On Stage: The Dirty Ball

April 28, 2010

I’ve been labeled a lot of things over the years. But there I was, “The ballsiest,” according to my pin I was given at Attack Theatre’s Dirty Ball, held last weekend in the combined space of the Sports Rock Cafe, Vegas on the Strip and Pharoah’s nightclubs in the Strip District (real bathrooms this year!). That meant that I had attended all five Dirty Balls “and counting”…

They were, from the start, a hit, from the first at an empty city apartment space, where the last-minute crowd overwhelmed the small food pickings. What made it such a success? Well, Attack managed to push all the right buttons. Just the very thought, a Dirty Ball, brings out the marginal badness that the usually conservative Pittsburghers harbor. It was seductive, from the dirty martinis to the dirty secrets, with a high fun factor.

Gradually the audiences have grown from the original 300 or so to more than 1000 this year. The audience is half the show, from teasing bustiers to full-fledged drag. But the Attackers themselves go all out to give attendees their money’s worth, so that it’s not only than a ball, but more like a site-specific performance. The deejays are always terrific and the drinks are included in the price of admission. Although the food always played second fiddle, although there were some downright tasty options this year.

For the VIPs, Richard Parsakian decorated a room with plush red and zebra-striped fabrics, along with deliciously naughty accoutrements. Dancers undulated in nooks and crannies there and in the other spaces, where I loved a display of stacked chairs.

Then there are the rolling showcases, 15 in all in honor of Attack’s birthday. Because the venue was separated into three rooms, the sometimes overlapping schedule kept the pace moving. So Michele de la Reza and company had to move easily from meet-and-greet to move-and-groove.

The company is flirting with nudity this season, partly because of its new home at Pittsburgh Opera in the Strip District and, of course, the idea of a birthday suit. Liz Chang came closest with a softly-lit solo. There were sexy duos, too, most notably between Peter Kope and Dane Toney , with some lotion andand a stripper pole and a menage a trois, deftly handled. Although hampered by some acoustical problems that muffled his transcendent talents, cellist Dave Eggar poured his talents into a rocking set, ably accompanied by percussionist Charlie Palmer.

The finale was spot on — “Dirty Dancing,” of course, with the women channeling their inner Baby and most of the women in the audience singing right along. Dirty never goes out of style.


On Stage: Attack-ing Andy

February 27, 2010

A sizeable crowd convened for the final performance of Attack Theatre’s “Assemble This” at the Andy Warhol Museum Thursday night. They were no doubt ready to grab 15 seconds of fame (as opposed to Andy’s 15 minutes) by engaging in the collective repartee that comes with this format.

There were more than 70 (it’s hard to count given the unorthodox mobility of the audience) in the Warhol lobby when emcee Gary Pletsch called their attention to Attack’s Blank Canvas, performed below some of Andy’s shoes and with an extra “Pop” of energy.

But then he asked them to do a quarter turn and face Andy’s iconic yellow self portrait (1986 ) that greets visitors when they enter his house. Hm-m-m. This posed a new problem because Warhol’s art is so direct and familiar. The audience would have to go behind the usual to the unusual, which seemed a harder task than with some of the abstract renderings that they found in some of the previous galleries.

Well “Andy” generated responses like “narcissism” and yes, “Steeler colors,” “intense, gaunt stare,” “jowly” and “volcanic” (referring to his plumed hairdo). Dane Toney became a “bewildered lost soul in this world” to cellist Dave Eggar’s enticing pizzicato. One particularly successful improv resulted from “artificial top and solid base,” involving Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope in sexually inviting interplay.

Did I hear a repeat of “Swan Lake” from the usually ever-imaginative Eggar? I thought that was against the rules to duplicate previous tunes. No matter. I don’t know how these performers kept everything straight.

The ensemble also made the most of “dark mouth,” as you can imagine. That encompassed biting ass and ear and sundry other parts of the anatomy. Then onward to the fourth floor, where the resourceful Eggar played a terrific brand of elevator music for the lucky passengers.

