On Stage: The Dirty Ball

April 18, 2014



Attack Ball RobotVeteran Pittsburghers know the phrase, “Meet me under the clock.” It used to mean the Kaufmann’s clock. But Attack Theatre gave those words a whole new meaning when they unveiled the latest version of The Dirty Ball at the Jane Street Warehouse on the South Side. Yes, the annual Pittsburgh conglomeration of 1000+ characters met under the clock — the AT&T Clock (originally the Duquesne Brewery Clock and later sporting WTAE, Pittsburgh Brewing Company and Equitable Gas).You would think that Attack Theatre had an army of staffers to erect the impressive dimensions of The Dirty Ball. More likely the company just has an army of admirers/volunteers that host an army of Pittsburghers who like to flirt with their Inner Badness. This year’s location was right next to last year’s address, but had a totally different vibe.The VIP’s (many in sync with the Pirates versus Robots theme) got to come early and head up to the second floor with signature drinks created for the occasion, a nifty buffet (courtesy of E2 in Highland Park) and some up-close-and-personal performances from the artists. Oh…and then there was a terrific view of Downtown in the distance framed by South Side rooftops. Then it was back down the stairs to Richard Parsakian’s simply gorgeous Velvet Lounge (a transformed meat locker no less!) and perhaps his best ever. It boasted an oyster bar at the entrance and was guarded by robot/spacemen mannequins. The main Ball arena was vast with Ball faves like the Dirty Secret booth and dirty martinis and newbies like the booth where your dance moves were translated into a cartoon pirate or robot — a technological wonder! — and projections on hanging banners. At the far end was the stage where the Attackers romped through three grand sets of dance. Love how they honored longtime company member Liz Chang, who boasted not only a derring-do attitude as she was tossed through myriad lifts during her career, but a wicked technique and a gleaming smile through it all. And she made a heckuva mermaid that night! Best wishes to a coveted member of the Pittsburgh dance community…thanks for the memories!



On Stage: PBT Dancers Coming and Going

April 3, 2014

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s mixed rep program at the August Wilson Center always provides the opportunity to see the company grow over the course of two weekends. There is no substitute for those extra performances.This year there was a bonus — rumors swirling around changes in the company for the upcoming season.

When the dust had settled, PBT’s dynamic duo, named to Dance Magazine’s 25 to Watch list in successive seasons, leaped to the top as Amanda Cochrane and Yoshiaki Nakano were promoted to principal dancer. Following in their footsteps were corps members Gabrielle Thurlow and Alejandro Diaz, who both moved up to soloist.

Four company members will also be leaving. Principal dancer Christine Schwaner will have a tough end to her 8-year run with the company. She was diagnosed with a severe case of shin splints just prior to the company’s Swan Lake and has not recovered enough to participate in the season finale of Don Quixote. Sadly she had developed a quite a following. Fans waited until the casting was posted just so they could see her.

Soloist Eva Trapp and corps member Nicolas Coppula, a couple in real life, will be heading for New York City and plan to work with American choreographic master Twyla Tharp.

And corps member Steven Hadala, a stalwart dancer for 16 years (and a record!), will move on to teaching in Michigan.

Actually the above dancers had quite a run during the 3×3 program, making an impression on several occasions. Here are some of the most memorable:

● Yoshiaki led the mens’ entrance of Ketubah with such gravity and commitment, while Gabrielle led the women on stage, burning like a glowing ember.

● Eva and Nicolas took advantage of a moment during In Your Eyes, where they crafted an intimate, beautiful duet. Everyone was holding their breath at the end.

● Stephen was obviously relishing every moment on stage as he appearedin all three ballets.

Other members of the company took advantage of new performing opportunities:

● It was my first chance to see three-year veteran Cooper Verona in a leading role, the groom in Ketubah. Such a handsome, fluid mover!

● Favored with such elegant legs and feet, Joseph Parr finally grew to appreciate them, particularly when interpreting the tricky rhythmic phrasing of Dwight Rhoden in Smoke ‘n Roses.

