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The Plain Dealer  |  July 20, 2017

Dance scene grows by leaps and bounds with launch of new Summer Dance Festival (preview)

CLEVELAND, Ohio - Jeter for joy, dance fans. The dog days of summer are about to get a whole lot more interesting.

No longer does the term "off season" apply to dance in Northeast Ohio. After the launch this month of a new week-long Summer Dance Festival by DanceCleveland, late July and early August will boast the cultural bounty of October and November.

"Cleveland feels like a festival town, and we've been intrigued by this thought for a long time," said Pam Young, executive director of DanceCleveland.

"We don't always have a way of making dance more relevant. This lets us begin to broaden our perspective on what dancer-makers are doing. It's a way of building a different knowledge base."

As Young suggests, the new Summer Dance Festival, a collaboration with the prestigious, North Carolina-based American Dance Festival, isn't exclusively for dance insiders.

Certain elements, such as master-classes and workshops, cater to professionals and serious amateurs, but the highest-profile programming targets newcomers and the culturally curious.

"It's much smaller than what we do, but I don't think it's any less potent," said Jodee Nimerichter, executive director of the two-month-long ADF. "It's a delicious little flavor of what we do."

With three main-stage performances over the course of a week at Playhouse Square, DanceCleveland and its partners aim to attract a wider-than-usual range of viewers and participants, above and beyond their traditional audiences. In lieu of esoteric artists and work, the festival features popular forms including sculptural, hip-hop, and athletic dance.

Up first is the widely beloved Pilobolus, performing its signature multimedia experience "Shadowland," followed by "breaking" and hip-hop pioneer Raphael Xavier and contemporary choreographer Brian Brooks.

"[Our] goal is always to show the spectrum of what's going on in the field," Nimerichter said. "It's hard for anyone not to find something that they like. There are a lot of entry points."

And those are just the ticketed events. In addition to the concerts, the festival also includes private workshops with guest artists at Cleveland State University and a slew of free public activities in celebration of National Dance Day (Saturday, July 29).

Break out those dancing shoes. Time to get moving.

Only part of the National Dance Day party in Cleveland entails sitting: a free showcase of local dance schools and the performance by Pilobolus.

The rest requires active participation. Look for an outdoor barre exercise class, a rehearsal and performance of a routine for the show "So You Think You Can Dance," and an outdoor silent disco, in which participants dance to different music wearing headphones.


"Audiences love that participatory opportunity, instead of just sitting and watching," Nimerichter said, noting that when it comes to dance festivals and participatory events in particular, "Everyone has to pitch in."

So far, it seems, everyone is doing just that. Launching a six-day celebration of dance can be difficult, especially in smaller city at a time when arts funding is far from stable, but Young said the road to Cleveland's Summer Dance Festival was relatively smooth.

From her initial broaching of the subject with Nimerichter three years ago to her search for venues with Playhouse Square and assistance from Cleveland State University, Young said she encountered few, if any, real obstacles.

"We didn't run into any walls," Young said. "Everyone we approached made it feel like a better and better idea."

Now, with any luck, that momentum will carry over to the festival itself.

Young isn't prepared yet to declare the Summer Dance Festival a permanent addition to the scene. Only to say that her vision extends well beyond 2017.

"I'm sure we'll know something at the end of this festival, and maybe we'll have to fine-tune," she said. "But we've jumped into this like it's going to be an annual thing. We've put a lot of eggs into this one basket."

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