GroundWorks DanceTheater brings its spring program to E.J. Thomas Hall this weekend with three dances that all deal with connection and change in some way.

The dances, by Artistic Director David Shimotakahara, New York choreographer Gina Gibney and Utah choreographer Eric Handman, all may subconsciously be responding to the tension and disconnect that many people feel in our country today, Shimotakahara said.

The dances aren’t politically specific but instead speak to some universal truths.

“It affirms this sort of need that we have, which is kind of a universal human idea, a need to connect [with] things that draw us together and draw us toward each other, as opposed to the things that we struggle with and divide us all,” he said.

His new work, making its Akron premiere, is Against Night, whose four sections present different perspectives on abstract ideas related to light, including refraction and speed. He also looks at the changeability of light and how that relates to changes that happen in our lives.

Light also is used visually onstage by designer Dennis Drugan as a scenic element rather than just lighting the dancers. The dance is set to the music of contemporary American composers David Lang, Jennifer Higdon, Nico Muhly and Steve Reich.

Gibney’s Drafting Hindsight also is an Akron premiere. It’s a calming piece that she created after talking to the dancers about communication and conversation. They did a lot of writing about conversations that they’ve had, which was the leap off point for Gibney choreographically. Gibney, of Gibney Dance in New York, also incorporates video design by Joshue Ott that in some sections creates the effect of a cathedral, and music by Ezekiel Honig.

Finally, Handman of the University of Utah, will be represented with the dance Remora, which features close partnering between dancers.

“You feel like the dancers are really held together by this amazing force field, even when they’re not touching,” Shimotakahara said.

The program will run at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at 198 Hill St. at the University of Akron. Cost is $25 or $10 for students. Call 216-751-0088, or see

‘Devil’s Milk Trilogy’

Two years of exploring Akron’s relationship to rubber has led up to this exciting weekend for New World Performance Laboratory, which will kick off its finished The Devil’s Milk Trilogy world premiere with performances of the solo piece Death of a Man, Thursday through April 9 at Balch Street Theatre.

The project was funded by the Knight Foundation’s Akron Arts Challenge, the Char and Chuck Fowler Family Foundation, the Ohio Arts Council and the Akron Community Foundation. It consists of three new plays devised by the company.

This trilogy about how Akron became the Rubber City ­— from the pillaging of natural rubber from the Amazon forests to the working class citizens who broke their backs making tires — is described as Akron’s story, by Akron’s people.

“We’re very excited. It’s been a great adventure working on this. It’s our town. It’s Akron’s story,” said co-artistic director James Slowiak.

Death of a Man features Colombian actor and co-artistic director Jairo Cuesta. He enacts a ritual of storytelling that delves into the mutilation and massacre of indigenous people in the Amazon in the early 20th century during the Western world’s mad quest for natural rubber.

In their journey to discover the origins of Akron’s rubber history, Cuesta and Slowiak adventured to Colombia in 2015. (See for a short documentary about their travels to the Amazon region to speak with the indigenous Uitoto tribe about the cultural reverberations of exploitation by the rubber industry.)

For tickets to Death of a Man, see or call 330-867-3299. Cost is $15 or $10 for students.

The second work, now undergoing final revisions, is the musical Goosetown: The Devil’s Milk, Part 2 (April 20-30). The original work with book, music and lyrics by Akron’s J.T. Buck, features rubber worker Joe of West Virginia, who comes to Akron to work in the rubber factories.

The back-breaking work is killing this young man in this story set in 1913, the year of Akron’s Great Flood and the IWW’s first strike in the rubber factories. The title refers to Akron’s German neighborhood around Grant Street where the story is set.

Finally, Industrial Valley: The Devil’s Milk, Part 3 will see its world premiere May 11-21. This ensemble-devised work is based on former Akron Beacon Journal reporter Ruth McKenney’s 1939 account of class and industrial conflict during the Great Depression.

The play, whose second act was workshopped in the fall, chronicles the formation of the United Rubber Workers of America and the first sit-down strike in 1936 at Goodyear.

“For all the unions of America, that was the beginning where unions really made some strides,” Slowiak said.

After all three of the shows’ runs, the trilogy also will run in repertory May 25-28, giving audiences the chance to see all of the works back to back. Check for further information.

Arts writer Kerry Clawson may be reached at 330-996-3527 or Follow her at @KerryClawsonABJ  or