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.
It was heartwarming to see the passion that H2O Contemporary Dance put into its last program. Called Pivotal Moments, the evening was intended for Point Park University’s George Rowland White Performance Studio, but a scheduling problem led the group back to its home base at The Dance Conservatory of Pittsburgh, which could be termed a safe haven for women who are balancing their love of dance with family.
No matter. With movable scrims, some basic lighting and a row of battery-operated tea lights separating audience from performers, things worked out just fine. The bones of the choreography were still there and the dancers were deeply involved in the execution. The program, which had many personal touches that made it so meaningful, began with Viewing Options by Taylor Knight and Anna Thompson, notable for its slow, deliberate movement design. Allison Garcia’s message was Clearer Skies, featuring Wind, a Thunderstorm and A Tender Farewell, while She Said, by Scott Romani, was a play on the telephone game, where the beginning statement generally doesn’t follow through to the end, something that kept the attention.
But Dana LaSota’s The Clot of Life, a dance rendering of her recent health problems, was both meaningful and compelling, bringing some members of the audience to tears. And Danielle Pavilik’s In and Out of Moments brought the thematic dance contents to a climax with dance that reached, grabbed and turned in on itself, savoring, as she always does, the organic impetus of movement pattern.
Texture Contemporary Ballet usually downsizes for the fall/winter season. But it looks like more talented dancers are sticking around. Maybe that inspired the choreographers in this convincing program, especially Alan Obuzor and Kelsey Bartman, who took us in some intriguing new directions. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Swimmingly. Attack Theatre zipped up to Mt. Washington for a Season 20 Kickoff and the wonderfully layered home of Anna Singer and Don Kortlandt. After negotiating 20-some steps to the main floor, guests could head up to the roof for a spectacular view of Pittsburgh (with the help of an in-house elevator if needed). Or they could head outside, replete with pool, and a site-specific number that started on the wide concrete lip surrounding it. Yes, the five dancers eventually plunged and dove into the water for more. Then founding co-directors Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope began a sculptural duet before Peter jumped in to join the fun (shirt, vest, pants and all). Michele began to pick her way across the surface of the water, buoyed by Attack hands (we always knew she could walk on water!). But we know the ending, as we know Peter — after all the pool was heated. Even board member Jamie Todd took to the waters, all in the name of raising money for her favorite company and Pittsburgh celebrated with a fireworks display (actually courtesy of the Pirates).
Spilling Ink. It was so appropriate, in a way, that Spilling Ink unfolded its Indian dance wares in The Carnegie’s Hall of Sculpture because the ancient dance form was originally connected to temple statues. Vijay Palaparty (formerly of Carnegie Mellon University) was in fine form — forceful, yet flowing. Using her highly expressive face, Nalini Prakash explored the binaries that exist in all human beings during a lovely demonstration of the half man, half woman form of Shiva. The duo then capitalized on those themes in a more developed work that was thoroughly satisfying. Finishing with two stories of Krishna, the two dancers demonstrated a wide-ranging skill in an all-too-rare performance of the Bharatanatyam style.
PPU On TV. Can’t get to the Point Park University Student Choreography Project this weekend? Well, the local university will go global by streaming both the 2 and 8 p.m. performances (two different programs) on Saturday. The Conservatory of Performing Arts is teaming up with C360 Technologies of Wexford, Pa., to offer a unique interactive viewing experience that will not only give viewers at home a 360-degree view, but also allow them to independently control the camera to their liking. In 2011, C360 was the first company to successfully transmit real-time interactive 360-degree video stream to fans during NASCAR Sprint Cup races. We’ll see how the dance version turns out — click on www.pittsburghplayhouse.com.
Just when we think it’s the end of a dance career, it can trend to yet another beginning. Beth Corning believes that older dancers don’t fade away; they just access a more minimalist, inner dramatic thread that has been there all along. So she gave Pittsburgh dance fans another shot at seeing the charismatic Arthur Avila, who we lo-o-oved in his performances here with Bill T. Jones/Arnie Zane Company, in her latest production, Parallel Lives. Check it out at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
Another Kyle Success. It’s becoming more and more apparent that Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is passing up on a golden opportunity to hire Pittsburgh native Kyle Abraham for a commissioned work. The MacArthur “Genius” Award-winner has turned many knowledgable heads with work on his company, Abraham.In.Motion. and recently produced a duet for New York City Ballet principal and international star Wendy Whelan, which is still touring. Now he garnered a rave review in the Chicago Tribune for a premiere he created for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Hopefully it isn’t too late for PBT artistic director Terrence Orr to jump on the Kyle bandwagon…
New Attack. Attack Theatre founders Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope did an entertaining tag team announcement of AT’s upcoming season in their home studio at the Pittsburgh Opera recently. Click on AT for more info. Also on tap — there will be two new dancers for the opening series, Are You Still There? (opening Oct. 3). Both are Juilliard School alumnae (as is de la Reza) — James Jude Johnson, who gave us a sample of his fluid movement at the announcement even, and Brittanie Brown, who hadn’t arrived yet, but has also danced with Kyle Abraham.
