Off Stage: Attack Theatre’s Ashley Williams

April 12, 2010

There are faces that become familiar as artists perform on stage. But often they have an intriguing backstory to bring to the table, something that we ordinarily do not do not encounter. See what Attack Theatre’s Ashley Williams has to offer.

On Stage: Corning is Back

March 24, 2010

Former Dance Alloy artistic director Beth Corning makes her return to the Pittsburgh dance scene. If you missed the article, click on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

On Stage: Western Ballet

March 1, 2010

For my review of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet this past weekend, click on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

On Stage: Attack-ing the Children’s Museum

February 22, 2010

Well, folks, I heartily channeled my inner munchkin (a feat in itself because I’m nearly 5’11”) and headed to the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh on the North Side/Shore near the Hazlett Theater. Attack Theatre was there for a special, family-friendly edition of “Assemble This.”

While the program was geared toward the kids, probably age 3 to 8 or so, I saw that Sara Radelet, executive director of the adjacent New Hazlett Theater, had snuck in for her Attack fix. The other adults were occasionally encouraged to participate — and they did.

Cookies, coffee and Kool-Aid were available for the taking as everyone “assembled” in the lower level theater. Although I have never been to the Children’s Museum, I had been to Buhl Planetarium as a child — many times. So it was a fresh experience mixed with a few memories, including the Science Fair and that electrical field contraption that, when touched, made your hair stand on end.

The approach for this program was a little different, with Michele de la Reza putting on her best friendly teaching face as she coordinated the program. But it was none the less artful, challenging the kids with big words sprinkled among the small ones. Never talking down and always upbeat. The group, nearly 40 strong and attentive, saw the Blank Canvas in that lower level. She said that we were going on “a scavenger hunt.”

We went to the Garage Workshop where the benches were “nice and weight-bearing” for the adults to stand on or sit upon. There we analyzed some sort of electrical box with wires and tiny lights. Peter Kope chose a few of the suggestions for further dance exploration, like the spinning fan, dots (which translated to pointing and pecking from de la Reza and Dane Toney, who also weren’t allowed to move their feet) and musical switches from cellist Dave Eggar and percussionist Charlie Palmer. Those produced a hoe down and a bit of “Swan Lake.”

I particularly liked “messy and wild” for an exuberant de la Reza and Palmer, who combed his hair with a rattle versus “quite organized” from the angular Kope and Eggar, who responded with musical scales.

Although I wasn’t ready to leave, we moved on to “The Spinning Thing” which was actually titled “Avalanche” with its cascading garnet sand and glass beads. Without knowing the name, the audience saw “the tide coming in” and “spilled chocolate milk” and “a meteorite” and “soft rain.”Eggar and Liz Chang picked up on the last one with a quiet interlude. Then Toney and Palmer expounded on the meteorite, as Toney jumped and spun through the audience, much to their delight.

The last place for inspiration featured three large shadow boxes, with a raccoon singing, a mummy, an “angry” vampire and a skull among the objects. Kope trapped the mummy, played by Toney, while Eggar went Middle Eastern modal. Then they used the four objects to create a slow motion, end-of-the-world movie flick.

The Wild Card, one of Attack’s favorite devices, produced a Hidden Monster, which could erupt at any moment and did…just in time for a scarey fun ending in the final run-through in the theater.

I wish I could have been a kid again at this Attack Theater performance. Instead I felt like one — Attack Theatre can have that kind of effect on you.

On to the Society for Contemporary Craft. See you at the dance!

On Stage: Attack-ing the Center for the Arts

February 17, 2010

I joined Attack Theatre on the second leg of Assemble This, a series of improvisational performances at eight galleries, spaces and museums around the city. I would like to say I braved Pittsburgh’s snowy elements to attend, but the roads weren’t that bad. Traffic through Regent Square was, however, and, as a result, there were no parking places left in Pittsburgh Center for the Arts’ parking lots. (Actually it looked as if neighborhood residents took advantage of the plowed spaces.) I wound up at Ellis School and walked, whereupon I discovered that the PCA sidewalk hadn’t been shoveled.

As a result of all that, I was really late, but quickly warmed up to cellist Dave Eggar’s performance downstairs, full of spontaneity and good will, with percussionist Charles Palmer. Is there anything Big (as in talent) Dave can’t do? He took full advantage of the cello landscape — pizzicato (both guitar and upright styles), classical musings, pop, folk, soft rock, Latino. I loved the story about the airports and his question: Why does the cello, with its spear-like endpin, make it through security, when his rosin does not? Palmer sat on a box, which doubled as a drum, and had a few accessories to vary the accompaniment. The duo set the stage for what was to come.

