Friday, January 22nd, 2016 12:00 PM
CLEVELAND, Ohio Put down that remote. The vibrant, magical imagery now en route to Cleveland beats anything on TV.
"Alchemia," the latest work by Momix, may not have a plot or any dialogue. But it is sure to entertain, and likely to enrapture. For every single tableau will be fashioned out of the human body.
"The challenge is creating illusions, and not letting anyone see the effort," said Moses Pendleton, artistic more › director of Momix, one of the most iconic and successful dance troupes of the last 35 years and the latest offering on the 60th-anniversary season of DanceCleveland.
"We have to be able to go out on a mission to the other side. We never know what we're going to make."
Pendleton here is talking about the company's creative modus operandi, its distinctive habit of trading traditional choreography for collective exploration and brainstorming. Famous fruits of that process include such bewitching shows as "Opus Cactus" and "Botanica."
Really, though, he could have been speaking just as easily of "Alchemia," the troupe's latest main production.
Inspired by the ancient practice of alchemy, the evening-length work from 2012 seeks to distill dance gold out of basic elements, to capture through movement the physical essence of fire, water, earth and air. Describing how Momix researched and developed the work, he spoke of boiling, heating and accelerating.
"I found it very energizing," Pendleton said, "to learn about a system where you had to pick up speed to get things done, to perfect the organism. It [alchemy] wasn't just a bunch of hocus-pocus. There was more to it than that."
Like many great works of art, "Alchemia" began over a whiskey. Pendleton said he and a friend were enjoying a drink once known as "fire water" when a light went on in his head.
Seeking first to conjure fire, he placed his female dancers in red dresses and asked them to turn themselves into human flames. Onto them he then cast video of tinted fire, evoking water.
Then came several of the 20 total musical excerpts in "Alchemia," drawn from the realms of classical, film and popular music. Later scenes, he said, employ angled mirrors, wires, and elaborate costumes such as hoop skirts. The whole work also begins with an original, free-association poem.
"We just layered it on like we were making a movie," Pendleton explained. "It was like going to an art museum and looking at paintings. We didn't have a story. We had one image leading into another."
Throughout it all, Pendleton said he acted not as a choreographer imposing his will but rather as an "energizer" or "shaman," guiding his dancers through an exploratory process, the arc and end of which emerged naturally.
Forget TV. Even in its own realm, the world of dance, Momix has no equal.
With "Alchemia," Pendleton said, the company "reached for something deep inside, and let it come out. We didn't know exactly what we were going to do. We just had some notion of what we were trying to achieve."
Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer
RELATED COMPANY: Momix
Friday, November 20th, 2015 12:00 PM
CLEVELAND, Ohio This article aside, choreographer Camille A. Brown has a beef with the mainstream media.
To the extent most outlets highlight African-American women like her, she says, they typically do so only in "caricature," as one-dimensional subjects of misfortune. Rarely, she adds, do they portray the whole person.
"It's always very narrow," explains the New York-based dancer. "They focus on race, not the human being. You don't see our childhood, more › or if you do, it's surrounded by trauma. And that's not always a part of the story."
What: Camille A. Brown and Dancers
When: 8 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 14.
Where: Hanna Theatre, Playhouse Square, Cleveland.
Tickets: $15-$35. Go to dancecleveland.org or call 216-241-6000.
Enter "Black Girl: Linguistic Play," the new work Camille A. Brown and Dancers will perform Saturday night for DanceCleveland at Playhouse Square.
Her response to years of inadequate representation, Brown's creation aims to set the record straight. Dance styles, childhood games and a wide range of musical influences commingle freely in portrayals of mature, grounded women.
A multilevel stage design by Elizabeth Nelson and an original score performed by pianist Justin Ellington and bassist Tracy Wormworth round out the environment in which the dancers perform duets depicting a girl's progress from childhood to adult sisterhood.
"It's about all the things you don't see in the media," Brown says. "This is about pulling out that joy. When we're playing these roles, we're playing ourselves."
As it happens, Cleveland can take a fair amount of pride in "Black Girl." Based heavily on interviews with women at a local correctional facility and realized in part through the new National Center for Choreography at the University of Akron, the dance owes much of its existence to Northeast Ohio.
Speaking with women here, Brown discovered the issues that became her themes, the ways the women she met feel misunderstood, mischaracterized and reduced to statistics. She also witnessed their interactions, drawing links through dance between the women's adult behaviors and the street games they played as children. "Linguistic," in this context, refers not to spoken word but rather to a shared language of gestures and movements.
"It wasn't a one-off thing for us," Brown explains. "We showed the women the dances, and they gave us incredible feedback. They lifted us up, and supported us. It was a really long process, but I'm glad I took my time."