Tammies Go Solo. The Duquesne University Tamburitzans, long a staple under the wing of Duquesne University will become an independent, nonprofit organization over the next two to three years. That will enable them to audition students from other universities, as well as Duquesne, which will make up for the 40 percent drop in applicants over the years. DU will still provide scholarships for the Duquesne students and will donate $2 million in buildings, land, costumes, instruments, vehicles and equipment. The school will also provide transitional support while the group establishes itself and hires an executive director with a volunteer board. In the meantime, the Tamburitzans Executive Council will provide additional support.
A Day to Celebrate. The Pittsburgh City Council is declaring September 23 Mary Miller Dance Company Day for 30 years of excellence in dance performance and education. Congratulations!
Nurturing at PearlArts. With their welcoming studio on North Braddock, Staycee and Herman Pearl have become an indelible part of the community. Recently they sponsored a night for young urban artists, many from the Alumni Theater Company. Led by Len Starr and Cherish Morgan, this was a night of dance, song and just hangin’ out.
When Kelly Strayhorn Theater executive director janera solomon stepped out onto the stage, she mentioned that the Pittsburgh landmark was celebrating its 100th anniversary. As a result of that, she talked about the process of finding the perfect opening for such a historic season.
The theater had seen so many changes go on around it in East Liberty. Who could embody the ups and downs of those experiences? The answer, and a perfect one at that, was Carmen de Lavallade, 83 years young, and a legendary dancer, along with respected actor and choreographer.
She actually had performed on that same stage 10 years ago in a duet with Gus Solomons, Jr. at the first National Performing Arts Convention here. The pair electrified a knowledgable audience back then and Ms. de Lavallade enthralled new fans in a master class Wednesday morning, a showing of a documentary with her husband Geoffrey Holder Wednesday night and most telling in a solo performance on Friday. (Bravo to KST!)
Called “As I Remember It,” this was a story that needed to be told. With dance spinning in so many new and exciting directions, it is imperative that today’s performers use the past as a springboard into the future.
But as important as Ms. de Lavallade was to dance history, her inspirational story was one that should be heard by non-dance audience members as well. Peppered with names of which they may have no knowledge, it was apparent that her charismatic presence, not only elegant, but filled with determination, hadn’t diminished.
A young girl who “grew up with earthquakes” in Los Angeles, she talked about the “Balinese top” and “African bottom” that served her so well, even as she was often the only “colored girl” in ballet class — not that many studios would allow her admittance at that time.
But she was able to study with another legend, Lester Horton, who gave rise to Los Angeles choreographer Bella Lewitsky, fashion designer Rudy Gernreich, teacher James Truitte and most famously, Alvin Ailey, and where she swept floors, built costumes and cleaned bathrooms.
It was all told in a beautiful production that literally moved with her. Mimi Lien’s set flared like a trumpet and, at the same time, curved like a new Samsung television. It was draped with fringe-like threads that captured a panorama of archival footage in Maya Ciarrocchi’s video design.
Directed by Joe Grifasi, Ms. de Lavallade told her story with the aid of documenter Talvin Wilkes, both of whom were present for the event. She was able to move fluidly back and forth through the set piece, sometimes seated on a bench or chair, sometimes seen in shadow behind it, sometimes gloriously bursting through the fringe.
All the while she was telling her compelling story.
The audience saw various movie clips — “The Golden Hawk,” “The Egyptian,” “Demetrius and the Gladiators” and “Lydia Bailey,” where she danced with Jack Cole (a taskmaster known as “The Terror”), who had to wear “Negro Number 2” make-up. On television’s Ed Sullivan Show, she was scheduled to perform “Willow Weep For Me” with Glen Tetley, who was white. African-American dancer Claude Thompson had to replace him. They heard how Duke Ellington kissed her after a performance of “Portrait of Billie” at the Newport Jazz Festival.
They heard how, after many performances with Alvin Ailey and as a principal dancer at the Metropolitan Opera, she joined the Yale Repertory Theater and performed in 19 productions while teaching movement to young actors like Meryl Streep. They heard how she pushed through the vagaries of age over six decades.
But she moved — and oh, how she moved. Still in her prime in many ways, Ms. de Lavallade didn’t just convey the art of dance, she got to the heart of dance…and life.