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Akron Celebrates 42nd year of Free Summer Dance Performances


The 9th Annual Heinz Poll Dance Festival

City of Akron Press Release
From the desk of stephanie york
Published: 06-26-2015

Sunday Symphonies with Akron Symphony Orchestra top-off weekend arts experience

            Akron, Ohio (June 26, 2015) - Residents of the City of Akron will enjoy professional dance performances and orchestra concerts in city parks at no charge again this year thanks to support from the City of Akron and local foundations.

            The 2015 Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival is the 9th season that the City of Akron has sponsored free-admission high quality professional dance performances. This summer the festival features the nationally-known Philadanco! company of Philadelphia, now in its 45th year of performing and preserving predominantly African-American traditions in dance.

            “There isn’t another community in the United States that has the tradition that Akron has established in presenting dance,” said Mayor Jeff Fusco. “To sustain something this important for 42 years makes a statement about Akron’s appreciation for the performing arts.”

            In 2014, the festival attracted over 10,000 people from Summit, Portage, Medina, Wayne and Stark counties. The festival’s partnership with the University of Akron will also continue, which includes master classes by the visiting companies during the festival. The UA Dance Institute presents interactive programs for children each performance night.

            New in 2015 is a shift in scheduling - for the first time, Hardesty Park’s annual Akron Arts Expo will not feature dance during its long weekend of arts activities. “Arts Expo has grown to the point where it is no longer practical to include the ballet on the same weekend,” said Festival Director Jane Startzman. “We will perform at Hardesty on a later weekend when both events can enjoy the full use of the park.”

            The dance programs will be presented July 24 – August 15, 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 24, 25      Neos  Dance Theatre at Firestone Park. The regional company will revive Chichester Psalms, by Hernando Cortez, and feature Artistic Director Bobby Wesner’s Searching for the Find, as well as Penny Saunders’ Berceuse. Neos will premiere a new work by Joseph Morrissey.

July 31, Aug 1 GroundWorks DanceTheater  at Glendale Cemetery. The Akron-Cleveland company will premiere a new piece of choreography by Eric Handman of the University of Utah. Also featured will be Artistic Director David Shimotakahara’s blues tribute Boom Boom and Rosie Herrera’s House Broken.

August 7, 8     Verb Ballet  at Hardesty Park. The Cleveland-based company with many Akron dancers will perform new works by Daniel Precup, Royce Zachary and Laura Edson. A contemporary ballet Similar by Anthony Krutzkamp  ill be on the bill, as well as a classical duet Spring Waters by Asaf Messerer.

August 14-15  Philadanco! at Goodyear Metro Park will perform the ballet Latched by Christopher Huggins and Ray Mercer’s Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner.  


            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 41 years ago.

            In 2014, over 10,000 people attended the free performances in Akron parks.

            In 2006, Ohio Ballet was forced to close due to financial reasons. Mayor Don 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 eight years of the festival, some 76,000 residents and visitors have enjoyed the dance performances. In 2012, the Martha Graham Dance Company of New York was a guest performer, and in 2014 – the nation’s most important interpreter of Latin culture, Ballet Hispanico. 

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.




            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 free admission concerts by the Akron Symphony Orchestra, under the direction of Christopher Wilkins.

Symphony performance time is 7:30pm.

            July 26                   Firestone Park

            August 2              Glendale Cemetery

            August 9              Hardesty Park

            August 16            Goodyear Park      

            The Akron Symphony and The University of Akron Percussion Program have received additional funding from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation for The Rhythm Experience, an interactive children’s program that will precede each evening’s concert at 6:00pm.

            Symphony percussionist Matt Dudack, who is also on the faculty of the University of Akron, will lead five student/alumni percussionists in the program of world music. The program builds upon the artistic and cultural universality of percussion to foster dialogue and awareness of other cultures.

            Using materials supplied by the project, children will be able to build their own rudimentary version of the instruments, learn how to play them, and then join with the Akron Symphony during the second half of the concert.

            "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 has been a trustee of Cuyahoga Valley Youth Ballet, Groundworks Dance Theater and the Akron Symphony Orchestra. His daughter Kate Lytton – who got her first exposure to dance at a free summer performance by Ohio Ballet at age 5 - had a professional ballet career with companies in Richmond, Memphis, Oakland and the Bay Area; for three years was Dance Program Manager for Google in Mountain View, California; and now teaches in Akron and administers the Reach Out and Dance Program for Ballet Excel Ohio.

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:
Richard A Merolla
Chief of Staff
Phone: 330-375-2345
E-mail: [email protected]

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