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Akron celebrating 41 years of free summer dance

7/17/2014 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

GREATER AKRON — The City of Akron’s tradition of free outdoor dance performances in parks is celebrating its 41st year this summer.

For the past eight years, the event has been known as the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, in honor of the man who started it all, founding artistic director of Ohio Ballet Heinz Poll.

According to festival officials, last year, 11,000 people attended the free events. This year, the dance concerts are spread over successive weekends that began July 18.

Over the past eight years, Jane Startzman, director of the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, has worked at keeping the event fresh for area attendees by bringing in new or special dance groups to widen the world of dance for dance lovers, students and summer onlookers.

The festival opened at Goodyear Heights Metro Park July 18-19 with the nationally known company Ballet Hispanico from New York City.

On July 25-26, area favorite Neos Dance Theatre will appear at Hardesty Park, 1615 W. Market St. Led by Bobby Wesner, the company will bring both classic and contemporary dance and a new contemporary piece created by Wesner for this event.

GroundWorks DanceTheater, led by Artistic Director David Shimotakahara, will perform Aug. 1-2 at Glendale Cemetery, 150 Glendale Ave.

According to festival officials, Shimotakahara plans to bring a new dance piece set to Tan Dun’s “Ghost Opera,” combining influences from Western and Eastern music.

Another special and collaborative event that is in the works, Startzman said, is the performance Aug. 8-9 at Firestone Park, 1480 Girard St. Choreographer James Sewell, of the James Sewell Ballet in Minneapolis, is creating a brand new work. To do this, he will combine four members of his ballet troupe with three Akron area dancers (and one dancer from New York City) into a collective company for a one-time performance of the work that Sewell will create while in residence in the dance studios of The University of Akron (UA).

Sewell, who has made dance in the past for Ballet Excel (formerly known as Cuyahoga Valley Youth Ballet), is noted for solid classical ballet technique and modern dance. He also has been described as bringing the unpredictable onto the stage, which may make for exciting new dance in this Akron venue.

The Sewell project is quite a collaborative effort. The UA School of Dance will provide much administrative support by way of well-appointed rehearsal space and area dancers while Sewell will bring the artistic component (and a few dancers), according to festival officials. The Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, as Startzman noted, is the dance presenter.

All performances will begin at 8:45 p.m. with a children’s program starting at 7:45 p.m. each night presented by the UA Dance Institute.

The City of Akron, with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, will extend the use of its weekend dance stage to Sunday nights again this summer for a series of four concerts by the Akron Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of maestro Christopher Wilkins. The performances will take place at 7:30 p.m. at the following dates: July 27 at Hardesty Park, Aug. 3 at Glendale Cemetery and Aug. 10 at Firestone Park. Admission is free.

For more information about the festival, call 330-535-3179 or visit www.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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