Dance Beat: Road Trip, Richard, PBTDE

June 16, 2010

Nao Kuszaki and Christopher CoomerON THE ROAD. I started my second Dance Adventure last night with the opening of Ballet Across America at Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. Three performances this week with nine companies, including Houston Ballet, Suzanne Farrell Ballet, North Carolina Dance Theatre (Tues.), Aspen Santa Fe Ballet, Tulsa Ballet and The Joffrey Ballet (Fri.) and Ballet Memphis, Ballet Arizona, Pacific Northwest Ballet (Sat.). That translates to 9 states — Texas, North Carolina, New Mexico/Colorado (Aspen Santa Fe), Oklahoma, Illinois, Tennessee, Arizona, Washington, plus the District of Columbia (Farrell Ballet). It’s almost a road tour in itself, without adding to the current gas/oil problems. Last night’s program already set things off on the right foot, so to speak, demonstrating the diversity of the art form in the United States. I’ll be doing an overview of the series for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette next week. But, in the meantime, I’ll have a few updates. Afterwards, the artistic directors gathered on stage for a Q&A session. It was particularly pleasurable to see Suzanne Farrell and Patricia McBride together once again after their stellar careers with New York City Ballet. Patricia is married to the charismatic Frenchman, Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux (former principal with both Paris Opera Ballet and NYCB!), where they run NCDT. Aussie Stanton Welch, the baby of the bunch, was also on hand to talk about Houston and the panel was moderated by NCR’s Kim Kokich.

Melody Herrera and Ian Casady

THANKS, RICHARD. For giving dance such a prominent arena at the Pittsburgh Pride Festival last weekend. Although I missed Michael Walsh, I caught the ultra-hot Zafira Dance Company, the ultra-cool Kyle Abraham, the beyond colorful Knot Dance Company and its paintball battle and Jones Summer Intensive alumnae in an impressive re-dance of its Michael Jackson tribute. Mr. Parsakian, a treasure in the dance community, did it all, from arranging things to sweeping the stage between acts. And he picked up a great tan in the process.

A FRESH START. Pittsburgh Black Theatre Dance Ensemble gave off a joyous aura with a pair of dances based on Katherine Dunham’s choreographic style at Dance Alloy Theater’s Unblurred series. It was called “African Legacy: American Fruit from African Roots” and is now in the passionate arms of PBTDE artistic director Chrisala Brown and The Legacy Arts Project artistic director Imani Barrett. For the record, the performers included, besides Ms. Brown, Celeste Houston, Dijon Kirkland, Erin Perry and Lakeisha Wolf. Adding to the rite of dance were percussionists Anthony Mitchell, Ben Fullard and Shabaka Perkins and poet Oba Wells.


Dance Beat: Attack, Jamdance, Dan, Africa

June 2, 2010

ATTACK HAS GAME. I stopped by Attack Theatre’s latest “Game Night and the Seven-Minute Dance Series” (this company has the best titles) at the Pittsburgh Opera in the Strip District. As I arrived, two “guests” were playing some kind of game on some kind of space-age stilts. But there was plenty more for others including a giant chess game, snacks and libations, video games and, of course, a preview of Attack’s latest project for the Three Rivers Arts Festival. Catch them at the

MONSTAR ATTACK. Yes, you read it right. Jame Elis of Jamdance is organizing a Monstar Performance Showcase, featuring MTV’s Jungle Boogie of America’s Best Dance Crew. Actually there will be a two-day hip-hop summer dance intensive with “The Boogie.” Participants will meet the entire crew, get training from top choreographers and can earn the opportunity to perform at the Monstar Showcase at the New Hazlett Theater June 18 and 19. For more info and to register, contact Jame at 412-287-5916 or at jamdance22@gmail.com. As to other interested parties, tickets for the 8 p.m. Showcase on June 19: $15 in advance/$20 at the door.

MIME OR YOURS. When you think about it, the conductor is usually the only one who doesn’t have a voice in an orchestra concert. So it’s a perfect fit for Pittsburgh mime Dan Kamin, who has traveled quite a bit on this premise, most recently with Taiwan’s National Symphony and  the Bismarck-Mandan Symphony Orchestra in North Dakota. I guess, given the wordless performances, it appeals to just about everyone. For more info, click on Dan Kamin.

