Dance Notes: First Night, Kennedy Center, Tome

December 28, 2009

DANCE OUT THE OLD. Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s First Night festivities will include diverse interests in dance like Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, featuring Christine Schwaner and Alexandre Silve with PBT grad students (Byham Theater, 7 p.m.), Attack Theatre’s Bag Attack Boogaloo, an interactive event for all (Fifth Avenue Place, ongoing), The Pillow Project and improvisation (905 Penn Avenue windows, ongoing),Ballroom Dance into the New Year (Arthur Murray Dance Studio - 136 Sixth Street, ongoing), Swing Lessons with Bobby D (Trust Education Center – 805/807 Liberty Avenue, 6:30 p.m., 9 p.m.),  Dance Cafe Salsa Lessons (Trust Education Center, 7 p.m., 8:30 p.m., 9:30 p.m.), Moquette Volante Bellydance Workshop (929 Liberty Avenue, 6:30 p.m., 10 p.m.) and Performance (7:30 p.m., 8:45 p.m.), Japanese Sword Dance: Momentum (Catholic Charities Building – 821 Liberty Avenue, 7:15 p.m.),  Steel Town Fire (9th and Penn Parking Lot, 6:45 p.m., 9:30 p.m.), Pittsburgh’s Largest Soul Line Dance Party (9th and Penn Parking Lot, 7:30 p.m. 8:45 p.m.) and  Oriental Star Dancers (August Wilson Center, 6 p.m.). For more information check the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust website.

CENTER ON DANCE. John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has a number of attractive offerings on its roster this year, along with some notable performers. Since it’s only four hours away, it’s a doable day trip for the avid dance fan, some of whom might have a friend or relative in the area. So I’ve decided to include some of the events on CrossCurrents’ Listings page. First up is American Ballet Theatre (Jan. 26 -31) with a nifty triple bill (Sir Frederic Ashton’s “Birthday Offering” with a galaxy of ABT stars, “Seven Sonatas” by the choreographer of the moment, Alexei Ratmansky and “The Brahms-Haydn Variations,” a Twyla Tharp classic) and Sir Kenneth MacMillan’s epic “Romeo and Juliet.” You could do a two-for-one, because Cloud Gate Dance Theatre of Taiwan will have its first appearance at the Kennedy Center in 15 years (Jan. 29-30). The program, “Moon Water,” sounds mesmerizing.  Also keep your heads up for February and the Bolshoi Ballet‘s “Spartacus,” featuring a Baryshnikov-in-the-making (although with the panache of Rudolph Nureyev), Ivan Vasiliev. No he is not related to ’60’s superstar Vladimir Vasiliev, but seems on his way to making a global name for himself. Apparently only 20, he will perform opening night (Feb. 16) plus Feb. 19 and 21. Check out a performance on youtube.com.

CONTACT IN KOREA. Former Pittsburgher Tome Cousin is making quite a career out of staging Susan Stroman’s award-winning Broadway dancical “Contact” around the world (he also did a great job with a Point Park University cast). But South Korea with a home-grown cast? Apparently he’s enjoying it.


Dance Notes: Corning, Dey, School Updates

December 26, 2009

THE GLUE FACTORY. Former Dance Alloy Theater artistic director Beth Corning is up and moving again. She has resurrected THE GLUE FACTORY, a project that she initiated in Minnesota and is now resurrected here in Pittsburgh under the aegis of her new company, CORNING WORKS. The line-up of dancers, all over 40, is impressive: Peter Sparling (former principal dancer with the Martha Graham Company), Janet Lilly (former principal dancer with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company), Cathy Young (former principal dancer with Danny Buraczeski’s JAZZDANCE), Michael Blake (former dancer with Jose Limon and Donald Byrd companies) and David Covey (“better known for his award-winning lighting designs for dance, less known for his past dancing career). They will interpret Corning’s own brand of dance theater in “A Seat at the Table” at the New Hazlett Theatre Mar. 25-28.

MICHIGAN CONNECTION. Although former Pittsburgher Sreyashi Dey has moved to Michigan, she sends greetings and evidence of her still-busy schedule with guru Manoranjan Prandhan, talented twin daughters and a student. You can find a slideshow at her gallery.

HOLIDAY SPIRIT. Congratulations to Wexford Dance Academy for “The Kringle Jingle,” a potpourri of  holiday-tinged productions from ballet to rock and roll with a smart, professional look and featuring “So You Think You Can Dance” 2009 runner-up Brandon Bryant in a popular solo, and Broadway Dance Studio’s “Christmas Spectacular” for its energetic musical theater approach that brought its own sparkle to the season. And, while the main company took to the Benedum Center stage for  the annual production of the “Nutcracker,” members of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School took time to visit Children’s Hospital with some excerpts from the production, including the Sugar Plum Fairy’s Grand Pas de Deux with her cavalier and the Chinese, Russian and Spanish variations and then visited with patients.

