Maree ReMalia and friends put together an invigorating work, The Ubiquitous Mass of Us, at the New Hazlett Theater. It concluded the Community Supported Art series in a big way. (Click on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for the article.) There’s more really good news, though. Next year dance will play a dominant role as well, with Moriah Ella Mason’s Untamed Myth (Oct. 11), performance artist Jennifer Myers’ Spatial Investigations (Dec. 12), Jil Stifel and Ben Sota in Contemporary Circus/Dance (Feb. 12) and Teena Marie Custer and Roberta Guido in a Double Feature (June 11). Also on the series will be composer Federico Garci-de Castro with Innovative Piano Music (Aug. 14) and Anya Martin’s Folkloric Performance (Apr. 2).
Last year Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School started a ballet immersion in its annual recital. There the advanced students performed highlights from Swan Lake, one of the major upcoming productions of the season. This year it was La Bayadere, only the staff chose it as a theme for the whole school.
Set in the exotic Middle East, the Bayadere dances gave the students a chance to peruse a different culture, with more sinuous arms. Not only was it entertaining and certainly something different, they looked as if they enjoyed it and, better yet, understood it.
More importantly it gave the advanced students a head start on this iconic Russian ballet, so that when the company performs it next season, they will better complete the effect of a large ballet, especially the signature scene where the corps descends to the stage in a series of penche arabesques, so deceptively difficult.
The first half truly belonged to the school, with two pieces (Gust and Dovetail) created by PBTS graduate student Caroline MacDonald and choreographer and high school student and composer Jack Hawn. Not only were they lovely, they showed substantive thought. Jack provided a piano accompaniment for both works (When does he find the time?) They set up different tempi and textures for Caroline’s choreography. Then she showed a knack for developing an interesting vocabulary and provided a lovely complement to the music, a choreographer who certainly bears watching.
Dance is an art form that, more than any other, exists in the moment. So there will be changes, some minute and some large, from day to day. But let’s consider the work-in-progress. This has always existed — Twyla Tharp brought a work-in-progress, with live video cam, to the Pittsburgh Dance Council at Heinz Hall.
Even now we see works prior to their formal debut in the Big Apple, much like the previews of a Broadway musical. It has become prevalent at the local level as well within the past few years. Alexandra Bodnarchuk’s CONNOTATIONS: unknown is a case in point.
We first saw part of the piece at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s newMoves Festival last year. But that was then and this is now. The work at KST was lopsided and disjointed. What emerged at PearlArts was a classic case of the ugly duckling that was transformed into a swan.
The piece was based on Alexandra’s theatrical experience at Bricolage Production’s STRATA in 2012. She stayed in a dimly lit room, the last girl at the prom, meeting people one by one, absorbing and interacting with the emotions they allowed themselves to present. Certainly that series of brief relationships was the basis for CONNOTATIONS.
But you didn’t have to know the history to discern the humanity of her piece and appreciate it for its own identity, especially given the strong team that Bodnarchuk had assembled, including Steve Hudock’s evocative soundscape and the striking costuming, a gray/neutral palette with red accents.
Cut into three sections, it approached the material from three differing perspectives. The first with four women in red, might have been the facets of Bodnarchuk herself. The second, a blindfolded duet with Zek Stewart, was an intense compilation of those multiple meetings in a nameless room, ranging from tentative touching to violence. Very powerful and the strongest segment of the piece.
In the final section, she responded to what had gone before, perhaps trying to make sense of it and learn from it, wrapping up the whole experience, but not too neatly.
We appreciated that.
IN DANCERS WE TRUST. The Dancers Trust annual performance, by PBT dancers and for PBT dancers in transition, managed to put together an evening despite an extensive list of company injuries. There was a sneak preview of Sleeping Beauty from the charming duo of Alexandra Kochis and Alejandro Diaz and a sneak peak of new company member Masahiro Hanyi with PBT grad student Maine Kawashima in Don Quixote, plus a sneak peak of what corps members Diana Yohe and Corey Bourbonniere might do in something like the drama of Le Corsaire. There was a trio of choreographic treats from company dancers William Moore, Yoshiaki Nakano and Cooper Verona, always a good sign of independent thinking. And there were a couple of bonus dances from Point Park University seniors, newly graduated that afternoon and nominated participants in the American College Dance Festival Association at Kennedy Center, Jennifer Florentino and John O’Niel in ‘til the end,’ and Luca Sbrizzi’s playful solo, Futbolist. All in all, a good time.
