Cleveland Dance Fest 2018 (Nov 9-10): Inside a Choreographer’s Mind

by Rebecca J. Leuszler

It is time yet again for the Cleveland Dance Fest. The festival has grown considerably since its founding three years ago and will be November 9th and 10th at Pilgrim Congregational Church (2592 W 14th St, Tremont, OH 44113). Showcasing work from artists all over Cleveland and beyond, the festival this year is distinct, exciting, and thought-provoking. To really get a feel for the work presented this year, I decided to chat with a a few choreographers about their work, their processes, and influences.

This year’s CDF is even more diverse than before. Opening the stage to genres of popping/hip-hop and contemporary/modern infused with African diaspora will provide audience members with new experiences. One of these choreographers, Samuel McIntosh, is a dancer and choreographer who specializes in popping and has been dancing for ten years. He has trained under many influential dancers in the genre including Brian “Footwork” Green and Slick Dogg of G-Style. He will be showing excerpts from the bodies of work Caged and One Body at Show 1 of CDF on November 9th this year.

One Body is a work that strips movement down to a basic and explorational level. McIntosh delves into moving limbs as independent entities, discovering what they can do, later to combine them all together as one total working unit, “I’ve been trying to really expand on what we can do with the tools as far as krump and popping goes,” he says. He worked carefully with his dancer to challenge the genre, specifically in working with her long limbs, “[I asked] what happens when we are connected, what happens when we are apart, using our legs, using negative space, threading, making shapes.”

The other excerpt, Caged, is a work packed with social commentary and works because of its juxtaposing movement quality and frontal stance, the two dancers hardly turning or twisting away from the audience, “I really wanted to use different street styles to create different shapes,” McIntosh says of creating Caged, “But I was also really influenced by a documentary called 13th, and I just have been kind of exploring Afro-studies and Afrocentric thought…It’s mainly about other people’s stories, excerpts from the news from back in the day until now.”

The two male dancers on stage slice and float, hit and soften, in extreme control, but also showcasing not only two very different movement qualities, but also different mental states as well, “There is a definite conditioning for black men and black bodies in society, whether you are driving in a suburbia that is predominantly white or just places where there aren’t a lot of black bodies,” he says.

When asked if dance can be a way to cope with societal inequities, McIntosh pauses, “Even me making this just raises more questions. I think it can be a way to cope, but it really just raises more discussion.”

Socio-political commentary is not only present in McIntosh’s work, however. #GirlOccupied, a work presented by DanceTheYard and choreographed by Jesse Keller Jason and Alison Manning in collaboration with dancers, is another piece packed with a punch.

Many moments stand out in the work, but what is particularly striking is the use of specific gesture and how they develop throughout the piece, “We had a series of, I think, ten to twelve gestures that started a lot of the piece,” Keller tells me, “And we actually pulled these gestures from watching different news caps of Donald Trump and some of the hand gestures that he uses.”

After pulling the gestures, Keller and Manning worked them into movement phrases, and even created a few moments in the work that function similarly to ‘snapshots’ you’d see on the news. The gesture varies from subtlety to directness, one of the strongest ones being a direct point, which some thought may be too overt, “One of our mentors was watching the piece…and pointing is one of those things that’s so permanent, and a lot of people point, so she was encouraging us to not use it,” she says, “But within the context of the piece we were like this is so necessary.”

Inspiration for the work began with the short story by Alison Weaver, which chronicles a young woman struggling with the political climate and where she finds herself within it, “She’s this young, innocent girl but she has all of this aggression inside of her,” Keller explains, “And she wants to do something very drastic to shake up and change what’s going on.” They then played with these two sides, and used the dichotomy of it to structure the piece.

The work is something of an ongoing project for the choreographers, as they continue to change expand the piece, “This particular work began as a duet, and we realized as we were doing it that we wanted to incorporate more women into the piece and make it a bit more powerful with more bodies,” she says. As a result, there are several versions of the piece, a duet version, a trio version, and a quartet version. The trio will be the one performed at CDF Show 1 (Nov. 9th) this year.

While many works deal with these large issues, some works take it down to a more personal level. One such piece is Kora Radella’s Reckoning, an evocative solo that is part of a larger duet, “The research had to do with finding our own strength back after having some experiences that felt like people were taking some of our power away,” Radella explains, “In the whole piece we have text that I wrote and we both speak, and in the solo she is speaking some of that text.”

The solo has many references to the original duet, including the use of feathers onstage, as well as some similar ideals and motifs, “There is a kind of determination with no apologies to be her full self and to not be pigeonholed and limited by others,” she says, “So, ‘reckoning’ in terms of…resilience and in terms of present and future.”

Though this solo is related, and a part of, the original duet, the choreography itself is all new and can function successfully as a standalone installment. Radella found herself generating movement for this solo from ‘her gut’, “I do feel like it can live as a solo without needing to know all of that backhistory,” she says, and I have to agree. Reckoning will appear in Show 2 on November 10th.

This year will be quite a year for the festival, and there are plenty of choreographers involved, each with their own distinct voice, choreographic tools, history, and ideals. Cleveland Dance Fest kicks off with an evening showcase November 9th, presenting works by Alysia Ramos, Grace Nicklos, Mojuba! Dance Collective, and Rebecca Burcher. On November 10th, we start the day off with 8 master classes taught by our CDF artists followed by our emerging works concert at 5pm. This concert will be presenting local artists Ashley Herron, Expedition Dance, Mawusi Nenonene & Breanna Pacek, Sundry House, The Adverb Project, Karen Opper, and Levity Dance & Physical Theater. We end the 2-day festival with our last evening performance at 8pm with Bita Bell, Madi Jackson, Elyse Morckel, Bone & Fiddle Dance Collective, and Kaytee Cox. For more information on tickets and master class passes please visit our Cleveland Dance Fest page on our website at or call us at (216) 694-8241.


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