David Shimotakahara,Choreographer


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.

In 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 dance performance.

His 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 heritagespecifically the U.S. internment camps where Japanese-Americans were forcibly detainedto 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.

Having 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.

It was Heinz Poll, that troupe’s now retired co-founder and artistic director, who gave him his first opportunity to choreograph.

Shimotakahara 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.

—Kathryn Karipides

Cleveland Arts Prize
P.O. Box 21126 • Cleveland, OH 44121 • 440-523-9889 • info@clevelandartsprize.org