There the audience was confronted with four of Andy’s Campbell’s soup cans — just for the record, Beef with Vegetable and Barley, Onion made with Beef Stock, Green Pea and Pepper Pot. The audience found them “redundant” and “repetitive” and “hard outside and soft inside.” One viewer called it “personal.” His name was Michael Campbell — honest.

As usual, Eggar and percussionist Charlie Palmer had control over this section. It produced “repetitive childhood memories with an Americana twist” for Ashley Williams and Kope, who had an instant hair fetish. We also got “competitive and nurturing inside a hard container,” difficult to pull off, and an overlay of “sloshy.” Did I catch a “Nut”-ty “Waltz of the Flowers” from Eggar?

Descending to the second floor, Attack trumpeted Keith Haring’s “Untitled Element,” a large white elephant covered with the black outlines of Haring’s symbolic Radiant Babies. There were red accents in the tusks and platform. Okay, forgive me. Being a newsperson, I immediately thought, “What’s black and white and read all over?”

The elephant produced “sunburned, ” both a “starving” and “pregnant” elephant” and “people sucking life out of the elephant.” Attack chose a “puzzle” motif, which was self-explanatory and enterprising with interlocking dancers. Then there was “a surprising, emerging point.” That became a scenario with Kope playing with Eggar on cello. I had heard of four-handed piano playing, but never four-handed cello! Palmer was encouraged to play “inside” his drum box, while the others supported and followed him around the gallery.

Back down on the main floor, but in the theater, Attack’s final premiere unfolded, particularly thoughtful and intimate, as if it was about the process. I’ll still have more to say on Attack-ing next week.


On Stage: Attack-ing Contemporary Craft

February 24, 2010

Attack Theatre headed back to its home turf in the Strip District — well, almost. But the the Society for Contemporary Craft is well within walking distance of the company’s studios at the Pittsburgh Opera facility.

The Society offered its neighbors a wide open bright space with a permanent performing area near the entrance. The main inspiration came from an exhibit called “Eden Revisited — The Ceramics Work of Kurt Weiser.” As the website says, “His subject matter illustrates lush, mysterious landscapes and distorted narratives set amidst color-saturated flora and fauna that read as voyeuristic snapshots of the human condition.” Hm-m-m, it sounded as though this could be a good match for “Assemble This.”

With the audience gathered comfortably around them, the Attackers put forth the thematic skeleton, labeled as “skin and bones…no heart or lungs.” I don’t know — Michele de la Reza always gives out eminently breathable dance.

Soon we shifted over to the first inspiration piece, Weiser’s plainly-named  “Raku Stirrup Jar 1981.” But the onlookers found “a secret space inside, “an eggshell” at the bottom, a “one-eyed sad cookie” and “a timelessness.”

First Dane Toney was the mark, “completely enclosed” by the other three dancers and looking like a floating hieroglyphic at times. Then he worked inside his “secret space,” tracing semicircles with his foot to cellist Dave Eggar’s leaping trills, soft and cushy, but with a Haydn-esque surprise chord.

Liz Chang and percussionist Charlie Palmer took over the “fragile eggshell” portion — she tiptoeingand he doing likewise, with a smashbox at the end. De la Reza took on the “handle” from the stirrup jar with Peter Kope — in a wonderful concoction of shapes. Kope found delectable handles, not always the ones de la Reza was offering him. And they certainly had an unalterable trust — he dropped her nearly to the floor from shoulder height.

Everyone filed down to the lower level for part two, an always succulent musical pleasure directed by Eggar, who likes to occasionally have  his way with the order of the dance. The second bit of inspiration wasn’t really a piece of art. Or was it? I never found out. The participants called it “a drill,” “a top-heavy pasta maker,” “my grandmother’s washing machine” with a “bus driver’s wheel” on top.

That produced “Italian memories” with Kope and Toney who approached each other sensuously and puckered without a kiss, then offered tongue but no action. “Waiting for the bus” contained some operatic selections, perhaps inspired by the presence of Pittsburgh Opera general director, Christopher Hahn. With Eggar in a musical groove, more additions included “something of a mysterious purpose” (Toney again) and “grinding metal music with viscous surface movement.”

