Off Stage: A Weight-y Responsibility for Point Park

October 30, 2009

Point Park University made front page news at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Thursday over a so-called “fat list” of dancers that was posted on the dance students’ call board. Of course, weight is always an issue for dancers and young women between the ages of 16 to 19 are particularly susceptible, with would-be ballerinas taking the brunt of the diet crunch.

It turns out that the fall-out from the “fat  list,” which actually appeared in the spring of 2008, is two-fold.

First is the all-consuming idea of weight. I did an interview for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in 1998 with three young women, all passionate about ballet, who talked openly and frankly about this very issue. I can still recall one who said that she was always told that she was a beautiful dancer until she reached 16. Then, all of a sudden, there was talk of Weight Watchers. But she didn’t understand why she was gaining weight. “I was eating the same, but I was getting heavier,” she asserted.

Ah, the growing body sometimes wreaks havoc on the ego!

Sometimes it just requires patience. There are photos of a relatively plump Natlaia Makarova at age 13, hardly the svelte figure that we came to know in her ’20’s when she became an international star. Of course, that was then and this is now. Although there is still the danger of anorexia and other eating disorders, dancers are becoming increasingly smart about their bodies. And nutritional support is becoming increasingly sophisticated, particularly in Pittsburgh with the presence of UPMC and the Sports Medicine Clinic on the South Side. In fact, Point Park offers both a detailed nutrition class that is part of the academic curriculum and periodic talks by UPMC professionals to supplement their dance education.

Each of the young women mentioned above arrived at a different conclusion as a result of their weight problems. One became a stewardess — and lost her excess weight. Another became an arts administrator with a passion for physical fitness. The third one realized she wasn’t a Balanchine ballerina, but nonetheless had a successful career with a company in the Mid West. She’s now back in Pittsburgh teaching…and still moves beautifully.

Point Park has a heavyweight responsibility on its hands. One solution might be to help young dancers find that niche that suits their body type, something that I’m sure the university presents to its students, if only in the diverse nature of choreography that is showcased in its performance company. After all, many choreographers look for something different, from the Ruben-esque proportions of a Mark Morris dancer to the distinct variety of body types favored by Bill T. Jones (which once included the 200-pound plus Larry Goldhuber) to, of course, the thin, leggy bunheads of Balanchinean proportions.

Back in 1998 I recommended Dr. Linda Hamilton’s “Advice for Dancers,” which is still available in paperback. Now Hamilton has come out with “The Dancer’s Way,” which details New York City Ballet’s wellness program. The statistics are impressive — workman’s compensation for being completely “out” is down 26 percent. She also lists five keys to peak performance through mind, body and nutrition and has a list of resources for the reader that wants to go into more detail. Some of the examples are composites of both ballet and Broadway dancers. Personal stories from NYCB’s stable of successful dancers reinforce her findings. I think that every dance student and professional should read it.

Secondly, there’s the issue of the “fat list” itself. Of course, it was embarrassing once the subject was revealed. But, as far as I know, there are scads of lists at Point Park. Dance, music and theater and theater students are instructed to check the boards twice a day. Yes, even in this technological day and age of texting and Twittering, this is still the fastest way for PPU to disseminate information.

So there are casting lists or advisors ask a list of assigned students to see them. Administrators might need a list of student bios for a program. All contain lists of people, but the reasons are not revealed — the students are only requested to “see” someone. The only way people found out about the “fat list,” was for someone on that list to spread the word, which ultimately added to hurt feelings.

It comes down to this. Point Park University staff members are responsible for dealing with the body images of young dancers at an exceptionally vulnerable age. But ultimately the students must learn to recognize their own physical signs and see what might be contributing to a problem. I’m sure that “The Dancer’s Way,” the closest thing I’ve seen to a Bible of self-help solutions, can help to fill in the blanks. Dancers have to learn to listen to their bodies, to know about physical problems.

But it will ultimately be worth it…and so are they.