IT’S BACK. No Pittsburgh company has had more reincarnations than Pittsburgh Black Theatre Dance Ensemble. It goes away for a while, but evidently the memory doesn’t. The Ensemble opens its wings once again this summer at Dance Alloy Theatre with two events. The first debuts this weekend in the “Unblurred” series. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. (snacks and refreshments included) with a performance at 7 p.m. Tickets: $7. Renamed “African Legacy…American Fruit from African Roots” (and formerly called “African Rainbow Celebration”),  PBTDE will perform under the artistic direction of Crisala M. Brown. And, although it’s a little confusing at present, the company is currently considered part of The Legacy Arts Project, Inc., run by Linda ‘Imani’ Barrett. The two organizations will also be bringing in Baba Chuck Davis,  founder of the African-American Dance Ensemble and DanceAfrica at Brooklyn Academy of Music and recipient of numerous awards. Pittsburghers can meet Dr. Davis, who will speak on his life and love of dance at the Alloy on June 15 at 7 p.m, with wine and cheese accompaniment. Then on June 16 at 5:30 p.m., there will be an AfroMoves class with Dr. Davis for only $10. Call Imani at 412-682-2565 or Chrisala at 412- 523-7701 for more information.


Dance Beat: PBT, Point Park, Hip-Hop

May 21, 2010

It’s time to play catch-up on a very busy spring season (April/May), which brought buckets of dance.

PITTSBURGH BALLET CELEBRATES — TWICE. PBT officially closed out its 40th anniversary season with a reception after the Sunday matinee of “Swan Lake” at the penthouse suite in Piatt Place. Costumier Janet Groom provided an elegant display of costumes, which provided counterpoint for a collection of pointe shoes designed by local artists (bids were welcome).

MORE PBT. Then the PBT dancers took matters into their own hands at the Dancers’ Trust performance at Point Park’s George Rowland White Performance Studio, to benefit the inevitable transition into other careers. This was the best of the series so far. The classics included an assured “Diana & Acteon” by Christine Schwaner and Alexandre Silva, a beautifully-detailed “White Swan” encore from Erin Halloran and Nurlan Abougaliev and a lovely pas de deux from “Coppelia” with newbie corps member Amanda Cochrane and the stylish Luca Sbrizzi. Julia Erickson was picture-perfect in George Balanchine’s “The Man I Love” with Nurlan, while Hiroyuki Nagasawa acquitted himself well in a solo from “Flames of Paris.” Likewise with Robert Moore in his first effort, “Ondes do Mar,” for Ashley Wegman and Alejandro Diaz. But the sentimental favorite was anything associated with former PBT member and now PBT staff teacher/choreographer, Alan Obuzor. A performer of undeniable charisma (I’d pay to watch him pedal a bike across the stage), he offered a solo (“Permanent”), a nifty duet with Erin (“I Know” by Fiona Apple) and a finale to the Dave Matthews Band, “Trouble.” You wouldn’t know that he has knee issues from his  plush dancing. I could see him with any contemporary company, perhaps with his own using homecooked choreography — he has a talent for it. At any rate, we should have more of Alan. This event could be a hot ticket, if things continue this way in the future.

HIP-HOP UPDATE. Jame Samuels had a healthy group at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts to work with Sean Bankhead, hip-hop choreographer to stars such as Beyonce and Brittany Spears. The group was attentive and disciplined for his rhythmically quirky and difficult routine. It demonstrated the interest that lies waiting in Pittsburgh. Also, as a result of my article on Pittsburgh’s hip-hop history in the Post-Gazette, Barry Rabkin contacted me. He’s the proprietor of the “largest street dance store in the world,” CypherStyles.com, with over 1,000 videos available. A native Pittsburgh, he has worked with mr. wiggles, Ken Swift and Mr. Freeze, already famous for their contributions, and rising stars such as machine and roxrite. Check out his web address at CypherStyles.

SENIORITIS AT POINT PARK. Speaking of transitions, it’s hard enough to make the move to the university dance level. But the conversion into a professional career is almost impossible. PPU put together its inaugural Senior Showcase, two-day event where 14 graduates performed for and took class with seven U.S. company representatives, including Giordano Dance Company, Missouri Contemporary Ballet, Danceworks Chicago and Ballet Arkansas. A great way to provide a springboard into the future!


Dance Beat: Alloy has a Battle (Robert, that is)

April 30, 2010

The news just broke that choreographer Robert Battle was appointed to replace Judith Jamison at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, certainly one of the most prestigious ensembles in the world. But this prolific choreographer has been a familiar face around Pittsburgh, dashing off a couple of pieces for Point Park University and several other local groups. The Pittsburgh connection doesn’t end there because Dance Alloy Theater will premiere a new Battle work for its spring concert at the New Hazlett Theater May 7-10, with an original score by Pittsburgh jazz composer and trumpet player Sean Jones. See what the New York Times and its chief critic, Alastair Macaulay, have to say about the subject and for more information, visit Dance Alloy.


