Knight Arts Challenge Spotlight | Exploring Mixed-Media Urban Arts with Neos Dance Theatre

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 words and photos by Lia Pietrolungo

While Akron is known as the Rubber City, its blood pulses in technicolor throughout the arts community. Bobby Wesner, cofounder of Neos Dance Theatre, is revving up that pulse in a diverse collaboration of Akron’s urban artists and classically trained dancers from the Neos company. The project, dance.revolution, will culminate into a 25-35 minute production that is set to showcase on April 22 at the Goodyear Theatre in Akron.

“It’s been a long time coming,” says Wesner of collaborating with the arts sectors in Akron. “We’re saying, ‘Hey, urban artistsjump in bed with us and see what kind of babies we produce and see what we can birth here, and whether it’s going to grow legs or not’.

Mary Elizabeth Fenn, Neos Dance Theatre’s resident choreographer and conduit of the creative process, is spearheading the production.

Neos has performed in name only since 2004 when the company first came to fruition. During Neos’ early years, Wesner sourced dancers from his previous performances to do pop-up shows around the country. Along the way, Neos transitioned to mainstage productions in collaboration with symphonies. It was in Richland county from 2008-2014 that Wesner honed his focus on gaining confidence in the field of administrative work, later forming the board of Neos Dance Theatre.

Wesner continues to develop relationships with Akron, Oberlin, Mansfield, as well as satellite communities by establishing dance studios in each area. While dance.r.evolution will include dancers from Oberlin College, the focus of the production will be on blending the work tattoo artists, filmmakers, journalists, and dancers from the Akron community, with major collaborators and appearances of Andrew Trowbridge & Chris Miller (cameramen and video editors), Ryan Rosinski (hip-hop dancer), Eydon Thomashow and Kalei Tooman (Oberlin College hip-hop dancers), Kirsten Williams (artist), Steve Ehret (graffiti & mural artist), DJ MisterBradlyP, Courtney Cable (art administrator/curator from Curated Storefront), as well as students from ArtSparks.

Murals from the Knight Art Challenge winning project, Art Bomb Brigade, will appear on on-stage projectors, as well as a documentary highlighting Akron’s art community. But the curtain has yet to fall in Wesner and Fenn’s plans for the production.

“Courtney will be appearing live, as if she’s curating a piece of art, and the dancers will respond to her call,” Wesner plans. “We’re showing the audience that we’re constantly processing and that we’re constantly connecting out into the urban arts.”

Dance.r.evolution is made possible by the Knight Arts Challenge, aiding in Neos’ vision of unity in the arts. “There was a hunger and a need that we were able to fulfil here,” says Wesner of the connectivity of Northeast Ohio artists.

While dance.r.evolution is the first of many projects to come from Neos, Wesner is optimistic, yet humble in his plans for the future: “It’s like we’re steering the ship, and with that comes big risks, but with those risks come some really major rewards. And I see artists all along their individual journeys who are able to benefit from the path we’re on. It’s a major feel-good.”

 Neos Dance Theatre will be performing dance.r.evolution at the Goodyear Theatre on April 22. For more ticket information, visit neosdancetheatre.org/performances

 Lia has recently added another furbaby to her family of two (one human, one cat). Lia’s mom, the Best Lady in Town, has officially dubbed her daughter a cat lady. How many cats does it take to reach “crazy” status? Stay tuned.

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