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Northeast Ohio Dance Troupes Soldier On During The Global Pandemic

by Steve Sucato
April 24, 2020
Cleveland, OH
Steve Sucato is a former dancer turned arts writer/critic. He is Chairman Emeritus of the Dance Critics Association and Associate Editor of ExploreDance.com.
The COVID-19 Global Pandemic has touched all of our lives in one way or another and the world will never be the same because of it. That holds true for Northeast Ohio’s dance troupes. Like many adhering to Ohio’s stay at home orders, these troupes and their employees have suffered devastating losses of their life-blood income from performances, outreach programs and teaching opportunities. In an industry normally dependent on the opposite of social distancing that gets its income from various public interactions along with private and corporate donations and grants, survival isn’t necessarily assured after the pandemic. And while several of the troupes have received government Paycheck Protection Program loans as part of the CARES Act, some have not and much more is needed to keep these organizations going.  NOTE: There are other Northeast Ohio dance troupes and individual artists not profiled in this article that need your help as well such as Elu Dance Company, The Movement Project and more. Please find them on the Internet and consider giving. 

Here is a look at what several Northeast Ohio’s dance troupes big and small are up to during the pandemic and how you can support their efforts now and in the future.

BALLET LEGATO

For new kids on the block, North Ridgeville-based Ballet Legato, the global pandemic has made it harder for the company to establish a foothold on the area dance scene as any momentum the company picked up from its performances last February and March has been slowed to a halt. A project-based dance company, the organization is in a bit different boat than other area companies with full-time paid dancers and staff, nonetheless its needs are no less worthy.

Says Executive Artistic Director, Jennifer Muselin, “Two of my dancers were involved in an outreach program for a local school that was pulled and we had a few fundraising events planned for the Spring to support our holiday Nutcracker production but those efforts have been placed on the back-burner until we better understand the scope things of moving forward.”

For now, Muselin and a few of her dancers have been coming together for classes on Instagram Live. She also hopes to hire a few new dancers for the company’s Nutcracker production and begin rehearsals in July.

Muselin, who also owns and operates JAM Dance Academy, says she applied for CARES Act Paycheck Protection Program loan and was approved but is waiting on a second round of government funding.

“The crisis has affected me two-fold,” says Muselin. “My studio, which has been in existence for 7 years, provides me financial stability to support my family.  The studio can donate space to Ballet Legato and assist them with their rehearsal needs…In reality, I can apply for grants and put the company on hold if I needed to as we are so new that we don't have the community support to back us in the event of a shut-down. Personally, I'm hoping that does not have to happen and not knowing what assistance I may have is mind-numbing to say the least.  I'm 47 and having to close up shop and find another way of providing food for my family is keeping me up at night.  It took me a long time to chase this dream and not being able to assist financially in my household is stressful.  My dancers have dreams too and I feel responsible to help them with those.”

How to Support Ballet Legato: Donate online at balletlegato.org/support or make a contribution payable to: Ballet Legato, 35100 Center Ridge Road, North Ridgeville, OH 44039.

CLEVELAND BALLET

According to Michael Krasnyansky, Cleveland Ballet’s President and CEO, the 5-year-old, 30-member troupe like many around the globe have moved their daily training and rehearsals online. “All of our dancers have mandatory online ballet classes everyday led by our Artistic Director [Gladisa Guadalupe] along with classes in partnership with University Hospitals Sports Medicine that include Gyrotonics, Pilates and Floor Barre-conditioning,” says Krasnyansky. “We also have coffee social every Saturday.”

Fortunately the staff and dancers are currently receiving their full salaries. As for what is on the horizon, the resident ballet company at Playhouse Square is working on several virtual performances that will include one-act ballets from their previous five seasons and possibly some new works.

Despite the hardships the pandemic has caused the company Krasnyansky is optimistic. “Like with any crisis, innovative companies with a solid board and management teams will come out even stronger on the other side.”

How to Support Cleveland Ballet: A dollar matching campaign is going on now. To donate text CLEBALLET to 44321, go online at clevelandballet.org/support-the-company or call (216) 320-9000.

