Dance Beat: BRAZZIES, Carmen, Abby Lee, SYTYCD

August 19, 2014
Leslie Anderson-Braswell, Alan Obuzor and Julia Erickson (L to R).

Leslie Anderson-Braswell, Alan Obuzor and Julia Erickson (L to R).

JULIA AND ALAN. Greer Reed of REED DANCE awarded the second annual BRAZZY Awards to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal Julia Erickson and Texture Contemporary Ballet founder Alan Obuzor during her REED DANCE summer intensive this past weekend at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater. It turned out that there was a strong PBT connection here. The award is named for Leslie Anderson-Braswell, who began at PBT, trained at Stuttgart Ballet and performed with Geneva Ballet and Dance Theater of Harlem before returning to Pittsburgh following a career-ending injury. Here she taught and was recognized by President Ronald Reagan with an Outstanding Teacher Award at the White House among other awards. As for the recipients, Julia had a stellar performing year, showing great range, not only in Swan Lake, but in the Twyla Tharp program, where she glamorized Sinatra Songs (in a designer dress and heels) and then turned around and became a Stomper (in tennis shoes) for In the Upper Room. Alan already occupies a singular place in Pittsburgh dance, having started at PBT and, after an injury, founding Texture. There he wears many hats, operating as artistic director, choreographer and dancer. This season the Dance Magazine award winner (25 To Watch) is now branching out, as was seen in the softly sculpted jazz inflections of Looking Back and Moving Forward, a terrific collaboration at the Dance Alloy with songstress Angwenique Wingfield.

CARMEN DE LAVALLADE IN SWOOP

CARMEN. Most people don’t yet know that the Kelly Strayhorn Theater is bringing a piece of living dance history — Carmen de Lavallade — for three evenings! See a documentary film, Carmen and Geoffrey (Holder, her husband) and talk with Carmen Sept. 10 at Dance Alloy, then take in her solo evening Sept. 12 and 13 at the Kelly Strayhorn. An uncommonly rich woman who was one of the first African American ballerinas,  encouraged Alvin Ailey to dance, artist in so many facets of life and former professor at Yale University. A once in a lifetime experience!

ABBY AUSTRALIA

BIG. Abby Lee Miller is gradually assembling a juggernaut business as an offshoot of Dance Moms. She sent a photo of a class in Australia — 900 students!

 

SYTYCD NEWS. I was waiting to see how far So You Think You Can Dance would go in translating two to three minute routines into something longer and more developed choreographically. It has already had an impact on concert dance, both amateur and professional. But I think jaws dropped over the announcement a couple of weeks ago that choreographer Sonya Tayeh would be working with the Martha Graham Company. A late starter to dance, Sonya doesn’t have an extensive Graham history, but has been assembling a resume including Dance Magazine’s 25 to Watch (2009), an Emmy nomination (2013) and choreography for Madonna, Florence and the Machine, Kyle Minogue and Miley Cyrus. Judge Nigel Lithgow also revealed that Emmy-nominated Travis Wall wants to choreograph for the New York City Ballet. We shall see…

 


Dance Beat: Christine, Eva, Nick and Robert

August 19, 2014
Christine Schwaner in "The Nutcracker." Photos: Rich Sofranko

Christine Schwaner in “The Nutcracker.” Photos: Rich Sofranko

Corps member Steven Hadala wasn’t the only one to move on at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Actually PBT lost principal dancer Christine Schwaner, soloists Robert Moore and Eva Trapp and veteran corps member Nichols Coppula. Read about their plans in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Eva Trapp and Nicholas Coppula in "In Your Eyes."

Eva Trapp and Nicholas Coppula in “In Your Eyes.”

Eva Trapp, Alexandra Kochis and Robert Moore in "A Streetcar Named Desire."

Eva Trapp, Alexandra Kochis and Robert Moore in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

 


On Stage: The Innermost Corps of Ballet

August 7, 2014
Accompanied by wife and son, Steven Hadala takes his final bow after a performance as Gamache in "Don Quixote." Photo: Aimee Waeltz

Accompanied by wife and son, Steven Hadala takes his final bow after a performance as Gamache in “Don Quixote.” Photo: Aimee Waeltz

It was a classy finish to Steven Hadala’s career as a corps de ballet member of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, where the whole company gathered around him after his final performance. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. But former PBT corps dancer Desiree Mastriano Arredondo, who knew Hadala briefly during her career with PBT, wrote to me following the article. “I just wanted to point out that PBT honors all of its members, in my opinion,” she said in her email. “When I retired four months pregnant in 1998 to move to Houston with my husband and soon-to-be child, [artistic director Patricia] Wilde gave me a performance of the Scotch Lass in [George Balanchine's] “Scotch Symphony” and presented me with flowers after my performance. It was a beautiful send off, and one I will never forget!”

