Dance Beat: Remembering Mary and Ron

February 25, 2015

Point Park University’s dance department was dealt a double blow with the recent deaths of Marion Petrov and Ron Tassone.

Marion PetrovMary, the wife of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre founder Nicolas Petrov, was remembered by Mackenzie Carpenter in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I remember Mary performing as a soloist in the early days of PBT, particularly her Russian dance in Swan Lake, so full of a heartfelt nuance. I also took classes with her at Point Park after her retirement. They were challenging, built on a Russian technique, but so musical that 90 minutes seem to fly by. Most of all, though, I remembered her flashing dark eyes and quick wit. To be missed…

Jazz teacher Ron Tassone began the dance program at Point Park following a rich performing career that included seven Broadway shows, plus films and television. After he joined the staff at Point Park in 1974, he choreographed for the Civic Light Opera and numerous regional groups. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Prolific and with a purported photographic memory, he seemed to be everywhere. On stage his students and performers captured his signature Broadway brio that fostered many professional dancers.

Always kind and generous, Ron most recently became a father figure to students and colleagues, a jazz treasure to everyone around him. To be missed…

Dance Beat: KST, Kimono, Freak

October 28, 2014
janera solomon is surrounded by some of the KST honorees. How many do you know?

janera solomon is surrounded by some of the KST honorees. How many do you know?

HAPPY. It was a monumental birthday, the Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s 100th, and KST sponsored a cocktail party by some of the singular individuals who helped to make it the adventurous arts establishment and community center that it is today. Along with board chair Cabot Earle and executive director janera solomon, they all paid tribute to a theater that has seen a lot of changes in East Liberty. Honorees included Mayor Bill Peduto, Stephanie Flom, David Nash and Janet Sarbaugh.

KIMONO. No longer are choreographers closeted away in a rehearsal studio until the day of a dance premiere.They are sharing more and more, opening their works-in-progress to input, not always from friends and family, but from eager audience members. Mark Thompson was the latest example in his work-in-progress, Kimono, at The Alloy Studios. (He has plans to present the final version next spring.) However, there was much to see and say about the production, technically in its infancy. Schooled in ballet, Mark is best known as a mime. However, Kimono showed a transition, moving the mime into more of a movement phase. Along with Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight, he traced parallel threads involving an artist who must overcome the encroachment of the world around him, filtered through a French and Japanese backdrop. The movement itself was spellbinding, although at this point, the dramatic continuity could be tightened.

Shana Simmons Dance at Wigle's.

Shana Simmons Dance at Wigle’s.


FLYING. Shana Simmons Dance knows how to throw a party as well. The company recently held a fundraiser for its upcoming November production, Passenger, at the Aviary. Called Freak in Feathers, the company gave a sneak peek in the intimate confines of Wigle Whiskey in the Strip District (loved the fake white eyelashes!). Chef Eric (Shana’s talented fiance from Bonnie & Clyde’s restaurant in Wexford — they will be married in the spring) and Chef Kayla served up chicken with white truffle sauce and roasted garlic mussels. Delish(!) — along with yummy appetizers and dessert framing them. In keeping with the feather theme (some attendees were dotted with them), the company projected Alfred Hitchcock’s The Birds on a wall, with Point Park  live and suitably dramatic piano accompaniment.

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 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,”, 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

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

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.


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