Mayor Malik Announces the 50th Anniversary of the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival

Internationally acclaimed, Dayton Contemporary Dance Company returns along with exceptional Ohio dance companies to help celebrate 50-year legacy

Akron, Ohio, June 11, 2024  — Today, Akron Mayor Shammas Malik announced the City of Akron will celebrate the 50th anniversary of Akron’s own Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival!  Continuing its legacy of presenting free professional dance performances in city parks, the dance festival will once again offer three weeks filled with dance experience opportunities from July 26 through August 10.

Our friends, internationally acclaimed Dayton Contemporary Dance Co., plus respected Northeast Ohio dance companies Ohio Contemporary Ballet, and GroundWorks Dance Theater, shape the free festival weekends this year, with Inlet Dance Theatre adding another free outdoor performance at the Akron Art Museum, as well as educational performances at three community centers. For all outdoor performances, guests are encouraged to bring chairs or blankets to enjoy the show.  

“We're proud to be part of such a long-standing summer dance festival that brings the highest quality professional dance companies to our residents and guests for free,” said Mayor Malik. “50 years is a huge feat and one we look forward to continuing. We are excited to welcome all these amazing companies and celebrate with GroundWorks Dance Theater for their final performance in Akron.”

 Featured Dance Companies and Programs:

Weekend One – July 26 and 27 – Forest Lodge Park – performances at 8:45pm

The festival opens with Ohio Contemporary Ballet on July 26 and 27 at Forest Lodge Park (260 Greenwood Ave). The company is honored to premiere Light Rain, choreographed by Joffrey Ballet co-founder, Gerald Arpino, in 1981. Set to a captivating score that fuses Eastern and Western music, this piece explores themes of young love through its athletic choreography. Renowned for showcasing the dancers' technical skill and emotional expression, Light Rain remains a beloved masterpiece in the ballet world. Choreographer, Nicholas Rose, began his career with the company as a dancer before joining the ranks of the Dance Theatre of Harlem and the National Ballet of Canada. He returns to set a work that redefines ballet through its integration of classical elegance and modern dynamism, flawlessly interpreting the lyrical flow of Edward Elgar's Serenade for Strings, Op. 20, in E minor. Laura Alonso’s adaptation of Carmen transcends the original opera by Bizet, turning it into a stunning one act ballet. Through dance, the story explores the timeless themes of human emotion, from the exhilaration of freedom to the despair of unrequited love, all while paying homage to the rich tapestry of Cuban heritage. The program will finish with audience favorite, Dark Matter, choreographed by Tommie-Waheed Evans. This mesmerizing contemporary dance work merges the emotional complexity of human existence with the vastness of the cosmos through powerful choreography and dramatic lighting, propelled by its driving pace to an original evocative sound score.

Weekend Two – August 2 and 3 – Firestone Park – performances at 8:45 pm

The second weekend will feature GroundWorks Dance Theater at Firestone Park (1480 Girard St.). After 25 years of groundbreaking contemporary dance performances in Northeast Ohio, nationally recognized, critically acclaimed, and beloved GroundWorks Dance Theater will present one of two grand finale performances in Akron (the second and last will be at Cain Park, in Cleveland on August 10). This concert is GroundWorks' farewell gift to family, friends, contributors, and the Akron community with gratitude for their tremendous support. This very special performance will feature three new dance works, including GroundWorks Founding Artistic Director David Shimotakahara's tribute to the music of jazz great Thelonious Monk, company Artist in Residence, Antonio Brown's latest to an original music and sound collage, and the commissioned work "The Sixth" by Seattle-based guest choreographer Olivier Wevers set to original music by American composer Philip Daniel. Celebrate for the final time in Akron what Cleveland's Plain Dealer called the "Smoldering brilliance of one of Cleveland's cultural gems."

Weekend Three – August 10 and 12 - Goodyear Heights Metro Park – performances at 8:45 pm

The festival will close week three on August 10 and 11 at Goodyear Heights Metro Park (2077 Newton St.) with world-renowned Dayton Contemporary Dance Co. (DCDC). DCDC takes the stage in a powerful exploration of the Black experience through movement. Witness the spectrum of emotions, from the soaring joy of a soulful women's quartet to the raw vulnerability of a solo dancer confronting loss in the modern dance classic " Mourner's Bench." A new duet delves into the complexities of love. At the same time "Body Talk Excerpts" weaves a vibrant tapestry of literature, music, movement, and African American traditions, honoring the power of community and resilience. This is more than a performance; it's a chance to witness the beauty and strength of Black Artistry. Be there to experience the stories that move us all.

All three companies will offer master classes for advanced dance students at The University of Akron on Saturday mornings at 11 am during the festival weeks. Registration is required. See website for details.

Festival director, Jane Startzman emphasizes the importance of presenting new work as well as established choreography: “It is part of our mission to present our audiences with dance that may be familiar as well as the new and unexpected. We offer diverse programming, presenting excellent, respected professional dance companies to everyone, free of charge, as a gift to the community. This dance festival is unique in the U.S. in that we move from neighborhood to neighborhood.  We are considered one of the top four outdoor dance festivals in the nation.”

Special Programming and Partnerships:

This year, the dance festival continues to reach into new neighborhoods with educational and community performances. Inlet Dance Theatre, whose core strengths reside equally in performance and education, will present narrated performances including sections of Inlet’s repertory, and Polynesian dancers from Pacific Paradis Entertainment who will share traditional Polynesian dances. They will also share the stage with collaborators, Djapo Cultural Arts Institute (W. African dance). Educational performances will take place on July 30 at Mason Park Community Center at 10:30am and at Joy Park Community Center at 1:30pm, then again at Kenmore Community Center at 1pm on August 1.

Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival is also proud to celebrate this 50th anniversary with partner the Akron Art Museum, presenting Inlet Dance Theatre in the Bud and Susie Rogers Garden at the museum on August 8 at 6:30pm.

The University of Akron remains the dance festival’s residency partner, providing studio space and residency activity support for all artists, and young dancers who attend the master classes. The University of Akron’s Dance Institute, offers their popular pre-show interactive program that allows young children to learn a bit of dance and experience what it is like to be onstage. See website for specific times and details.

New this year, we are offering a free Yoga class at each stage site on Saturday mornings (July 27 at Forest Lodge/August 3 at Firestone Park/August 10 at Goodyear Metro Park) at 10am by Jen Garlando. Bring a blanket or a mat!

Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival continues to welcome the support of partners Summit DD and Direction Home Akron Area Agency on Aging and Disabilities. They help us explore new ways to improve accessibility to the free park performances and improve inclusivity for everyone, supplying sensory bags, information packets and programs with larger print at their table at each performance.

The City of Akron has been presenting the Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival, receiving major support from generous funders including but not limited to, founding and sustaining sponsor, Akron Community Foundation, along with Peg’s Foundation, the Ohio Arts Council, and Hilton Garden Inn.

Please refer to for a full schedule and details on dates and times.

The Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival relies solely on the assistance of generous funders and sponsors, as well as donations from friends and individuals of the festival. Anyone interested in donating can do so via the website or by contacting 330-990-5263.

For more information, please visit

Heinz Poll Summer Dance Festival
Jane Startzman, Director or 330-990-5263