Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre flew with four lead casts in “Swan Lake.” Although word of mouth was good for Julia Erickson and Alexandre Silva, I saw the other three casts. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
As Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s final production, “Swan Lake,” approaches, members of the company are approaching the performances from differing perspectives. Some will take a final bow and others have already received promotions. They share their thoughts with me in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
More of photographer Martha Rial in a selection of photos from Twyla Tharp’s “In the Upper Room” at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre offered a contemporary (of the ’90’s ilk) view of dance with two iconic dance figures, Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp. Click on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for the review. But here’s a bonus: Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Martha Rial was on hand for the dress rehearsal, resulting in her always-winning view of dance. More tomorrow in Part 2.
Dance studios all have the a sense of sameness, much like McDonald’s or Friday’s. In the case of a studio, you have the barre, the mirrors, a music source (and a piano if you’re lucky) and perhaps a few chairs. But set a photographer loose and, all of a sudden, there is art. Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer Martha Rial has contributed a number of performance photos to CrossCurrents, but here are a few bonus babies, caught off the cuff, for you to enjoy.
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).
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 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.
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.
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.