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Dance festival coming to Akron parks

7/18/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

Major companies to unveil new works amid classic pieces

The Martha Graham Dance Company will perform at the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival Aug. 3-4 at Goodyear Heights Metro Park.
Photo: John Deane; courtesy of the Martha Graham Dance Company
GREATER AKRON — The city of Akron has been presenting dance in public parks for 37 years, and the last six years has been as the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, a four-weekend free festival in honor of the man who founded the Ohio Ballet and its summertime tradition of bringing free classical and contemporary ballet to Akron.

This year, the festival will feature four high-quality dance groups — repeat local companies Neos Dance Theatre (July 27-28 at Hardesty Park) and GroundWorks DanceTheater (Aug. 10-11 at Glendale Cemetery) — and newbies the Cincinnati Ballet (Aug. 17-18 at Firestone Park) and, in a major Akron coup, the Martha Graham Dance Company (Aug. 3-4 at Goodyear Heights Metro Park).

Getting the Graham group to perform at the festival was a fortunate happenstance, said festival organizer Jane Startzman. She said she was thinking of worthy and stellar companies and recalled she knew someone at the Graham Dance Company. She called them, and things worked out, she said.

The Graham Dance Company, located in New York, is the pioneer of modern dance, according to event officials. Martha Graham set the tone for the rest of the contemporary dance world. Moving away from classical technique and a focus on set moves and pieces, rather she concentrated on the human form. In her way, she made it possible also for men and women to dance the same parts together instead of a more structured and gender-based technique, according to event officials.

When the Graham Dance Company performs in Akron, it will perform, among other works, Martha Graham’s iconic “Lamentation,” a moody work on grief in which the solo dancer is shrouded in a full-body-length, expandable body stocking, according to event officials. The character seemingly tries to shed the costume as a symbol of relieving her grief. The work is a prelude to such companies as Pilobolus, who took their cues, like so many choreographers, from the Graham Dance Company, according to event officials.

Startzman also said that since many younger people may not know the legendary dance figure, the company will bring some enhancements with them that will explain the works.

Before that company comes, Neos Dance Theatre, led by Bobby Wesner, will perform at Hardesty Park. This company is an up-and-comer in dance and is establishing a strong presence in the Akron area, according to event officials.

Neos will stage, among other works, the world premiere of Wesner’s “Homage,” a tribute to the music of Brazilian Heitor Villa Lobos, who has been described as Latin America’s most significant composer, according to event officials.

GroundWorks DanceTheater once again will appear at Glendale Cemetery. GroundWorks will present two recent pieces, but also two world premieres. First, Artistic Director David Shimotakahara has created a tribute work called “Brubeck” as a paean to the American jazz icon Dave Brubeck.

Secondly, it will premiere “Current Frame,” created by Artistic Associate Amy Miller, who in the work explores the interplay between the formal structure of Baroque composer Heinrich Ignaz Franz Biber’s “Passacaglia” violin solo and the emotional undercurrent in the music’s themes and cadences, according to event officials. [For more on GroundWorks’ season, see Page 23.]

The Cincinnati Ballet will perform at Firestone Park. The company includes among the works to be performed classical pieces — like the pas de deux from “Romeo and Juliet” and the wedding pas de deux from “Don Quixote” — as well as contemporary efforts like “The Man in Black,” which is a dance nod to singer Johnny Cash. Six songs by Cash will be used as a suite of dances for a quartet comprised of three men and a woman.

The dance programs will begin at 8:45 p.m., with a children’s program starting at 7:45 p.m. each night presented by The University of Akron Dance Institute.

Each Sunday at 7:30 p.m. during the festival, the city will continue free Akron Symphony Orchestra concerts on the ballet stage — July 29 at Hardesty Park, Aug. 5 at Goodyear Heights Metro Park, Aug. 12 at Glendale Cemetery and Aug. 19 at Firestone Park. According to event officials, the summer program will include the music of John Phillip Sousa, George Gershwin, Broadway show tunes and movie themes of John Williams.

For details on the festival, visit akrondancefestival.org.

Roger Durbin is professor emeritus of bibliography at The University of Akron and board director of the Dance Critics Association. To contact him, email r.durbin@sbcglobal.net.

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