Dance Notes: PBT, PDC

October 29, 2009

Meg and Robert Eberly IIILOVE STORY. It was no coincidence that the colors for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s 40th anniversary Pointe in Time ball were pink and blue. Co-chairs Meg and Robert Eberly III were two weeks away from giving birth to their second child. But there was even more significance to this love story. The pair met while members of PBT’s corps de ballet and have gone on to successful second careers that propelled them into the rarified air around the PBT board. They presided over a lovely setting at the Hilton Hotel on Saturday night, where the ballroom was draped in blue and white chiffon and accented with a pair of frosted glass bars. PBT’s Terrence Orr offered a sizeable chunk of the the upcoming Paul Taylor premiere in March, “Company B,” set to music by the Andrews Sisters and playing off America’s mood in World War II. There were no less than threeTerrence Orr and board members toasting PBT's 40th anniversary numbers — Aygul Abougalieva, Caitlin Peabody and Amanda Cochrane in “Joseph, Joseph,” Julia Erickson’s “I Can Dream”-y solo and “Rum and Coca Cola,” where Eva Trapp more than flirted with her ardent followers, Stephen Hadala, Luca Sbrizzi and Alexander Diaz. Alexandra Kochis and Alexandre Silva (sporting a great new tousled hair style) played with the doo wop sounds of “There Goes My Baby.” And Erin Halloran reprised a portion of her triumph in “Sleeping Beauty” (I still can’t believe her uncommon balances) with princely partner Nurlan Abougaliev. Gary Racan & the Studio E Band kept the energy level higher than I can remember as everyone danced to the oldies until the wee hours of the morning.

LOOK WHO CAME TO DINNER. San Francisco choreographer Margaret Jenkins could be seen dining last hursday at Morton’s with Pittsburgh Dance Council executive director Paul Organisak and several members of his board, including Selma Sherman with Leon and Jim Crockard with Melanie. They were rewarded with Jenkins’ personal choreographic story of “Other Suns.”

MAKING A POINTE. This month PBT launched The Pointe Society, a new club designed to engage young professionals. With this new venture, PBT is combining the artistry of ballet with the opportunity to mix, mingle and network with Pittsburgh professionals. Chaired by Katherine Harrell, the club will offer various accoutrements, including a 20% savings on single tickets, two-for-one season subscriptions, $5 off all adult open registration classes (including ballet and Pilates), opportunities to meet and mingle with dancers and fellow members at special by-invitation-only events and more. The annual cost is a steal — $40 per individual and $60 a couple. To join visit www.pbt.org/specials or call 412-454-9129.

 

 


On Stage: Intimate in New York

October 27, 2009

Jordan Marinov and Billy BlankenPittsburgh native Jordan Marinov has been working on intimacy for a year and a half. And she’s finally finding it in the heart of New York City at the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

It’s considered the world’s busiest, where approximately 200,000 people pass through the building each day. But when you’re a neophyte dance artist, maybe that’s the way to garner some attention. Marinov is involved in The Intimacies Project, currently on view through the window of a 3,000-foot storefront attached to the terminal on Eighth Avenue and 41st.

It officially began Oct. 20th and will end on Thursday. But the project began early last year. Armed with award-winning stints at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Pittsburgh High School for the Creative and Performing Arts and Marymount Manhattan College to give her confidence, Marinov chose to remain in the dance capital of the world.

Now 29, Marinov “always had a passion for dance” but drifted into modern while in college. She has since performed for Heidi Latsky and Pascal Rekoert, among others, and subsequently formed Marinov Dance. A budding choreographer, her work has been seen at a number of places, including Dance Theater Workshop, John Jay College and Wax Works.

Most recently Marinov met up with photographer and film maker Bill Hayward, whose portraits of subjects ranging from Bob Dylan (Interview Magazine) to President Reagan (Fortune cover) have contributed to an international reputation. He also works at the independently-minded Red Dress Films.

With the intimate nature of Hayward’s portraiture and Marinov’s dance providing the connective tissue, the project was born. Hayward brought on director, playwright and classical pianist Anna Elman, while Marinov asked dancer Billy Blanken to come on board. The four artists would provide the creative core.

Marinov explained that they had conversations, of course, and wrote in journals about intimacy, building the concept through intense collaboration. Much of the intimacy material would be based on ancient writings, such as the Greek god Eros. They decided on the storefront location and divided it into areas for dance, still photos, paintings and Red Dress films. Hayward would do photo sessions. There would be poetry. All happening live, all dependent, to a certain extent, on the audiences.

It would be interactive, where the audiences would be asked intimacy questions, some of which have produced some pretty red faces according to Marinov. One man, who had been in the “Lion King” in Germany, began singing…in German, of course. Marinov and Blanken would do repertory at the 1 p.m. dance performance, but base the 6 p.m. performance on a portrait that Hayward had taken that day.

