of the strongest dance residency and performance programs in the country, DANCECleveland and The University of Akron have discussed the possibility of creating a new national center for choreography to help meet these needs. Knight Foundation asked if we had an idea that could be transformative, and this concept piqued their interest.
Now, with Knight Foundation's $5 million pledge in support, both time and space will be provided to the most creative dance makers around the nation. The National Center for Choreography at The University of Akron will engage the rich cultural resources of northeast Ohio. This will be only the second such center in the U.S. – the other is the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography at Florida State University. The nation needs this new center. In France, there are 19.
The new center, which will operate as a stand-alone, non-profit organization, will select national choreographers and dance companies for residencies. Choreographers chosen for residencies will receive stipends and access to the rich academic and creative resources of a comprehensive university including the world-class facilities of the university's Center for Dance and Theatre, and the 3000-seat E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall.
Choreographers can also take advantage of the rich cultural climate of northeast Ohio, perhaps using spaces at other colleges and universities in the area and at Cleveland's Playhouse Square, the largest U.S. theater complex outside of New York City. They can tap into the creative energy of the region, engage students in their craft and take the work they accomplish back to cities around the country for performances.
The opportunities for students at The University of Akron are exciting. They will reap the benefits of having prominent choreographers on campus and in the studios. Student choreographers will increase their knowledge of the business side of their craft – understanding how to effectively communicate and work with presenters and venues, creating opportunities for peer review of work in progress and advocating for the presentation of new dances.
While the center is launching, dance making is already underway, with three pilot residencies at The University of Akron already in the works with selected choreographers John Jasperse (New York City); Carrie Hanson/The Seldoms (Chicago); and Camille A. Brown & Dancers (New York City).
The vision is taking shape and talented choreographers are arriving to create those dances that will likely be seen on stages throughout the country in coming years and create lasting memories for audiences far and wide. We look forward to joining in the applause.
Scott L. Scarborough, PhD, President of The University of Akron, and Pamela Young, executive director of DANCECleveland
Friday, May 15th, 2015 12:00 PM
AKRON, Ohio – Akron and Northeast Ohio generally are about to leap to national prominence as a hotbed for dance.
Fast-tracking a plan to turn the region into a generator of new work, the Miami-based John S. and James L. Knight Foundation has given $5 million to establish a national center for choreography at the University of Akron.
The grant, several times larger than expected, moves the project forward rapidly – at more › last reporting, planners were conducting a feasibility study – and sets up Northeast Ohio as only the second area in the nation dedicated to dance creation.
"This is stunning news in the dance world," said project member Pamela Young, executive director of DanceCleveland, recalling that she lost her breath when she heard it. "The whole thing has been a little magical."
Like its predecessor, the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography at Florida State University in Tallahassee, the dance center coming to Akron will not be a physical space so much as a network of facilities and resources.
Choreographers and dance companies, many of whom struggle for studio time, will apply for access and then be granted space in which to create and perform in the school's well-stocked Center for Dance and Theatre. The artists also will paid for their time, and be positioned to seek inspiration and do research all over Northeast Ohio.
"In a lot of ways, the center will be like a matchmaker," said Young, pointing to a recent test of the idea with Camille A. Brown & Dancers. "The whole region can be an incubator. We have all the right stuff. It's all right here."
Two choreographers already have been selected to inaugurate the new center, Young said.
Carrie Hanson, Chicago-based director of The Seldoms, will be the first, in July, and John Jasperse, artistic director of a troupe in New York, will be in residence next April. The former, Young said, plans to do research at the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum in Cleveland, while the latter will avail himself of videographers at the University of Akron.
Whether or not these artists complete anything while here -- and what becomes of that work -- remains to be seen. Still, the very presence of cutting-edge artists living and working on campus in Akron and the ideas the choreographers will carry away should prove to be worthy ends in themselves, said Neil Sapienza, associate dean of fine arts and humanities at the university.