Dance Beat: New Beginnings

April 30, 2010

CLOSING THE BORDERS. All eyes are on Arizona and the Mexican border, but arts organizations across the country have been struggling with international touring. Pittsburgh Dance Council’s Paul Organisak has complained about this for the past several years and is currently restricting most of his season to North American groups. But Guitar Society for Fine Art is the latest to experience visa problems, forcing it to postpone its season finale flamenco show, all Spanish artists,  from May 8 until Oct. 8 and 10 at the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts. If you’ve already purchased a ticket and have further questions, contact Michael Chapman at 412-612-0499 or info@gsfapittsburgh.org

MOVING ON. It will be a great day for dance at Point Park University’s graduation on Saturday. Tony Award-winning choreographer Rob Ashford, a 1983 graduate, will give the 50th undergraduate commencement address on Saturday at Mellon Arena. He also directed and choreographed  “Promises, Promises,” which just opened on Broadway. Other credits include “Thoroughly Modern Millie” (Tony Award), “The Wedding Singer” (Tony nomination) and “Curtains” (Tony nomination). The internationally-known artist will receive and honorary doctor of humane letters degree. Shea Mihm Gopaul, a 1976 graduate and director of administration for the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), will receive also receive an honorary doctor of humane letters degree as part of PPU’s master’s degree Hooding and Commencement Ceremony. A Pittsburgh native, she was a member of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and performed with Civic Light Opera. In other PPU news, those in the know might have recognized PPU grad Rob Knowles in a prominent dance position at Pittsburgh Dance Council’s presentation of BJM Danse.

ON THE HORIZON. Another organization is joining an increasing number of blips on the Pittsburgh dance screen. Oddly enough, it’s a presenting organization. And more oddly, it is an outgrowth of young talents associated with Point Park University. Called Three10 Moment (the name comes from the Oct. 3 date when the idea came about), it will form a bridge for young choreographic talents to showcase their work. I’ve been waiting for a more comprehensive and local development of the powerhouse dance program at PPU. Three10Moment now joins singular names like Jeff Davis and Pearlann Porter, who both formed wonderful careers here in Pittsburgh. It put on a program recently — its second — at the impressive Father Ryan Arts Center in McKees Rocks, one that smacked of good organization and a discerning arts eye. This was seriously fine work by young choreographic talents. Kudos to the co-founders at Three10 are Jami Shapiro and Erin Kouwe, plus staff members Nicole Townsend and Mary Muncil. Remember their names. For more information, contact 516-286-0188 or www.three10moment.org.

NEW YORK, NEW YORK. Pittsburgh dance icon Jean Gedeon was once again invited to the Big Apple by the New York City Ballet last February. She joined a select group from across the United States for a National Teachers Weekend, which included a cocktail reception, a class taught by artistic director Peter Martins and NYCB performance. Jean also has news of Pittsburgh Youth Ballet alum Amy Barker, who was hired by Los Angeles Ballet.


Dance Beat:

April 9, 2010

HAPPY BIRTHDAY. Complexions choreographer Dwight Richardson was celebrating his 48th birthday in the company’s Pittsburgh Dance Council performance at the Byham Theater last weekend. Given the company’s audience reception, he must have enjoyed it.

VOTE NOW. For all you ballroom buffs, Pittsburgh Public Schools is up for a Pepsi grant worth $25,000 to aid in financing Dancing Classrooms, the terrific program that is about more than dance. (Check the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for more information.) Anyhow, Pittsburgh has to get into the Top Ten and is currently 107. Voting ends April 30, so click on Dancing Classrooms to cast your ballot.

DIVERSITY IN DANCE. That’s one of the most enticing things about the art form. Olivia Kissel in opening a new studio to capitalize on that aspect in one of the most diverse Pittsburgh neighborhoods, the South Side. Her vision for Zafira Dance Company Studios: International, Vintage and Hybrid Dance (ZDC Studios for short) on Carson Street will include instruction in flamenco, Rajasthani Kabelia Dance, bellydance, tango, hip hop and Pilates, with plans for expansion. Zafira artistic director Olivia Kissel is looking for sponsorships, ranging from $50 to $1,000. If you are interested, click on ZDC.

RADIO VIDEO. In  you missed Kyle Abraham’s premiere of “The Radio Show” at the Kelly-Strayhorn, he has a video up and running. Click on “Radio Show.”