Choreographers have been instrumental in producing multi-media performances, including Pittsburgh companies like Attack Theatre (which once was located in a storefront on Liberty Avenue and open to pedestrians on a daily basis for several years), Dance Alloy and The Pillow Project. And certainly in today’s economy, artists are finding more and more highly creative ways of pooling resources.

But the scale of this unusual New York stage is not lost on Marinov. “This is my passion,” she exclaims, relaxing on a cookie break during one of the performances. “In the artistic process you have to give yourself permission, because nobody’s going to do it for you.”

Click on The Intimacies Project for more information.


On Stage: A Few Words to the Young at Art

October 26, 2009

Susan Gillis, long-time faculty member at the University of Pittsburgh’s Department of Health and Physical Acitivity, where she runs the dance minor program and directs the Pitt Dance Ensemble, forwarded this text of First Lady Michelle Obama’s speech at CAPA during her G-20 visit.

Subject: REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY – CAPA
THE WHITE HOUSE
Office of The First Lady
Immediate Release                       September 25, 2009
REMARKS BY THE FIRST LADY
BEFORE PERFORMANCE AT PITTSBURGH CAPA HIGH SCHOOL
Pittsburgh CAPA High School
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
11:34 A.M. EDT
MRS. OBAMA:  Good morning!  (Applause.)  How are you all doing today?
AUDIENCE:  Good!
MRS. OBAMA:  This has been a great morning for us.  Don’t we think, my fellow spouses?  What do we think of these students?  (Applause.)  Bravo!
Thank you so much, Melissa, thank you for that wonderful introduction, thank you for introducing my fellow spouses.  And Melissa, thank you for your tireless work, your inspired leadership, and your unflagging devotion to the students here at CAPA.  You have every reason to be proud.
It is such a pleasure to be here.  I mean, it is more than a pleasure to be here.  I have been looking forward to this day the entire week.  So have my colleagues, as well.  So it is thrill — I am thrilled, and to welcome our distinguished guests from all around the world.  You can literally say that the world is watching you all today.  (Laughter.)  That’s a good thing.  And we’re here as we celebrate some of America’s most gifted performers and some of the hottest up-and-coming young talents in our nation.  That would be you.  (Applause.)
I want to start by recognizing one of the country’s greatest composers — and I know as students of the arts and music, you’ve heard of this gentleman, Marvin Hamlisch, who also happens to be one of the few people probably in the history of this country to have won an Emmy, a Tony, a Grammy and an Oscar.  Now, that’s pretty good.  (Laughter.)  And he’s been working with the students here today to put on the fabulous show that we’re going to see, so we want to thank him for his generosity.  (Applause.)
And I want to honor Gregory Lehane — a widely recognized director and a professor at Carnegie Mellon University — for giving his time to help direct today’s performances.  Let us give a hand to Mr. Gregory Lehane.  Thank you so much.  (Applause.)
And I also want to express my gratitude to the renowned artists who have given their time to come today to be a part of this performance — some of my very favorites.  Sara Bareilles.  I have to say, she is on my iPod. (Laughter.)  She has gotten me through many a day with “Gravity” and “Love Song.”  I love her.  (Laughter.)  Yo-Yo Ma.  You know, what more is there to say?  (Applause.)  And another one of my favorites, Trisha Yearwood.  So I’m just excited as you all.  (Laughter.)
And finally, I want to thank the marvelous young people — oh, all of you — who performed for us today who will be singing and dancing and playing music for us today in this performance and during this morning.  You brought tears to our eyes.  It means so much to see such talent on display.
As my good friend, Carla Sarkozy, said, you know, in America, you know, here you have people who can sing, and they can dance, and they can act.  Now, she said in France it’s not often that you get all of those wrapped in one.  But she said there’s something unique about America’s talents where it’s just so natural to see all of that talent on display.  So you all should be so very proud.
Now, there are a number of reasons why I personally wanted to come and bring our international visitors here to CAPA this morning.
We’re here because I wanted to introduce them to some of America’s finest, most creative, most accomplished young people.  I wanted to come here because I wanted to showcase the value of arts education — and you put that on display.  That fact that it gives the chance to our young people to discover their voices and to develop their talents, this should be an opportunity that is available for every single child in this nation and quite frankly around the world.
And I wanted to come here because this school embodies the belief that President Obama and I share — and that is the arts aren’t just a nice thing to do if you have a little time, right?  It’s not just a hobby, although it can be a very good hobby.  It shouldn’t be something you do just because you can afford it.
We believe strongly that the arts aren’t somehow an “extra” part of our national life, but instead we feel that the arts are at the heart of our national life.  It is through our music, our literature, our art, drama and dance that we tell the story of our past and we express our hopes for the future.  Our artists challenge our assumptions in ways that many cannot and do not.  They expand our understandings, and push us to view our world in new and very unexpected ways.
