DANCECleveland brings in nationally recognized dance companies like the contemporary Brazilian dance company Grupo Corpo, which exemplifies a minimalistic approach to dance.

Home to a variety of theater, classical music and dance offerings, Northeast Ohio stages are in the spotlight

By Alyssa Schmitt

With scores of stages from Cleveland to Akron and Canton – and in many of the suburbs in between – Northeast Ohio is bursting at the seams with dance, theater and classical music offerings.

So much so, in fact, Karen Gahl-Mills, CEO and executive director of Cuyahoga Arts & Culture, one of the largest public funders of arts and culture in the U.S., says the thriving region performs at a level higher than might be expected of it.

“When you look at the list of all the organizations we fund – much less everything that’s out there – we do seem like we have more stuff, more stages, more organizations doing more work here than really belies a city of our size,” Gahl-Mills says.

That the area is experiencing this boom is in part a result of previous generations making arts part of the region’s foundation. To that point, several institutions are celebrating milestone anniversaries, including The Cleveland Orchestra, whose upcoming 2017-18 season marks its centennial anniversary.

The world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra performs at Severance Hall in Cleveland’s University Circle neighborhood.

The world-renowned Cleveland Orchestra performs at Severance Hall in Cleveland’s University
Circle neighborhood. Photo by Roger Mastroianni / The Cleveland Orchestra

“Cleveland used to be a city of a million people, so many of our cultural institutions are celebrating 100th anniversaries over the course of the last five and next five years,” Gahl-Mills says. “That speaks to those institutions being built at a time when Cleveland was a much bigger city with a much larger population. And it was a population of folks who really did believe that having arts and culture in your community needed to be part of your community’s DNA. It was a way to speak of yourself as a world city.”

The idea that Cleveland is a world-class arts city may sound foreign to outsiders, but compared to stage scenes in New York City or Chicago, Cleveland’s large and vibrant performance arts culture – and its focus on community – stack up quite well, says Clyde Simon, co-founder and art director of convergence-continuum, a Cleveland theater company that calls Tremont’s Liminis Theatre home.

“Since (convergence-continuum) started (in 2000), the theater scene in Cleveland has really grown,” Simon says. “In terms of quality, we’re definitely there. The productions that I’ve seen in those other places and the ones I’ve seen in Cleveland are equal in quality, and we’re being recognized outside of the area for such things. Cleveland has been getting some national attention beyond our own city limits.”

Quality guides the livelihood of Cleveland’s stages, but the secret to its growing audience is accessibility. Nationally known productions run through Cleveland often. Those who can’t afford to make the trip to New York City to see a renowned play or musical – chances are – can see it in Cleveland.

“Five Flights” transformed the entire theater space at convergence-continuum’s Liminis Theatre in Cleveland into the interior of an abandoned aviary.

“Five Flights” transformed the entire theater space at convergence-continuum’s Liminis Theatre in Cleveland into the interior of an abandoned aviary.

“We have a lot of offerings that, (in) many cities, you don’t necessarily have the opportunity to experience,” says Sarah Hricko, marketing manager at DANCECleveland, a stand-alone, dance-only presenter based in Cleveland’s Shaker Square neighborhood. “We’re able to provide, at DANCECleveland, the ability for people to see world-class dance performances that in many places people would have to drive really far to get to, or in New York for example, you’re going to be spending at least double what you pay for tickets here.”

The Cleveland Orchestra has also increased accessibility in recent years. In addition to regularly performing at Severance Hall in Cleveland and Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls, the orchestra has participated in neighborhood residences in Lakewood and Cleveland’s Detroit-Shoreway, Slavic Village and Hough neighborhoods. By performing in more familiar environs, the orchestra is able to present its world-renowned performances to audiences that may not otherwise get to experience them, says Justin Holden, Cleveland Orchestra’s director of public relations.

“Providing access, in general, in different settings – whether it’s smaller ensembles or outside of a concert hall – just helps,” Holden says. “I think that when people are asked to connect with it simply as great music and great artists performing, then it’s easier for them to have an experience that’s meaningful to them.”

Many organizations are also engaging audiences over and above an evening’s main performance. Pre-show talks explaining the history of the production, classes in which audiences can interact with performers and Q&A sessions allowing audience members to speak directly to creative talent are all common ways connections are being built.

“We want to try to make sure that not only are you seeing the show, but you’re getting to interact before and after the show as well,” Hricko says. “It’s all about creating different experiences for different people.”

Each stage is unique, which may make it challenging (in a good way) when deciding what to see, but from dance to classical music to theater, there’s no shortage of options.

“There’s a real variety in Cleveland of really different types of theaters, both physically and the kind of things they produce,” Simon says. “There’s a real wealth of theater and you can’t see everything in one week … you’re going to miss stuff because there’s so much going on now.” CV

On stage

The Cleveland Orchestra

The Cleveland Orchestra’s Gala Concert will take place Oct. 7 and serve as the celebratory kick-off to launch Second Century initiatives at the start of the ensemble’s 100th season. For more, visit clevelandorchestra.com.

convergence-continuum

Performances of “Rhinoceros” (Aug. 25 – Sept. 16) and “In the Closet” (Oct. 13 – Nov. 4) will take place at Liminis Theatre. For more, visit convergence-continuum.org.

DANCECleveland

A performance by the Koresh Dance Company will take place Oct. 1 at The University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall, and a performance by the Paul Taylor Dance Company will take place Nov. 11 at Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre. For more, visit dancecleveland.org.


Lead image: DANCECleveland brings in nationally recognized dance companies like the contemporary Brazilian dance company Grupo Corpo, which exemplifies a minimalistic approach to dance. Photo by Jose Luiz Pederneiras / DANCECleveland

PHOTO | DANCECleveland
MOMIX will perform “Alchemia,” shown here, Jan. 23 at Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace Theatre.

