On Stage: Hines Watch

April 28, 2011

So things are getting serious as “Dancing With the Stars” heads into the second of this season’s competition. This week was “Guilty Pleasure” night, where apparently Hines’ gratification came from snuggling (and dancing) with a pillow when Kym wasn’t around. Isn’t ABC owned by Disney?

Kirstie Alley and Maksim Chmerkovskiy. Is Kirstie getting her cheekbones back? She’s obviously shaved off a few pounds while regaining her form in a fluid samba. Score: 26

Chris Jericho and Cheryl Burke. I couldn’t see how Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believin” merited a tango. Obviously Cheryl didn’t feel that it merited her usually musical choreography. Score: 22

Romeo and Chelsie Hightower. Romeo seemed genuinely taken with Chelsie during his waltz to the “Titanic” theme — or else he’s a better actor than we thought. Pretty smoo-oo-ooth. Score: 28

Chelsea Kane and Mark Ballas. She was “Walking on Sunshine” — he was dancing on a bum ankle, injured during dress rehearsal, in this nifty quickstep. You couldn’t notice it, though. Maybe they should assign a difficulty level at this point, because Mark has been creating both the most imaginative and toughest choreography. They deserved more than a share of the lead. Score: 28

Kendra Wilkinson and Louis van Amstel. Well, this Playmate could shake her bootie, along with a few other key body parts (admittedly not all of them real) to Ricky Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca.” It was enough for her best score of the competition and a much-appreciated birthday gift for Len. Score: 25

Hines Ward and Kym Johnson. Well, Hines made it past the waltz, which can be the graveyard for contestants — no flash, no dash. I do declare, he reminded me of Fred Astaire in a couple of moments, but could have provided more connective tissue. Score: 27

Ralph Macchio and Karina Smirnoff. Maybe his eagerness served him well as the Karate Kid, but he’s overdoing things, particularly with this wild-eyed version of the paso doble, where Karina tripped on his caped coat. Macchio is losing his mojo. Score: 24.

Kendra lives on while Chris Jericho takes a fall…

Dance Beat: PBT, Daniel, DAT

April 26, 2011

EN POINTE. It was PBT’s season afterparty, with music by DJ Ed Cyphers and plenty to eat and drink in the exposed brick space above Bossa Nova. Best of all, PBT invited the orchestra members, a terrific idea, and it looked like a number of the musicians took the company up on the invitation. Costumier Janet Groom created a sensational ball gown for the silent auction and versatile corps member Nick Coppula donated a number of his photos. A good time had by all!

A GOOD CAUSE. New York City Ballet principal dancer Daniel Ulbricht continues on a busy path after his successful appearance here in Pittsburgh last October. He put together Dance Against Cancer, a benefit for the American Cancer Society yesterday at the Manhattan Movement and Arts Center. The event was inspired by his mother who was diagnosed with uterine cancer in 2007 and had a relapse early in 2010. The star-studded list of dancers included NYCB’s Wendy Whelan, Maria Kowroski, Craig Hall, Janie Taylor, Sterling Hyltin, Amar Ramasar, Robbie Fairchild, Tyler Angle and Daniel, of course, plus Alvin Ailey’s Matthew Rushing, Lar Lubovitch’s  Attila Joey Csiki, Top 10 Finalist of So You Think You Can Dance Alex Wong and Keigwin + Company. You can still contribute at http://community.acsevents.org.

JUICED UP. Dance Alloy Theater member Jasmine Hearn is turning into a budding Greer Reed-Jones. She has been seen around town at performances, dancing with The Pillow Project and, earlier this month, expanded her own improv jam into The Citrus Project at DAT’s main studio. While a visit at the 8 p.m. start showed more improvers than audience members than, that was okay because the whole concept probably evolved, at a later hour, into an event where audience and performers were one and the same. Jasmine and friends decked the space with lights and rearranged the platforms with cushions, encouraging the informal approach, so suitable for a whole array of young Pittsburgh dance artists who have the urge to move all night long.

On Stage: The Alloy Comes Home

April 20, 2011

There always has been something wondrous about the Dance Alloy Theatre’s home studios in Friendship. Now it may become its primary performing space as well. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

On Stage: Yo Yo Ma and Lil Buck

April 20, 2011

Take that, Natalie Portman.

On Stage: More Mr. B.

April 19, 2011

Photos by Rich Sofranko ©George Balanchine Trust

I keep saying that I’m a happy camper, having been immersed in two weeks of George Balanchine’s choreography. We saw his vision once again stand the test of time this past weekend at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

On Stage: A World of Dance in Black and White

April 15, 2011

Photos by Paul Kolnik

New York City Ballet held court at Kennedy Center last week, not with traditional story ballets, but an array of black-and-white masterworks by George Balanchine. It was good to see Daniel Ulbricht again — he looked superb in “Symphony in Three Movements.”  Even artistic director  Peter Martins, sitting with wife, former ballerina Darcy Kistler, let out a gasp at the height and distance of his opening jump, legs tucked underneath him. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Video: To the Pointe

April 11, 2011

Here’s a witty and artful look at the making of the pointe shoe:

On Stage: Maria Reborn

April 7, 2011

She entered our collective consciousness, this “Maria de Buenos Aires,” up through the gymnasium, onto the stairs and into a rebuilt tango cafe at East Liberty’s old YMCA.