THE DANCING WHEELS COMPANY

America’s first and oldest physically-integrated dance company got a scare when the pandemic arrived on U.S. shores and the company’s income dropped to zero after all of its school and community outreach programs, School of Dancing Wheels’ classes and all of the company’s performance and touring dates were cancelled. The dire outlook however didn’t stop President/Founding Artistic Director Mary Verdi-Fletcher from keeping the company’s wheels rolling. All of Dancing Wheels eleven company members are receiving their base pay (supplemental teaching and performance pay not included) and the company wasted no time moving much of their operations online. The company takes daily classes on Zoom and are one of the first troupes to embrace having a new full-length ballet (Catherine Meredith's A Midsummer Nights Dream) created on them and rehearsed exclusively online. That has kept its dancers together and working. Dancing Wheels plans to perform the new ballet at Cleveland Height’s Cain Park sometime in August (TBA).

The company has also been offering free online classes and will embark on a bit of community cheerleading this Thursday, April 30 when they team up with Jeremy James and radio station Mix 97.1 to host a free city-wide virtual “Dancing Wheels DisDance Party”. The idea being that local residents and anyone else learn (before April 30) some simple choreography for all abilities online to the song "Dancing in the Street" by David Bowie & Mick Jagger Click here to watch video.

Then at 3:30 pm on April 30 they tune into Mix 97.1 FM or listen live online at mix971fm.com to hear the song and dance along in their own space with the company and others in Northeast Ohio and elsewhere. Participants can also practice the dance with Dancing Wheels company members Click here to watch video.

How to Support The Dancing Wheels Company: Visit dancingwheels.org/donate-to-dancing-wheels/school-and-outreach to donate online or call (216) 432-0306.

GROUNDWORKS DANCETHEATER

Artistic Director David Shimotakahara, dancers and staff have been hard at work moving their popular annual fundraiser It Takes Two online. The virtual event that pairs company dancers and prominent area individuals together for a friendly dance competition is going on today, April 25 – Sunday, April 27 and is a major income source for one of the area’s most prominent dance companies. Find out more at groundworksdance.org/it-takes-two-2020-virtual and go to https://bit.ly/3avCFP3 to vote.

Beyond It Takes Two, Shimotakahara says the company’s dancers are being paid their full salary and while not engaging in company classes, have been finding their own online classes to take.

“We are not creating any new projects at the moment but that may change in the upcoming months depending on when performances opportunities can be scheduled,” says Shimotakahara. “We are working on offering some virtual community outreach programs to our current partners that we would have been working with during this time. Typically our dancers work as teaching artists with a lot of our outreach programs and they will adapt to online formats as necessary.”

Currently the company is also engaged in an email campaign. Each Friday they release a 3-5 minute video clip from their repertory along with notes from Shimotakahara and/or a choreographer. This email also features pictures and other relevant information to the said work. To sign up for this visit: http://eepurl.com/gXIUn5.

For the near future, Shimotakahara says he is in discussions with the Heinz Poll Summer Festival who are hoping to still be able to produce their annual festival in Akron. Long term, he says he is cautiously optimistic that GroundWorks will emerge from this crisis intact. "The entire company, board and staff are committed to finding a way through the many challenges this crisis presents…I think ultimately it depends on how long we are not able to produce programming." 

How to Support GroundWorks DanceTheater: Cast your paid It Takes Two vote today through Sunday, April 25 at https://bit.ly/3avCFP3 . You can also donate to the company online at groundworksdance.org/donate.

INLET DANCE THEATRE

Perhaps the area’s longest running company that pays their dancers per project, Inlet Dance Theatre lost most of their projects due to the pandemic including all of their educational programming as well as the second half of their national tour of What Do You Do With An Idea?, an adaptation of the New York Times bestselling children's book by Kobi Yamada. The good news says Inlet Founder and Executive/Artistic Director Bill Wade,  is everyone who receives a salary full or part-time is getting it including the more than half of Inlet’s dancers who have administrative roles in the organization. Additionally, members of the community recently provided a much needed morale boost by buying and donating bags of groceries for each of Inlet’s 18 dancers.

