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ASO, GroundWorks join forces for ‘Rite of Spring’ concert

4/11/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

David Shimotakahara, artistic director of GroundWorks DanceTheater, is shown during a rehearsal for the “Rite of Spring” concert.
Photo courtesy of Akron Symphony Orchestra
DOWNTOWN AKRON — The Akron Symphony Orchestra (ASO) and GroundWorks DanceTheater will join forces April 13 at 8 p.m. at The University of Akron’s E.J. Thomas Hall to present “Rite of Spring,” the first full-scale production of an ASO Classics Series concert.

According to ASO officials, “Rite of Spring” is the first true partnership between the ASO and GroundWorks DanceTheater. More than 100 musicians and 23 professional and student dancers from around Akron and throughout Summit County will come together to bring Igor Stravinsky’s work to life in honor of the 100th anniversary of its debut performance.

The ASO approached GroundWorks about sharing in the production and adding a visual element to it through dance.

Maestro Christopher Wilkins met up with David Shimotakahara, artistic director of GroundWorks, and asked him to choreograph the story behind the music.

Shimotakahara said it was perfect for GroundWorks and its outreach program. To make it a community event, Shimotakahara said his outreach coordinator, Mark Otloski, and a bassoonist from ASO, searched for 15 students and three community dancers to join the five GroundWorks dancers.

In total, they visited eight different organizations, including Cuyahoga Valley Youth Ballet, and auditioned about 100 young dancers. Then they started working to get them ready for the upcoming performance.

Shimotakahara noted these young dancers will really dance in the production, and not simply be the dance equivalent of operatic spear-carriers.

For the dance itself, Shimotakahara departs, he said, from the original libretto. It just “didn’t feel right,” he said. The “sacrifice” element was “too much a victim thing.” Instead he wanted to create the lead role in a way the lead character, called “The Other” in his version and danced by Noelle Cotler, would “self-select” and make a choice for the wider group.

The polarity (a favorite structural mechanism for Shimotakahara) is the “tension between individual will [the freedom to choose] and collective will.”

There will be program notes, so any audience members who know the original story won’t be thrown off by the changes made in the storyline.

Wilkins, Shimotakahara said, trusted his creative urges and energy. He even visited a rehearsal and was pleased with what he saw, said Shimotakahara.

During a two-hour rehearsal of a female trio featuring Felise Bagley, Noelle Cotler and Annika Sheaff, Shimotakahara showed some of the choreography in the performance.

It’s amazing how much drama there is in a bar of music when Shimotakahara takes it apart and applies the visual vocabulary of dance to it. He told the dancers to move as if they are “reaching without seeing”; that is, trying to get somewhere without really knowing where they are going. He wanted them to show “longing,” as though being drawn to something.

The way the choreographer works is an incredibly intellectual process about how to reveal continuous emotion. The music serves as an undergirding element, supporting and adding nuance to the twisting and jutting human bodies.

As Shimotakahara created, Bagley acted as a kind of stage director; she figured out how the three dancers could interact and not run into each other. Her experience as a professional dancer is invaluable to the process.

Ticket prices range from $22 to $52 and are available at the Thomas Hall Box Office or by calling 330-972-7570, or online at www.ejthomashall.com.

 

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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