In the future the YMCA will house luxurious condos. But for now, it’s the setting for Quantum Theatre’s “Maria,” certainly one of its most evocative productions and that’s saying something for this adventurous Pittsburgh theater collective.

It’s a real live jigsaw puzzle of artistic pieces, seen mostly in pairs — two singers, two dancers, two actors, plus Joe Seamans’ plush video sequences that sometimes take us beyond the four walls and Tony Ferrieri’s snaking playground of ramps, costumes by Richard Parsakian and Jen Sturm that enhance the characters and a spirited tango orchestra led by Andres Cladera.

Oh, and the sangria is delicious.

Audience members are scattered throughout the room around those ramps, making for an intimate tango experience that doesn’t necessarily need a complete translation, a handy thing to know since the original is in Spanish.

But the music, the primary force behind this “tango operita” needs no translation. The score by composer Astor Piazzolla — is there anyone else that captures the tango as he does? — is seductive throughout.

The participants willingly latch onto the curl of the rhythm in this surreal journey where Maria is seduced by the tango, then dies, a ghostly reminder of the music itself. The two vocalists have a beautiful control of both tone and inflection — Carlos Feliciano (Payador) for his clarity, Raquel Winnica Young for her spirituality, although she could add more emotional depth to her pervasive anthem, “I Am Maria.”

Attack Theater’s Michele de la Reza and Dane Toney toy with tango-istic elements without ever gettingMichele de la Reza and Dane Toney downright specific. Yet it is the dance that serves as the glue behind Mr. Piazzolla’s music, in a production where it is shared by all.

Carolina Loyola-Garcia and Karla Boos carry the deeply poetic phrases sculpted by Horacio Ferrer. As an aging madam, Ms. Boos serves to translate and enlighten some of the story as Ms. Loyola-Garcia prowls the premises like a sensual, mysterious beast.

It took a little while to get the “Maria” gears in motion at an early performance, but it should become more seamless with time as the performers transform the death and rebirth of the tango from so many perspectives.

Sometimes it was a vaporous mist, other times so pungent you could almost taste it. A singular experience not to be missed.

(See Listings for more info.)


On Stage: An Italian Twist on China

April 5, 2011

Photos by David Bachman

I’m not a fan of “park and bark” operas, where the singing occurs virtually at a standstill. I think that, by its epic nature, opera needs to have both sweep and variation to achieve its full impact.

So it was with great interest that I attended Pittsburgh Opera’s “Turandot,” mainly because of the dynamic team, Renaud Doucet and  Andre Barbe. Apparently these two have a pair of “Turnadots” up their sleeve according to Post-Gazette classical music critic Andrew Druckenbrod — one innovative version set in the world of insects and the other a more traditional production that they unveiled in a PO world premiere.

But I’ll stick to Mr. Doucet, who was the director/choreographer (Mr. Barbe handled the spectacular costumes and sets). There have been a number of eminent choreographers who have crossed over into opera — Mark Morris and Trisha Brown immediately come to mind.

Actually it’s a natural for opera because a choreographer not only works with movement, both ensemble and a more natural method for soloists, but is also aware of the impact that stillness can bring. And a choreographer is also well aware of theatrical threads.

Mr. Doucet used a whole range of techniques available to him — a beautiful pseudo- Asian dance full of rhythmic stomping, comic relief amid vaudevillian routines for ministers Ping, Pang and Pong and appropriate crowd movement (including dancers with a quartet of flagpoles attached to their backs) that gave this opera a truly sumptuous look rarely seen in Pittsburgh. And yes, when the aria warranted it, the singers stood in place and gave themselves to the music.

While the sets and costumes were magnificent, Mr. Doucet’s vision was the heart of the production. Puccini’s story was an amalgamation of elements in that the story  itself was an Italian interpretation of a Chinese story and not necessarily accurate.

But Mr. Doucet capitalized on that and it emerged as a strength. He adopted the same style and emerged victorious in combining time references, like folk and vaudevillian. But since they were done so well with a true artistic flair all their own, it only succeeded in giving this “Turandot” both audience appeal and a discerning stature.


Off Stage: A Romp Through the Movies

April 3, 2011

I am sure that many of you are among the six million plus viewers of this Youtube offering. I’m a little behind the times, most evidently, but was raised on movie dance before live performance became so popular. So in case you are not one of those viewers, enjoy! (FYI: Click Watch on Youtube and thanks, Jeff!)


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