And most of all, the arts have the power to connect us to each other throughout nations.  It’s something that we tend to share with one another as spouses.  When we go to other countries, there’s a common theme — that we share our music, we share our dance, we share our culture — because it reminds us that our world here in America is not so distant from other cultures and worlds around the globe.
It’s what happens when a country music star like Trisha Yearwood performs in Italy, and students here at CAPA study Italian Renaissance art.  Or when Sara Bareilles draws inspiration from an Icelandic singer named Bjork or a Jamaican singer named Bob Marley.  Or when Yo-Yo Ma, born in Paris to Chinese parents, promotes the music of Kazakhstan and Brazil, and Israel, and Egypt and more — and goes on to become one of the most beloved American artists of all time.
It’s through this constant exchange — this process of taking and giving, this process of borrowing and creating — that we learn from each other and we inspire each other.  It is a form of diplomacy in which we can all take part.  I think Yo-Yo Ma put it best when he said, “When you learn something from people or from a culture, you accept it as a gift, and it is your lifelong commitment to preserve that gift and to build on that gift.”
And that is what we’re doing here today.  We’re presenting the gifts of these wonderful American artists to our friends from all around the world.  And these artists are passing on the gift of their magnificent example to these young people who are here today, studying in this school — showing them that if they dream big enough, and work hard enough, and believe in themselves, that they can do and achieve some uncommon things in their lifetime.
That is the core of my mission as First Lady — to share the gifts that come with life in the White House with many of our young people as I possibly can find.  That’s why I’ve worked to make the White House a showcase of America’s rich cultural life.  We have held country music celebrations, and jazz performances, and I think we held the very first poetry jam that has ever happened in the White House.
And we’ve done a lot more.  And we’ve done it by also inviting young people from around the local community to take part in these activities, because the truth is, is that even though many of these kids are living in Washington, D.C. and in cities across the country, just minutes away from the centers of culture and power and prestige, many of them feel like these resources are really miles away, very far beyond their reach.  That’s something that I felt growing up.
And my husband and I are determined to help to bridge that distance.  It is critical that we begin to bridge that distance.  We want to show these young people that they have a place in our world, in our museums, our theaters, our concert halls.  And most importantly we want these people to know that they have a place in our White House.  We want them to experience the richness of our nation’s cultural heritage, one on one, up close and personal, not on TV.  We want to show them that they can have a future in the arts community — whether it’s a hobby, or a profession, or simply as an appreciative observer.
And that’s what so many of you here at CAPA have been doing here in Pittsburgh, as well — playing music for local senior citizens and elementary schools; and designing murals to beautify neighborhoods — using your talents to lift up others.
In the end, those efforts, and the performances we’re enjoying today, and the work these artists do every day here in America and around the world — all of that reminds us of a simple truth:  that both individually and collectively, we all have a stake in the arts, every single one of us.
And you don’t need to be rich or powerful to lift your voice in song or get out of your seat and shake your groove thing.  (Laughter.)  You don’t need to be a Van Gogh to paint a picture, or a Maya Angelou to write a poem.  You don’t need a Grammy or an Oscar or an Emmy to make your work on the cultural life of your community or your country a valuable one.
And to people who might not speak a single word of the same language, who might not have a single shared experience, might still be drawn together when their hearts are lifted by the notes of a song, or their souls are stirred by a vision on a canvas.
That is the power of the arts — to remind us of what we each have to offer, and what we all have in common; to help us understand our history and imagine our future; to give us hope in the moments of struggle; and to bring us together when nothing else will.  That is what we celebrate here today.
And it is now my great pleasure to turn this microphone back over to your principal, Melissa, and let the performances begin.
So thank you all for having us here.  (Applause.)  Good luck to you all.  Work very hard.  Study.  Listen to your parents and your teachers.  Take care.  (Applause.)
END              11:45 A.M. EDT

On Stage: Creativity and Spilling Ink

October 24, 2009

The Spilling Ink ProjectVijay Paliparty calls himself a “one-man band,” but it has nothing to do with instruments. The former student at Carnegie Mellon University decided to move to the Washington D.C./Virginia area for “a little more career growth.” According to him,  “It became a little too comfortable in Pittsburgh.”