With our musical plates nearly filled, we headed back upstairs to a beautiful double-sided teapot by Weiser. It had  no spout but did have its own aromatic artwork and was titled “Small Fruit 2000.” The audience, in a groove of its own, offered “Alice in Wonderland,” “curves,” “doppelgangers” and “a new retelling of an old story.”

Already the Attackers were willing to cut a part of the skeleton, given the plethora of ideas. The sandwich board was awash with words. But they began the premiere/finale presentation with confidence. The acoustics had been great, the dance and music gracefully intertwined. Emcee Ricardo Robinson was moved to add some soft “wailing” through cupped hands over his mouth.

And even though one young woman nearly fainted and the performance took a pause while people attended to her, it finished, remarkably seamlessly, with Adam and Eve’s fall from grace and the idea of a whisper.

Tonight is the real finale at the Andy Warhol Museum, although it appears to be sold out. See you at the dance!


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 Frick

February 20, 2010

The free-wheeling Attackers moved on to the prim and proper confines of the Frick Art & Historical Center in the East End last night with a heightened sense of deja vu for me. This was the very first stage for “Assemble This” when it was known as “Some Assembly Required.” Back then about ten years ago, Attack Theatre consisted of Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope. I can still see two of the art objects they picked, one against a wall in the first room, another a chair in the last gallery.

They’ve come a long way, baby. Can we say charisma? The husband-and-wife team has gone from agreeable and engaging to confidently assertive and risk-taking-explorers of movement and conversation.

So the first thing they encountered was the lady-like “Portrait of Charlotte-Montmorency, Princess de Conde by famed Flemish painter Peter Paul Rubens, adorned with lace collar and lush clothing embellishments and perched in an ornate gold frame. The porcelain-complexioned, aristocratic woman elicited comments like “royalty,” “uncomfortable,” “my feet are hurting” and “something’s itchy” from the sold-out audience, that was placed on equal footing in this dance and music process.

Next was a selection from the Frick’s nifty “New Deal” exhibit, which provided an extra large slice of American life during the Great Depression. Millard Sheets’ “Tenement Flats,” painted in Los Angeles, was the chosen piece. Filled with angled porches, staircases and rooftops connected by laundry lines, it evoked phrases like “overcrowded” (but all women), “shadows,” “vanishing points,” “hot” and “avoiding eye contact.”

They came back to the large urn in the foyer, creamy and curvy (and “isolated,” “lonely” and full of “freedom”) before everyone reconvened in the Frick’s cozy auditorium for the completed work, both the first and last performance.

So what did Attack and audience glean from their Frick journey? Highlights included an “itch that can’t be scratched” duet for Ashley Williams and Dane Toney and another for Toney and Kope as the men behind the Rubens’ portrait. (They “cavorted” while “Charlotte”, a.k.a. de la Reza did a solo. I also loved — as always — the final one, fittingly with de la Reza and Kope. One real inspiration: asking a young woman to clap whenever she wanted and Williams would respond with a wiggling solo. Kope deserves credit for taking audience comments one “step” further.

On to the Children’s Museum. See you at the dance!

Sidebarre:

John Paul Rubens’ style of curvaceous women gave rise to the word “Rubenesque,” most often used to describe choreographer Mark Morris’ female dancers.

The New Deal also embraced theater, writing and dance. When he was asked why money was allotted for thousands of American artists, New Deal administrator Harry Hopkins said, “Hell, they’ve got to eat like other people.” The short-lived Dance Project began to intermix ballet, modern and jazz. Helen Tamiris and Charles Weidman were among those who choreographed socially relevant protest dances. And a burgeoning African-American dance scene, including Katherine Dunham and Asadata Dafora,  began to flourish, with the American Negro Ballet debuting to favorable reviews.