NEW YEAR. The January dance Listings are up and running now. Several Kennedy Center performances are included because the distance is only four hours and there are companies of note coming our way. More on this later.


Dance Notes: Point Park, Trust Ballroom, W.Va. Ballet

December 15, 2009

GOING GREEN. Point Park University has received the Trane Energy Efficiency Leader in Education Award for its new dance complex, which opened in 2007. If you haven’t seen it, plan a visit. Your best bet might be a performance at the George Roland White Performance Studio, a marvel of a black box theater that really enhances dancers. Some of the benefits to the dance students at Point Park include air quality, lighting, light and temperature, all to keep them healthy and performing at their best.

PITTSBURGH CONNECTIONS. I caught the final performance of Conservatory Dance Company’s Pittsburgh Connections, although I missed former PBT soloist Jeffrey Bullock’s ballet, which was first on the program. But Point Park alum Marissa Balzer produced a little jewel of a work, “Things Behind the Sun.” The piece, inspired by Balzer’s own newlywed status, focused on romance, sexuality and relationships in three couples.  It was intellectually astute and emotionally attractive all at once, with movements that melted into unexpected directions. I hope that Balzer, who is also a busy teacher in the area, can find time for more choreography. Patrick Franz, former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre artistic director, produced “Cote Jardin,” conceptually interesting for its inspiration, rooted in the French designs of the Versailles gardens of King Louis XIV, it didn’t echo those designs among the 26-member cast. Krisofer Weinstein-Storey, on the other hand, delivered in “Stimela (what is African debt?). Political in nature, it’s primary emphasis was on low-slung movements that produced rhythmic interactions on an African theme.

“TRUST” BALLROOM. “So You Wanta Dance? asks the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. But the power there must think people do, because they’ve opened The Dance Cafe at the organization’s new Trust Educational Center at 805/807 Liberty Avenue. There are lessons Tues. through Thurs. For more information, go to the website at The Dance Cafe.

A SOUTHERN NUT. Dance Alloy’s Christopher Bandy is scheduled to choreograph excerpts from the “Nutcracker” for the Wheeling Symphony in West Virginia Dec. 18-19. Good news — he’ll be bringing former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre members with him in Aaron Ingley and Alan Obuzor. See the Wheeling Symphony for more information.


Dance Notes: To Nut or Not

December 5, 2009

I was mildly amused at the extreme opinions expressed in articles by Sarah Kaufmann, who expressed dismay over the Nutcracker in The Washington Post, and Daniel J. Wakin, who reported that there will be a “Nutcracker” smackdown in New York City beginning next year with the addition of American Ballet Theatre’s new rival production in The New York Times. Judge for yourself.


Dance Notes: PBT and King Richard

October 13, 2009

Kumiko Tsuji and Christopher Budzynski

Kumiko Tsuji and Christopher Budzynski

IN A GALA MOOD. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has a lot on its plate this week with the opening of its season with “The Sleeping Beauty” at the Benedum Center on Friday (see Martha Rial’s photos). The Pittsburgh City Council presented a proclamation to artistic director Terrence Orr, who was accompanied by Aurora, Puss ‘n Boots and Bluebird. The proclamation honors the company’s 40th anniversary and “Sleeping Beauty.” But it also announced the return of  the music director/conductor position with the appointment of Charles Barker, currently principal conductor at American Ballet Theatre and one of the top ballet

Alexandra Kochis and Kwang-Suk Choi

Alexandra Kochis and Kwang-Suk Choi

conductors around, for a three-year contract. Could more live music be far behind? Speaking of galas, PBT’s annual benefit, Pointe in Time, unfolds at the Pittsburgh Hilton with an elegant dinner and PBT performance. This year the company will add afterpointe!, beginning at 10 p.m. until midnight, with live swing and salsa, a Boyd and Blair cocktail, desserts and mixing with some of PBT’s glamorous dancer at only $40. Cocktail attire suggested. For ticket information, visit Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. Scads of Pittsburgh’s arts glitterati gathered at the Andy Warhol Museum Monday night to pay tribute to Richard Parsakian, who has leant financial, artistic and personal support to virtual everyone in the city over the years. With Pittsburgh Filmmakers executive director Charlie Humphrey as emcee, Richard watched Vanessa German wax poetic on the arts, Lenora Nemetz vocalize about “Gypsy,” some of Richard’s favorite female impersonators perform and — surprise! — Kyle Abrahamson, who came in from New York to dance a touching piece d’occasion.


