David Shimotakahara, Choreographer
2000 cleveland arts prize for Dance
During the last 18 years David Shimotakahara has become a notable presence in our dance and theater community.
Indeed, his successful passage from resplendent dancer with Ohio Ballet
to talented choreographer bursting with new ideas has brought fresh
excitement to audiences of Northern Ohio and beyond: He is an
outstanding example of the fact that this community can and does
nourish its creative artists.
1998, after 16 years as a principal dancer with Ohio Ballet,
Shimotakahara launched GroundWorks Dancetheater to advance his vision
of collaboration with artists from other disciplines and present new
dances that expand the perimeters of how and where dance is shown.
Collaborators have included composer Gustavo Aguilar and photographer Masumi Hayashi, to name but a few, and his Landmarks Series,
which takes dance to places and buildings of architectural or
historical significance, is creating new venues and new audiences for
distinctive choreography ranges from lighthearted and outright humorous
to contemplative, bittersweet and dramatic, and expresses a high degree
of emotion without being sentimental.
Provenance, a duet
danced to an original score by composer Aguilar in front of projected
photographs made by Hayashi, draws from Shimotakahara's Japanese
immigrant heritage—specifically the U.S. internment camps where Japanese-Americans were forcibly detained—to
make an eloquent statement about memory and the need to find a way to
make peace with traumatic experiences.
Though his own family had
settled in Canada, the knowledge that hardworking and loyal citizens of
Japanese background just south of the U.S./Canadian border had been
suddenly seen as distrusted “others” in a time of national insecurity
affected him deeply. His powerful solo, A Person, which takes
its inspiration from a painting by a mental patient, is a riveting work
that resonates long after the performance is over.
discovered the power of dance in a movement class for actors as a
teenager in Montreal, Canada, Shimotakahara trained with Les Grands
Ballets Canadiens and New York’s Joffrey Ballet School and performed
with Atlanta Ballet and numerous other companies before he and his
wife, dancer Pandora Robertson, were invited to join Ohio Ballet.
was Heinz Poll, that troupe’s now retired co-founder and artistic director, who gave him his first opportunity to choreograph.
honed his craft at the Carlisle Project, the training ground for
choreographers in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and in 1989 co-founded the
New Steps program to support new choreography in northern Ohio. He has
choreographed for Ohio Ballet, Cleveland Opera, Great Lakes Theater
Festival and other theater and dance companies, while GroundWorks,
writes The Plain Dealer, “is setting the standard for small
dance ensembles in Ohio.” He has been awarded a Minnesota Dance
McKnight National Fellowship and three Individual Artist Fellowships
from the Ohio Arts Council, and has been nominated three times for a Northern Ohio Live Award of Achievement.