On Stage: Attack-ing August Wilson Center

February 19, 2010

Road conditions were much better for Attack Theatre’s sojourn to August Wilson Center on Wednesday, so much so that the members were able to park their trusty Bat Van just across the street, a a much-appreciated treat in the snow-laden Downtown environment.

The performance here was a little more formal at the start as the audience gathered around a black-and-white Teenie Harris photo of four children who, in turn, were gathered around a saxophonist with couples dancing in the background.

Things were a little tenuous at first, partly due to the large open spaces at Pittsburgh’s terrific new landmark, where the words sometimes dissipated into the air. Then too, the onlookers in the audience had a tendency to raise their hands, as if in a class, and observations initially centered around “anxious” and “self-conscious,” perhaps a reflection of their own involvement in Attack’s creative process. However Dave Eggar played  “Some Enchanted Evening” for an anxious duet between Liz Chang and Dane Toney as their eyes haltingly met “across a crowded room” — nice touch.

We climbed AWC’s signature staircase, where the imposing temple-like wall drew comments like “vulnerable.” Hm-m — no references to the African temple-like setting. But Eggar and drummer Charlie Palmer, along with percussionist PJ Roduta, worked out a pulsating musical interaction.

The finale centered around Thad Mosley’s “Allegheny Trace,” where one observer spontaneously dubbed the large, oddly-balanced iron and wood sculpture with a winged piece at the top as the final lift from “Dirty Dancing.” That seemed to break the ice and started a spirited commentary. Several viewers found the Pittsburgh connection in Mosley’s work without ever knowing the title — an impressive feat.

Using the audience’s other suggestions, the performers became “something we’re not,” as Eggar did a faux pas de deux with Peter Kope and Palmer took over duties at the cello. Kope put a McTwist on the “Dirty Dancing” comment and suggested the dancers try to use him in the iconic Baby lift from the movie. No go, of course, but it was fun watching them try.

Maybe “Allegheny Trace” was oddly balanced, but  it provided a Spiderwoman moment for Michele de la Reza (with help from the other dancers), as she precariously began climbing the large door behind the performers. When the audience gathered on the other side of the door in the studio, lined with mirrors and windows, Attack put  all the original and improvised material together. But the Spidey moves took a different turn, so to speak, because the door, at least 20 feet high, began to revolve. But then, that’s an Attack trait — putting all your resources to work.

Tonight it’s on to the Frick Art & Historical Center. See you at the dance!


Off Stage: Ten Best from the 2K Decade

January 6, 2010

As 2000 approached we dreaded the Y2K millenium bug, supposedly residing in all of our computers. But we “Ought” not have dreaded the first decade of a new century — at least dance-wise. Dance was beginning to explode in many ways, and while we didn’t have a Martha Graham or a George Balanchine  and lost the eternally wise Merce Cunningham, the general level of dance continued to rise. (More on that in the next blog installment.) These are the Top of the Top Ten over the past decade of writing for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Click on each date and you’ll get the complete list, except for 2003, which has inexplicably disappeared, perhaps eaten by a surviving millenium bug?

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre “Indigo in Motion.” A first-rate Pittsburgh production where artistic director Terrence Orr signaled a new direction for the local ballet company. Ballet and jazz? “Indigo” brought in choreographers like Kevin O’Day, Lynne Taylor-Corbett and Dwight Rhoden and successfully paired them with the music of Pittsburgh artists Stanley Turrentine, Lena Horne and Billy Strayhorn. Pittsburgh musicians from the Manchester Craftsmans Guild held court in the Benedum Center pit.  May 4, 2000.

Min Tanaka - This highly respected artist mesmerized in his solo performance at the Warhol Museum, reminding us of Pittsburgh’s fascination with a seemingly incongruous style of dance — Japanese butoh (remember Sankai Juku?). Strangely enough, no one from the usual dance audiences was in attendance because he slipped in during the “Nutcracker” season. Dec. 15, 2001.