MORE PBT CHANGES. While I reported on the retirements of veterans Kwang-Suk Choi, Kumiko Tsuji and Kristen Rusnak, there are three more company members who will be leaving: Christopher Ouelette, Damien Martinez and Cynthia Castillo. Artistic director Terrence Orr was in Monte Carlo last week shopping for new dancers. Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo artistic director Jean-Christophe Maillot invited him and selected other directors to view some young talent. Could his trip bear artistic fruit for PBT?



Dance Beat: Spoleto and American dance festivals

March 20, 2010

SPOLETO DANCE FESTIVAL. Want to get a summer dance fix? Spoleto Festival USA runs from May 28-June 13 in the charming confines of Charleston, South Carolina. While its appeal is its range, from theater to jazz, with a special emphasis on classical music, there is a strong dance component. This year’s schedule includes Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (May 28-30), Gallim Dance in “I Can See Myself in Your Pupil” (May 28, 29, 31), Lucinda Child’s Dance (June 4-5), Inbal Pinto, which appeared with Pittsburgh Dance Council in 2008 and was one of my ten best performances, and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company in “Oyster” (June 10-13) and prima ballerina assoluta Nina Ananiashvili and The National Ballet of Georgia in “Giselle” (June 11-13). Ms. Ananiashvili retired from American Ballet Theatre last summer, where I saw her magnificent finale in “Swan Lake.” She moved back to her native Georgia to direct the company there. Click on Spoleto Festival USA for more details.

AMERICAN DANCE FESTIVAL. These two southern festivals overlap a bit and “Oyster” appears on both of them, a rarity. The  June 10 – July 24 schedule on the campus of Duke University in Durham, North Carolina: African American Dance Ensemble (June 10-12), Monica Bill Barnes & Company and Kate Weare Company (June 15-16 ), Inbal Pinto and Avshalom Pollak Dance Company (June 17-19), Dendy Dancetheater (June 21-23),  RUBBERBANDance Group (June 24-26), Eiko & Koma (June 28-30), Pilobolus (July 1-3), Martha Clarke (July 5-7), Brenda Angiel Aerial Dance Company (July 8-10), Rosie Herrera (July 12-14),  Paul Taylor Company (Program A, July 15-16, Program B, July 17), Past/Forward, works by Jerome Robbins, Merce Cunningham and Tatiana Baganova and performed by ADE students (July 19-21), Shen Wei Dance Arts (Program A, July 22-23, Program B, July 24). Click on American Dance Festival for more details. Although it’s impossible to predict what will be a smash among so many strong companies, I’m particularly attracted to the debuts of Montreal’s RUBBERBANDance Group (check out the website, a combination of hip hop, postmodern, ballet and more) and Barnes and Weare and Martha Clarke’s premiere based on the Shakers. But then, it would be great to reconnect with Eiko & Koma, Inbal Pinto and Paul Taylor. Another thing — you also have to notice the heavy percentage of companies from North America — international touring is at a virtual standstill.

AFTERTHOUGHT: I thought I would go to YouTube. Here’s a promo for RUBBERBANDance Group.

And for fun, here’s a variation, rubberband — dance.


Dance Beat: Dance Recitals, Jerry, Dirty Ball, Pillow

March 16, 2010

SPRING INTO SPRING. After wrestling with technical difficulties, it’s time to get back into action. I’m assembling the annual list of Dance Recitals, to be found on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website and on CrossCurrents. Send your studio name, date, location and contact information to jvranish1@comcast.net.

JERRY’S BACK. PBS is developing a bona fide Jerry Crush on American dance master Jerome Robbins. A couple of years ago we saw “Something to Dance About,” which was something akin to a biography told through archival photos and footage. Now New York City Ballet soloists Ellen Bar and Sean Suozzi have resurrected one of Robbins’ cult favorites, ‘Opus Jazz.” Conceived in sneakers, it was filmed on location in New York with 18 members of NYCB. Although it will receive its national broadcast premiere Mar. 24, WQED will be airing it April 4 (yes, Easter). More info later.

MARK YOUR CALENDARS. The fifth Dirty Ball erupts on Saturday, April 24. The “red-hottest, way-coolest, sold-outest” event of the year, Attack Theatre is playing it close to the vest, as usual, about the location, calling it their own “dirty little secret.” Performances, libations, DJs, plenty of dancing and art installations by CMU’s Entertainment Technology Center. Just be prepared.

MORE MARK YOUR CALENDARS. Pearlann Porter has solidified her latest series of Second Saturdays, running April through August. Catch “Jazz on the Pale Blue Dot” (Apr. 10), “Uncharted Syncopations” (May 8), “Micrography” (June 10), “Hot Box”  (July 12) and “another night at The SwankEasy” (Aug. 14), all at The Space above Construction Junction in Pittsburgh’s Point Breeze.