He had completed an assortment of degrees in professional writing and cultural studies and found a 9 to 5 job writing for mortgage bankers. “Obviously I had a lot to write about,” Paliparty jokes on the phone from Washington. Next week and “still sticking to the real estate/finance area for now,” he will switch to Freddie Mac’s communications department.

But all that is supplemented by another parallel career. Bharatanatyam, that almost impossible-to-spell one of the seven major Indian styles, has been his passion, even while negotiating CMU’s academic turf.

In Pittsburgh he was most often associated with Odissi-based dancer Sreyashi Dey. Now Paliparty is striking out on his own in The Spilling Ink Project, which will present a U.S. premiere at CMU’s Kresge Auditorium at 7 p.m. on Saturday. As he explains, “I do a lot of creative writing,” I ask, “In your spare time?” Paliparty laughs and continues, “It was sort of by accident that it happened. I was examining creativity and I came to an idea that there’s an unexpectedness. Is it something you plan with technique? Do you put all that in place? Or do you just kind of splash it on a page.? Do you literally pour it onto your countertops and see where it goes?”

He says that’s where the title “Spilling Ink”  came from, noting, “You just have to go at something and try it — you’re not really sure where it’s going to go, but go with that perspective.” Paliparty has also concluded that nothing will ever be finished, noting, “There is no final product — it’s that moment, that place, that form that it took.”

He also connects it to religion, a strong component of Indian dance, where “there are so many gods, hundreds of thousands in the pantheon.” That demonstrates the sense of impermanence, where “you’re constantly moving with god, from god, to god…without god sometimes.”

The title of the work is “Alekhya,” which literally means “to paint.” Paliparty wanted to think about creativity as prayer and show that idea through a journey where the audience can organically reflect on aspects of Indian dance, such as sound, rhythm, attire and the instruments themselves.

The program will have two works which will address the sound component and another focusing on rhythm. But the main piece will be “Varnam,” special to Paliparty because it was choreographed by one of his teachers in 1970. A “varnam” generally demonstrates a dancer’s mastery of Bharatanatyam, but this one will  center on the Mother Goddess and her many forms.

Paliparty took out the religiousness and reinterpreted the choreography in a group format where the five dancers interact more fully. He also inserted poetry, which he wrote, in a dialogue for two Pittsburgh actors, Jennifer Schaupp and Joe McGranaghan. Live music will accompany the performance.

No, Paliparty does not play any instruments in this concert, but he is looking forward to teaching more in the future…in his spare time.

Check the Listings for more information on The Spilling Ink Project.


On Stage: PBT — Ten from Forty

October 16, 2009

There aren’t many who have stuck around for the long haul at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. The nature of the ballet company beast would have it so, with the relatively short careers of dancers, the gypsy nature of this artistic business and the small salaries that push staff onto a different lifepath.

As the 4oth anniversary season opens this weekend at the Benedum Center with “Sleeping Beauty,”  I’ve seen just about all the PBT had to offer, yes, from those gangly early performances at the Pittsburgh Playhouse to the professional expertise that the company now displays at the Benedum. While the company has released good news in this economic climate — three years in the black and the hiring of Charles Barker to conduct and administer the orchestra are reason enough to celebrate — it might be fun to look back at a list  of dancers.

The dancers all shared one thing — a clean technique and attention to detail. In a ballet world where more (extension, turns, speed) is the norm, sometimes at the expense of clarity, Patricia Wilde and Terrence Orr in particular maintained a traditional discipline  in their stylistic approach. The funny thing is, to my eyes, other companies sometimes can look unbridled as a result.

As I combed through my stash of programs, I recalled many wonderful memories produced by hundreds of dancers who bourreed, jeted or simply passed through the company doors. These Top Ten dancers have all made major contributions to the legacy of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre over the years and are listed in order of their PBT careers. If you have any other favorites, tell me why at jvranish1@comcast.net.

