Wednesday, June 18th, 2014 12:00 PM
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- DanceCleveland wasn't always rock-solid. Amidst its success, that fact is easy to forget.
But the Cleveland Arts Prize hasn't forgotten. The Cleveland Arts Prize knows who made the group what it is today: executive director Pamela Young.
Hence its choice this year to confer on Young the Martha Joseph Prize, its award for visionary and strategic arts leadership.
"I thought I was behind the scenes," said more › Young, reacting to the award, her first substantial prize of any kind. "I'm not a dancer. I couldn't believe mine was a successful narrative."
Successful it most certainly is, however. So, too, do the words "visionary" and "strategic" apply to Young with keen force.
Simply put, if Young hadn't been named director in March 2003, there might not be a DanceCleveland to honor. Neither would the group, a presenter of world-class modern dance, be one of the region's bright lights on the verge of celebrating its 60th anniversary.
"We had a good plan, and they stayed with us," recalled Young, referring to her board of directors. "If that hadn't happened, we wouldn't be having this conversation."
As Young suggests, DanceCleveland very nearly went under. Just prior to her appointment, her predecessor had departed suddenly, and the board, of which she was a member, was taking steps to shut down the organization.
Young, though, wasn't ready to throw in the towel. Experienced in the realm of arts nonprofits, having already helped several other groups retreat from the edge of extinction, she saw possibility, and stepped forward.
"They didn't see a way out," said Young. "But I had been with organizations in crisis, and it didn't scare me. I said, 'Let me see if we can't make some kind of road map.' "
A road map is exactly what she made. Over the following several seasons, Young righted the ship by taking an eight-month break from presenting and shifting the group away from a hand-to-mouth funding pattern. For the first several months, she drew no salary.
Today, Young is rightly proud of her track record: 10 years in the black, with surpluses. Also under her watch, DanceCleveland has diversified its board, expanded its audience, created an "opportunity" fund and fortified itself for economic downturns. One day she hopes to establish an honest-to-goodness endowment.
"We've made some strong decisions," she said. "We've pushed ourselves in new directions and made ourselves more poised for the innovative things coming to Northeast Ohio."
Not all of Young's accomplishments have been administrative. No, the most visible aspect of her work has been extending a legacy of presenting great modern dance, carefully pegging companies and works to venues and times, always scanning for talent.
Artistically, too, Young has kept an eye on the future, as she has financially. On her to-do list these days is investing in new dance through the work of Camille A. Brown & Dancers, and working to make Northeast Ohio a national center for choreography.
"We're not in system where there's money for the creative side," said Young, noting that if Cleveland were to become a center for new dance, "It would put us in a pretty prominent place."
Not that it isn't in a prominent place already. Thanks to Young, Northeast Ohio is home to one of the oldest presenters of modern dance in the nation.
For nearly six decades, patrons have had only to attend DanceCleveland shows to encounter everything from the hottest up-and-comers to the biggest names in the field.
"We've had many great moments in the theater," said Young. "Sometimes it's really magical."
Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer
Wednesday, May 14th, 2014 12:00 PM
Avid DanceCleveland patrons have had a tentative version of next season in their hands for weeks. Now they have the final edition.
After teasing followers at its last performance with a glimpse of its 59th season, the presenting organization has now released its next series officially, confirming what those who were able to fill in the blanks have known since April.
Unusually varied, even for DanceCleveland, the 2014-15 season is an eclectic more › mix of five international companies offering everything from traditional ballet to the latest in contemporary modern dance. The season begins Oct. 5 and concludes April 25.
Up first, at 3 p.m. Oct. 5, is Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, founded in 1996 and showcasing emerging choreographers. That performance will take place in E.J. Thomas Hall at the University of Akron.
Next in line, at 8 p.m. Nov. 8 and 3 p.m. Nov. 9, is the Kibbutz Contemporary Dance Company, a leading troupe based in Israel and led by artistic director Rami Be'er. This concert takes place in the Ohio Theatre at Playhouse Square in Cleveland.
Well known in Cleveland and everywhere else, Pilobolus returns to the State Theatre at Playhouse Square at 8 p.m. Jan. 31. Expect more of what has made the company a favorite around the world: acrobatic, sculptural dance setting new boundaries for what human bodies can do.
A French company featuring dancers from Brazilian shantytowns, Compagnie Käfig will make its local debut at the Ohio Theatre at 8 p.m. March 7. The company, led by choreographer Mourad Merzouki, will perform hip-hop inspired works including "Agwa" and "Correria."
New York City Ballet star Wendy Whelan will close the season at 8 p.m. April 25 part of "Restless Creature," a collaborative project with four young choreographers. The Ohio Theatre program will feature duets exclusively: "Ego et Tu" with Alejandro Cerudo; "Waltz Epoca" with Joshua Beamish; "The Serpent and the Smoke" with Kyle Abraham; and "First Fall" with Brian Brooks.