Steven Hadala (Drosselmeyer) asks for a kiss from Alexandra Kochis (Marie) in "The Nutcracker." Photo: Rich Sofranko

Steven Hadala (Drosselmeyer) asks for a kiss from Alexandra Kochis (Marie) in “The Nutcracker.” Photo: Rich Sofranko

 

 


On Stage: Cats Forever…

July 21, 2014

Many of us have a “Memory” about Cats. An iconic musical that debuted in 1981, I was first attracted to it because of the enormous attention to movement, a predecessor of today’s dancicals.

Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera gave it another encore, but the audience — and particularly those around me who sang along and commented throughout — responded as if it were a welcome old friend.

It’s been a while since I have seen or heard bits and pieces of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hit. So I had fresh eyes and ears for it, ready to make some new memories for myself.

This feline musical fantasy seemed more like a traditional musical on Friday at the Benedum Center. It traverses so many styles, from British musical hall to jazz. But even Rum Tum Tugger, a parody of Mick Jagger that was so current back in the ’80’s, would now be considered conservative.

 

And when you think about how about tap dancing Jennyanydots, Gus the theater cat, with his dynamic character change, and British musical hall duo of Mungojerry and Rumpleteazer, it’s clear that this is a tribute to veteran artists…cat-sized.

They were all terrific — the CLO was smart to build the cast around artists who have performed their roles before, either regionally, on national tour or on Broadway (including a powerful Ken T. Prymus, who had performed the eternally wise Deuteronomy thousands of times, and high-flying Grove City native Andrew Wilson as Mr. Mistofelees). A smart move!

 

They filled it in with a lot of young local talent, poised and professional. The exception to those rules was Tony Award-winning Elizabeth Stanley, who had never performed Grizabella, but, with an emotionally-laced Memory, stole the show.

This show has no easy parts. When it first came to Broadway, the cast spent weeks just learning how to move like cats. A boneless ease. Stretching and preening. Head darting on constant alert. And they can’t curl up and rest when the score is so staggeringly complex for its range and harmonies.

This Cats was remarkably stunning in so many ways, a real CLO achievement. Given the short rehearsal period, the ensemble was remarkably cohesive. The accoutrements — costuming, lighting, scenic design and orchestra were all first rate. And the Journey to the Heavyside Layer was nothing short of, well, heavenly.

Purr-fect!

For more information, click on CLO.


On Stage: More Texture

July 19, 2014
Kelsey Bartman and Alan Obuzor Photo: Katie Ging

Kelsey Bartman and Alan Obuzor Photo: Katie Ging

Dance is art for the young, able to seemingly and fearlessly leap tall buildings at a single bound. But it is most satisfying when those developing dancers start making mature artistic choices, as Texture Contemporary Ballet began doing at its latest effort, Life, Love, & Jazz, at the New Hazlett Theater.

In previous programs, both choreographers and dancers only relished movement in the moment, so big and bold that it all began to blend together and the viewer’s eyes glazed over. LLJ was still full of passion this time around, but more internalized, so that there was space to breathe. The “textures” of the dance were now noticeable and memorable, such that the audience could differentiate between the various choreographies.

Bravo! This is now a company not only to watch, but to savor.

Kelsey Bartman, who always wears her passion on her sleeve (or leotard) contributed Fun. (as she always seems to do). That might have been her only inspiration, but she also demonstrated a heightened awareness of group movement, densely social and weighted as the dancers mixed and matched. Fun. meant the tongue-in-cheek kind, a sense of happy.

But Bartman drew inward for “Stars,” where “I have faded in the dark.” It was more introspective, a curling welcome that revealed more about her as a dancer and capitalized on her use of emotion.

The program continued with three smaller works. Bartman and Obuzor created Hollowed, where they conveyed a new level of intimacy, literally scooping out each other along the way. Amanda Summers seemed to be spinning out of control in “Spinning Plates,” taking advantage of her neat, quick footwork. Gabriel Gaffney Smith said it all in his title, Detachment. Without Reason. The first segment featured a large morphing group, pulsating into the earth, where two couples “detached” themselves from the crowd. By reducing the group to a trio, the second part, in a way, “tested” how much a couple knew about each other with a touch of humor — to no avail. In the third section, so poignant, Darren McArthur tried to bring Henry Steele and Alexandra Tiso together, again to no avail. Smith’s choreography seemed to come at the title from many oblique angles, ripe with emotional details that gave it a full-bodied, pungent sense of humanity.

