With Pittsburgh a city rooted in ethnic and neighborhood traditions of every ilk, a cultural lifestyle that sometimes keeps us pinned down, it’s refreshing to see ‘Burghites erupt once a year at Attack Theatre’s Dirty Ball. And why not? This small company looms large with a volunteer army that bedecks different large urban spaces around the city for an unparalleled party. This year’s might have been the best of all. Located in The Clock Building on the city’s South Side, it had, as HGTV might put it, a great flow.
From The Velvet Lounge, where Richard Parsakian assembled Superheroes (the theme of the night) who flew above partygoers, did a pole dance up the pillars and peered from posters, to the food and drink room and then by stairs or ramp to the performing arena with dancing to TITLETOWN Soul & Funk Party and PANDEMIC.
Speaking of dancing, the Attackers seemingly floated among the clouds in its first segment, Random Acts of Dance, then launched into The Peculiar Life of Dr. Dough: Coming of Age in a Non-denominationally Specific Latvian Friar, which was actually a oddball title for dancing/flying segments of a spectacular nature. After the Filthy Gorgeous Fashion Show, Attackers and friends capped the evening with its own tradition — what else? — Dirty Dancing. What started as a number similar to the movie exploded into New Age duos (woman/man, man/man, woman/woman), threesomes, foursomes…you get the idea, a little naughty, but so-o-o nice. In between there were the Dirty Secrets booth, 3D Twister, a photo op in a red Mini Cooper convertible and people gazing (always a great sideshow).
And now for a follow-up as Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer ©Martha Rial 2013 gives us her own distinctive look at what has become one of Pittsburgh’s favorite contemporary traditions. Click on a photo to enlarge into a slide show. See more of Martha’s work at Martha Rial.com.
There was something old, something new and, yes, something a little blue as Point Park University’s Conservatory Dance Company took to the Byham Theater for its annual formal showcase. And, of course, Point Park borrowed four distinctly different works from around the country to construct an evening that had a balanced zest about it.
For example, it’s important that CDC taps the historical side of dance to expose the students to some of the greats. Certainly some of those have been highly successful, like works from George Balanchine (Valse Fantaisie) and Martha Graham (Heretic).
This time the choice was selections from José Limón’s Choreographic Offering (1964), another seminal piece in the modern dance lexicon. I had my doubts going in — the last time the Limón company came to Pittsburgh, the style looked stodgy. But not so with this production, set by former company member Ryoko Kudo and assisted by dance faculty member Jason McDole.
The beautiful architectural details — it was easy to think of his relationship to former student Paul Taylor (another great choice for CDC’s future) — had sculptural authenticity and weight.
At the Saturday matinee, it was immediately apparent that Kyoko and Jason had worked exceptionally well together, transmitting the dance to the students with a real immediacy so that there was both life and breadth.
They made it so satisfying to watch the dance elements unfold with clarity, like the lovely pinwheel that slowly morphed into a series of turns, arms held high and the dancers’ spirits right along with them.
Ben Stevenson’s End of Time was one of a series of award-winning pas de deux that he created for various ballet competitions around the world. This particular duet, inspired by a man and a woman who are the last two people on earth, didn’t have the urgency found in the Rachmaninoff score. That only comes with time.
But Veronica Goldberg and Robert Hutchinson wove their way through the seamless series of tricky lifts with an aplomb far beyond their years.
Raphael Xavier’s A Movement and Front Street Walk were both apparently works-in-progress. Raphael himself has walked with Philadelphia hip hop guru Rennie Harris. While CDC was supposed to present a Harris’ piece, it ultimately evolved into Xavier’s own work.
There were were some engaging elements in this two-part movement study, with no apparent connection to them as of yet. A Movement featured a solo by Elisa Alaio, with an intriguing dichotomy between a front and back bending of the body.
But there was better material to be had in Front Street Walk. Surrounded by sounds of traffic (apparently from Pittsburgh, a nice touch), the dancers were clad in red, black and white and plenty of attitude. I loved the use of a two-dimensional walk, as if flattening the human form a la television.
There were other elements — a slapping of the floor accompanied by giggles and moon walks in new dimensions — that were fresh ideas as well, but lacked a connectivity. The best things about Street Walk was its use of female dominance in what is usually a male-dominated hip hop world. It has the potential to be downright street-sophisticated work, but needs further development.
The highlight of the program came from Alejandro Cerrudo’s “sock hop,” Lickety-Split, created for the dynamic Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. (Well, maybe we can call it “sock slide,” since the performers’ footwear determined some of the dance vocabulary.)
A Pittsburgh Dance Council audience saw the work in 2006, when HSDC took this Indie film of a dance and literally popped the inventive choreography. As it turned out, Lickety was a real find for CDC. Alejandro has been tapped by veteran New York City Ballet ballerina Wendy Whelan to participate in a commission this summer at Jacob’s Pillow that has the dance world buzzing. I’m sure his career will be taking off.
The work itself was sensational — a passionate whisper of a dance that threaded its way through a quirky trio of duos. Filled with life’s uncertainty during the periodic sock slides, it still had a Neverland aspect that floated in the imagination.
Nora Chipaumire made a welcome return to Pittsburgh with her latest piece, Miriam, based on the South African singer and activist. But it was so much more, which you can read about in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. An added kudo to her behind-the-scenes collaborators director Eric ting, composer Omar Sosa, lighting designer Olivier Clausse and scenic design by Olivie and Hecho Mano — all magnificent (the word for this production) as well.