Dance Alloy “Hello, Goodbye, I’m Dead!.” This performance about the short-lived mayfly took place back in the day when the Alloy didn’t have “theater” attached to it. Things were a little more free form, but engaging nonetheless. We have come to realize that it’s good to take advantage of home-grown — not only vegetables, but art. And we’re glad that the Alloy is still around to help sustain the local dance scene. May 1, 2002.

George Piper Dances present The Ballet Boyz. The irreverent tone was tempered by the fact that we saw works by William Forsythe, Christopher Wheeldon (now one of the world’s top two ballet choreographers, along with Alexei Ratmansky) and Russell Maliphant. Serious ballet for the masses. Byham Theater, Nov. 1, 2003.

Nederlans Dans Theater. This was probably the only time we will ever get to see NDT, considered one of the world’s foremost companies. We also saw a Pittsburgh Dance Council program at the Benedum Center still heavily influenced by choreographer Jiri Kylian, who just last October had an official farewell concert with the company. In case you missed it, here is a segment of  a Kylian classic, “Symphony of Psalms,” that I discovered on the company website. Mar. 19 2004.

Ralph Lemon “Come Home Charley Patton.” No one tugs at the heart strings like Lemon. He represents honesty in movement and this was one of the most compelling pieces of the decade, putting racism and a lynching at the forefront. Presented by the brand new African American Cultural Center, now known as the August Wilson Center, it also signaled the arrival of an important new presenting organization despite the fact that it wouldn’t get its own building until 2009. Mar. 19, 2005.

Attack Theatre “The Kitchen Sink .” This company sinks its cool tentacles into virtually every corner of the Pittsburgh arts scene (Pittsburgh Opera, Pittsburgh Symphony, Carnegie Mellon University, elementary schools, senior citizens programs). The program marked the 10th anniversary and the arrival of founders Michelle de la Reza and Peter Kope as Pittsburgh’s foremost power couple in the creative arts. Nov. 10, 2006.

Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. HSDC took advantage of its powerful physicality to nab the number one spot for the Pittsburgh Dance Council. This was a Byham Theater show that showed how dance could soar. Feb. 10, 2007.

Ultima Vez “Spiegel” (“Mirror”). Belgian choreographer Wim Vandekeybus deftly illustrated how dance could be frighteningly simple and real. It all came down to timing, even when throwing a brick. Presented by the Pittsburgh Dance Council at the Byham Theater. April 19, 2008.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre “Romeo et Juliette.”  PBT went out on a limb with this ballet when it brought in Jean-Christophe Maillot’s contemporary interpretation. It’s my favorite of all the terpsichorean versions out there (certainly the most heart-wrenching) and the PBT dancers rose to the challenge. It was also good to have seen Maillot’s “Cinderella” with his company, Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo just the year before on the Pittsburgh Dance Council season. Feb. 14, 2009.

P.S. Looking back we had the benefit of several important festivals conceived by the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, including the International Festival of Firsts Part One (2004) and Part Two (2008), which proved that the trend in art is to blend. Movement was a strong part of many performances. Thanks to Paul Organisak for going above and beyond in the 2004 Quebec Festival and especially the  Australian Festival (loved the humor and the truly unique approach to dance).


Off Stage: Dance MVPs 2009

January 4, 2010

In you case you missed it, my Top Ten in dance appeared in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in December. Now we can discuss the performers who infused that choreography and their considerable contributions to a vibrant local dance scene. Kudos to the women, who were extraordinarily strong during 2009.

Woman of Steel. Pearlann Porter is proud of her P’s — prolific, petite, paraphrastic (she can talk about her art at the drop of a hat), perceptive, party hearty, polychromatic and, of course, The Pillow Project. She also moved at a prestissimo pace in 2009, directing, performing and/or choreographing half a dozen full-length extravaganzas at the Space Upstairs, initiating a four-month Urban Experiment (improv dancing in the streets), teaching at Point Park University and then venturing out to choreograph for the Dance Alloy.

