Neos Dance Theatre blends visual effects with movement to attract new audiences in Akron

Arts / Article

Above: Robert Wesner. Photos courtesy Neos Dance Theatre.

When Neos Dance Theatre steps onto the stage of the Akron Civic Theatre Friday, the company will transport the audience into an immersive experience where fanciful special effects, animation and film amplify the beauty of human movement.

The debut of “Media and Movement” is the latest work from Neos Dance Theatre funded by Knight Foundation to introduce new audiences to its performances and integrate dance with other forms of artistic expression.  

The community will even be part of the performance through film footage by Emmy Award-winning filmmaker Andy Gardner, who invited residents to be a part of the filming process.  Neos also cast dancers from The University of Akron who will perform onstage alongside Neos dancers Friday.

“For an overarching experience the evening will be very diverse,” said Neos Dance Theatre Artistic Director and Co-founder Bobby Wesner.  “The new work will be extremely visual.”

“Media and Movement” will be the fourth production for Neos that incorporates Gardner’s work, which Wesner said is a perfect fit for the type of modern dance the company will present.

Gardner “brings a lot of ideas and suggestions to the table so the entire process is very collaborative,” Wesner said.

“Andy’s work is very clean, and he comes with a wealth of history and work that influences the collaboration in a very positive and deep way.”

Gardner and Lighting Director Dennis Dugan have worked with Neos on several prior performances, including “Snow White and the Magic Mirror: A Grimm Tale,” “A 1940s Nutcracker,” and “Count: The Legend of Dracula.”

This time their contributions infuse four separate works, including the premieres of “Illustrious Disillusion,” choreographed by Wesner, and “Nothing in Particular” by Neos resident choreographer Mary-Elizabeth Fenn. “Suite for String,” choreographed by Joseph Morrissey, and “Flight,” choreographed by Penny Saunders, both debuted in 2015.

Wesner said “Nothing in Particular will be “heavier on the visual effects and animation.”  “Illustrious Disillusion” “is more film footage with some special effects and final editing by Andy.”

Both pieces will also feature Akron dancers in the film footage as well as in the on-screen images, Wesner said, who likens the incorporation of people and places familiar to Akron audiences to a “show within a show.”

Joseph Morrissey.

“As the work developed, both Mary-Elizabeth [Fenn] and I created worlds that were somewhat ambiguous,” he said. “In Mary-Elizabeth’s case it was almost cartoonish. In mine the people and the places featured in the work became a utility to get through a journey – in this case, a journey to the finale of the work.”

That marriage of dance and new media technology is what has earned Neos Dance Theatre past Knight arts funding. Neos is also a finalist for the first Knight Arts Challenge Akron for work that proposes to meld contemporary dance with hip-hop, graffiti and pop music. (Winners will be announced on Tuesday, March 15, 2016.) The spirit of experimentation runs throughout the company’s work.  

“It’s somewhat ground-breaking for us as an organization to work with this element in a new way,” Wesner said. “Some of the visual content is a bit edgy and will push the local dance audience to think outside the box.”

This performance is rated PG-13 for suggested nudity and language. Admission for “Media and Movement” is $25 for adults and $10 for students and children up to age 12.  Tickets are available online at or by telephone between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. ET at 330-253-2488.

Mary Elizabeth Fenn.