Inlet is not engaged in company classes or rehearsals at present but has been creating virtual content for Cleveland’s Newton D. Baker School of Arts and The Music Settlement's Early Childhood students and families. The dancers have also been busy on the web collaborating together on a physical distancing improvisation using videos sent to us from dancers and movers from all over the world. 

What’s next for Inlet is the company will work with area composer Ty Alan Emerson, Director of the Cleveland Chamber Collective and have Wade choreograph to his composition “Caliban Ascendant”.  Performances of the work are currently scheduled  June 20-21 at Cleveland Height’s Ensemble Theatre. The company will also continue to work on two new pieces, “Hiding and Revealing” and “Red Tape”, that were to be shown at Cleveland Public Theatre’s DanceWorks 2020 which was cancelled. The DanceWorks concert was also to include "Dream of Sleeping," a work commissioned by the Strohl Family Trust that premiered in 2004. Since the company couldn't perform the piece live, Click here to see an excerpt created virtually.

Says Wade: “I have no doubt that Inlet Dance Theatre will survive this pandemic. Right now, it’s all about listening, responding, and carefully planning and rescheduling things that need to be moved to other parts of our calendar. We know why we do what we do, so now we’re paying attention to the “how” of our business and dance-making/performing and educating practices… I’m very proud of our artistic and administrative staff for their determination to serve in a life-giving way.”

How to Support Inlet Dance Theatre: Donate online at inletdance.org/20-support.

MORRISONDANCE

Creators of the world’s first internet dance performance with their groundbreaking 1997 work LEAPING INTO THE NET!, MorrisonDance is no stranger to operating in the virtual world. The company’s ongoing relationship with the Internet has continued during the pandemic with Covid-19 Dances In Safe Spaces, a Facebook page dedicated to sharing and supporting dance happening in alternative spaces. Says company founder/director Sarah Morrison: “Anyone can post and we share inspiring links of people dancing as they shelter-in-place.”

The company has also been working with the Center for Arts Inspired Learning to translate their outreach programming into digital media and is piloting a few projects with area schools. In addition, the troupe began “Monday Moves” an online sharing of previously performed choreography on their Facebook page. "We plan to post one dance per week on Mondays around 2 pm," says Morrison. "I say “around 2 pm” because sometimes the video uploads are dependent upon the speed and happiness of the internet on any given day. 

The company’s spring premiere archeTYPICAL, part of Cleveland Public Theatre’s DanceWorks 20 was cancelled but Morrison sees a future for the work as soon as audiences can gather safely.

“We are very far along in our development of the work and are enthusiastic to share it as soon as we can,” says Morrison.  

A project-based company, Morrison says she has worked to ensure that the company’s dancers received payment-in-full for the work they already put in on projects. “Our hope is to pay them in full if and when we can complete those projects that were postponed either in live performance or through digital media.”

Another of the organizations awaiting a Paycheck Protection Program loan, Morrison says she feels confident that the world will return to a place where live dance will once again be vital to our existence. “We are a small and nimble company, and I feel certain that we will be prepared to fulfill that need when it returns,” says Morrison.

How to Support MorrisonDance: Click here to donate online

NEOS DANCE THEATRE

The company got a head start on scaling back its operations when Artistic Director Robert Wesner announced last October that he had accepted a position at Mississippi’s Belhaven University Dance Department as senior instructor of dance and resident choreographer. Nonetheless, the company had ongoing plans for programming and productions in Northeast Ohio and had continued its Neos Center for Dance (NCD) with all of its classes and outreach efforts.

At present, the company is completely laid off save Gwendolyn Feldman, who manages the Neos Center for Dance which is offering online classes and is handling company dancers’ unemployment claims. And while Neos applied for funding under the Paycheck Protection Program, they did not receive any yet. “We're hopeful that we're applicable during the second round of stimulus,” says Wesner.

The company is also in a holding pattern awaiting the pandemic restrictions to be loosened and/or lifted to continue with postponed projects and to remount works for productions they lost as a result of those restrictions.

Because the company is already streamlined almost operating as a project based troupe, Wesner doesn’t believe the effects of the pandemic are going to mean the end of Neos entirely. “We'll certainly have a different look and feel though,” says Wesner. “We have plans for the summer of 2022 for a major program in North/Central Ohio as well as reinvesting and expanding the Neos Center for Dance."

