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Akron Celebrates 41st year of Free Summer Dance Performances


The 8th Annual Heinz Poll Dance Festival; Sunday Symphonies extend weekend arts experience

City of Akron Press Release
From the desk of stephanie york
Published: 05-20-2014

             Residents of the City of Akron will enjoy professional dance performances in city parks at no charge again this year thanks to support from the City of Akron and local foundations.

            The 2014 Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival will be the 8th season that the City of Akron has sponsored free-admission, high quality professional dance. This summer the festival features the nationally-known Ballet Hispanico of New York City, and a new initiative led by James Sewell and his Minneapolis company that will also include Ohio dancers who together will create a one-time collective company that will perform during the festival’s 4th weekend.

            “We know of no other community in the United States that has this tradition,” said Mayor Don Plusquellic. “To sustain this iconic cultural event for over 40 years makes a statement about Akron’s appreciation for the performing arts.” This is the 41st year that Akron has offered free outdoor performances in Akron parks.

            The festival attracts over 10,000 people from Summit, Portage, Medina, Wayne and Stark counties, and continues the partnership with the University of Akron, which provides residency activities during the festival. The UA Dance Institute presents interactive programs for children each performance night.

            In 2014, the dance programs will be presented July 18 - August 9, at 8:45pm on Friday and Saturday evenings, with the children’s program starting at 7:45pm each night. The dates, the companies, and the locations:

July 18, 19       Ballet Hispanico of New York, at Goodyear Metro Park. The nation’s leading company that preserves and celebrates Latino cultures through Dance is directed by Eduardo Vilaro.

July 25, 26       NEOS Dance Theater at Hardesty Park. This regional company will bring its classic and contemporary choreography for the opening of Akron Arts Expo, with new work by Bobby Wesner to be premiered.

Aug 1, 2          GroundWorks Dance Theater at Glendale Cemetery. David Shimotakahara will choreograph a new piece to “Ghost Opera,” by Tan Dun, combining influences from Western and Eastern music. This new work celebrates Glendale Cemetery’s 175th Anniversary.

Aug.8, 9           James Sewell Ballet of Minneapolis, at Firestone Park, with the Akron Regional Dance Collective, a new collaboration with the University Of Akron School Of Dance. Sewell will select dancers from northeast Ohio to join with members of his company to perform a new work which he will choreograph as part of a residency at the University of Akron.


            On a summer’s day in 1974, Heinz Poll, the Artistic Director of what was then called the Chamber Ballet, gathered his dancers and crew at Cascade Plaza in Downtown Akron, and had them build a stage with donated lumber. Hundreds of people showed up for the free performance that night 40 years ago.

            In 2013, over 11,000 people attended the free performances in Akron parks.

            In 2006, Ohio Ballet was forced to close due to financial reasons. Mayor Plusquellic asked then-Deputy Mayor Dave Lieberth to convene a group of Poll’s former dancers, many of whom had become leaders of dance companies in the region, to find a way to continue the tradition.

            In 2007, the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival debuted with the support of Akron area charitable foundations to honor the legacy of the founding artistic director of Ohio Ballet.

            In the first seven years of the festival, some 66,000 residents and visitors have enjoyed the dance performances. Each year, the festival offers four weekends of ballet featuring high caliber professional dance companies.

            In 2012, the Martha Graham Dance Company of New York was a guest performer.

Dance Stage to be shared with Akron Symphony on Sundays

            The City of Akron, with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, will extend the use of its weekend dance stage to Sunday nights again this summer for a series of four concerts by the Akron Symphony Orchestra., under the direction of Christopher Wilkins. Performance Time is 7:30pm.

July 20     Goodyear Metro Park

July 27     Hardesty Park (Arts Expo)

August 3  Glendale Cemetery

Aug. 10    Firestone Park

            Once again, maestro Wilkins will occasionally step into the audience, and offer youngsters their own baton to help conduct the orchestra with him.

            All Sunday Symphonies began at 7:30 pm. Admission is free.

Heinz Poll

            The German-born Heinz Poll came to Akron in 1967 and offered classes to promising students. In 1974, with lighting designer Thomas Skelton, he founded Akron’s first professional company, which eventually became Ohio Ballet. Poll died in April, 2006. His works are included in the summer repertoire.

            "Besides creating a professional dance company of national stature and taking it to New York City for five seasons, Heinz Poll created this special summer experience," says Startzman. "Everyone told him that he was crazy, but he was accustomed to accomplishing what others thought impossible."


            The City of Akron is providing support for the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival and the Akron Symphony concerts. The Dance Festival receives support from the Ohio Arts Council, the John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, the GAR Foundation, and the Ohio Ballet Endowment of the Akron Community Foundation. Significant support also comes from Friends of the Festival - individuals who have made contributions in Poll’s memory and in support of continuing the summer tradition.


            Again this year, the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival will be produced for the City by two of its co-founders, Dave Lieberth, and the Festival Director Jane Startzman, a former dancer and ballet mistress with Ohio Ballet. Tuesday Musical Association of Akron is the presenter of the festival, and fiscal agent for the dance and symphony performances.

            Jane Startzman joined Heinz Poll’s Ohio Ballet in 1969, during its second year and danced major roles in nearly all of his ballets until her retirement from dance in 1989.  She traveled with the company on tour throughout the United States, South America and Central America.  From 1989 – 1999, Jane was Artistic Administrator/Company Manager. She has taught for the Dance Institute of The University of Akron.

            For Dave Lieberth, the Festival is a personal matter. Not only was he the stage announcer for Ohio Ballet’s final performance on August 6, 2006 at Goodyear Metropolitan Park, but in 1968, as a 21 year old junior at the University of Akron, he was a technician, overseeing the audio playback of music for the very first performance of Heinz Poll’s company.

Lieberth was a trustee of the former Cuyahoga Valley Youth Ballet, and is a board member of Groundworks Dance Theater and the Akron Symphony Orchestra. His daughter, Kate Lytton had a professional ballet career with companies in Richmond, Memphis, Oakland and the Bay Area, and is the Dance Program Manager for Google in Mountain View, California.


For More Information:

Jane Startzman, Director, Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival,  330.535.3179             [email protected]

Paul Jarrett, Manager, Akron Symphony, 330.535.8131.

Dave Lieberth, 234.738.0003, [email protected]



For further information, contact:
Jane Startzman
Director, Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival
Phone: 330.535.3179
E-mail: [email protected]

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