1.  New York City Ballet’s Violette Verdy, who with Edward Villella, helped jump start the fledgling Pittsburgh company with several seasons of guest appearances during the early years. It’s hard to decipher which one had the bigger impact. But their combined undeniable star power in works like “Swan Lake” gave Pittsburgh audiences a sense of what to expect from ballet. After a stellar career at NYCB, Verdy is now a Distinguished Professor of Music (Ballet) at Indiana University and was awarded the French Legion of Honor (Chevalier) in June for her contributions to the field of dance. Villella, of course, is the artistic director of Miami City Ballet.

2. Alexander Filipov (1971-76). The Russian dancer was a natural for “Romeo and Juliet” and was PBTs first bona fide heartthrob. Dancers whispered how he did 10 pirouettes in the studio and held a balance at the end, but it was his flamboyant presence on stage that brought him accolades from fans. Filipov shared his time at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre as a soloist at American Ballet Theatre and principal dancer at San Francisco Ballet and currently teaches in New York City.

3. Tamar Rachelle (1978-95). The first of PBT’s long-term ballerinas, Rachelle was a first-rate dramatic actress who was transformative on the stage, easily bridging such diverse roles as Giselle and the Cowgirl in “Rodeo.” In one of the most dramatic finishes to a PBT career, Rachelle took a leave of absence in 1995 due to a knee injury. Working on her own for virtually two years, she came back to perform one final time in Bruce Wells’ “Romeo and Juliet.” Married to former PBT soloist Ernest Tolentino, she continues to teach ballet and Pilates at several Pittsburgh locations, including PBT.

4. Laura Desiree (1982-1998). Another dancer who consistently made her way up the company ladder. Like Rachelle, whose PBT path ran virtually parallel to hers, Desiree will be remembered for her versatility — and a quiet intensity. Favorite roles for which she will be remembered include”Swan Lake,” Lizzie Borden in de Mille’s “Fall River Legend.” Desiree also played a leading role in developing major roles in “American Dream,” a 1995 triple bill of women choreographers, where romped in overalls to Pete Seeger’s feminist-inspired “Engineer.” She and her husband, former PBT principal character dancer Brian Bloomquist currently live in the Washington D.C. area.

5. Maria Teresa del Real (1984-86). This spitfire of a dancer added a real confidence boost to the women’s roster. Her technique was such that she had scored a bronze medal at the International Ballet Competition in Varna (the first American in ten years) before coming here, where she performed in such diverse roles as “Swan Lake” (a particularly spectacular Odile) and Ohad Naharin’s “Tabula Rasa,” which is my all-time favorite PBT commission (but that’s another list). She left with fellow principal dancer Pablo Savoye to dance in Europe, and notably wound up her career at the English National Ballet. Del Real currently teaches at Central Ballet School in London, which is a feeder school for Northern Ballet Theatre.

6. Nanci Crowley (1987-97). Able to create wondrous arcs with her uncommonly long legs and beautifully arched feet, Crowley made her mark in the Balanchine repertoire before taking on “Swan Lake,” where she was particularly well-suited for Odette.  She went on to join The Joffrey Ballet and then Les Grands Ballets Canadiens and LaLaLa Human Steps in Montreal. Seemingly indestructable, she moved south to Ballet Arizona for two seasons under Ib Andersen, former PBT ballet master, ending her career, rightfully so, with a performance in Balanchine’s “Agon.” She currently runs the company school.

7. Stephen Annegarn (1993 – 2002). Annegarn brought with him a very British, proper approach to line and stage deportment that was much admired by company men. On stage he was the perfect prince, but could also handle character studies like the title role of “Dracula” and was regarded by the women as a terrific partner. Annegarn had a year’s break in service when he went to Pacific Northwest Ballet, but returned to marry company member Erin Halloran. He continues to influence the company in his role as ballet master.

8. Willy Shives (1993-97). Shives arrived with an American can-do attitude and quickly progressedMaribel Modrono from soloist to principal dancer. While more athletically inclined, he broadened his artistic focus with princely roles in all the ballet classics. Even though he officially retired, The Joffrey Ballet’s Gerald Arpino convinced Shives to return to the stage with his company. Following his retirement there, he continues with the Joffrey as ballet master, but still has a considerable fan base here in Pittsburgh.

