A Moveable Feast

After a hungry season, dance-starved Clevelanders get Batsheva and Philadanco.

Every summer, Pamela Young faces a daunting task. From hundreds of dance companies worldwide — each with its own unique artistic identity — she must choose five for Playhouse Square’s Dance Cleveland series.

“It’s always a puzzle,” admits Young, the series’ executive director.

This fall was especially complicated. Just as Young was signing Batsheva and Philadanco (two of the biggest names in contemporary dance), professional classical ballet, the foundation of modern dance, nearly vanished in Cleveland. Because of financial problems, Ohio Ballet went on a hiatus that may prove permanent, and Playhouse Square eliminated its high-profile, but expensive ballet series.

Batsheva Dance Company perform at the Playhouse Square this fall.
Photo Courtesy of Playhouse Square

While losing two ballet institutions renders Dance Cleveland’s offerings more precious and may even raise their demand, Young is hardly rejoicing.

“Anytime dance goes away, we’re sad,” she says. “There’s a broad range of what dance means today, and we all lose something by not seeing the art form in full.”

At least Verb Ballets and Pointe of Departure, local purveyors of classical ballet, are still going strong. And Batsheva and Philadanco cover a significant swath of today’s dance by themselves.
Batsheva, of Tel Aviv, Israel, was co-founded in 1964 by Baroness Batsheva de Rothschild and dancer/choreographer Martha Graham. Ohad Naharin, a Graham student, has been artistic director since 1990. He’s carrying on Naharin’s legacy of discipline and creativity while also staking out new territory by collaborating with filmmakers, composers and designers.

Naharin has created many dances since Batsheva last visited 16 years ago. “Deca Dance,” an evening-length sampling of Naharin’s work, includes quirky solos and imaginative ensemble scenes. Musically, the playbook is eclectic, ranging from Bach to Method Man.

“Some sections are pretty challenging, others are a hoot, and the rest is simply stunning,” Young says.

Philadanco, a pre­dominantly African-American troupe is one of the nation’s premier modern dance ensembles. Based in neighboring Pennsylvania, Philadanco (Philadelphia Dance Co.) has never performed here.

“Cleveland is untouched territory for us, and we’re taking along our surefire successes,” says Joan Myers Brown, founder and artistic director of Philadanco.

Those include “Labess,” a dance about self-acceptance choreographed by David Brown and “Everything is Everything,” choreographer Lynn Taylor-Corbett’s take on the music of Lauryn Hill.

There’s another reason Young included Philadanco in the series this fall, and it relates to Cleveland’s ballet woes. Not only is Philadanco highly esteemed artistically, it’s also famously stable, supporting dancers with full-year contracts and benefits.

“Every organization stumbles at some point,” Young says. “The question is whether you catch yourself and get back up or you fall. We thought it would be helpful to at least have that conversation.”

Batsheva performs at the Palace Theatre Oct. 12 and Philadanco performs at the Ohio Theatre Nov. 4. For more information, visit www.dancecleveland.org.

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