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Outdoor summer dance in Akron celebrating 40th season

7/18/2013 - West Side Leader
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By Roger Durbin

Shown is The Vanaver Caravan’s “Chinese Ribbon Dance” with Isabella Cottingham.
Photo: Lois Greenfield
GREATER AKRON — It’s summer in the city and one of the big Akron traditions will celebrate its 40th year of free professional dance performances in area outdoor venues.

The Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, named after Ohio Ballet co-founder Heinz Poll, who started the tradition of free outdoor dance performances in Akron, will again be presented by the city of Akron.

“We know of no other community in the United States that has this tradition,” said Akron Mayor Don Plusquellic in a press release. “To sustain this iconic cultural event for 40 years makes a statement about Akron’s appreciation for the performing arts.”

This year’s line up of dance companies brings back some familiar faces — Verb Ballets (based in Cleveland but featuring several West Akron area dancers), July 26-27 at Hardesty Park; GroundWorks DanceTheater (a contemporary group that has a strong commitment to performances in the area by presenting at least three dance concerts a year), Aug. 2-3 at Glendale Cemetery; and Neos Dance Theatre (hailing from Mansfield, but with increasing Akron performances and with several dancers with Akron area backgrounds in dance), Aug. 9-10 at Firestone Park.

This year’s dance bombshell (last year it was the Martha Graham Dance Company) will be The Vanaver Caravan, a group of dancers and musicians from New York. According to event officials, this group is described as bringing a very different kind of dance to area stages.

Vanaver’s founders Bill Vanaver (musician/composer) and dancer/choreographer Lilia Drapkin Vanaver are dedicated to diverse world cultures — particularly with regard to performance arts, according to event officials. Included in the 17-part dance “EarthBeat,” the company will showcase a divergent range of dance that will take in Senegalese tribal dance, Flamenco, Appalachian clog dance and Brazilian martial arts works. Vanaver will appear last in the festival at Goodyear Heights Metro Park Aug. 16-17.

Before that, however, there will be other stellar groups offering their talents — and some Heinz Poll works in honor of the namesake of the festival and the festival’s origins in the city back in 1974.

Verb Ballets will present three works at Hardesty Park July 26-27. This popular and energetic group will include Poll’s “Eight by Benny Goodman” on its program, setting a fast-paced and very musically inspired dance performance. Following that will be former Ohio Ballet dancer and ballet master Richard Dickinson’s “Four Last Songs,” a stirring work based on Richard Strauss’ music, followed by a newly created third piece, “Passing By,” done by Antonio Brown (with his own musical composition).

GroundWorks DanceTheater will perform at Glendale Cemetery Aug. 2-3 under the direction of artistic director David Shimotakahara (a protégé of Poll). The company will complete a work by Shimotakahara called “Before with After” to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, a new and as yet unnamed piece by artistic associate Amy Miller (a former Ohio Ballet dancer) and end with a commissioned work done for GroundWorks by acclaimed choreographer Doug Elkins called “My Hummingbird at the High Line.”

Neos Dance Company will be at Firestone Park Aug. 9-10 with a variety of dance styles. It will begin with selections from director Robert Wesner’s “Homage” and continue with “Bondolo,” a work inspired by traveling tent religious revival shows, followed by a Poll piece, “Summer Night,” and ending with a world premiere by Wesner called “Spinning Plates” (a piece with original music by Timbre Cierpke, a Nashville based harpist/songwriter).

All performances start at 8:45 p.m. and admission is free. A children’s program will start at 7:45 p.m. each night presented by The University of Akron Dance Institute. For more information about the festival, visit www.akrondancefestival.org.

In conjunction with the festival, the city is offering Sunday Symphonies. Each Sunday during the festival, the city will continue free Akron Symphony Orchestra concerts on the ballet stage beginning at 7:30 p.m.


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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