Don't think of "Black Girl" as a Cleveland portrait, however. Its roots may lie in Northeast Ohio, but the dance in its finished form doesn't depict any people or place in particular, Brown says.
On the contrary, if there's one thing Brown wants her viewers to take from "Black Girl," it's the sense that the girls and women in her work could stand in for just about anyone.
"The issues we're talking here about are universal things," Brown says. "You'll be looking at a story you can relate to. This is your story, too."
Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer
RELATED COMPANY: Camille A. Brown and Dancers- SOLD OUT
Tuesday, November 10th, 2015 12:00 PM
Sat 11/7 @ 8PM
ODC - originally the Oberlin Dance Collective - started in Oberlin in 1972. In 1976 they climbed in a big yellow bus and moved to California. Forty-some years later they have a strong national presence and deep community roots in San Francisco.
To let our readers know what to expect when ODC performs at Playhouse Square Saturday, we read about Boulders and Bones, the evening-length work ODC will more › be performing here. It's a multi-layered piece that makes extensive reference to the work of landscape artist Andy Goldsworthy. Cellist Zoe Keating's commissioned score itself densely layered with what Wired describes as "an arsenal of audio-crunching software and scripts" - will be performed live on the Ohio Theatre stage by Oberlin graduate Erin Wang. Reviewers seemed to like Boulders and Bones a lot; the term "master work" gets tossed around.
We called up ODC's founding artistic director Brenda Way to learn more.
CoolCleveland: How did Boulders and Bones come to be? What was the sequence? First, Andy Goldsworthy received a commission to do an installation, what became Culvert Cairn, at a secret location in Marin County? Then RJ Muna started making a video documenting construction? And then ODC used that video as a backdrop, if you will, for Boulders and Bones? Is that right?
Brenda Way: Almost right. It's not a secret, just a private site, a private home. I've known Andy Goldsworthy for several years, and he had created work at this same property in years past. When I learned that he was going to do another work at the same site, I said that I would love to collaborate with him because I thought the parallels between dance, which disappears, and Andy's work, which very often disappears, would be interesting and worthy of making a piece around. Then I asked RJ Muna, who is our company photographer and an artist in his own right, if he would like to collaborate on this work, and he was very excited and he decided to document the entire three-month process of Andy's building of the work.
I had no idea how we would use that documentation. I was actually skeptical about how a stop-motion film would fit in the dance world because it's so literal and dance is abstract. As it turned out, RJ's video serves as a prologue and a kind of wonderful program note because you can see the inspirational action from which the dance piece was made.
So between those two and Zoe Keating who creates the music, the piece became not about a disappearing piece, because actually the piece Andy has made is made out of stone and it won't disappear. It's exactly the opposite of what attracted me to this collaboration.
So we changed how we would relate to Andy and decided that what we'd do instead was to really be inspired by his creative process. And his process begins with reflection and inspiration and then goes through a messy construction phase - he wrote me an email which describes what he sees as his process, which is noise and dust and then ultimately a very quiet, finished product. As you may know, Culvert Cairn is a stone tower in a creek bed, so nature actually finishes the work when the rain comes because it rushes down through the tower, the cairn as he calls it. So it's human inspiration, human invention, and then nature finishes the work. And we've used that arc to make our dance piece so we start with contemplation and then we go to construction and work.
You see the effort in this choreography - we're not pretending that we're carrying rocks or anything, but you see effort - and then at some point it gets refined and we have a very quiet moment where the person who is the art work questions. So it really follows Andy's process. Of course Andy expected nature to finish the piece with rain and, as you may have heard, there is no rain in northern California. [laughter.]
CC: So the premise behind Boulders and Bones is
BW: It's a parallel between the creative process that Andy went through in developing Culvert Cairn and the development of the choreography. How we realized the creative process really triggered the kind of movement we used in our piece.
CC: And what is the dancing like?
BW: I think we embody a fusion between a very refined capacity and very evident effort. It's unlike the dancing in ballet where the dancing looks effortless, where you know they have muscles but that's not what you're seeing. But in this piece you see that it's effortful, and that distinguishes Boulders and Bones from some of our other repertoire.
CC: We confess to a preference for contemporary ballet but, watching the highlights video for Boulders and Bones, we don't feel like you're very interested in ballet.
BW: I studied at Balanchine's School of American Ballet during my entire childhood so I had a very strong formative influence with Balanchine, and then the '60s and Judson Church came along with their interest in breaking down the barriers between high and low art and bringing onto the stage a more quotidian physicality. How do real people walk and move? That was a major question in the '60s. The Judson was very informative to me and I think what we did really at ODC was fuse that idea with actual technical capacity. I think it was Marcia Siegel who said early on, "What you see is real people really dancing."