Season subscribers also will gain access to an additional production at 7:30 p.m. May 2 featuring radio personality Ira Glass and dancers Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass. That program, titled "Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host," will take place in the Palace Theatre at Playhouse Square.
Subscriptions, $128-$248, are available now. Single tickets go on sale Aug. 18. Go to dancecleveland.org or call 216-991-9000.
Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer
Monday, April 14th, 2014 12:00 PM
Jessica Lang Dance pools resources of video, costumes and choreography for unforgettable evening (review)
Good thing Jessica Lang Dance didn't bill itself a "company." That would have been a misnomer.
Equal parts ballet, visual art collective and modern dance ensemble, the young New York-based troupe that stunned a DanceCleveland crowd Saturday night at Playhouse Square looked more like three companies than merely one.
The athleticism and control of the performers were themselves something to behold. Add to these Lang's poignant choreography and gorgeous work by some more › dozen designers of lighting, costumes and video and the result was an unforgettable evening of dance.
"Among the Stars" tugged hardest at the heartstrings. Separated at first by a long, silky fabric, dancers Laura Mead and Clifton Brown gradually overcame the gap and made use of the cloth in an elegant, almost classical pas de deux, only for Mead to end up bound once again, forever off limits.
Sympathy and awe, by contrast, were the prime reactions to "The Calling." Alone like a statute at the center of a vast white skirt, dancer Kana Kamura sank, twisted and pumped her arms in apparent anguish, at times seeming to disappear, magically, into the floor or the fabric itself.
Costume and lighting designers Lisa Choules and Nicole Pearce deserve nearly as much credit as the choreographer, who also designed the set, for the wonder that was "Lines Cubed." Without them, Lang's homage to painter Piet Mondrian might have been flat or anemic.
Instead, it was dynamic, a paean to color and spirit. Dancers in red, yellow and blue executed mechanical patterns and freewheeling, virtuosic solos against a backdrop of white squares and black lines. Rounding out the three-dimensional space were accordion borders, drawn forward and back, on and off, like a painting in the making.
Typically a live art, dance instead came pre-recorded in "White," a film by Shinichi Maruyama. Playful and groundbreaking at once, the film showed larger-than-life dancers moving at half or double speed, toying with foreground and background, and interacting in ways generally unthinkable in real life. Perhaps never has a single work of dance unveiled so many possibilities.
Maruyama also was a prime creative force behind "i.n.k.," the program's mesmerizing finale. There, a gurgling soundtrack and high-definition video of ink globules in air served as the backdrop to black-clad dancers essentially imitating what was going on behind them.
Every element of the footage became a springboard for movement. Speed, texture and density all translated as everything from lyrical duets to frenetic ensemble numbers. In one case, a dancer even interacted with the screen, executing flips over a string of ink-blobs rolling along the bottom.
The emotional pull of this was surprising. Contained within those images was the spectrum of human sentiment. Like most of the evening with Jessica Lang Dance, it was sensory saturation, the equivalent of two dances taking place simultaneously.
Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer
RELATED COMPANY: Jessica Lang Dance
Monday, April 7th, 2014 12:00 PM
DanceCleveland isn't fading into the sunset. Far from it. It is, however, ending its season in classic fashion, with the parting image employed countless times by books, movies and television: the hint of a bright future.
In presenting Jessica Lang Dance next week, the series is closing out the year, not with an established troupe but rather with a striking newcomer, a company that's been in existence only three years but more › already ranks as one of the dance world's hottest commodities.
"There's a lot of buzz," said dancer Laura Mead. "We're building very rapidly. We're definitely young, and that's part of the excitement. We're a new thing."
Much of the buzz stems from Lang's unique choreographic voice, formed and tested at the Juilliard School in New York. Rare in her field, her language combines classical ballet with the weighty, grounded elements of modern dance.
The spell this casts on performers and their audience is potent. Those bound to tradition get to remain inside their comfort zones, enjoying ballet's symmetry, lightness and flowing lines. At the same time, all get the chance to witness or convey personal, emotional statements.
"I do enjoy work that comes from a ballet idiom," Mead explained. "And love that I get to use all my physical powers, that I really get to dig in.
"But there's also a lot of room for individual expression. She [Lang] really gives us a lot of room to find what feels good for us. We are nine individuals dancing together."
Collaboration is another secret to the success that has greeted Lang since 2011. Where some choreographers insist on doing everything themselves, Lang is fond of sharing the creative load with others, especially composers and visual artists.
At least two of the works in store on the company's Cleveland program April 12, "I.N.K." and "Lines Cubed," hinge heavily on sets and costumes inspired or conceived by artists outside dance.