"[W]e look forward to having many prominent choreographers in our studios, on our campus, on a regular basis, year after year. For our students, having that national presence is just enormous."
The greatest impact, though, is likely to be on the public, on the region as a whole. Some works conceived here, for instance, are bound to appear later on a DanceCleveland program. Others will yield insight on the creative process and thereby serve to advance understanding of the art.
Northeast Ohio, meanwhile, will only step further into the spotlight. Like the best of dance partners, the new center will elevate and hold up the region as a destination for creative souls.
"I think this puts Northeast Ohio squarely in the high beams of national attention for dance," Young said. "The whole system of dance in Northeast Ohio will be the better for it."
The Plain Dealer, Zachary Lewis
Friday, May 15th, 2015 12:00 PM
The University of Akron is dancing for joy.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation on Thursday announced $5 million in funding for the school and the nonprofit DANCECleveland to launch the National Center for Choreography on the Akron campus. It will be only the second center of its kind in the country.
"We want to increase the amount of experiential learning our students receive - whether it's in the sciences more › or the arts," UA President Scott Scarborough said. "[The dance program] has a historical legacy, and we want to build on the strength that comes with that history. When people say 'The University of Akron,' you think of polymers and engineers, We want to be known for our art programs as well."
The center will provide national choreographers and dance companies with access to seven dance studios and the E.J. Thomas Performing Arts Hall so they can create new work. It also will help UA by using Guzzetta Hall, which was refurbished and expanded in part to house the Ohio Ballet. (The ballet company ceased operations, however, before the addition opened.) The university also expects students to benefit from professional artists being on campus.
"We want the students to have hands-on experience before they go out into their fields," Scarborough said. "This is an investment in learning, and it's important the students can learn in person as opposed to a textbook. But they also can rub shoulders with people already in the field. It gives them contacts to help get jobs later and which is integral to all of our programs."
The dance activities are expected to begin immediately, although the groups still must hire an executive director and appoint a five-member board of directors to oversee the center.
The idea follows a blue-ribbon panel that examined the future of dance and a feasibility study funded by Knight and the Doris Duke Charitable Foundation. The Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography, housed at Florida State University, is the only other national choreography center in the nation at a major research institution.
"Dance makers are very underrepresented when it comes to resources," DANCECleveland Executive Director Pamela Young said. "This is a game-changer that will be felt locally, regionally and nationally."
Young said the center is important for choreographers because, more often than not, they do not get to see the dances onstage with the accompanying sets and costumes until a few hours before the show - making the job vastly more difficult if something goes wrong or doesn't look correct.
"With the new center, dance makers can get a look at the full performance throughout the process," Young said. "They will have access to the studios in Guzzetta Hall and access to E.J. Thomas [Hall], this gap will be filled.
Alberto Ibarguen, president of the Miami-based Knight Foundation, also attended the event.
"Vision, talent, ability, will and tenacity will help pull this off," Ibarguen said. "This will not be for the faint of heart, and it's all being made possible because of the combination of desire, facilities and community support."
UA and DANCECleveland, which have partnered on dance performances and projects since 2006, have agreed to an 11-page memorandum of understanding to create the center. Knight has pledged $5 million to support it once the center is established. The groups are still finalizing the agreement.
The memorandum notes that the Knight Foundation has the option to name the center after its organization. If it decides not to, the parties may seek to sell naming rights.
Scarborough said that the $5 million is to be spread out evenly over the course of five years, therefore the foundation would be bearing most of the costs associated with the center during that time.
UA, however, is responsible for dance studio space, office space for the center staff, access to costume and scenery, access to E.J. Thomas and support from the theater production crew.
It also says the center will conduct its own fundraising.
DANCECleveland is one of eight stand-alone, dance-only presenters in the country. It has presented performances by more than 200 dance companies, conducted more than 1,000 workshops and master classes, and produced seven commissioned works.
Katie Nix and Rick Armon , The Akron Beacon Journal