On Stage: Attack-ing 20

October 7, 2014

Attack There tarp

Attack Theatre has reached yet another milestone in dance annals — the 20th anniversary — an accomplishment for any company. They had a tongue-in-cheek approach and called it Are You Still There? Well, yes they are — at the Pittsburgh Coliseum. Check it out in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Attack There ShadowsAttack There Brittanie

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!


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!


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