The former, which includes video and an original score, finds beauty in midair collisions between ink and water, while the latter plays off Piet Mondrian's bright color palette and stark geometry. "Among the Stars," meanwhile, employs a long, stretchy fabric, and the solo dancer in "The Calling" works magic with an immense white skirt. The fifth and final work is "Mendelssohn/Incomplete."
"They're not just gimmicks," said Mead of the visual effects. "They really add something. They're like another dancing partner."
Not to be underestimated, too, is the company's team spirit. Because it's an entity both new and small, the troupe is still very much on the ascent, and all members are serious and invested in a way dancers with larger, established organizations may not be.
"She really gives us a lot of room to find what feels good for us. We are nine individuals dancing together."
Dancer Clifton Brown said he came to Lang from Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in part for the experience of starting from scratch. Now, in addition to dancing, he's helping with administrative work and performing other tasks. This carries over to the stage, he said, keeping egos in check and drawing the artists together.
"Young dancers want to outshine the image itself. But we're all on the same page, to make a good body of work. In this company, everybody has a job besides dancing, and it's because we all want to help. We believe in the company."
But if there's one thing that truly explains why Jessica Lang Dance is on the rise, it's probably accessibility. For while strict classical ballet can be off-putting, and pure modern dance doesn't necessarily resonate with everyone, Lang's work strives for broader relevance.
In fact, Mead said, patrons need not feel obliged to know anything about dance. All it takes to be one of Lang's patrons is a certain openness and an appreciation for the inherent beauty of physical bodies moving in space to music.
"People really respond to us," Mead said. "If you release yourself to the experience, you'll be transported."
Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer
RELATED COMPANY: Jessica Lang Dance
Monday, March 31st, 2014 12:00 PM
Choreographer Jessica Lang has been working since 1999 on dance making – and has been heralded for her ingenious combination of clever dance ideas and background sets and costumes. Only two years ago, though, she formed her own company, Jessica Lang Dance, and she's once again the talk of the town.
All that prestige was enough for DANCECleveland, our area's wonderful dance presentation organization and a Knight Arts grantee, to snap more › up an engagement by this company in its debut performance in the northeast Ohio area.
To really give the flavor of her work and the dancing abilities of her company, Jessica Lang Dance will perform six of Lang's recent works.
"LInes Cubed," Jessica Lang, choreographer. Photo by Sharen Bradford
"Lined Cubed," created in 2012, has been called "the physical embodiment of a Mondrian color-block painting" by Dance Magazine. The set for the work is a clue to the geometrical theme of dance ideas, for the backdrop is divided into panels of white and primary colors. Costumes and lighting enhance the dancers as they move their way into and out of the color cycles. By dance end, each of the nine dancers are arranged symmetrically and represent each of the colors.
"Lines Cubed," Jessica Lang, choreographer. Photo by Sharen Bradford
"Mendelssohn/Incomplete" (2011), which is set to music by Felix Mendelssohn, was created during Lang's Joyce Theater residency. Six dancers are dressed in various hues of purple and blue, and reportedly glide through the lush and expressive music of the Romantic era composer with sometimes simple, unforced moves that are designed to enhance both motion and music.
"Among the Stars" (2010) is a shorter work for two dancers in a duet set to music by Ryunichi Sakamoto. At times the dancers have flowing trains behind them as they progress through the inky dark background as though really among, and eventually to be separated by, the stars themselves.
"The Calling" (excerpt from Splendid Isolation II), is an even shorter solo dance of seven minutes created in 2006. It features music by Trio Mediaeval. In what may be a nod to Martha Graham dancing in a stocking, this work features the dancer emerging from and dancing in a very long white dress. With bare arms and back, the rest of the scene is the swirling fabric of the dress.
"White" is unusual in that it is a dance on film choreographed and directed by Lang with music by Edward Grieg. Sounds weird, but watch segments on YouTube.com and you can get the sense of how magical and creative the enterprise is. The Grieg music doesn't hurt either.
And finally "i.n.k." (2012) features video art by Shinichi Maruyama from his Kusho series (translated as 'writing in the sky") in a longer 21-minute work for seven dancers. Large sloshes and splatters and droplets of black ink pan across the background as dancers move through the upstage area in concert with it all.
A simple description of the variety and ingenuity of what Lang creates makes this upcoming concert a real draw. It has all the makings of a wonderful dance experience.
The evening at the Ohio Theatre will feature a free pre-performance talk in the theater at 7:15 p.m. and a post-performance moderated Q&A session with members of the company.
DANCECleveland will present Jessica Lang Dance at 8:00p.m. on Saturday, April 12 at the Ohio Theatre in Cleveland Playhouse Square, 1501 Euclid Ave., Akron; 216-241-6000; www.dancecleveland.org. Tickets are $20-$45.