Dance Beat: PBT, Kennedy Center, La Roche

March 5, 2010

Tim on the Move. Longtime Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre supporter Timothy Evans follows his passion just about everywhere. His trip to San Francisco Ballet’s “Swan Lake” was a perfect example. Robert Vickrey, assistant to Terrance Orr, arranged for Tim to get tickets through PBT photographer Rich Sofranko, whose son performs with the company. There he saw Sarah Van Patten as the Swan Queen. (“Excellent!”) Former PBT principal Christopher Rendall-Jackson’s mother also took Tim to brunch and the Cartier Exhibition. Tim learned from her that Chris is doing well in Harvard Law School and that his wife, former PBT soloist Kaori Ogasawara, is expecting their second child.

Kennedy Center Announcement. John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts announced its dual upcoming seasons. The ballet portion includes the Big Three — New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Joffrey Ballet, plus the Mariinsky. The season will conclude with back-to-back runs of the Ballet Nacional de Cuba and the Royal Danish Ballet. Of special note is ABT’s local premiere of Alexei Ratmansky’s “The Bright Stream,” a full-length ballet that propelled him onto the international stage while he was still at the Bolshoi. And audiences can see the future of ballet in Proteges III, with students from Bolshoi Ballet Academy, Julio Bocca Foundation Ballet Argentino School of the Arts, The Royal Danish Ballet School and Tokyo’s New National Theater Ballet School. The contemporary dance season has a strong American accent with Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Dance Company, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo, Paul Taylor Company and a special presentation of Five First Ladies of Dance (Germaine Acogny, Carmen de Lavallade, Diane McIntyre, Bebe Miller and Jawole Willa Jo Zollar). Latino choreographers Tania Perez-Salas Compania de Danza (Mexico) and Companhia de danca Deborah Colker (Brazil) complete the season. For more information, click on Kennedy Ballet and Kennedy Contemporary Dance.

Building from the Ground Up. George Balanchine famously said, “But first a school.” And PBT is concentrating some energy on its school program. Housing is always an issue and PBT saw a need in order to keep up with top notch schools across the country. The site is the former rectory of St. John the Baptist Catholic Church which is now the Church Brew Works in Lawrenceville, only a short distance up Liberty Avenue from the company’s headquarters in the Strip District. Called the Byham House, it will provide housing for 16 students.

La Roche on the Move Two. La Roche College Dance Theatre heads back to New York City Mar. 13 for a performance of “Celebrate the Spirit” at the Ailey Citigroup Theater in The Joan Weill Center of Dance. The program will feature the music of Mahalia Jackson and Diana Ross and will include a guest performance by GESTURES. For more information, email nicole.kubit@laroche.edu.


Dance Beat: On the Pillow, Point Park and Flamenco

January 28, 2010

THE PILLOW — JACOB’S THAT IS. Jacob’s Pillow just announced it’s 2010 season and has commissioned a work from Pittsburgh native Kyle Abraham along with two other young artists, Monica Bill Barnes and Camille A. Brown. Also on tap are star attractions like Nina Ananiashvili, Karole Armitage, Trey McIntyre, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Lucy Guerin, who was part of the Australia Festival here in Pittsburgh two years ago. For more information, click on Jacob’s Pillow. For more on Kyle, he’s at the Kelly Strayhorn this weekend. Check Listings.

POINT PARK NEWS. Ann Reinking had to pull out of the premiere of the new musical, “Time After Time” due to health reasons and Trey McIntyre had to cancel due to a conflict with the Byham Theater program. But dance activity is still way up in preparation for February’s Byham concert with its sleek line-up of dance. Former Joffrey Ballet principal Maia Wilkins came in to set Gerald Arpino’s “Light Rain” and former Hubbard Street dancer and Point Park alum Cheryl Mann staged Daniel Ezralow’s “SUPER STRAIGHT is Coming Down.” Daniel Charon came in with Doug Varone’s “The Constant Shift of Pulse” and popular Point Park instructor Jason McDole, a former dancer with David Parsons, was readily available for Parsons’ “Nascimento.” See Listings.

FLAMENCO WORKSHOP. The Guitar Society of Fine Art is sponsoring Flamenco Tangos workshops Feb. 9 at PNC Recital Hall, Duquesne University and Feb. 10 at Simmons Hall, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts with flamenco dancer Cihtli Ocampa and guitarist/singer Ethan Margolis. For more information, click on Guitar Society.


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