Recently I have been steeped in dance history, so satisfying because of the wonderful outcome we are currently experiencing. Here is the first installment of three: Dr. Freddie Fu. I have been aware of his importance to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, of course. But his 30th anniversary with the company revealed much, much more. Some of it I have experienced, having been there for Shari Little’s dramatic injury and Tamar Rachelle’s determined response to a knee injury. But Dr. Fu has a mainstay in the company’s development and his staff revealed a lot about the development of dance medicine, where Dr. Fu was a national pioneer. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and enjoy additional archival photos of Shari and Tamar.
What a difference a repétitéur makes! Often the best results at the ballet come from working with the original choreographer. But Shelley Washington, former member of Twyla Tharp’s company and American Ballet Theatre, was the best director/stager I’ve seen in the company’s history, encouraging stunning performances from the dancers. While PBT has always produced some wonderful roles in a production, all of the dancers were fully engaged in what must have been a life-changing experience during PBT’s tribute to Tharp. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
It’s as predictable as the changing of the leaves — the Fall Arts Preview in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Dance continues to expand in ever-so-exciting ways — looks like a vintage year…
THE BRAZZIES. Greer Reed concluded her Reed Intensive performance this summer at the Father Ryan Center in McKees Rocks with a special award called the Brazzies. Named for Leslie Anderson Braswell, who performed with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Stuttgart Ballet and Dance Theatre of Harlem before coming home to mentor so many young dance hopefuls, the first winners are Gia Cacalano, improv queen and founder of Gia T. Presents, and James Washington, former member of August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble and budding choreographer. Congrats!
WENDY AND KYLE. The dance world has been abuzz with Wendy Whelan’s project, Restless Creature, and Pittsburgh native Kyle Abraham’s participation. (Catch it in March at the Byham via Pittsburgh Dance Council.) Click on the New York Times feature and review.
ANOTHER SIDE OF JULIA. We’ve seen Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal Julia Erickson in luminous performances on stage. We’ve see her entrepreneurial spirit via her own health food bar, Barre, available at Whole Foods. Now, through the magic of Sonja Sweterlitsch’s portraiture, on view at Box Heart Gallery in Bloomfield through Sept. 17, we can seen Julia from yet another angle (or angles). Small and life-sized. The Swan Queen and the woman. All a softer interpretation without losing Julia’s always-glittering essence.
A STAR IS BORN. Yes, she’s at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, but this star is not a dancer. Alyssa Herzog Melby is a member of PBT’s talented young administrative staff. As PBT Director of Education and Community Engagement, she has not only been articulate about the ballets, but has promoted accessibility in a variety of new ways, including programs for the visually impaired, autism and, most recently, Parkinson’s disease. For her efforts, the Kennedy Center LEAD Awards for Excellence in Accessibility Leadership recognized her at the 2013 LEAD conference in Washington, D.C. Way to go, Alyssa!
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre added an outdoor performance at Chautauqua Institution to its annual opener at Hartwood Acres, which you can read about in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The dancers looked happy to be back and the four new ones (adding two artists to the roster total) looked happy to be there.
So was I, as well as friend and colleague, ©Martha Rial, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, who also happens to love dance. Enjoy her unique perspective on the Chautauquan experience at a new Pittsburgh entertainment site called Entertainment Central Pittsburgh by clicking on the link.
Chautauqua Institution finished off its dance season with North Carolina Dance Theatre’s finale, which included the last in an impressive series of premieres by Sasha Janes, along with pieces by Mark Diamond and George Balanchine’s semi-wild Western Symphony.
So the professionals finished up on Saturday night, but the students still had to strut their stuff for parents and friends at the Amphitheater on Sunday afternoon. Maris Battaglia, director of the School of Dance, always comes up with some delicious nuggets. In addition to her Dance For Six, which meant lovely preteen ballerinas with a poise beyond their years, she brought an equally lovely variation on Swan Lake and restaged Michael Vernon’s Susan B. Anthony.
Yes, you read it right, a feminist ballet for 20 young and impressionable ballerinas. The taller girls were the men, dressed in suits and fedoras, accompanied by shorter “spouses,” in long beige dresses with slumped shoulders. They were met by a confident young young woman in bright yellow (Celeste Borman) who inspired them to follow a similar path of independence.
It was met with rousing applause, probably led by their mothers.
Also on the program were Mark’s Water Music, Sasha Janes’ Tango Forte, some modern dance (Jon Lehrer), hip hop (Rachael Humphrey) and the ballet of the summer, the first movement of George Balanchine’s Western Symphony.
It was staged with the passion and verve that Patricia McBride always brought to her roles at New York City Ballet and the students, as always, greatly benefitted from it.
With Japan’s Kaori Yanagida leaving to get married and Makoto Ono retiring due to injury, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will turn to another part of the globe by adding two Brits, a Kazakh and an Ohioan to its corps de ballet.
If you do the math, it appears that the company raised the barre to 29 members next season, a real plus for an upcoming season heavy on tradition.
PBT will literally expand its family as well with a cousin of principal Nurlan Abougaliev. He has an even more complicated name, Ruslan Mukhambetkaliyev, perhaps the longest in company history.