CC: "Really dancing" and "actual technical capacity" emphasize a distinction that's very important to us. What we see ODC doing is really dancing, unlike so much of the - to us - unwatchable pedestrian movement identified with Judson Church.
BW: You know, virtuosity isn't just one thing. Being able to incorporate a very simple physical presence with a very refined or virtuosic technique is a kind of virtuosity. To go from a person just walking to a person leaping through the air - that's a trajectory that takes real skill.
CC: What was the premise behind ODC? What were your intensions when you got on that bus in 1976 and drove from Oberlin to San Francisco?
BW: Of course I mentioned the '60s because I'm thinking of Oberlin. I'm so excited to come back. I would say that, having come from NYC and having been around the Judson people, I was asking questions like, "What is dance?" and "What is theater?" All those questions were in the air, and when I was at Oberlin, what I saw was a group of young people who were extremely creative and who were not following in the models and the traditions that I had been raised in at School of American Ballet and I found them extremely interesting and so I thought, "Let's put on a show!" [laughter]. Meanwhile the idea of a collective was also in the air, with new forms of non-hierarchical organizations. So I thought all of us could choreograph and we'd be in each other's work. That way the burden of carrying on would be shared by like-minded people. Also, I had kids and I wanted to share the work of the company so that I would have room in my life for my family.
CC: When Vic first heard about ODC, a collective of dancers, painters and sculptors, he remembers saying to himself, "That won't last long." Part of that's his admitted talent for being simultaneously pessimistic and wrong, but part of it is his experience of a million dances that tried and failed to incorporate some kind of set piece. But Boulders and Bones is an example of how different art forms can collaborate successfully.
Boulders and Bones is only your second choreographic collaboration with your co-artistic director KT Nelson after 40 years. And other than Velveteen Rabbit, this is ODC's first evening-length work. What took you so long?
BW: I think that when you choose to become an artist you're also choosing to continue changing, to keep asking different questions to stay engaged with your art form. So the fact that we said, "Hey, what if we tried something together?" is perfectly in keeping with other questions that we've asked. You ask yourselves questions that challenge. For each piece, there has to be - for me - some aspect of it that is unknown, that I don't know how to do, so that it's a growth-inducing circumstance. So I think that's the goal of an artist, to keep questing.
CC: Some have called Boulders and Bones yours and KT's masterwork. What do you say to that?
BW: Oh, that's not for me to say. All I will say is that I'm happy with it. And that's the greatest feeling I can imagine.
CC: Anything else that you'd like to say?
BW: Just how exciting it is to go back to your roots. SAB formed my body and my aesthetic, but Oberlin formed my mind, and that is the real basis of any artistic work.
See a highlight reel of Boulders and Bones HERE.
ODC performs at PlayhouseSquare's Ohio Theatre. Tickets are $25-$65. For tickets call 216-241-6000 or go to the PlayhouseSquare website. A pre-performance chat with Brenda Way is at 7:45pm; a post-performance Q&A follows the performance.
ODC/Dance will hold an advanced contemporary master class for ages 15 and up Sat 11/7 @10:30am-noon at Cleveland State University Middough Building Dance Studios. RSVP is required; email Sarah at Sarah@dancecleveland.org.
Cool Cleveland, Victor Lucas
RELATED COMPANY: ODC/ Dance
Sunday, November 8th, 2015 12:00 PM
CLEVELAND, Ohio -- In one sense, the dance had begun before the audience was fully seated. Saturday night in the Ohio Theatre at Playhouse Square, two members of the ODC/Dance troupe appeared downstage at far right and began a deliberative process of arranging short sticks in patterns while the audience chattered noisily, seemingly unaware of what was transpiring.
ODC/Dance's "Boulders and Bones," premiered in 2014 and presented here on the DanceCleveland more › series, marked the dance company's first performance in northeast Ohio since they relocated from Oberlin to San Francisco in 1976. Founded five years before that by Brenda Way, the troupe went on to grow in the ensuing 44 years from a highly touted, university-based upstart to one of the country's leading exponents of modern dance.
The work is a multi-media production featuring choreography by Way and KT Nelson, a score for amplified cello and tape by Zoe Keating and videography by RJ Muna of a stonework installation by British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy called "Culvert Cairn."
Goldsworthy is known for his "temporary" works, pieces created in nature from natural materials at hand. Delicate and evanescent, they fall prey to time and the elements, the only record of their existence being photographs taken immediately upon completion. The intricate process finds its reflection in the stick play at the beginning of "Boulders and Bones." (A representative selection of Goldsworthy's temporal installations can be seen here.)
