October 28, 2014
janera solomon is surrounded by some of the KST honorees. How many do you know?
HAPPY. It was a monumental birthday, the Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s 100th, and KST sponsored a cocktail party by some of the singular individuals who helped to make it the adventurous arts establishment and community center that it is today. Along with board chair Cabot Earle and executive director janera solomon, they all paid tribute to a theater that has seen a lot of changes in East Liberty. Honorees included Mayor Bill Peduto, Stephanie Flom, David Nash and Janet Sarbaugh.
KIMONO. No longer are choreographers closeted away in a rehearsal studio until the day of a dance premiere.They are sharing more and more, opening their works-in-progress to input, not always from friends and family, but from eager audience members. Mark Thompson was the latest example in his work-in-progress, Kimono, at The Alloy Studios. (He has plans to present the final version next spring.) However, there was much to see and say about the production, technically in its infancy. Schooled in ballet, Mark is best known as a mime. However, Kimono showed a transition, moving the mime into more of a movement phase. Along with Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight, he traced parallel threads involving an artist who must overcome the encroachment of the world around him, filtered through a French and Japanese backdrop. The movement itself was spellbinding, although at this point, the dramatic continuity could be tightened.
Shana Simmons Dance at Wigle’s.
FLYING. Shana Simmons Dance knows how to throw a party as well. The company recently held a fundraiser for its upcoming November production, Passenger, at the Aviary. Called Freak in Feathers, the company gave a sneak peek in the intimate confines of Wigle Whiskey in the Strip District (loved the fake white eyelashes!). Chef Eric (Shana’s talented fiance from Bonnie & Clyde’s restaurant in Wexford — they will be married in the spring) and Chef Kayla served up chicken with white truffle sauce and roasted garlic mussels. Delish(!) — along with yummy appetizers and dessert framing them. In keeping with the feather theme (some attendees were dotted with them), the company projected Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds on a wall, with Point Park live and suitably dramatic piano accompaniment.
October 27, 2014
There were some interesting pairings at PointBreezeway (yes, in Point Breeze and worth a trip) circulating around the autumnal equinox. September produced Jasmine Hearn and Continuum Dance Theater.
Continuum’s Sarah Parker chose an informal format with a couple of solos from her latest piece, EMPIRE (click on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for the review), performed by a determined Heather Jacobs, with Lamar Williams both generous and passionate. Sarah then invited the intimate audience into the creative process where they offered words, like “salty,” “saucy,” “loopy” and “sunny,” whereupon the performers incorporated them into an improvisation. It was a concept that tried too hard, which lessened its impact.
Jasmine brought Anna Thompson and a world premiere, favoring consent. I came upon them as a pair of glam chicks, so uncommonly tall in their high, high heels. Then they changed costumes, vaguely alluring and virtually topless with duct tape pasties. The goal was to “give consent to our pleasure.” And they did, in a funny, smart, always surprising way. Jasmine may be the most thought-provoking choreographer on the Pittsburgh scene and Anna is truly finding her own voice, not only dance-wise, but vocally. These were private dancers, yet so inviting.
They did sing later: “Honey come home.” “I’ll clean out the fridge.” “You’re a good girl — you know it.” So did we…
October 7, 2014
This was a program with a heavy-duty sense of purpose. Addiction. Poverty. Mental illness. But in the hands of Marjani Forte, being Here… /this time was woven together like a feather-light pashmina. It’s something that we don’t find much in American choreography, which likes to be direct, almost obvious in its intention. Here there was almost a sense of beauty about this project, despite the subject matter.
It induced a sense of respect for those suffering.
Audience members had the chance to see the work from beginning to end from three different perspectives. Chairs divided The Alloy’s spacious studio. My favorite was the first, where the seating backed against Everett Saunders’ 3-D audio installation, allowing for the widest physical perspective. Viewers wore a headset in this section, making for a spellbinding sensory experience. There was text: “It’s okay. You’re okay.” Laughter (a monkey/baboon?). Mixed with piano. It had the ability to subtly grab the attention, but not away from the three dancers who moved about the room. (And something I’ve never encountered.)
For the second installment, I headed to the foyer, where Marjani herself had set up shop (actually a chair) on top of a bench in a very confining space. The musical accompaniment came from (probably) her iPod and a ghostly slide played next to her on a loop. This was the most difficult segment to watch. “I had some weary days.” “I had hills to climb…” She grabbed her mouth. Her body shook. She was physically bound and emotionally bound to the material. And there was nowhere to escape for those of us who gathered around her, even mentally.
