Dance in the age of coronavirus: Cleveland’s professional troupes display creativity in 2020 fall season programming

CLEVELAND, Ohio – Different as they are, Cleveland’s major dance groups are alike in evincing one important quality during the coronavirus pandemic: creativity.

Unable to proceed as normal, to perform for live audiences in their usual venues, all have displayed balletic flexibility and remarkable haste in efforts to amend or wholly redesign their fall seasons.

“We’re talking about a significant change to our lifestyle,” said Margaret Carlson, producing artistic director of Verb Ballets. “We’re experimenting with different ways of reaching audiences. It’s all an experimental process.”

For some, the experiment already has been underway for months. Many spent the summer finding larger studios, learning to dance while wearing masks, and devising ways to connect with patrons online or in other socially distant manners.

Others, meanwhile, have had to act more quickly. They’re now drafting new game-plans for the fall, having waited out the summer in the hope that larger audiences would be permitted to gather indoors by this point. One troupe, Neos Dance Theatre, went and remains on hiatus during the pandemic, and is now mulling a company-wide restructuring.

“There’s a lot of learning curve here,” said Pam Young, executive director of DanceCleveland, noting that with so much uncertainty in the world, “the best we can do right now is put dates on the calendar by which we have to make decisions.”

Cleveland Ballet had an ambitious fall season on the horizon, including a production of “The Magic Flute” at Playhouse Square. That, though, became unfeasible with Playhouse Square remaining closed and indoor gatherings still limited.

Luckily, it found an alternative. Just before the weather changed too dramatically, the company put together an Ohio tour called “Outside the Box,” a whirlwind string of outdoor shows at Stan Hywet Hall and vineyards in Aurora and Canton. Thus will “The Magic Flute” and several other works receive their due, in a fashion near normal.

GroundWorks DanceTheater

GroundWorks DanceTheater members wear masks during a recent performance. (Mark Horning)

GroundWorks DanceTheater began its process of experimentation over the summer, presenting a festival of socially-distant and virtual events under the title “nextSPACE.”

It went well. Indeed, so successful was the concept, the company now plans to hold a fall edition, one entailing live classes and panel talks on YouTube and drive-in-style film showings of new works by artistic director David Shimotakahara and artist-in-residence Antonio Brown.

“We’ve had to think a lot about programming in new dimensions,” said Shimotakahara. “It’s been very productive for the company as a whole. I’m really excited to see what we can do with a whole different sense of time and space. I’m really anxious to go deeper.”

DanceCleveland, too, has embraced the festival model. Forced by the pandemic and other factors to cancel a live performance by Los Angeles-based BodyTraffic in October, it rapidly put together a virtual series inspired by its annual summer festival called “Fall for DanceCleveland.”

BodyTraffic will proceed with an online residency at the University of Akron. Meanwhile, it also will join Ballet Hispanico, Contra-Tiempo, and David Dorfman Dance in headlining a festival of pre-recorded performances and other events celebrating National Hispanic Heritage Month.

“Finding works that we think will transfer well was not easy,” Young said. “But this is what we can do. This is what we can do to be helpful and make sure we survive this.”

DanceCleveland

Contra-Tiempo will be featured in DanceCleveland’s online fall festival. The company is seen here performing “Agua Furiosa.” (Steve Wylie)

Verb had another concern in planning its next concert, “Neoclassical Lines,” featuring Heinz Poll’s “Adagio for Two Dancers,” Royce Zackery’s “Grace,” and a new work by associate director Richard Dickinson.

In addition to generating revenue and keeping its dancers and patrons safe, it sought to preserve the sense of occasion that typically attends live performance. Thus, when it releases the program Oct. 9, the performances and additional interview content will be pre-recorded, but they’ll only be available for a limited time.

“I worry that is going to turn into a long-term audience habit,” Carlson explained. “We’re trying to retain that sense of excitement.”

One thing no company appears to be fretting over is audience loyalty.

Verb, expressing a sentiment shared by its peers, testified that dance patrons thus far through the pandemic are sticking by their favorite troupes, viewing and contributing much as they would in normal times.

“What we have going now is working,” Carlson said. “People are being very generous. That’s a great feeling, to know that your audience is behind you.”

FALL DANCE CALENDAR 2020

October 4

Cleveland Ballet

“Sinatra” and “Provocativo” (Live, in-person)

2 p.m. and 6 p.m.

Thorncreek Winery & Gardens, Aurora

Tickets, $95, including meal, at 330-562-9245

October 7

GroundWorks DanceTheater

Happy Hour Artist Talk: “Choreographing for the Screen”

5:30 p.m.

Livestream panel discussion on YouTube

Groundworksdance.org

October 8

Cleveland Ballet

“The Magic Flute” (Live, in-person)

8 p.m.

Gervasi Vineyard, Canton

Gervasivineyard.com/ballet

October 9-10

Cleveland Ballet

“Sinatra” and “Provocativo” (Live, in-person)

8 p.m.

Gervasi Vineyard, Canton

Gervasivineyard.com/ballet

October 9

Verb Ballets

“Neoclassical Lines” (Video)

7 p.m.

Livestream performances of “Grace” and “Adagio for Two Dancers”

Verbballets.org/neoclassical-lines

October 10

Cleveland Ballet

“The Magic Flute” (Live, in-person)

2 p.m.

Gervasi Vineyard, Canton

Gervasivineyard.com/ballet

October 10

DanceCleveland presents Ballet Hispanico

“Carmen” (Video)

Dancecleveland.org

October 16

Cleveland Ballet

“Classic Fall Collection” (Live, in-person)

7 p.m.

Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, Akron

Stanhywet.org

October 17

Cleveland Ballet

“The Magic Flute” (Live, in-person)

7 p.m.

Stan Hywet Hall & Gardens, Akron

Stanhywet.org

October 17

DanceCleveland presents Contra Tiempo

“Agua Furiosa” (Video)

Dancecleveland.org

October 22

GroundWorks DanceTheater

Happy Hour Artist Talk with Adam Barruch

5:30 p.m.

Livestream conversation on YouTube

Groundworksdance.org

October 29-30

GroundWorks DanceTheater

Drive-In dance film showing of works by David Shimotakahara and Antonio Brown

7:30 p.m.

Akron locations TBA

Groundworksdance.org

October 31-November 1

GroundWorks DanceTheater

Drive-In dance film showing of works by David Shimotakahara and Antonio Brown

7:30 p.m.

Dunham Tavern, Cleveland

Groundworksdance.org

November 6-February 6

The Movement Project

Cleveland Dance Fest 2020

Online films and master classes

Themovementproject.org

November 7

DanceCleveland presents BodyTraffic

“Snap” and “A Trick of the Light” (Video)

Dancecleveland.org

November 14

DanceCleveland presents David Dorfman Dance

“Around Town” (Video)

Dancecleveland.org

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