By Steve Sucato
GroundWorks DanceTheater’s 5th Annual Contemporary Dance Winter Intensive proved once again why it is the dance intensive of choice for discerning dancers looking for an affordable, inviting, and superior-quality learning experience.
The 3-day deep dive into GroundWorks’ creative process ran January 5-7,2024, at the Cleveland State University Department of Theatre and Dance studios and was open to pre-professional and professional dancers ages 18 and over.
This year’s participants from four states took part in nine classes taught by GroundWorks’ Founding Artistic Director, David Shimotakahara, Director of Education & Community Engagement, Joan Meggitt, and Groundworks’ Company Dancers/Teaching Artists. The classes included:
Ballet Lab, taught by Victoria Rumzis, provided space for participants to probe innovative ideas within the traditional ballet framework. This class was a real-time laboratory, enabling dancers to experiment with imagery, focus techniques, and improvisation during and between ballet exercises.
Connecting with Community, taught by Meggitt, explored collaborative, community-based dance education through the lens of GroundWorks’ outreach programs.
Contemporary Floorwork, taught by Matthew Saggiomo, was a below-the-ceiling approach to contemporary dance forms. This class investigated the idea of a stacked spine, dropped pelvis, and creasing in the hip flexors, knees, and ankles to smoothly and safely descend onto the floor.
Creative Process, led by GroundWorks’ Founding Artistic Director, David Shimotakahara, was a series of work sessions introducing task-based movement generators and modifiers to create and workshop original movement. Shimotakahara guided participants through several creative methods and tools used by the company to develop new work, including the movement concepts/exercises of over-under-around-and-through, pushing and pulling, reaching and gathering, and echoing.
Contact Improv/Partnering, taught by Rumzis and Emma Janus, provided safe and precise tools and techniques to approach contact improvisation, weight-sharing, and fundamental partnering. The class progressively built towards learning phrase work and company repertory that involved partnering.
Contemporary Release, taught by Teagan Reed, was inspired by release technique concepts and improvisational
practices. Through movement sequencing and phrasing, as well as engaging with autonomy through play, participants strengthened their mind-body and engaged with the process of self-actualization.
GroundWorks Repertoire, taught by Ahna Bonnette, shared movement sequences and sections of dances that spoke to the company’s current work and creative processes.
I spoke with six participants during the Winter Intensive about their experiences. Here is some of what they had to say:
First-time Winter Intensive participant Sydney Thiebaut, a 21-year-old dance major at Grand Valley State University, says she heard about the intensive from a friend who recommended it.“I am not very comfortable with floorwork,” says Thiebaut. “I was really interested in having time to experiment with it as part of this intensive.”
What stuck with Thiebaut and that she says she will incorporate into her dancing are the improvisation tools she worked on in David Shimotakahara’s Creative Process sessions. “I was able to get out of my body and still be conscious of what I was doing in an intentional way,” says Theibaut. “Usually, I feel like I am floating around, but his concepts really grounded me, and that was liberating in a way.”
Of GroundWorks’ teaching staff, Thiebaut said, “Everyone was so warm and kind. They were enjoying dancing with us and one another. That is incredible to be around.”
A first-time attendee, Ariana Alvarado (they/them), a 21-year-old dance major at Wright State University in Dayton, Ohio, also had a friend who was a past participant in the Winter Intensive recommend it to them. They took the intensive to get back into dance shape coming out of their University’s holiday break, adding, “More creative process work also definitely drew me into it.”
Alvarado said, “I really liked the morning technique classes. I felt like I worked and gained bodily awareness. It was an excellent way to start the day for me. They also found Shimotakahara’s Creative Process sessions valuable. “I am always searching for a better understanding of how I move and create, and here, I learned tools to help with that.”
For Ephra Hardy, who attends Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY, and brother Noah Hardy, 21, who is a senior at Clevelnd’s Case Western Reserve University, both originally from near Cambridge, England, this was also their first time attending GroundWorks’ Winter Intensive.
Ephra, 18, says she found out about the intensive through an Open Doors North America event and was interested in GroundWorks’ Winter Intensive for several reasons, not the least being she could stay with her brother. Says Ephra.
“All of the classes were exactly what I wanted for my own growth as a dancer: very modern, inclusive, and a non-competitive environment.”
She says she mainly found the improvisation tools she learned helpful and something she will incorporate into her dancing.
“The atmosphere here has been absolutely great,” says Ephra. “The last 3-day workshop I did elsewhere, the thing I hated about it was there was no sense of community, which made for an unpleasant experience. In contrast, here, the teaching staff helped build community on the first day, and I felt I had connections to other people. We were all chatting, which helped me enjoy all the classes so much more and get a lot of the partnering exercises and collaboration.”
For Noah, the convenience of location and the range of classes, especially Shimotakahara’s Creative Process class, attracted him to the intensive. “I am beginning to build my senior thesis, so having new information, ideas, and creative tools informing that was helpful. David’s class had so many interesting ideas and ways to move. It was fascinating.”
One suggestion Noah had for future Intensives was to shift the Q & A/Industry chat session with GroundWorks dancers/teaching artists from the last day to the first day. Says Noah, “Hearing about where they come from, their experiences, and practices beforehand would give us a better sense of who is teaching our classes.”
An exception to the 18+ age limit, 17-year-old second-year Intensive attendee Ava Perry from Grafton, Ohio, had very personal reasons for wanting to come back.
“Last year, I was in a dark period in my life, and coming here made me feel so much better about myself,” says Perry. “I was excited to return this year to recapture that positive energy and mindset.”
About his year’s Intensive, Perry says, “I feel like for every class, there was a focal point l could learn from; Ahna [Bonnette] talking about having to earn your movements and Teagan [Reed] saying you have to test the waters of your moving and to not think about the unimportant elements of dancing. Each time I am here, I discover something different about my body, myself, and the concept of dancing that I didn’t know was possible.”
A senior theater major at Cleveland State University, Cassandra Miller attended the intensive to challenge herself.
“I came into dance later in life,” says Miller. “Growing up, dance was something I always liked doing, but I didn’t have access to resources to study dance and learn all its possibilities. Initially, the intensive was a little nerve-wracking for me because I only had a couple of years of dance training, but the atmosphere was so open and inviting. After the first day, I was like, I love dancers. As actors, we are so raw, but dancers are like, ‘We have different bodies and can do the same movement, and while it might look different, we are accomplishing the same goals.'”
Ultimately, Miller says she got a lot out of the intensive, especially learning to focus on details in her dancing. She also appreciated that the teaching staff challenged her and the other dancers while being mindful of everyone’s abilities and skill levels.
To learn more about GroundWorks DanceTheater and to keep abreast of our performances and educational opportunities, such as our annual Winter Intensive, visit groundworksdance.org.