MAREE AND MORE AT THE HAZLETT. Maree ReMalia has been unveiling her lightly raucous piece, The Ubiquitous Mass of Us, at various venue. The segment at PearlArts Studio began with a “Mass” question, “Where is Adil?” What followed was attention-grabbing in its outright cleverness. Can’t wait to see the who-o-ole thing June 14 at the New Hazlett Theater. By the way, the Hazlett has announced its second round of Community Supported Art (CSA) for next year. Dance again plays a stellar role, with Moriah Ella Mason’s Untamed Dancing Oct. 14, Jennifer Myers’ Spatial Investigations Dec. 12, Contemporary Circus/Dance with Jil Stifel and Ben Sota Feb. 12 and a Dance Double Feature with Teena Marie Custer and Roberta Guido June 11.
ADD-JUNCT. Adjunct faculty add a great deal of variety to the dance department at Point Park University. This year’s concert edition ranged from Ernest Tolentino’s klezmer-inspired and very smart ballet, Meron, to Heather Goelz-Carpenter’s razzmatazz (and very hot) tap, Swing & Sing, with Kellie Hodges (After All, Even Now, Even If), Mariah McLeod ((mis)Connect), Daniel Karasik (Vantage Point) and Laura Warnock (Starts at Goodbye) in between.
Pittsburgh has its own flurry of dance activity over the summer, which can be accessed at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
But if you are on the road, there is plenty of dance up and down the Eastern seaboard, The Big Three are Jacob’s Pillow, American Dance Festival and Kennedy Center. Click on the names and see a world of dance unfold.
Along the way, most of us have bumped into Peter Pan via Broadway, movie, book or television. Maybe we’ve wondered how Peter began to fly. Or how the Captain got his hook. Or where Tinker Bell first appeared.
J.M. Barrie may have created the original, but it was noted columnist Dave Barry and writing partner Ridley Pearson who created a novel, Peter and the Starcatcher, which amounts to a prequel that explains things in their own fashion.
Then Rick Elice adapted it for the stage, which arrived at Heinz Hall last night.
It was an economical production at first glance, so ripe for touring with a cast of only 12 and two musicians. But they explored Peter’s adventure with such great imagination and vision that it seemed like so much more.
So be prepared for a British music hall/vaudevillian evening in many respects. The pared-down stage was framed by burnished gold and gilt, part of Donyale Werle’s Tony Award-winning scenery. It set a low tech, almost environmental feel, with found objects covered in that gilt to create the ornamentation.
The first act took place on several sailing vessels, with the versatile cast leading the way for the audience. Be prepared to go on those trips — it’s sometimes challenging as they switch characters and scenarios, using simple ropes to create doorways and flags for the crocodile’s giant teeth. The soon-to-be Neverland was a contrast, bathed in technicolor.
Be prepared for a play with music, not a traditional musical. There was only one real production number, where the cast appeared as mermaids — facial hair and all. But be sure to check out the costume details, which also garnered Paloma Young a Tony.
Be prepared for time travel. Yes, there is that Victorian aura of the original story. But there are Michael Jackson references. There’s a Starbucks mention. And someone says, “Can you hear me now?”
Just go with the flow…or the fly, because the jokes whizzed along with the dizzying speed of a handball game.
It was a true ensemble cast, led by John Sanders’ Black Stache (pre-Captain Hook), who got a virtuosic monologue/aria about his hand near the end — a real tour de force. Joey deBettencourt took on Boy/Peter, who was on a delicious path of self-discovery. He was helped by the vivacious and brave Megan Stern as Molly. But all of them blended in when they needed to and took to the spotlight with panache.
What with co-directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers and movement director Steven Hoggett it was easier than it should have been. It was hard to discern the dance/movement, as we saw with Hoggett’s work here in Once last March. A highly physical show, Peter and the Starcatcher, needed pinpoint timing from the cast to succeed. And therein lay the movement which permeated the entire production, making it the wind beneath their wings.