Dance Notes: Fall for Dance

October 9, 2009

OCTOBER DANCE FEST. Dance Alloy hosted “In Good Company” last weekend as part of Penn Avenue’s “First Friday” series. The “Company” aspect was led by several professional groups, including a sneak peak at Pearlann Porter’s whimsical work-in-progress for The Pillow Project, “Intimate Liasons,” a moving duet from Bodiography’s Maria Caruso,  two joyous African dances from Balafon and, of course, the Alloy dancers in a segment of “Table of Content.” In between, the welcome growth spurt in Pittsburgh dance became apparent with a group of students from Hill Dance Academy Theater and yet another rebirth of Pittsburgh Black Theatre Dance Ensemble. Perhaps the surprise of the evening was Gabriel Ash, graduate of CAPA who went to the University of the Arts and was a Las Vegas finalist for So You Think You Can Dance. He showed a fluid, modern technique in a trio for the pre-professional group, Evolve, and performed in an exciting and committed hip hop number with some of his students from NAKA (Nothing Against Kan Achieve) Entertainment. “Company”  provided a terrific lead into an extremely busy October month for dance in Pittsburgh. Check the CrossCurrent  listings for more information.

ANNIE. Broadway dance legend Ann Reinking will be choreographing the world premiere of a new musical at the Pittsburgh Playhouse for Point Park University’s Conservatory Theatre Company. Called “Time After Time,” it will be directed by Gabriel Barre and will run Feb. 26 – Mar. 14.

CIRQUE-UMSTANCE. While attending my latest and eighth Cirque du Soleil production, “Alegria,” I recalled a performance of “Varekai” in 2006. I had just been invited to an encore performance when Attack Theatre’s Peter Kope called. On the spur of the moment, I asked Peter if he would like to go. We happened to get aisle seats near the stage and I joked that he should sit on the end because maybe they would pick him to have a clown encounter. Sure enough, that’s what happened. Of course, Peter was terrific and now he can list Cirque du Soleil on his resume.


Dance Notes: Richard and a Chinese Connection

September 28, 2009

IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE. That’s the name of an event at the Andy Warhol Museum honoring Richard Parsakian, who could be considered Pittsburgh dance’s best friend, although many other arts organizations might contest that. Richard has his fingers in so many pies — donating, attending virtually every dance performance, donating, assisting with costumes through his fabulous vintage shop in Shadyside, donating, organizing and decorating terrific parties and donating. The event will benefit Richard. Don’t ask, just go. Andy Warhol Museum, Monday from 6-8 p.m. Tickets: $100; go to Pittsburgh Filmmakers website.

TO CHINA, WITH LOVE. Chinese folk dancer and local teacher Yanlai Wu recently spent a couple of months in her hometown of Shanghai with son Haoyuan, 12. Yanlai admits that she didn’t do much because the city has massive construction projects in preparation to host the World Expo next year and that Haoyuan was particularly glad to get back. Yanlai is making preparations to relocate Oriental Star Dance School, where she offers both ballet and various forms of Chinese dance, to the North Hills under a new name. By the way, Kristin Bair O’Keefe, former Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer now living in Shanghai, is currently visiting with family and friends in Bethel Park. She’s also promoting her new book, “Thirsty,” which has a Pittsburgh aura and has received excellent preliminary notices.


Dance Notes: Attack, Sprout, Alloy, River City

September 9, 2009

Pittsburgh Opera in the Strip ATTACKING THE OPERA. Last week Attack Theatre held an open house at its new digs, Pittsburgh Opera, located at Liberty Avenue and 25th St. in the Strip District. Spirits were high and the opera’s debonair general director Christopher Hahn was very much in attendance, offering personalized tours during the two hour event. It just may be a good fit, with Hahn proclaiming that his brand of opera is a break from the past. With Attack founders Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope bringing their own brand of energy to the wide open spaces, cool decor and exposed brick of the former George Westinghouse air brake facility, this just may be a good fit. The triumvirate of directors offered interactive opening remarks, where audience members supplied oddball nouns, adjectives and adverbs — great fun! — thanks to Rebecca Himberger. Check out Attack’s first efforts as a part of the opera’s opening production, “Eugene Onegin” (Benedum Center, Sept. 26 – Nov. 4). Then be sure to hot foot it down to the Strip for “Game Night and the Seven-Minute Dance Series” (Oct. 10). Read more in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Thommy Conway's Ballroom ARTS SPROUTING. Pittsburgh appears to be alive and well at events like the Sprout Fund’s Hothouse 2009, which spread its roots at the expansive unfinished space at Bakery Square. Although it was a huge area to fill and the active areas outside and on the upper floors were separated by the need for elevators, the mostly young crowd still turned out. My hotspots were the silent auction (plenty of young artistic talent up for grabs) and Thommy Conroy’s cloud-like ballroom. When I left, the valet parkers were working up a huge sweat (too few for too many), while the late-night crowd was just getting started.