Man of Steel. Attack Theatre’s Peter Kope chooses his dance moments carefully these days. But he is now emerging as a talented director with a creative impulse as sharp as they come. Although the Attackers are a wonderfully collaborative group of performers, it is Kope who whittles the productions down to display colorful theatrical threads. He also spearheaded the move to Pittsburgh Opera, which included a second rehearsal studio, outfitted by this master carpenter, just down the alley. And he is, first and foremost, a great dad to Xander.

Dancing Classrooms. With numerous titles to their credit, international ballroom dancers and owners of Art & Style Rozana and Terry Sweeney  showed championship form while teaching fifth grade students in six Pittsburgh Public elementary schools this fall. For 10 weeks and 20 lessons they brought elegance, responsibility and respect into the lives of more than 300 students. This was the inaugural year (hope you saw the documentary “Mad Hot Ballroom” on which the lessons were based) and it set a high standard.

Mata Hari. PBT’s Alexandra Kochis had more disguises than this celebrated spy. I still recall her fresh-faced, independently-minded Juliette and the silent scream at the end of “Romeo et Juliette,” one that carried to the back of the orchestra section at the Benedum Center. She was also a winsome Aurora in “Sleeping Beauty,”  layering her interpretation with great delicacy and detail. But the most surprising was her ensemble work in “Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project,” where she tossed aside the clarity of her technique for the emotional angles and grotesqueries needed for choreographer Stephen Mills’ contemporary style. She may be the most versatile dancer in Pittsburgh.

The Stanislavski Dancer? Stephanie Dumaine has become a dancer who internalizes the “theater” in Dance Alloy Theater with great finesse. She has created extraordinarily luminous moments in her solo work during the past year, like Stanislavski, building from the “inside out” and the “outside in.”

Best Move. Attack Theatre transported its energetic and effervescent style to a new home at Pittsburgh Opera. The company’s inaugural program, “Incident[s] in the Strip” displayed the space, a blend of historic exposed brick with contemporary and theatrical touches, at its very best. If you haven’t done so, check it out Jan 29 (see Listings) when the company puts on “Game Night and the Seven Minute Dance Series” at its new home in the Strip District.

The Big Switch. It was the big news of the year as the Dance Alloy Theater board summarily dismissed artistic director Beth Corning and instated education director Greer Reed-Jones in her place, the first time the company had not staged a national search for a replacement. But Reed-Jones came with her own resume (Dayton Contemporary Dance principal dancer, CAPA, Pittsburgh Dance Ensemble, independent choreographer) and Corning has re-emerged with her own vision, The Glue Factory, which will assemble internationally-known dancers over 40 in March. We’ll watch for the results during 2010.

Pointe in Time. Always one of the highlights of the Pittsburgh party circuit, there were some reservations when PBT’s fall event was transferred from the elegant black and white ballrooms at the William Penn Hotel to the  more traditional Hilton, where the ballroom there was draped in tons of chiffon. Nevertheless some of the formality disappeared as the guests definitely “got down” to the sounds of Gary Racan and the studio-e Band.

Reaching for the Sky. The energy was literally bouncing off the Dance Alloy walls at the Jones Intensive this past July. Sixty students, all on scholarship, spent two weeks honing their dance skills, capped by a performance at the Kelly-Strayhorn. Wish we could bottle it.

Gone But Not Forgotten. Dancers come and go, but I still find myself luxuriating in the memory of the quartet of PBT dancers who moved on this past May. Maribel Modrono, Christopher Rendall-Jackson, Daisuke Takeuchi and Kaori Ogasawara each left an indelible footprint, both in their artistry and off-stage demeanor, that has formed a chain link of memorable moments.


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.


On Stage: Attack Theatre, Bared in the Strip

November 13, 2009

Preparing for "incident[s]"It’s controlled chaos at Attack Theatre’s new digs, only a week before the company bares its latest production, “Incident(s) in the Strip.” Without much ado, co-founder Peter Kope introduces Angel Streitman, a “swing dancer” who takes turns standing in for Kope himself, wife and co-founder Michele de la Reza and percussionist/skate boardist Charlie Palmer, along with being stage manager and electrician.