And a small slice of what made songstress Miriam Makeba great, one early example, one later after she began to assert her womanly power.
It’s amazing how we have managed to Disney-fy very dark and scary European fairy tales, which have been tapped for glittering full-length ballets: The Nutcracker, The Sleeping Beauty, but most of all, Cinderella. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre brought back Septime Webre’s version, a bit of a patchwork quilt on its own with references to other tales. There was no doubt it was designed to appeal to families despite the sometimes jarring, darkly haunting, yet beautiful score by Prokofiev. Read the review in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
While Septime Webre’s production was child-like and pastel, more recent versions have a contemporary adult perspective. Jean-Christophe Maillot put his Cinderella in bare feet and gave the final pas de deux to the fairy godmother, who was actually Cinderella’s mother, and Cinderella’s father.
Christopher Wheeldon’s co-production for Dutch National Ballet and San Francisco Ballet is receiving rave reviews, calling it the best ever.
Alexei Ratmansky is scheduled to do a new version for the Australian Ballet. It will be set in the 1930′s, like one of his first ballets for the Bolshoi. In an odd twist, he will work with Jérôme Kaplan, who did the costumes for Maillot’s production. In the meantime, here’s a clip of Ratmansky’s adagio from his original Cinderella, performed by Diana Vishneva and Andrey Merkuriev at a dance competition in Russia.
IT’S GOT LEGS. For those of you who enjoyed, like me, Keisha Lalama’s original production of The Bench at Point Park in 2010, it is continuing its development through Titus Theatricals. Now known as The Bench-Journey Into Love, it will be presented July 13 at the Nampa Civic Center, located in southwest Idaho, in a Broadway-style reading. The production will feature Boise Dance Co-op and Idaho jazz musician Chuck Smith. Keep updated with the evolving production on Facebook.
PPU/NYC. Point Park University dance department has entered the competition circuit. This week it casts its lot with the Youth America Grand Prix, the largest international competition operating today. PPU students will be performing Kiesha Lalama’s ensemble work Adrift, Garfield Lemonius’ Contagion (Maggie Ellington, Cassidy Burk, James Gowan, and Colin Jacob) and Peter Merz’s pas de deux Sweet Sorrow (Diana Figueroa and Ales Hathaway). Alex will also be competing as a soloist dancing a contemporary solo and a variation from Swan Lake. In addition to those already listed, Rachel Shirley, Jillyn Bryant, Sara Spizzichini, Sarah Lauderdale, Cammi Nevarez, Brooke Bero, Hunter Mikles, James Gowan, Colin Jacob will complete the PPU contingent. The choreographers. Department chair Susan Stowe thanks the choreographers plus Cynthia Ridler for devoting countless hours of extra rehearsal time and costume design and construction so that these dancers can participate in the event.
P.S. PPU will also participate in a fundraising performance for NYC Dance Alliance Foundation to benefit the NYCDAF College Scholarship program Apr. 22 at The Joyce Theater. There the students will perform Garfield Lemonius’ Memoirs on a program with New York City Ballet, ABT Studio Company, Jessica Lang Dance Company, Rasta Thomas’ Bad Boys of Dance and guest artists from Cedar Lake Contemporary Ballet. P.P.S. — PPU will conduct auditions at NYC Dance Alliance’s season finale at the Sheraton New York Hotel & Towers June 29-July 6.
SPILLING/BALLET. Vijay Palaparty’s The Spilling Ink Project has found a home at the Kirov Academy of Ballet in Washington, D.C. Evidently it’s bearing fruit. Recently the two organizations premiered Deflect Our Light: Articulate a Dance, an exploration of the past, present and future of classical South Indian Bharatanatyam and Russian ballet dance forms at the Atlas Performing Arts Center as part of the INTERSECTIONS Festival.
IN MEMORIAM. A man who radiated a goodness in heart and spirit, Tim Evans was always a welcome and elegant presence at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre performances. That love of ballet extended around the world, where he could be seen, among others, at Paris Opera Ballet and San Francisco Ballet.
TEXTURE-ING SUMMER. Texture Contemporary Ballet has several dates on tap, including its debut at Jacob’s Pillow July 26 as part of the Outdoor/Indoor space, and on August 16, the company will head to Chicago to participate in a festival there.
Gia Cacalano’s first love was visual art (her father was a painter). When she finally moved into dance at age 15, it was ballet that captured her heart. But over the last ten years, she has been wooed by the wonders of improvisation.
But lately she has been widening her dance arena and headed to the International Improvisation Festival at Manchester Metropolitan University. “Hopefully it’s the first of many to come,” she says with her trademark enthusiasm.
So Gia hopped on a plane and, when she landed, jumped right off and into rehearsal. During the week-long stay, she shared cooking and cleaning and movement with the others.
Funded by the university, the Festival was the “baby” of brother Michael Caccialano, who brought in some icons of the improvisational scene including Maida Withers of George Washington University and post-modern dance pioneer Anna Halprin. India’s Tanusree Shankar (yes she’s related to that Shankar), talked about her students, some of whom walk two hours to get to her studio.
Gia led master lessons for students and performed the piece she had performed at Wood Street galleries, Complex Stability, but “changed radically.” Musical partner Jeff Berman provided a more structured accompaniment in rhythm and dynamics, so it was still “open, but a little more aligned with time.”
She came back to Pittsburgh with more information, ready to share it with Pittsburgh. Perhaps some ideas filtered into The Frequency of Structure and Flow, recently presented at Wood Street.