My first guest blogger!

Christopher Atamian, who I met recently while watching Complexions at the Joyce, is a very accomplished arts writer. He writes regularly for Dance Magazine, and for the Daily Candy-esque (but far better!) arts e-letter eCognoscente (which he co-founded). He’s also the former dance critic for the New York Press and has written for the New York Times, among other leading publications. Chris has been kind enough to write a full review of the GroundWorks performance I posted about very briefly.

(I don’t know what kind of “dance publication” this is, by the way. Can’t figure it out.) Anyway, here’s the review:

Contemporary Dance Theater…Created from the Ground Up…in Cleveland, no less…Who knew? (Or: The Little Dance Company That Could)

Or if this were a “mainstream dance publication”: GroundWorks DanceTheater brought its unique mixture of subtle humor, intelligent choreography, and vigorous movement to the West End Theater, March 5-9, 2009.

By Christopher Atamian

Less is sometimes more, indeed. In the wonderfully intimate and strangely proportioned West End Theater (i.e. thirty-foot domed ceilings and decorative arches overlooking a mere 84 seats and a semi-circular dance floor the size of my back pocket), the Cleveland-based company presented a charming and sometimes clever New York début—think classically-influenced movement set to contemporary and new music. It’s hard to judge five dancers on a shoestring budget making what was by all accounts remarkable use of their tiny dance area. The company members are obviously quite talented—one wonders what their performances would look like with more elaborate sets and costumes and a few more dancers? Could GroundWorks evolve into a more important presence in the dance world?

Company founder and rehearsal director David Shimotakahara emphasizes that the company’s raison d’être is the creation of new works—forty-one in all in its ten-year history. Amy Miller, all sinewy muscles and androgynous features, is particularly talented and energetic, but the other dancers (Felise Bagley, Kelly Brunk, Damien Highfield and Sarah Perrrett) are all excellent as well. The program on March 5th opened with Iron Lung, created by guest choreographer Keeley Garfield and set to music by Aqualung. It’s a fun, spatially intelligent piece about love, loss, and recovery, though it presents nothing groundbreaking or particularly original in terms of its movement vocabulary. It was followed by Shimotakahara’s lovely Circadian, about the earth’s external and internal rhythms, set to music by Gustavo Aguilar.

The two post-intermission pieces were decidedly more successful and well-received by audience members. Proximal, choreographed by guest artist KT Niehoff was a wonderful little amuse-gueule of a presentation full of both physical and verbal humor. Miller and Highfield demonstrated what a dance improvisation or rehearsal might look like: they push in one direction then the next—whenever an obstacle appears (the other dancer!), a well-placed grunt, head, body movement or simple request puts the duo back on track. We observe the hesitations, the tiny organic changes and thought processes that undoubtedly go into the making of any dance. It was refreshing to see dancers with fine acting skills interact with such an intuitive feel for each others’ bodies. The final presentation was the rather long but thoroughly engrossing Nano choreographed by Shimotakahara, set to and around the wonderfully primal, eclectic and sometimes downright odd sounds in Aguilar’s snare drum playing (Phillip Glass? An Amazon Forest? A faucet creaking?). Aguilar drags a round ball along the drum’s surface or taps it with batons and implements of different sizes and materials, and then rolls the drum from one part of the stage to the other—the sounds alternate between individual staccato-like notes to shimmering post-modern reverberations. The dancers follow the drum/Aguilera around the room then retreat from it as the instrument becomes a participant in the performance itself. They push off against each other, lunge, jump and pirouette in an impressive display of physical dexterity.

If you want to see what the work of dedicated young dancers and choreographers operating outside the usual Uptown-Downtown New York circuits looks like when it is executed with intelligence and honesty passion, then you should put GroundWorks on your calendar the next time that they are in town. And if the opportunity presents itself, be sure to take the time at intermission or after the performance to briefly visit the charming old rickety wood building of the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew which houses the West End Theater on 86th street.

I am happy to report that Ohio now has at least two cultural organizations worth following—the Rock n’ Roll Hall of Fame and GroundWorks Dance Theater. (Yes. Yes. I know. There’s also the Oberlin Conservatory, Columbus art galleries, The Kenyon Review and The Cleveland Plain Dealer—and the latter is really a stretch).


  1. In your Ohio arts roundup, you forgot the Cleveland Orchestra and the Cleveland Museum of Art (still free admission)… It's not all backwater. It's actually a lot of old money. Remember this was where the industrial revolution began and the old money is still here.

  2. Christopher Atamian

    Point taken. Not sure about the Arts Museum but I have heard great things about the orchestra. Was just poking fun, seeing if Midwesterners have developed a sense of humor yet:)~

  3. Christopher Atamian

    Point taken. Not sure about the Arts Museum but I have heard great things about the orchestra. Was just poking fun, seeing if Midwesterners have developed a sense of humor yet:)~

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