Born in Kazakhstan (along with Nurlan, of course), he followed sister Dinara (“I wanted to be with her”) to train at Almaty Ballet Academy, then went on to a laundry list of companies.
Blessed with a big grin (and perhaps his cousin’s onstage confidence and showmanship), he decided to go to Moscow (at only 18) and “try my luck.” That led to positions with the classically-oriented Moscow City Ballet, then Russian National Ballet Theater, both touring companies, the latter led by former Bolshoi Ballet soloist Sergei Radchenko. They gave him the opportunity to try his hand at principal roles in Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Don Quixote, which should provide an interesting “dancer watch” for the upcoming season.
When Ruslan performed with Russian National Ballet Theater in 2006, Jennifer Dunning of The New York Times called him “the most interesting cast member…, a very young and untried-seeming Prince Siegfried with a long lyrical body line and buoyant jumps.” That might prove fruitful in the 2014 PBT production.
With global tours including Germany, Siberia, Italy and South Africa (“it was hard but we were young”) taking their toll, Ruslan headed for the United States and a more settled career at the Cincinnati Ballet and Oklahoma’s Tulsa Ballet, before coming to PBT at Nurlan’s urging.
He lives near Nurlan and wife and former PBT member Aygul Abougalieva and their family in the North Hills and
hopes to resume an enthusiasm for fishing.
As for the Brits, Hannah Carter, born just outside Essex, and William Moore, from Ipswich, have classic English names and a melodious British accent. Both attended the Royal Ballet School, where the couple graduated with honors and went on to a stint with the Estonian National Ballet.
Estonia. It lies in the vicinity of Sweden and Finland, which had a chilling effect on the couple. So the young dancers took to the internet, with the goal of dancing in the United States.
PBT popped up.
The duo has danced in Royal Ballet productions such as Giselle and The Sleeping Beauty, but have contemporary interests as well. Hannah also brings an attraction to murder mysteries, mostly the book kind, but also Criminal Minds and C.S.I. As for William, he has a passion for tennis, although he never made it to Wimbledon (no!) and can cook a mean English roast.
Closer to home is Diana Yohe, a product of the company’s graduate program. A graduate of Cleveland City Dance, which is a school that does competitions (“I was always ballet-oriented, the one with pink tights and hair slicked back into a bun”), she visited The Joffrey Ballet in Chicago, but knew she wanted to stay when she came to
PBT in 2012.
“Immediately the teachers and instructors talked to be, showed me a personal interest,” she explains. While at PBT, she performed in The Nutcracker, Serenade and Cinderella, among others.
As to her future, Diana proves to be thoughtful. While most young women have certain roles in mind, she simplysays, “I want to dance for a long time — the future is open for me.”
Upon further reflection, she has bonded with Odette, where she performed excerpts at PBT’s grad program, and maybe Aurora. But she adds, with a bright, open face, “However long, I’ll be happy.”
YOSHI IN BEIJING. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre corps member Yoshiaki Nakano, now starting his fourth year with company, made good use of his summer “vacation.” He went to the Beijing Ballet Competition and came away with the gold medal, worth $10,000 and the Morningstar Foundation Special Award, worth $2,000.
KYLE IN NEW YORK. Kyle Abraham continues to make the news. This one is a New York Times article on the Restless Creature project with noted ballerina Wendy Whelan. Click on Times. But we get to see it anyhow March 22 at the Byham Theater. Talk about bated breath…
MARIBEL IN MIAMI. Former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal Maribel Modrono is part of the educational restructuring at Miami City Ballet under new artistic director Lourdes Lopez. Not only will they benefit from her teaching, but her trademark ebullient personality will bring out the students’ best. Click on Miami.
THOMAS IN VEGAS. The Thomas Studio of Performing Arts was named the Peoples’ Choice Award winner for the Federation of Dance Competitions in Las Vegas. The company were also crowned the National Champion, with 15 overall high score awards. Congratulations!
ALAN FROM DALLAS. Okay, this is fudging things a little. But Attack Theatre’s Michele de la Reza, primo advocate for the arts in Pittsburgh, stopped in at the Harp and Fiddle in the Strip District. She struck up a conversation with businessman Alan from Dallas. He asked about the nightlife in Pittsburgh and she mentioned Texture Contemporary Ballet. Alan showed up…and stayed for the entire performance. Way to go, Texture! And Michele!
North Carolina Dance Theatre is creating its own signature with an array of in-house choreographers — Mark Diamond, Sasha Janes and Dwight Rhoden. Read about the Dance Innovations program by clicking on NCDT.
North Carolina Dance Theatre presented its annual Evening of Pas de Deux at Chautauqua Institution, with some excitement. Click on Chautauqua Daily to read the article. CI is trying something new — a Romeo & Juliet Project, which will involve the symphony, opera program and theater in a full-length program that explores various interpretations of Shakespeare’s classic story. NCDT principals Anna Gerberich and Pete Walker will be among 150 artists in this first-ever Chautauqua collaboration. Click on the link below to see a sneak preview of their duet.