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The Plain Dealer, Zachary Lewis  |  May 15, 2015

University of Akron announces $5 million grant to establish national center for choreography

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 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."

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