9. Ying Li and Jiabin Pan (1994-2004). Okay, it’s cheating. But rarely did you hear a sentence containing one without the other. It was always “Ying and Jiabin” and likewise they were often paired together. Pan learned to embrace contemporary dance, American-style, in premieres like “Ballad of You and Me” and “Indigo in Motion,” where he used his panther-like quality to good effect. Li made her Pittsburgh debut as one of the four little swans in “Swan Lake,” but it was apparent from the start that she was queen material. After a gala good-bye in one more “Swan Lake,” the couple returned to their native China, where they head the country’s newest ballet company, one of only seven, in the city of Suzhou at a new facility, Suzhou Science and Cultural Arts Center, near Shanghai. The pair continue to choreograph, with Pan showing an interest in the techniques he learned under Dwight Rhoden and Kevin O’Day.

10. Maribel Modrono (1997-09). Trained in the Balanchine tradition, she came with her twin sister, Mabel, to do the classics. But when Mabel left due to injury, Modrono ramped up her personality to twice the size. Reinventing herself over the years, she used her buoyant personality and fearlessness to infuse both classical (“Carmen,” “Swan Lake”) and contemporary (“Rubies,” “Carmina Burana”) works. Offstage she was an extra arm for the publicity department, extending her goodwill to patrons and students alike.

There were other favorites. From the early days: Dinko Bogdanic (Stuttgart Ballet) and PBT’s version of the baby ballerinas, Jordeen Ivanov and JoAnn McCarthy. And the virtuosic Peter Schaufuss, who went on to head companies like English National Ballet and Danish Ballet. From the Wilde years, the elegant Pablo Savoye and Scott Jovovich plus Janet Popeleski, a dancers’ dancer and mighty soloists Alexander Nagiba and Ernest Tolentino. And the recently retired and already much-missed Christopher Rendall-Jackson and Kaori Ogasawara.


On Stage: Everything Old Was New Again

October 15, 2009

Maybe it was the environmental aura about The Pillow Project’s latest installment of its Second Saturday series, but a healthy crowd gathered at The Space Upstairs to sample some “Sophisticated Junk” last weekend.

It was the perfect fit, with The Space being upstairs at Construction Junction, Point Breeze’s ultimate recycling location that houses everything from nifty architectural details to toilets. Porter and friends were channeling those very green thoughts while recycling various materials, choreography and a year’s worth of Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspapers.

Could that make it a conflict of interest for this former PG critic and current contributor? The daily editions were stacked against the long chalk board wall, seemingly ready and willing and I found myself able as a result.

Of course, the use of “found objects” was originated by Marcel Duchamp in the early 20th century. But these days, with the help of Rachel Carson, Al Gore and their peers, all things renewable, recyclable and reusable have achieved a vaunted prominence in today’s world.

Pearlann Porter and friends, of course, put their own plentiful twist on things. The Space was decorated with masks assembled from rusty metal pieces, among other finds. But the most scintillating figure was a real tree, sans leaves and wrapped in assorted electrical cords. Like a mad lab experiment, it seemed to grow out of a laptop (courtesy of Porter and hubbie Derek Stoltz). And situated as it was dead center, audience members sometimes had to look around it to ferret out the dance — no big deal for this amenable audience.

Although it was still fun to see Michael Walsh’s recycled and increasingly arch solo about dancers, there was a reusable grocery bag full of concepts from the prolific Porter. Laura Stokes prowled the space in a nifty suburban housewife dress and apron made entirely of newspaper. She was continually obsessive while pestering patrons with coupons, before imploding at the end.

Porter graduated from the Post-Its at the last event to papering a long wall with newspapers. The increasingly inventive PJ Roduta and the ageless Charles Hall immersed themselves in a corner filled with everyday percussion ala “STOMP” (and actually all from Construction Junction).

Then they drove the dancers into an escalating frenzy during which they ripped at the pages on the wall and improvised collectively. It was, in Porter’s own words, about the  “slow disintegration of print media and information.”  Hm-m-m. It was a little long, but the reality of the situation will probably go on even longer.

But my favorite was still “Lonely People,” a piece that Porter previewed at the Dance Alloy a short time ago. Using projection techniques to conjure up imaginary characters that the Beatles might have alluded to in their famous hit, Porter depicted alienation, primarily in a series of solos.

Enjoy a series of photos by Pillow Project photographer Derek Stoltz.


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