I am probably one of the few to have seen Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope in their museum piece almost ten years ago. Some things remained the same — use three art works and have an audience to respond to a piece of art and determine where the performance will go.

At 30 or so participants, that made Attack bigger than Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre for the evening. And it made me realize that de la Reza and Kope have come so far since those Frick Museum days (although I’ll be able to make more of a comparison when they revisit the Frick on Friday).

Things were far more sophisticated and complicated, enough to frazzle my brain, let alone those of the performers, who, for the record, doubled the fun with Ashley Williams and Dane Toney. They began with an opening phrase and efficiently used a sandwich board to note changes. The audience was enthusiastic in its response  to Will Giannotti’s untitled canon-like piece and the dancers and musicans layered several improvisation onto the existing format, including one where Williams would “rise” whenever Palmer played the triangle.

They went upstairs to a Google Earth piece, Connie Cantor’s “Mystery as the Seed of Liberation.” Eggar and Palmer had a fun time with some new musical elements. I don’t know if it was the electricity of the partnership, but the room got decidedly warm.

Last was the pristine picket fence/sky/water of Jason Lee’s “Studies in Modern Euthenics,” where the ensemble toyed with some new elements, including that cello endpin. Back downstairs, the viewers got to see the fruits of their labor. Maybe the phrases weren’t quite the same, but the spirit of it all was there. This was dance in the moment — moments of brilliance, moments of whimsy,moments of danger (de la Reza and Williams were climbing chairs and tables to “rise”),  a couple of moments that had to backtrack, but all intelligently rendered to our delight. I was delighted to get a ride back to my car with the help of Attack’s general director, Donna Goyak. Attack always aims to please…

Well, onto the August Wilson Center tonight. If you’re coming, plan double the time to arrive at 7:30 and grab one of those hard-to-find parking spots. See you at the dance!

On Stage: Assemble This

February 12, 2010

In case you missed it, there’s an article on Attack Theatre’s “Assemble This” in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I’m able to make six of the eight “premieres” and will provide a running commentary on CrossCurrents. See you at the dance!

On Stage: On the Radio

February 5, 2010

In case you missed it, here’s my review of Kyle Abraham’s tribute to family and home on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website.

On Stage: The King’s Dance

January 19, 2010

Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet came to the August Wilson Center last weekend. In case you missed it, here’s my review (click on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). And, in case you missed visiting the August Wilson Center, certainly a must, check out the schedule, which will include hip hop concert pioneer Rennie Harris: Puremovement in the First Voice Festival during May.

Dance Notes: Alloy, PBT and the Studios

November 30, 2009

TAYLOR-ED. The planets obviously aligned to bring together a favorite Alloy mix, when five former members showed up at the company’s Alloy on Alloy program to lend support to Gwen Hunter Ritchie’s sneak preview of her premiere for the company. Former artistic director Mark Taylor (on the right) was joined by (right to left) Andre Koslowski, Jennifer Keller, Gillian Beauchamp and, of course, Hunter Ritchie. Together they have continued to give back to Pittsburgh. Taylor continues his work with Body Mind Centering and teaching, while Koslowski is artistic director of Pennsylvania Dance Theatre in State College and recently assisted in the Pittsburgh Playhouse production of “The Queens.” Keller is on the dance faculty at Slippery Rock University and Beauchamp is in the final stages of becoming a doctor. Hunter Ritchie is currently teaching at SRU and pursuing independent projects.

PBT ON TOUR. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will be downplaying the Pittsburgh traditions built into Terrence Orr’s “Nutcracker” production when it hits the stage in Baltimore this coming weekend at the Hippodrome Theater for four performances. But it still works in the land of the National Aquarium, Camden Yards and Francis Scott Key. For more information, see Listings.

BILLY’S BACK. The stars are coming out in area studios. Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh will feature Pittsburgh native Stephen Hanna as the Cavalier in its “Nutcracker.” Hanna recently completed a run as the adult Billy Elliot on Broadway and will be returning to New York City Ballet as a principal dancer. For more information, see Listings.

PAUL’S BACK. Rising star Paul McGill (of the movie remake of “Fame”) is also back in town for the holidays to visit his family. While he’s here he will give a master class at Karen Prunzik’s Broadway Dance Studio in Robinson Township Dec. 21 from 4 – 6 p.m. For those in the know, McGill made his Broadway debut at the age of 17 in the revival of “La Cages aux Folles” and immediately backed that up in the revival of “A Chorus Line” while still only a senior at Bethel Park High School. He has also appeared in the award-winning documentary “Man on a Wire” as the young daredevil Philippe Petit. For more information, call 412-920-1841 or email at

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 or call 412-454-9129.




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