DANCECleveland and GroundWorks DanceTheater offer plenty of ways for audiences to keep their calendars full

By Jonah L. Rosenblum

PHOTO | Mark Horning / GroundWorks DanceTheater “Inamorata” by Kate Weare (2013), featuring Felise Bagley and Annika Sheaff. Weare’s latest debut will be held Oct. 16-17 at the Allen Theatre in Playhouse Square

PHOTO | Mark Horning / GroundWorks DanceTheater
“Inamorata” by Kate Weare (2013), featuring Felise Bagley and Annika Sheaff. Weare’s latest debut will be held Oct. 16-17 at the Allen Theatre in Playhouse Square

As the weather cools down, Cleveland’s stages heat up.

Through DANCECleveland and GroundWorks DanceTheater, Northeast Ohio is prepared to host a wide variety of shows designed with every kind of audience in mind.

“We work to make this a center of creativity for the world of contemporary dance,” says Beth Rutkowski, GroundWorks general manager. “The contemporary dance field in Cleveland is very, very strong.”

Particularly with world-class artists like Oded Zehavi, Kate Weare, MOMIX and Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal making their way to the Forest City.

“It’s really important to us to bring in artists from outside of our area and keep this work happening in Northeast Ohio,” Rutkowski says. “We bring in these world-renowned artists and the dance world pays attention to that.”

Family-friendly fare

Parents and their children are covered with the upcoming slate, according to Sarah Hricko, DANCECleveland marketing manager.

Take Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal, which kicked off the fall dance season Oct. 4 at the University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall. As befits an opening act, it promised to be festive, as “the feel-good company” mixed modern and contemporary with tastes of jazz and hip-hop. Hricko describes Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal as “a family-friendly event” devoid of “anything too dark.”

MOMIX has similar appeal, bringing a group of dance illusionists that have already hit pop culture with their appearances on Hanes and Target commercials to Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace Theatre on Jan. 23. Beyond their dance choreography, they’re known for using props, shadows, special effects and unique lighting to keep even the most unsophisticated audiences involved.

“It’s more accessible to a larger audience,” Hricko says. “This is a great one to bring kids to. It’s probably our favorite on the season for families.”

For experienced palates

Greater Cleveland also will play host to plenty of classical dance performances.

Avid dance fans may already know the name Kate Weare.

A 2014 Guggenheim Fellow, 2011 Mellon Foundation Awardee and 2009 Princess Grace Award winner, Weare debuted “Unstruck” at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Next Wave Festival in February.

Cleveland will play host to her latest debut Oct. 16 and 17 at the Allen Theatre, a piece that remained untitled as of late September.

“Her pieces, they’re very emotional,” Rutkowski said. “Her work definitely has a high-art feel to it.”

Rutkowski said Weare’s pieces are complex, but members of any audience can enjoy them so long as they are content to make their own interpretations and not necessarily have a “right answer” for the performance’s intent.

“It is beautiful dance done really, really well. The choreography is very interesting to look at,” Rutkowski said. “As long as someone is comfortable with not needing an absolute storyline, then they will enjoy their own interpretations and their own imaginations that might come from her work.”

Weare’s latest work came together, in part, through improvisation, as she let her dancers react naturally to various works of music and used those movements to build a piece. Also, given Weare’s company in New York City, she has turned into a Cleveland Hopkins International Airport regular. Beyond boosting her frequent flier account, her dancers had the unusual benefit of being able to use her gaps, when she’s in New York, to reflect on the “emotional arc” of the piece.

DANCECleveland’s ODC/Dance performance at the Ohio Theatre Nov. 7 brings similar sophistication. The “very modern company” brings work that’s “a little bit meatier in substance choreographically,” Hricko says.

Live music

The collision of musical and visual arts can make for a memorable occasion.

“Live music is really important,” Hricko says. “It’s something that’s really special and can never be done again.”

Northeast Ohio audiences have multiple chances to watch dance interact with music.

With GroundWorks DanceTheater’s October performances in Cleveland and November performances in Akron, audiences will be treated to an original score by Israeli composer Oded Zehavi, as inspired by the “Violins of Hope” exhibit featuring violins from the Holocaust.

A Latin flavor will come to Playhouse Square’s Ohio Theatre on Feb. 27, when the Malpaso Dance Company mixes Cuban contemporary dance with the musical styling of the Grammy-winning Arturo O’Farrill Afro Latin Jazz Orchestra. The Havana-based company and its accompanying orchestra should bring “very spirited music, spirited dance” to Cleveland, Hricko says.

Telling a story

Storytelling has always been one function of the art world – and Northeast Ohio’s dance scene is no different.

Camille A. Brown & Dancers promise an “impactful evening” with “Black Girl: Linguistic Play” at the Hanna Theatre Nov. 14. Commissioned by DANCECleveland, the show will actually debut in New York, at the Joyce Theater, but will make one of its first stops in Cleveland a month and a half later. The show explores real-life situations from the modern female perspective, inspired in part by interviews with Cleveland-area women.

GroundWorks’ “Unpublished Dialogues,” which debuted in Northeast Ohio in 2008, returns to tell a choreographed story based on the life of writer Virginia Woolf.

The piece mixes the tragedy of Woolf’s life with the beauty of her work into a very emotional final result.

“It’s just a very, very strong piece,” Rutkowski said. “It has great depth to it and I think also that it fits really well with this program.” CV


*Lead image: PHOTO | DANCECleveland
MOMIX will perform “Alchemia,” shown here, Jan. 23 at Playhouse Square’s Connor Palace Theatre.