At barely 4-feet-11 inches tall, Rebecca J. Nicklos was told she would never be a dancer. She persevered but was deterred by artistic directors in New York City looking for tall, Black Swan-like ballerinas.
"Not even going into the room, they would cut you based on what you look like," says the 25-year-old Lakewood resident. "It was just something that really opened my eyes that maybe this ballet thing isn't for me anymore."
Rebecca has since traded in her rigid tutu for the billowing skirts she wears while dancing with Shaker Heights-based Verb Ballets. Her 23-year-old sister, Megan Nicklos, who is 5 feet tall with nearly identical long brown hair, has also found a sense of belonging in the freedom modern dance offers, earning her bachelor of fine arts in choreography and performance from Ohio University.
Together, the sisters launched a Kickstarter online-fundraising campaign to finance the first season of The Movement Project as a way to shift focus from the dancer's body to the art of dance.
"Our company is taking out that element of what's expected in terms of who we hire, who's dancing and how we look onstage," Megan says.
The Movement Project made its inaugural season debut at Cellar Door Cleveland in December. Next, it'll share a bill with movement-theater artist Tony Cintrony Feb. 21-23. As part of Cleveland Public Theatre's Big Box series, they'll present The Mechanical Monster: Misunderstood, a performance spawned by an online video featuring Megan robotically moving to composer John Salutz's eerie beats in an Athens, Ohio, industrial wasteland.
"I sprung that from watching myself improvise," says Megan, who records her improv dance sessions. "I rewound myself and I thought, Oh I love that quality of seeing myself being rewound or fast-forwarded."
The Movement Project currently doesn't have a permanent space, but Megan plans to convert part of her Richfield house into a studio. Meanwhile, she and her sister hope to make way for more collaborative, experimental work in Cleveland's dance sphere.
"For us, it's really trying to push that," Megan says.