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The Seldoms are first resident artist at National Center for Choreography

“New National Center for Choreography up and running (and dancing) at University of Akron”

By Zachary Lewis, The Plain Dealer
July 30, 2015

AKRON, Ohio – Add modern dance to the Rubber City’s list of exports.

The new home of only the second National Center for Choreography in the United States, Cleveland’s neighbor to the south already is developing a small but significant cultural industry, welcoming artists from around the country and enabling them to realize their dreams.

One choreographer and her team already have visited and fine-tuned a new work at the University of Akron facility, and another is on the way. Still another served as a kind of test case, when the idea was still under consideration. Pretty soon, people are going to start using the term hotbed.

“Having this opportunity pushed us to get this thing created,” said Carrie Hanson, artistic director of Chicago’s The Seldoms, at end of a week-long residency during which she finalized a new piece called “RockCitizen.”

“This puts us way ahead of the game. We are really prepped now.”

The importance of the center – a project spearheaded by DanceCleveland and funded by a five-year, $5 million pledge from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation – is difficult to convey, given that it’s essentially an abstraction.

Though housed in Guzzetta Hall at the University of Akron, the center – the second such facility after the Maggie Allesee National Center for Choreography at Florida State University – has no bricks-and-mortar building, dedicated office space or employees. A five-member board of directors remains to be established.

Even when it’s fully up and running, the center, a standalone nonprofit, will basically amount to a network, a collection of diverse regional resources for choreographers to access as they conceive and create new dance.

For instance, while in Akron developing “RockCitizen,” an evening-length work exploring the impact and legacy of 1960s counterculture (and the sequel to “Power Goes,” below), Hanson took advantage of the center’s connections to do research at both Kent State University and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and Museum. Had she needed them, Hanson also could have tapped other campus facilities or any other institution in Northeast Ohio.

“It was really crucial in realizing the vision,” Hanson explained.

The lack of a physical headquarters notwithstanding, the center is far from without allure. On the contrary, so bright, ample and high-tech are the facilities at Guzzetta Hall, few dancers or choreographers could resist them.

No wonder Neil Sapienza, associate dean of the Buchtel College of Arts and Sciences at the University of Akron, is so proud. Giving a tour of Guzzetta’s seven studios, several complete with seating and video-conferencing, a therapy room, and on-site costume and set shops, he had good reason to label his school “one of the nicest academic dance facilities in the country.”

And The Seldoms only used the studios to warm up. Because “RockCitizen” entails a complicated backdrop – a wall of bras, to be precise – and the group sought to simulate the space where they usually perform in Chicago, most of their real work took place in Sandefur Experimental Theatre, a black-box theater without a sprung floor but with ample lighting and rigging.

“It’s a real luxury. Uninterrupted time in a theater is almost unheard of.”

Combine these facilities, smack in the middle of a busy music and dance school, with a week of free time in which to create and rehearse, and you have all the conditions under which modern dance flourishes and new works leap into existence. Happily, as a privately funded, independent organization, the new center is likely to be unaffected by the recent closing of EJ Thomas Hall at the University of Akron.

“It’s a real luxury,” Sapienza said. “Uninterrupted time in a theater is almost unheard of.”

Much about the center remains unknown. How often and how many artists will use it; whether the works they create will be performed in Northeast Ohio; who will direct it. All of these are questions yet to be answered. Although two choreographers, including Camille A. Brown, already have made use of the center, and a third, John Jasperse of New York, is en route, the project is still in “pilot” status.

But about its potential, there is no doubt. Host of an already noted dance program, Sapienza said the University of Akron is likely to see a rise in both the quantity and quality of applicants as students bid for regular, one-on-one work alongside real professionals.

“It’s going to be an amazing resource,” Sapienza said.

Northeast Ohio, meanwhile, will benefit on two fronts. Not only will local patrons and students relish the opportunity to view and possibly have a hand in the creation of new art, but the region as a whole also will gain prominence in the larger dance world.

It’s no small matter, in other words, that the nation’s second dance laboratory has been established outside New York, in a small Midwest city. All of a sudden, Hanson said, the heart of “flyover land” is a national dance destination.

“The fact that this shifts the focus a little bit is amazing,” she said.