Five Columbus Dance Troupes to Check Out

Peter Tonguette
Columbus Modern Dance Co.

This article first appeared in Columbus Monthly City Guide 2020.

Several centuries ago, Shakespeare gave the following words to Hamlet: “The play’s the thing.” If the Bard of Avon could look around Columbus today, however, he might be tempted to rewrite that famous line as, “The dance’s the thing.”

Since the turn of the millennium, numerous small and semiprofessional dance companies have sprung up in the capital city. The emerging dance troupes reflect a potpourri of styles as diverse as the city itself, including contemporary, jazz and modern. 

Under the lead of artistic director Melissa Gould, the contemporary jazz troupe New Vision Dance Co. is known for big and bold programming. Last year, the group—with a roster consisting of between 20 and 30 dancers—performed a full-length homage to the music of Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin and Sammy Davis Jr. in “Come Dance with Me: A Tribute to the Rat Pack.” Performances this year will include the fifth edition of the annual program “Up Close and Personal” (March 13–14, Garden Theater), a concert featuring 10 years’ worth of dances created by Gould, “Retrospective III” (July 10–11, Garden Theater) and a tribute to the music of the 1980s, the appropriately titled “Like, Totally” (Oct. 10–11, Jeanne B. McCoy Center for the Arts). 

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Xclaim Dance also derives inspiration from jazz, but artistic director Mariah Layne French is proud of her company’s diversity: Xclaim boasts nine dancers who bring with them a range of movement styles, spanning from classical to urban. On the heels of a season in which the company performed a pair of evening-length dances, the troupe will be seen for the first time in the new year in “Spirituals II” (April 17–18, Central Vineyard Church), which takes as its subject the way in which individuals can overcome injustice.

Featuring a total of 13 university-trained dancers, Columbus Modern (CoMo) Dance Co. distinguishes itself in its collaborations with demanding contemporary choreographers from both within and outside of Central Ohio. The company spreads its wings at venues throughout Columbus, including, this past season, at a library and a beer tasting. Upcoming performances include the group’s annual, free Mother’s Day dance in Topiary Park (May 9–10).

Conceived as the professional performing offshoot of Clintonville’s Flux + Flow Dance and Movement Center, the FluxFlow Dance Project—which describes its style as mixing dance with theatrical and visual-arts elements—counts just two “fixed members” in its ranks: co-founders (and internationally acclaimed dancers) Russell Lepley and Filippo Pelacchi. Each time the project develops a new show, other collaborators are invited to help create it. Last December, FluxFlow stepped into the spotlight for its first performance at the Wexner Center for the Arts with “Ursula.” This year, performances are scheduled for August and December.

Like FluxFlow, Oyo Dance may not have the biggest roster—the company comprises four dancers—but it makes up for that in its inclusive movement style, drawing from ballet, ballroom, modern and West African dance traditions. Last fall, the company presented its inaugural holiday program, a multicultural performance titled “One Light.” Coming up from the troupe are “Pinocchio” (May 1–2, Columbus Museum of Art) and “Parallel” (June 5–6, Columbus Performing Arts Center), which reflects the experiences of those fighting for LGBTQ rights.

The Major Players

Burgeoning dance groups are great, but let’s not overlook the heavy-hitters in town. Led by artistic director Edwaard Liang, BalletMet has in recent seasons tested the versatility of its dancers, showcasing everything from classical masterpieces like “Giselle” and “Romeo and Juliet” to cutting-edge works such as “Cacti” and “Carmen.maquia,” and fans can always count on the annual presentation of “The Nutcracker.” Having recently changed its leadership, the Columbus Dance Theatre will enter its second full season run by recently hired artistic director Seth Wilson and executive director Jaime Kotrba Wilson. The company continues to perform original works by local choreographers, including the (married) Wilsons.