How to Support Neos Dance Theatre: Give online at neosdancetheatre.org/support and Neos is part of the Richland Gives COVID-19 Relief effort that runs from April 14 to May 5. Donate at richlandgives.mightycause.com/organization/Neos-Dance-Theatre.

NORTH POINTE BALLET

The senior of the two North Ridgeville-based dance companies in Northeast Ohio, Janet Dziak’s North Pointe Ballet is taking the loss of much of their scheduled performances, teaching and outreach efforts in stride. Says Dziak: “Company members take weekly classes on Zoom and use videos of past performances to work on choreography for an upcoming project. Also, instructors for our "Dance and Diversity" program are providing online classes to our partner organizations.”

The company is paying dancers and staff in full while they await Paycheck Protection Program funds. “The dancers and production contractors will have all their contracts fulfilled through May,” says Dziak.

For the future, Dziak says the company is hoping to produce a short video of the dancers virtually performing an excerpt from their 2018 repertory concert to the song "Lean on Me". NPB’s dancers are also working on their own choreography that will be put together in a work by Dziak about how we are living and dancing during the pandemic which is planned to premiere at Gordon Square Arts District’s Near West Theatre in October 2020.

“NPB is stable at this time,” says Dziak. “Knowing that The Nutcracker is our biggest source of income, there are concerns that we will not be able to operate at 100% capacity should mass gatherings not be allowed in December. However, we have contingency plans for modified programming that will sustain our organization until the pandemic passes.”

How to Support North Pointe Ballet: Donate now at northpointeballet.org/support .

VERB BALLETS

Says Verb Ballets’ Producing Artistic Director Dr. Margaret Carlson the company’s 13 dancers and staff are getting paid. The dancers are also teaching classes for the company and are taking classes via Zoom from company Associate Artistic Director, Richard Dickinson as well as various classes offered by members of the global dance community. The dancers have links to existing videos related to the company’s upcoming summer repertory to work on at home and can access, one at a time, Verb’s Shaker Heights studios to rehearse.

The company was fortunate not to lose all of its teaching gigs as dance coursework at Hiram College and John Carroll University was moved online and well as another long-term school residency.

Sadly, Verb’s annual benefit was also canceled due to the pandemic. To make up for that lost income, Carlson says they contacted benefit sponsors who unanimously donated their sponsorship monies and Verb’s dancers have a GoFundMe campaign going on to help make up the difference.

As for the company’s future Carlson says, “I am more worried about the future than I am the present. Doing a budget for the 2020-2021 season is a challenge to say the least, and since we don't know how long the economic impact will last, we can't predict what will happen with our classes, bookings, grants and other donations.

How to Support Verb Ballets: Visit verbballets.org/donate to donate online or call Nakiasha Moore-Dunson at (216) 397-3757 ext. 2 for information on other ways to make a donation. Additionally, you can contribute to Verbs dancers’ GoFundMe campaign at bit.ly/39sN0dT.

According to Dancing Wheels’ marketing services coordinator Stacy Windahl, you can now deduct your charitable donations to the organizations mentioned in this article even if you take the standard deduction. The CARES Act allows for up to $300 per taxpayer ($600 for a married couple) in an above-the-line deduction for charitable gifts made in 2020 and claimed on taxes in 2021. This means that you can lower your income tax bill by even if you take the standard deduction on your taxes. If you itemize deductions, there are new charitable deduction limits. The CARES Act increases the existing cap on charitable cash contributions for those who itemize, raising it from 60% of adjusted gross income to 100% in 2020. Consult your accountant or tax specialist to learn more.

Lastly, OhioDance has moved its annual dance Festival to being a Virtual Dance Festival that is going on now through April 26. Check out links to performance works and class links for Ballet Legato, The Dancing Wheels Company, GroundWorks DanceTheater, Verb Ballets and much more at ohiodance.org/festival.
Cleveland Ballet on Zoom.

Cleveland Ballet on Zoom.

Photo © & courtesy of Gladisa Guadalupe

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