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GROUNDWORKS is superb in Allen premiere

GROUNDWORKS is superb in Allen premiere

Roy Berko

(Member, Dance Critics Association)

This is the 14th season of GROUNDWORKS, the Cleveland area small dance company which has proven to be a local treasure since its inception.  In its short history the company has commissioned 19 premieres by nationally and internationally acclaimed choreographers, as well as 26 new works by its founder and Artistic Director, David Shimotakahara, and 8 by former dancer and now Artistic Associate Amy Miller.  Its highlight feature is the high level of discipline, purposefulness, and precision instilled by Shimotakahara.

Most of the programs have been excellent, but none has reached the heights of balance of types of works and quality as GROUNDWORKS recent showing at the Allen Theatre.

Starting this season, the company has formed a partnership with Cleveland State University.  This attachment broadens the educational and performance possibilities of GROUNDWORKS and gives the organization a new home, while affording CSU students to work with dance professionals.

This union does not mean that the company, which often finds itself in non-traditional settings such as Trinity Cathedral, Cleveland Institute of Music, Botanical Gardens, Akron’s Ice House, the main branch of the Akron Summit County Public Library, and Glendale Cemetery, will forgo these venues.  It simply means that they will have a home base and an alliance with one of Ohio’s fastest growing universities and a presence in PlayhouseSquare, one of the area’s premiere arts locations.

Besides the new partnership and venue, Groundworks introduced its newest dancer, Anika Sheaff (, a statuesque, well-trained performer whose training with Pilobolus Dance Theater brings a new dimension to the company.

The program opened with ALLOW, choreographed by Amy Miller.   Much like Miller, the piece showcased power and strength as it explored chaos, coherence and the way people deny and permit themselves to align with others.  Composed of dancers moving alone, yet in the company of others, to the clicking sounds of Alex Christie’s synthesized tones, it featured excellent performances by Felise Bagley, Noelle Cotler, Damien Highfield and Gary Lenington, with the latter performing some exception lifts.

The world premiere of MY HUMMINGBIRD AT THE HIGHLINE, choreographed by the wildly creative Doug Elkins, whose company recently performed FRAULEIN MARIA as part of Dance Cleveland’s offerings, was modern ballet at its finest.  Playful and sexy, it was danced to such divergent works as A Lot of Living To Do and I’ve Got You Under My Skin, to Handel’s Acis and Galatea and  Wainwright’s Dis Quand Reviendra Tu.  Only Elkins could merge such sounds and make the whole thing a delightful blend of joy.

The second act featured two works by Shimotakahara.  Both were outstanding.

CIRCADIAN was an emotionally draining, disciplined, exquisite piece featuring a captivating performance by Felise Bagley.  She was partnered by Damien Highfield, who gave one of the finest performances.   The choreography, dancing, music of Gustavo Aguilar, and lighting by Dennis Dugan gave new meaning to the interaction between behavior and biology.  Bagley proved yet once again why she is the area’s premiere female dancer

LIGHTS UP, danced to live jazz music composed and played Howie Smith, Bill Ransom and Dan Wilson, featured solos created by each dancer and Shimotakahara to highlight their performance strengths.  Dancers each had a strong solo culminating in a mash-up conclusion.  The effect of having worked with Doug Elkins was apparent.  The piece resulted in a yelling, well earned standing ovation, bringing an outstanding evening of dance to a close.

Capsule judgement:  Groundworks hit the pinnacle of its existence in their recent performance at the Allen Theatre.  This was an evening of dance that well-earned the joyously strong approval from the enthusiastic audience.  BRAVO

Next up:  GroundWorks performs at the new MOCA CLEVELAND museum on November 29 at 7:30. This performance will feature the company in multiple locations throughout the building, making use of its transparency, unique spaces and open floor plan.  For information go to