● Another trio — the three dancers who came across the Atlantic and landed in Pittsburgh for their first season. Brit Hannah Carter had such a deep ease and polish about her dancing — look for great things from her. Compatriot William Moore is just latching onto a fine contemporary flair. And Ruslan Mukhambetkaliyev, cousin of principal Nurlan Abougaliev, showed major glimpses of the real confidence and charm that audiences love about Nurlan.

On Stage: Varekai Flying High

March 31, 2014


Aerial Straps - Photo: Rick Diamond

Aerial Straps – Photo: Rick Diamond

It’s not often that a show from Cirque du Soleil makes such a successful transition from tent to arena as Varekai has done. It attracted a large crowd to University of Pittsburgh’s Petersen Events Center. And they were rewarded. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


Russian Swings Photo: Rick Diamond

Russian Swings Photo: Rick Diamond

Handbalancing on Canes

Handbalancing on Canes

On Stage: Swiss-made Ballet

March 21, 2014


Recent Dance Magazine award winner Patricia Wilde still looked regal as she stood in the audience for the Ballet de Grand Théâtre de Genève. The former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre artistic director was there as an alumnus of the company, where she helped George Balanchine establish a school. The group has since changed its style to another contemporary niche, but she looked radiant as she watched the work of two rising choreographers, a rare treat for Pittsburgh viewers. Read about the performance in the Pittsburgh  Post-Gazette.Geneve red dress-Gregory-Batardon_50A1622

"Requiem" Photos: Gregory Bartardon.

“Requiem” Photos: Gregory Bartardon.

On Stage: “Once” Loved…

March 14, 2014


The festivities began early at the Benedum Center as audience members gathered on stage prior to the opening performance of Once Tuesday night.

They could sully up to the bar, surrounded by framed mirrors, just to drink in the atmosphere and have a real glass of stout.

OnceMusicians, 11 of them, filtered into the crowd, who amiably began returning to their seats. But the connection had been made…

And it continued for this intimate chamber-sized musical, a 2012 Tony Award winner with a heart big enough to fill the 2,800 seat house. Suitably the story was about love — the kind lost and found, about friendship and family, embracing community and country.

For those expecting the razzamatazz of the typical Broadway show, full of big ensemble numbers and a rock ‘em, sock ‘em happy ending, this deceptively nuanced story of a Guy (the talented and tantalizingly confused Stuart Ward) and a Girl (the sweet sounding board, Dani de Waal) might not resonate.

But Once operates on so many levels if you are willing to listen. I can’t think of another musical that is so seamless about the performers’ delicate balancing act between  acting, singing, dancing and instrumental prowess.

It perfectly symbolizes the latest trend, surpassing the triple threat artist. Now aspiring actors are groomed for additional specialties that might land them a niche job.

It would be hard to say which aspect was most important, since this gifted cast could do virtually everything. They could play an instrument one minute — violin, mandolin, accordion, percussion — then play an integral supporting character at another point in the evening.


Their voices handled the Celtic-tinged score in solos, all so appropriate, and heavenly choruses. But they could be earthy as well and that’s where the dance came in.

It was sometimes hard to know where John Tiffany’s direction ended and Steven Hoggett’s movement (don’t call him a choreographer) began. Mr. Hoggett came out of Great Britain’s renowned physical theater movement, where technique is not the prime choice, but a keen eye for the human need to express itself is.

So there was pattern and structure to the “dances,” if they could be called that, with actions that emanated from a deep emotional center. There was a lyrical passage or two. And sometimes a stomp could suffice, like an explanation point.

It all remained in that Dublin bar, with mostly a few tables or chairs to change the scenes. That allowed the audience to use their own imaginations, something that doesn’t always happen in a Broadway show.


On Stage: Pittsburgh Ballet — Holding on to Tradition

March 6, 2014

Julia Erickson Photos: Rich Sofranko

Julia Erickson Photos: Rich Sofranko

Under artistic director Terrence Orr, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has developed a theatrical path reminiscent of his alma mater, American Ballet Theatre, one of a few American companies to do so. Most others have built some variation on the speed and contemporary flair of George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet.