I watched the final segment from the diagonal slice of chairs that cut the studio in half. This put the emphasis on partially-bound wheelchair dancer Alice Sheppard and the luminous Jasmine Hearn. They were performing again, but I had a partial view before. This time it heightened the dramatic impact as we wove through the laughter, through stoicism and ultimately through strength.
One of the best programs of the dance season.
October 7, 2014
Attack Theatre has reached yet another milestone in dance annals — the 20th anniversary — an accomplishment for any company. They had a tongue-in-cheek approach and called it Are You Still There? Well, yes they are — at the Pittsburgh Coliseum. Check it out in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
October 6, 2014
It was heartwarming to see the passion that H2O Contemporary Dance put into its last program. Called Pivotal Moments, the evening was intended for Point Park University’s George Rowland White Performance Studio, but a scheduling problem led the group back to its home base at The Dance Conservatory of Pittsburgh, which could be termed a safe haven for women who are balancing their love of dance with family.
No matter. With movable scrims, some basic lighting and a row of battery-operated tea lights separating audience from performers, things worked out just fine. The bones of the choreography were still there and the dancers were deeply involved in the execution. The program, which had many personal touches that made it so meaningful, began with Viewing Options by Taylor Knight and Anna Thompson, notable for its slow, deliberate movement design. Allison Garcia’s message was Clearer Skies, featuring Wind, a Thunderstorm and A Tender Farewell, while She Said, by Scott Romani, was a play on the telephone game, where the beginning statement generally doesn’t follow through to the end, something that kept the attention.
But Dana LaSota’s The Clot of Life, a dance rendering of her recent health problems, was both meaningful and compelling, bringing some members of the audience to tears. And Danielle Pavilik’s In and Out of Moments brought the thematic dance contents to a climax with dance that reached, grabbed and turned in on itself, savoring, as she always does, the organic impetus of movement pattern.
October 6, 2014
Texture Contemporary Ballet usually downsizes for the fall/winter season. But it looks like more talented dancers are sticking around. Maybe that inspired the choreographers in this convincing program, especially Alan Obuzor and Kelsey Bartman, who took us in some intriguing new directions. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
October 3, 2014
Michele de la Reza walks on water with the help of Attack company members. Copyright © 2014 Attack Theatre. All rights reserved.
Swimmingly. Attack Theatre zipped up to Mt. Washington for a Season 20 Kickoff and the wonderfully layered home of Anna Singer and Don Kortlandt. After negotiating 20-some steps to the main floor, guests could head up to the roof for a spectacular view of Pittsburgh (with the help of an in-house elevator if needed). Or they could head outside, replete with pool, and a site-specific number that started on the wide concrete lip surrounding it. Yes, the five dancers eventually plunged and dove into the water for more. Then founding co-directors Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope began a sculptural duet before Peter jumped in to join the fun (shirt, vest, pants and all). Michele began to pick her way across the surface of the water, buoyed by Attack hands (we always knew she could walk on water!). But we know the ending, as we know Peter — after all the pool was heated. Even board member Jamie Todd took to the waters, all in the name of raising money for her favorite company and Pittsburgh celebrated with a fireworks display (actually courtesy of the Pirates).
Spilling Ink. It was so appropriate, in a way, that Spilling Ink unfolded its Indian dance wares in The Carnegie’s Hall of Sculpture because the ancient dance form was originally connected to temple statues. Vijay Palaparty (formerly of Carnegie Mellon University) was in fine form — forceful, yet flowing. Using her highly expressive face, Nalini Prakash explored the binaries that exist in all human beings during a lovely demonstration of the half man, half woman form of Shiva. The duo then capitalized on those themes in a more developed work that was thoroughly satisfying. Finishing with two stories of Krishna, the two dancers demonstrated a wide-ranging skill in an all-too-rare performance of the Bharatanatyam style.
PPU On TV. Can’t get to the Point Park University Student Choreography Project this weekend? Well, the local university will go global by streaming both the 2 and 8 p.m. performances (two different programs) on Saturday. The Conservatory of Performing Arts is teaming up with C360 Technologies of Wexford, Pa., to offer a unique interactive viewing experience that will not only give viewers at home a 360-degree view, but also allow them to independently control the camera to their liking. In 2011, C360 was the first company to successfully transmit real-time interactive 360-degree video stream to fans during NASCAR Sprint Cup races. We’ll see how the dance version turns out — click on www.pittsburghplayhouse.com.