The inaugural Cleveland Dance Fest combines new works and master classes in a two-day celebration of independent artists.
t’s a good thing Rebecca Leuszler is quick on her feet.
As co-artistic director and co-founder of the Movement Project, Leuszler is working double time to orchestrate the first-ever Cleveland Dance Fest Nov. 4 and 5 at the Little Theater in Cleveland Public Auditorium and various venues throughout Northeast Ohio.
“I wanted to support artists through a festival that highlighted freelance and independent artists,” says Leuszler, a 2007 graduate of the Nutmeg Conservatory for the Arts in Connecticut. “The festival gives them a voice.”
The two days of performances and workshops feature 10 choreographers teaching master classes in styles ranging from tango to African dance to modern.
Leuszler, who founded the Movement Project with her sister Megan Lee Gargano in 2009, won a $15,000 grant through Cuyahoga Arts & Culture’s Creative Workforce Fellowship. The funding means the events are free, giving the community an opportunity to sample the wide variety of local dance genres and talent.
“Each choreographer will have their own techniques,” she says. “So even if you take two modern dance classes, you’ll get something new from each.”
Leuszler’s goal is to partner with local schools, fitness centers and outdoor venues to spread her love of dance. “The great thing about the master classes is that you don’t need to be a professional dancer to participate,” she says.
In addition to the master classes, Leuszler expects each evening to culminate in the latest works by solo performers, small groups and larger dance companies.
“[The pieces] seem very conversational and very real,” Leuszler says. “That’s what we were kind of losing sometimes. We’re trying to push so many choreographers and so many pieces out there, there’s not time to actually investigate the movement.” Nov. 4 & 5, Cleveland Public Auditorium, themovementproject.org
Sonia Rodriguez: A Ballerina’s legacy
The life of a ballerina isn’t all frilly tutus, spotlights and graceful plies. So A Ballerina’s Legacy draws back the curtain on the life and career of National Ballet of Canada principal dancer Sonia Rodriguez. From applying her makeup at a vanity onstage and explaining her costumes to bringing audience members up to participate during short performances of The Sleeping Beauty and Giselle, the experience invites the audience into her world. “[I want] to have people come up and have a taste of what it’s like to be onstage and having them deal with the pressure,” says Rodriguez. In addition, Rodriguez will perform the Spanish Vientos del Sur piece she personally choreographed for her induction to Canada’s Walk of Fame in 2012 and answer questions from the audience for a deeper glimpse into the life of a modern ballerina. Sept. 17, Westfield Insurance Studio Theatre, balletinthecity.org
Consistently named one to watch, the red-hot Los Angeles-based contemporary company BodyTraffic is renowned for its versatility and precision, while incorporating showmanship into sets that transcend dance. In Cleveland, award-winning Israeli choreographer Barak Marshall presents And at midnight, the green bride floated through the village square ..., a dark humor piece based a true story of a family that fought each other at all hours of the day. In a contrast, the group also performs notable choreographer Richard Siegal’s O2Joy, a jazzy, upbeat piece with sophisticated footwork. “Those two choreographers have been instrumental in the growth and identity of our company,” says co-director Lillian Barbeito. Nov. 12, Ohio Theatre, dancecleveland.org
GroundWorks DanceTheater moves gracefully between genres, from classical to abstract, figurative to theatrical. See that range in motion as Chicago choreographer Robyn Mineko Williams premieres a classical piece set to Rachmaninoff’s lush Trio Elegiaque No. 1 in G minor, while GroundWorks founder David Shimotakahara premieres a contemporary work set to the music of experimental pianist Conlon Nancarrow. The GroundWorks troupe also steps back into its 2004 piece At Once There Was A House by choreographer Beth Corning. Darkly comedic, it looks into the American psyche with a mixture of dance and theater as performers interact with the audience. “It’s going to be interesting to revisit this piece  years later to look at how our culture is shifting and changing,” says Shimotakahara. Oct. 14 & 15, Allen Theatre; Nov. 18 & 19, Akron-Summit County Public Library, groundworksdance.org