You might call it a step forward. or more balletically, a grand jete. The multi-year partnership between Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and August Wilson Center, announced yesterday at the August Wilson Center, belatedly completes PBT’s 2010-2011 season.
At first glance the two organizations seem like strange bedfellows. After all, ballet is that most Euro-centric of dance styles, flourishing in the courts of France during its early days and it still maintains full length-ballets in that vein.
Dance Theatre of Harlem broke the mold when it emerged in 1969, founded by visionary Arthur Mitchell, who coincidentally broke his own mold at New York City Ballet, and Karel Shook. It presented ballet with an African American twist — a tropical “Firebird” and the “Creole Giselle” most memorable among them.
As a result, companies like PBT have not been color-blind. A number of Asian dancers have performed with the company, most notably principal dancers Ying Li and Jiabin Pan, who returned to China to help found Suzhou Ballet Theatre. And several African American men joined PBT, most recently Gerard Holt, who taught at La Roche College and has founded Mid-Atlantic Contemporary Ballet here, and Alan Obuzor, who still teaches at the company school and choreographs.
The two organizations will develop several educational opportunities for students, pairing Greer Reed-Jones, who heads the newly-founded August Wilson Center Dance Academy, with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, although details have yet to be confirmed.
That brings us to the program itself, set for Black History Month at AWC in 2012. Called, “Bach, Beethoven and Brahms,” a mixture of classical, contemporary and ethnic. Certainly the “3 B’s” are the standard of classical music. All of the chamber music scores will be played by musicians from the Pittsburgh Ballet Orchestra.
PBT finally has its first Mark Morris ballet, “Maelstrom,” also the first that he created for San Francisco Ballet in 1994. While not one of the modern master’s best-known works, it does take advantage of his musicality. There will also be another “first” in Dennis Nahat’s “Brahms Quintet,” his initial choreography for American Ballet Theatre in 1969. It is his second work for PBT and enhances his long-time ABT connection with PBT’s artistic director.
But the ballet creating the most buzz will surround Dwight Rhoden’s new Bach ballet. Knowing the Complexions choreographer well (he has created seven ballets for PBT), that might not be the only music. After all, he interspersed some Bach with Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony in “7th Heaven.” On an intriguing note, he will use the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble with PBT in his new piece.
What are the benefits to be had? AWC can learn from this association with a veteran arts organization. But PBT can sometimes be an insular group and this will allow the company to stretch its artistic wings. Hopefully it will be a win-win situation.