Alan Obuzor took the program title, Life, Love, & Jazz, and did what he does best, explored the music, this time Marty Ashby’s comfort-driven original score for the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild quartet. This was a glam jazz ballet, playing (or not playing) with black hats and Bob Steineck’s nifty geometric lighting design, which laid out alleyways and squares for a landscape.

Obuzor set the mood with a solo that was as light as a feather, toying with the rhythmic pulse (as he does so well) set by Ashby. Tiso then made a night of it in her playful number with five guys. But there was an even better connection (this company tends to the audience rather than engaging with each other) between the leggy Katie Miller and Obuzor in a duet where she was so relaxed, due to his expert partnering skills, and where they created a mesmerizing aura.

Even though this is the annual program that brings in so many dancers, encouraging the choreographers to expand their vision, it was so good to see the small things that added a malleable “texture” to Texture.


On Stage: Opera Theater and Attack Theatre

July 14, 2014
Breaking down the Wall. Photos: Patti Brahim.

Breaking down the Wall. Photos: Patti Brahim.

It seems like The Fantasticks has been around forever. And it has. Really, it is the longest-running musical in the world, having been off-Broadway for 42 years and 17,162 performances.

But I can’t say that I have seen it.

Of course, I have been deeply aware of the musical itself, historically speaking, but mainly through its score. Everyone worth their musical salt seems to have sung Try To Remember and/or Soon It’s Gonna Rain at some point in their careers.

Dads!

Dads!

 

Now I can take my place among the thousands who have enjoyed the interactions of El Gallo (Sean Cooper), Matt (Adam Hill), Luisa (Rachel Eve Holmes), Hucklebee (Brian Hupp), Bellomy (James Critchfield), Henry (Martin Giles), Mortimer (Daniel Arnaldos) and The Mute (or The Wall, if you may, Dane Toney).

It was, in a word, terrific — hence the listing of all the players (more to follow).

Yes, it was fun to engage with the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, in partnership with Attack Theatre at that wedding cake of a building, The Twentieth Century Club, in Oakland. And engaging it was, with the cast parading, dancing and singing amidst the audience at times.

A double flourish.

A double flourish.

The story line is simple. Boy meets Girl (despite the objections of their fathers, who built The Wall, ostensibly to keep them apart). Boy and Girl fall in love. Boy loses Girl when the truth comes out (that the fathers did staged it all so that their children would fall in love). Boy and Girl rediscover their love for each other.

The scenery (Marie Yokoyama) fell along those lines — a collection of scenery pieces perhaps gleaned from the backstage of a theater and affording the characters many levels on which to clamber around. Costumes (Julianne D’Errico) were mostly uncomplicated, as they should have been (watch for the vest switcheroo). And the music was appropriately intimate, with a quartet made up of piano (Walter Morales, also the musical conductor), percussion (Kevin Danchik), bass (Cory Palmer) and harp — loved the sparkling touch! (Marissa Knaub).

This musical is over 50 years old. Yet it seemed timeless (apparently with a few tweaks to the script) under Attack founder Peter Kope’s direction.

This is an young opera program on the rise, bolstered by veteran actors and singers that give it some heft. You might say it takes a village to raise an opera, with over 40 artists populating nearly 30 performances, workshops, recitals and the like.

Lovers and umbrellas.

Lovers and umbrellas.

With its off-Broadway history, The Fantasticks might seem to be a lightweight choice. But it translated to an operatic approach, with epic overtones, quite nicely.

Kope kept the cast on a taut physical rope to maximum effect, so the songs were staged so effectively and with great detail. The cast, not all of them dancers, took to it all with gusto.

Over-the-top, you might think. But this Fantasticks gathered steam as it rolled along, producing many moments to relish. Holmes’ skill at the devilish operatic leaps. Her obvious connection with Hill. Cooper’s robust presence as Narrator/El Gallo. The similarly obvious connection between the dads, Hupp and Critchfield. And who could play a Wall (et. al.) better than Toney?

This Fantasticks provides a great escape, along with some food for thought. But if you’ll otherwise preoccupied for Fantasticks, make it a point to check out the musical breezes wafting through Summerfest up to and including July 27.

Will she or won't she?

Will she or won’t she?


On Stage: Charlotte Ballet

July 12, 2014

Charlotte BalletNorth Carolina Dance Theater has made a rare switch to change its name to Charlotte Ballet, the largest city in the state of North Carolina. Right now the name may not be familiar to resident Chautauquans. But artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, the staff and the dancers by and large remain the same. They were on view recently at the grand old Amphitheater. Click on Charlotte for the article and photos in The Chautauquan Daily.


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