But then, I like to think that all the Attackers are cloned.

Although “Incident[s]” contains “40 minutes of balls-out dancing” in the first act, according to de la Reza, they are working on the second half, where “life is continuing with a series of intense movements that continually alters it.”

They are rehearsing on an array of platforms that will play a part in “Incident[s],” not only for the performers, but, yes, for you, the audience. Atop the platforms are four carved wooden screens that represent the interior, the home, a personal space.

This is the last rehearsal before the Attackers fly off to North Carolina Arts Market, a prestigious adjudicated festival that only occurs every two years. They will fly down as a team, since the Attack musicians are here rehearsing a wild blend of “La Traviata,” “The Muppet Show Theme” and a sassy samba.

All in the same spacious room. Whew! No walls, but tremendous concentration skills.

The Attack team will perform on Monday, fly back Tuesday and go into tech rehearsal for “Incident[s]” that very day for the opening night Friday.  “That’s nothing new,” says de la Reza in an off-handed way. “We rechoreographed a dance on the plane to Indonesia once. We’re used to totally multi-tasking.”

The show originally was called “Strip.” Think Pittsburgh’s Strip District. Think the current economic downfall, stripping funds from the arts organizations. Although the “incidents” idea subsequently became the meat of the production, they didn’t want to lose the “Strip” idea.

So they do.

Protected by the wooden dividers, where the dancers do interior space tasks simulating shower andAttack Theatre's Charlie Palmertoilet routines, and some strategically-placed newspapers (Post-Gazette, of course), they begin to experiment.

“Hm-m-m,” I think, “This may be the most exciting rehearsal I’ve ever attended.”

Attack dancer Dane Toney blithely walks across the platforms with a piece of toilet paper trailing from his right shoe. But he quickly concedes that he won’t be wearing shoes. It’s all part of the creative process where Attack draws from a myriad of resources, all of which at some point tumble onto the dance floor.

In other words, abstract dancerly rebounds from the first half turn into people running into each other in the street…in the Strip, of course.

Here’s some of the sections to look for: “Mail,” “Jacket,” “Stupid Human Tricks,” “Hairpull,” “Praying.” Quite a range, you might say. But there’s more. While the dancers have a playful argument over eating eggs, music director Dave Eggar takes a break from his Latino mode to talk about the music, always such an important part of Attack Theatre’s appeal.

The first act, he explains, is “full and transcendent and atmospheric. In other words, the band rocks out. The second act, with its huge shift, finds the band going acoustic, which means cello, water bottles, bicycle wheel and other accoutrements.

Eggar invokes the name of 20th century composer Morton Feldman. According to Eggar, Feldman says that when musical pieces transcend an hour, “structure gives way to proportion and proportion is impacted by groups of material invading the space.”

Think about it.

In the meantime, Eggar moves on. He likens “Incident[s]” to a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, where the Attack artists make a number of decisions during the creative process that determine any number of outcomes.

Pittsburgh Opera studio is being prepared for Attack TheatreThe musicians like that because they have a part in the artistic plan. Take Palmer, ordinarily a percussionist. When he was 11, “Back to the Future” inspired him to take up skateboarding. He can do tricks like a 360 degree kick flip. That will affect the performance.Tom Pirozzi, ordinarily holding forth on electric bass, will lose it in the second act, becoming, according to Eggar, a “hovering existential existence” or an overseer with Seinfeldian observations.

Eggar also calls it “harrowing because we’re creating in the studio in the moment. So right now we don’t know how act two ends. Anything can happen, like my doing a dance solo on a pile of people while I’m playing the cello. All bets are off.”

So the band might write the best or most popular or the hookiest music the member can write, if it’s for themselves. In the Attack show, the goal will be to dissolve a little and re-emerge with something that both serves the music and heightens the overall artistic vision of the piece. “It’s that marriage of the art forms at Attack Theatre that makes things fun and vital and alive,” says Eggar.

Not only for the dancers and the band, but for the audience.

Photos by Rebecca Himberger.


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 120 other followers