The construction of the more permanent "Culvert Cairn," however, was anything but delicate. Its assembly -- involving a team of construction specialists wielding masonry saws, bulldozers and cranes amid clouds of rock dust -- was depicted in time-lapse video by Muna as a prelude to the body of the dance.
Just as Goldsworthy's installations organize the space around them, so did the dancers move in "Boulders and Bones." Against a projected backdrop of a finished culvert wall (with a large circular cutout where a cairn would otherwise appear), ODC/Dance dancers enacted a series of scenes, like the movements of a suite, suggesting the construction of an edifice made entirely of stylized gesture, startling athleticism and sometimes aggressive interaction.
Cellist Erin Wang was onstage for the duration of the piece, ensconced within a circular framework that lit her dramatically and allowed the dancers to roll her to various locations on the stage. Her performance of Keating's evocative minimalist score was heroic, and drew an extra measure of audience acclaim at the end of the piece.
Way and Nelson have created a dance vocabulary that is both traditional and modern, with highly stylized gestures and a feeling for patterns of movement that are at once abstract and dynamically narrative. If the process of dance took the form of sentences, Way and Keating's text would be made of highly complex clauses, elaborately interrelated and packed with delightful neologisms.
Especially impressive was the furious dance leading to a sort of interlude at the halfway mark, in which groups of dancers drew together in a complex swirl of celebration, while a single dancer threaded rapidly through the web of movement, scattering white powder through the air, much like the stone dust created by the making of "Culvert Cairn."
Impressive, too, was the moment just before the final dance, in which a single female dancer performed, in silence, a long pas seul which seemed to impart a blessing on the completion of the dance's edifice. Then the video sprang back to sudden life with showers of golden rain while the company celebrated and coalesced into a final unison tableau: an explosion of white dust rendered golden by burnished lighting, flooding the stage like sunrise.
The Plain Dealer, Mark Satola
RELATED COMPANY: ODC/ Dance
Tuesday, November 3rd, 2015 12:00 PM
CLEVELAND, Ohio Typically, in dance, the goal is the illusion of ease. No one wants to see a ballerina struggle.
Thus is Saturday's visit by ODC/Dance on the DanceCleveland series likely to turn heads. Instead of ease and fluidity, the company aims with "Boulders and Bones" to pay explicit homage to effort and complexity.
"There are many parts that are clearly not easy," said ODC (Oberlin Dance Collective) founder and artistic more › co-director Brenda Way, describing the work, an ode to the art of making art. "We're all about revealing the process."
No doubt she has plenty to reveal. When she founded ODC at Oberlin College, in 1971, she dedicated herself to collaboration and all the bumps, unpredictability and tension that come with it. Even today, 44 years later, at its home in San Francisco, her troupe still includes theater, visual art and writing.
Her brand of dance also remains distinct. Where older companies, especially in the 1970s, kept strict boundaries between genders, styles, and performers and audience, ODC has never observed such traditions.
"The arts environment and the political mood of the era, the combination was a base for a new way of looking at the world," Way recalled. "It all resonated and came together in a new way, and set a new idea for what dance could be."
No surprise, then, that "Boulders and Bones" is a collaborative effort. One of the company's most elaborate productions to date, the evening-length dance rests heavily on the work of British sculptor Andy Goldsworthy, photographer RJ Muna and composer Zoe Keating. Goldsworthy, in particular, conceived the work's central image: a large stone in a creek bed.
"It was a bit of a surprise when he said it would last forever," said Way of the stone, noting the artist's longtime preference for materials that erode or disappear, in homage to the fleeting nature of life. "It's so literal, and we are so not literal."
After a short film summarizing Goldsworthy's carving project, the dancers in "Boulders and Bones" will proceed to act out, through Way's highly physical choreography, the creative process. With each section, the dancers will explore one phase of the cycle artists go through when developing and realizing new work with others. Among those phases: contemplation, inspiration, building and silence.
Cellist Erin Wang, meanwhile, will rove through space on a moving platform, regaling the dancers with music that waxes and wanes like the moon and the tides. An early review described Keating's score as "percussive, rhythmic and elegiac."
"It's a simple idea, writ large," Way explained. "The meaning accumulates. You feel the chaos of a work site."
In the end, Way said, viewers should come away from "Boulders and Bones" not only with striking images burned into their brains, but also with a sense of the inertia and practical obstacles artists must overcome when creating.
Put another way: By letting Cleveland see it sweat, ODC will do the entire artistic world a favor, and maybe even inspire a few new souls to play along.
"I want to share that enjoyment of the creative process," Way said. "I want people to gain a reverence for it, to see that it's complicated and social."
The Plain Dealer, Zachary Lewis
RELATED COMPANY: ODC/ Dance