Movie icon Gene Kelly has always been larger than life here, being that he was a Pittsburgh native. This week viewers will have a rare opportunity to see him when Kelly returns to the big screen at the Byham Theater Wednesday night.
Wife Patricia Ward Kelly will bring a separate set of clips in this complimentary piece to her talk at the University of Pittsburgh in 2012, which focused on his use of the camera. The Byham evening will be more personal, an in-depth look at the varying dimensions of Kelly. “There are a couple of similarities,” says his wife. “But much of it will be very, very different.”
So it will again prove something: “Gene — we hardly knew ye.” “People come away with an altered sense of who Gene was,” she notes. “They love him up on the screen, but they kind of think that’s who he really was. They kind of forget that he’s acting up there. I think they think that he danced around the house and was this happy-go-lucky guy. I don’t think they think of him as this guy who was mostly cerebral — sitting down in a chair reading a book, writing poetry and things like that.”
Actually most people don’t know that he directed what we see in movies like On the Town and An American in Paris, choreographed what we see in Singin’ in the Rain. They don’t understand how revolutionary so much of the work was.
“That’s what is really fun about it,” she continues. “People don’t realize that he spoke so many languages [Yiddish, French, Latin and Italian], that he was a cultural ambassador to Africa. They don’t realize that he had these personal friendships with great writers like Carl Sandburg and Samuel Becket and Thornton Wilder.”
So they just come out with a greater appreciation for him.
Patricia underlines that he didn’t just study one form of dance. He studied everything — history, literature, poetry and mathematics. And Kelly wasn’t just that athletic all-American guy. He wasn’t only a tap dancer, but a classically-trained ballet dancer who also conceived what you saw and positioned the camera for what we saw.
Hamburg Ballet artistic director John Neumeier, San Francisco Ballet artistic director Helgi Tomasson, Joffrey Ballet principal dancer Fabrice Calmels, American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Roberto Bolle. The name that they give is Gene Kelly as the man who got them to dance. It’s not Baryshnikov. It’s not Nureyev. It’s Kelly.
“He made it okay for a guy to dance,” Patricia explains. When he saw Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in Pittsburgh, he auditioned and was offered a position in the corps de ballet. But he turned it down, because he didn’t think he could support his family on that salary.
Kelly could go on to study with modern dance pioneers like Martha Graham, Charles Weidman and Doris Humphrey, plus some Spanish dance along the way.
He saw the interconnectedness of it all. So if a young artist asked, “What should we study?” He would say, “Everything.”
Maybe that’s why he touches people in so many ways.
This Renaissance man conceived a completely different style of American dance. “It’s not what Astaire was doing, continuing the tradition of ballroom dancing,” says Patricia. “This was dance that furthered the plot and was incorporated into the plot. Singin’ in the Rain is understood around the world. Instead of saying that he’s in love with a girl and is so happy, he does it all in motion. That was really a shift, something that wasn’t seen before him.”
She continues, “That was the challenge for him — not only to make something that’s really contemporary, but something that’s timeless.”
That’s what still inspires Patricia, who always watches the clips during her talk. ”The funny thing is that I have to remind myself to go back on stage because I get so caught up in what’s going on and I hear the audience responding. It’s a selfish thing for me, because I get so much out of it. I guess it was also a way of dealing with the absence and the loss because it makes him so continually present and alive.”
Thus she shares the legacy, reaping the rewards of his timeless art. “I’m constantly reminded that this is stuff that holds up,” she admits. “It’s sixty-plus years old, but it’s still really vibrant and fresh.”
Patricia happily provides the link to Kelly’s history. “It was personal for me, but I hear how it touches the people. I see the wit of it, the brightness of what he executed.”
So she will greet people before and after the show, giving it her own personal touch, then will talk to four high schools over the next two days. After rehearsals for the Gene Kelly Awards for excellence in high school musicals at the Benedum Center, she will step on stage to present the final awards Saturday“It’s really Gene on Gene that people are getting,” she says of The Legacy talk. “It’s as close as they’re going to come with this guy.”