Alexandra Kochis

Alexandra Kochis

Mr. Orr mounted four separate casts for the company’s latest encore of Swan Lake, which produced backstage drama all its own when it was reduced to three. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Gabrielle Thurlow and Nurlan Abougaliev in The Sleeping Beauty Photos: Duane Rieder

Gabrielle Thurlow and Nurlan Abougaliev in The Sleeping Beauty Photos: Duane Rieder

His balletic philosophy will apparently continue as PBT celebrates its 45th anniversary season next year, where four of the productions will be large and classically oriented. Given classical ballet’s limited full-length repertoire, we will again see The Sleeping Beauty, always a challenge for the company due to its pristine technique, and the annual Nutcracker.

Alexandra Kochis in La Bayadere

Alexandra Kochis in La Bayadere

Amanda Cochrane and Robert Moore in Beauty and the Beast

Amanda Cochrane and Robert Moore in Beauty and the Beast

Mr. Orr has also chosen La Bayadere, another Russian masterpiece, full of exotic aromas. He has subsequently reached into his own past for Lew Christensen’s Beauty and the Beast, a marketable title and apparently garnering good reviews, but choreographed in 1958.

That leaves the singular repertory night, next year moving from the August Wilson Center, currently an arts question mark due to financial difficulties, back to the Byham Theater.

PBT only announced Dwight Rhoden’s 7th Heaven, created for the larger Benedum Center stage and panned when it was condensed for the smaller Joyce Theater in New York. It will need trimmed for the Byham.

The other two ballets on the program were not announced. They will celebrate “innovations from its 45-year collection.” I would like to suggest Ohad Naharin’s Tabula Rasa (1986), by far the best commission that PBT has produced (I can still see it), a ballet that has been performed all over the world with PBT’s name attached.


And then there is the obvious — a brand new commission for Pittsburgh native Kyle Abraham and a harbinger for a bright future as PBT nears its 50th. He recently received the MacArthur “Genius” Award and was tapped by Wendy Whelan, principal with New York City Ballet and one of the premier ballerinas dancing today, for a duet commission in Restless Creature. Why not give him a chance?

But then, you might have some other suggestions. Email me at jvranish1@comcast.net.

Dance Beat: Alan and Gia

March 5, 2014
Alan Obuzor

Alan Obuzor

Alan. Usually the bastion of raw modern dance, the Kelly Strayhorn Theater reached out to contemporary ballet choreographer Alan Obuzor for its Fresh Works series at the Dance Alloy studios. It was a good fit. Alan chose Pittsburgh songstress Angwenique Wingfield, who provided a memorable collection of songs. Called Looking Back and Moving Forward, the piece visited the past, with Alan moving among and pairing off with three ballerinas, as if these were vestiges of his past. Although the women needed to develop more distinctive and differentiated characters, the work had a breezy, harmonious flow to it that is a trademark of Alan’s work and harbored good potential. See the finished product at the New Hazlett Theater next weekend at Texture Contemporary Ballet’s program. Click on Alan for more info.

Gia. Gia T. Cacalano is noted locally for her ability to design landscapes of improvisation, enhanced by an ability to set her dancers free. She has recently formed a second company called . Together they presented Frameworks at the Wood Street Galleries. This, however, was a departure for Gia. Faced with a collective of five dancers of varying experience and outlook, she was more structured in presenting these artists, with acknowledged success given the fact that the ensemble had worked together for five or six months. It showed that Gia was skilled in presenting imagery to her company and constructing lush phrases phrases for them. Obviously this would be a viable outlet for more local dancers. It was particularly good to see Gretchen Moore (formerly of Dance Alloy and Labco) and Kelly Krepin DeFade (Labco) performing in the Pittsburgh dance arena once again. And Sarah Bauer, Joanna Reed and Alex Salerno also responding so well. Once again as delightful collaboration with the art installation, this time Erwin Redl’s Speed Shift, where LED lights dotted the walls in random fashion.



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