Susan Marshall's "Arms" COME TO THE HOUSE. Dance Alloy will be a part of the 16th annual Friendship House tour on Sunday, Sept. 20. From 1 – 3 p.m., visitors can take in African drummers on the sidewalk outside, then watch Greer Reed-Jones’ rehearsal of Susan Marshall’s “Arms,” slotted for the company’s December concert at the New Hazlett Theater. Upstairs guests will find a class in progress. The word is: join in or just watch from the sidelines. While the Alloy portion is free, the Friendship tour is $15 in advance and runs from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. At the Alloy, patrons can “wander in anytime, ask questions, enjoy goodies, meet the staff and, most importantly, feel free to move and be moved by the music and energy filling every corner of DAT’s building.”

Ballets NY UNDER NEW MANAGEMENT. River City Brass Band tour manager Linda Reznik has gone out on her own and opened River City Artists Management. Although RCBB remains her biggest client along with various offshoots like former conductor Denis Colwell and former RCBB brass-hearted player Lance LaDuke (Lance & The Maestro). I always thought that LaDuke looked like he belonged in the accounting department of a large corporation, which made his humorous outlay all the more funny. Reznik, a dance lover from way back (given former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre members who went on to Pacific Northwest Ballet — daughter Sara DiMaiao, now raising the two grandchildren, and son-in-law, current principal Stanko Milov), is handling Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers, Verb Ballets, Ballet NY, MillerDANCE and Chicago Tap Theatre. Check out her website at River City Artists Management.


Dance Notes: PBT in D.C., Emily at the Lake, A “Secret”

August 23, 2009

PBT PREPARES FOR HOLOCAUST BALLET. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will fly to Washington D.C. and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum August 25 in preparation for the local premiere of Stephen Mills’ “Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project” in November. The dancers will also view “Genocide,” the 1982 Academy Award winner for best documentary, which was produced by Simon Wiesenthal Center and features narration by Elizabeth Taylor and Orson Wells. The Holocaust Center of Pittsburgh will present a talk by Holocaust survivor Sam Weinreb.

CHAUTAUQUA MOVES. Upper St. Clair native Emily Kitka took home a Emily Kiktafistful of awards from the Chautauqua dance program this past weekend. At the student choreography recital on Friday, the other students voted her Most Admired as a Dancer and the staff voted her the Technical Merit award. Emily’s choreographic effort, “Withstand,” for which her father, Thomas, played the Astor Piazzolla accompaniment on guitar, was given second prize. In addition, the young dancer, who came from the Thomas School in Bethel Park and studies at the School of American Ballet in New York City, was one of the apprentices who performed with North Carolina Dance Theatre in George Balanchine’s “Western Symphony” on Saturday night.

THE [SECRET] SATURDAY. Has it been five years? The Pillow Project will have a special anniversary concert Dec. 12 at The Space Upstairs. Pearlann Porter isn’t keeping it so secret, though. She’s planning on doing new and retrospective work with some original Pillow members like Donna PridGeon, Ben Wegman and DJ Sorta returning for the occasion. More later…


Dance Notes: Dance Heroes…

August 19, 2009

I get all warm and fuzzy when someone speaks about dance and the arts with a combination of passion and intelligence. MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, a neighbor of national historic dance site Jacob’s Pillow, recently gave a talk there and offered words like these:

“Sometimes we choose to serve our country in uniform, in war.  Sometimes
in elected office.  And those are the ways of serving our country that I
think we are trained to easily call heroic.  It’s also a service to your
country, I think, to teach poetry in the prisons, to be an incredibly
dedicated student of dance, to fight for funding music and arts education in
the schools.  A country without an expectation of minimal artistic literacy,
without a basic structure by which the artists among us can be awakened and
given the choice of following their talents and a way to get to be great at
what they do, is a country that is not actually as great as it could be.
And a country without the capacity to nurture artistic greatness is not
being a great country.  It is a service to our country, and sometimes it is
heroic service to our country, to fight for the United States of America to
have the capacity to nurture artistic greatness.”


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