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Modern Dancers in Cleveland Develop Talent, Encourage Access, and Explore Societal Issues

Cleveland Public Theater
Inlet Dance Theater
An Inlet Dance Theater performance at Cleveland Public Theater

For a troupe of Cleveland dancers, entertainment is just one part of the mission. Opening minds is another.

In today’s State of the Arts, WKSU’s Vivian Goodman finds modern dancers leaping from artistry into activism. 

Three female dancers carry the male dancer who took a flying leap to land in their arms.

At an Inlet Dance Theater rehearsal, a male dancer runs to gather momentum to fly into the upraised arms of three female dancers. But it’s not perfect. So they do it again and again, until it is.

The choreographer of the piece is Dominic Moore-Dunson, the rehearsal coordinator and a company member.

It’s a company of dancers named for a narrow passage of water, "like a river goes into a dry land and then life forms,” says Bill Wade, the founder and executive artistic director of Inlet Dance Theater.

He says “Inlet” also signifies providing access. “Letting people into what oftentimes is seen as a highbrow art form for people who don’t have access to this art form.” 

Developing talent while taking on tough topics
Inlet is an outlet for young dancers with dreams.  Here, Wade can encourage and provide training they can afford.

"Talent is universal,” he says, “but access to developing that talent is not, and I set up the company in 2001 to do something about that.”

And beyond that to do something about societal ills, through dance. “It’s not about look at me I’m dancing. It’s about let’s take some real-life issues, and let’s take a collaborative creative process to view these different life issues.” 

Like the issue choreographer Dominic Moore-Dunson addresses in his collaborative quartet. “I built it with the four dancers, so there’s a little bit of all five of us inside the piece. It’s called “Even There You Lead me.” 

bill and dominic
Inlet Rehearsal Coordinator Dominic Moore-Dunson and the company's founder Bill Wade have spent the summer training dancers and choreographing new works at the Gund Dance Studio in Playhouse Square's Idea Center.

He patterned the male character after himself.

“I grew up with three women who raised me: my grandmother, my mother and my sister, who’s older than me. So the piece is kind of about the male journey of seeing what he’s supposed to be one day, but also someone who didn’t grow up with a father, and how scary that can be.”

Collaborative process
Sunlight streams through the windows of Inlet’s rehearsal studio facing Playhouse Square as improvisation and collaboration continue all morning long.

“Do you want it just to be continuous?” a dancer inquires. “Yeah,” replies the choreographer, “but get as far back as you can.”

The gestures and movements they tweak and refine tell Dominic’s coming-of-age story of struggling against his family’s expectations.

“Pushing them all to the side in rebellion, realizing when he does that he’s alone, and the family loving him anyway, and coming back to help him all the way to a place where he’s ready to go on that journey by himself.”

He needs the dancers to fully understand his concept.

“Struggle,” he tells them, “is part of the process of getting there, but that’s not what it’s actually about. Does that make sense?”

One of the dancers replies.

“You wouldn’t go through the struggle if there wasn’t any hope.”“Exactly,” says Moore-Dunson. “That part’s really important. That, as an artist we can show people what will be one day.”

The company’s reach expands
They’re showing people outside of Cleveland, too. Inlet Dance Theater participates in the Cleveland Foundation’s Creative Fusion Artist Exchange and had a two-week residency in Chile.

With his company getting busier, Bill Wade’s planning more frequent auditions.

“We’re not only doing everything that we’re doing here in town, but we have two commissions from two different performing arts centers on evening-length works. We’re going to be on the road. We need more dancers into this studio.”

company members
Inlet Dance Theater members l. to r. Morgann Grampp, Kevin Parker, Emily Stonecipher, and Anne Howard

And new repertory. Inlet’s new piece for the Wharton Center in East Lansing, Mich., takes on the topic of modern slavery, human trafficking.

“We’ve done a tremendous amount of really heart-breaking research,” he says, “and that will premiere in February up in Michigan.”

A New York Times best-selling children’s book about one child’s brilliant idea is the basis of another piece still in development. Commissioned by Playhouse Square’s Community Engagement Department, “What Do You Do With an Idea” had a preview in May at an International Children’s Theater Festival workshop.

“We pulled a lot of the feedback right out of the audience that’s going to go right into the creative process, “ says Wade. “Because we’re a collaborative organization including people from the community that give us feedback.” 

Inviting beginners
Wade welcomes newcomers to the art form, too. Inlet’s Summer Dance Intensive includes even those with no prior dance experience.

“We teach at the Music Settlement up in University Circle,” says Wade. “We have after-school programs all over town. We do a lot of free performing.”  

Krista Demetropoulos trained this summer at Inlet Dance Theater's Summer Dance Intensive. She's dreamed of becoming a professional dancer since seventh grade and will enter Inlet's Trainee and Apprentice Program this fall.

Inlet’s 16th annual free performance at Cain Park this summer included Krista Demetropoulos, a 19-year-old University of Mississippi sophomore. “Coming to Inlet, performing at Cain Park, this huge beautiful amphitheater, and not only that, the performance is free -- I think that’s so great.”  

This week Inlet Dance Theater kicks off its new season with free performances at Boys and Girls Clubs throughout Cleveland.