Local dance company shakes up the world of dance with its eclectic vibe

Written by: Beau Brown

“I noticed many talented dancers who were born here leaving Ohio to pursue their dance careers, and this upset me,” said Kelli Sanford, artistic director of The RED Company. “I wanted to put Akron on the map and give young dancers an opportunity to practice at home.”

The RED Company, or real.edge.dance, was formed by Sanford, an alumnus of The University of Akron. Last Sunday, in Kolbe Hall’s Daum Theatre, RED put on its second annual performance, which featured 11 talented female dancers whose ages were just as varied as the styles of dance exhibited.

From dramatic, even frightening scenes of exorcism and torment, to beautiful and majestic images of butterflies, RED’s show provided entertainment designed to catch the eye of any audience member. The lively, eclectic dancing combined with the costumes, music and special effects to give the show its own personality that reached out to the ones watching.

“The dancing was really clean and fierce,” said Kathleen Mundy, a junior at St. Vincent-St. Mary High School who is also enrolled at UA’s Dance Institute. “Kelli’s choreography is really amazing and interpretive, and the costumes and lighting added to the performance.”

In addition to the stylistic attributes of the dancing, Mundy also noticed that the dances portrayed messages that added depth to the performance.

“The dances that Kelli designed had a lot of cultural significance,” Mundy said. “They each had a message that the audience could interpret. The show wasn’t just dancing for the sake of dance.”

According to Sanford, who is also the artistic director of RED, this was no accident. She intentionally attached messages to each dance she choreographed so that she could get people to formulate their own conclusions about the show.

“I wanted to give the dances a theatrical flair that would inspire the audience to think about what they saw,” she said.

Sanford earned her master’s in contemporary dance from Case Western Reserve University in 2007 and her bachelor’s in dance from UA in 2002. She started RED last year and currently lectures at the university. Over the years, she has danced her way into local fame, receiving several awards for her outstanding dancing and choreography, including the Pancoast Fellowship Award.

The inspiration for RED came from her experiences as an Ohioan and as a dancer.

“I hated seeing all of these fantastic dancers leave Ohio because they wanted to pursue their dreams elsewhere,” she said. “I wanted to give them an opportunity to learn what they love in Akron. They don’t have to leave to learn.”

The idea behind RED was to provide a fun, entertaining and insightful dance program for those in Akron who have experience little or no dance. Sanford’s mission was to provide a stage for professional dancers to practice on, and to teach those who wish to climb the ranks in the dancing world.

The dancers in RED are all students or graduates, some of whom are still attending high school. According to Lauren Misja, a student at Kent State University, being a part of RED is a rewarding experience.

“For me, this was an opportunity to grow stronger,” Misja said. “RED greeted me with open arms, and I appreciated the challenge it gave me. Working with Kelli was amazing. She’s a visionary in performing arts and always brings attention and effort to rehearsals. She wants us to be great.”

Sanford said it was her goal to supply her dancers with this feeling of accomplishment.

“Dancing was always something I loved to do,” she said. “I know these girls have the same dreams that I do, and what I want to give them is opportunity.”

RED also partakes in outreach programs by performing for the elderly in nursing homes and assisted living homes in order to “bring dance to the senior citizen community.” A nonprofit organization, RED accepts donations for support and funding for shows.

RED has traveled far in its short existence and continues to provide Akron with colorful dances inspired, created and performed here.

“RED is all about being different and fiery,” Sanford said. “I want to make dance more personal and fun, and I want to do it right here in Akron.”

For more information on RED, visit www.realedgedance.org.