On Stage: More Texture

July 19, 2014
Kelsey Bartman and Alan Obuzor Photo: Katie Ging

Kelsey Bartman and Alan Obuzor Photo: Katie Ging

Dance is art for the young, able to seemingly and fearlessly leap tall buildings at a single bound. But it is most satisfying when those developing dancers start making mature artistic choices, as Texture Contemporary Ballet began doing at its latest effort, Life, Love, & Jazz, at the New Hazlett Theater.

In previous programs, both choreographers and dancers only relished movement in the moment, so big and bold that it all began to blend together and the viewer’s eyes glazed over. LLJ was still full of passion this time around, but more internalized, so that there was space to breathe. The “textures” of the dance were now noticeable and memorable, such that the audience could differentiate between the various choreographies.

Bravo! This is now a company not only to watch, but to savor.

Kelsey Bartman, who always wears her passion on her sleeve (or leotard) contributed Fun. (as she always seems to do). That might have been her only inspiration, but she also demonstrated a heightened awareness of group movement, densely social and weighted as the dancers mixed and matched. Fun. meant the tongue-in-cheek kind, a sense of happy.

But Bartman drew inward for “Stars,” where “I have faded in the dark.” It was more introspective, a curling welcome that revealed more about her as a dancer and capitalized on her use of emotion.

The program continued with three smaller works. Bartman and Obuzor created Hollowed, where they conveyed a new level of intimacy, literally scooping out each other along the way. Amanda Summers seemed to be spinning out of control in “Spinning Plates,” taking advantage of her neat, quick footwork. Gabriel Gaffney Smith said it all in his title, Detachment. Without Reason. The first segment featured a large morphing group, pulsating into the earth, where two couples “detached” themselves from the crowd. By reducing the group to a trio, the second part, in a way, “tested” how much a couple knew about each other with a touch of humor — to no avail. In the third section, so poignant, Darren McArthur tried to bring Henry Steele and Alexandra Tiso together, again to no avail. Smith’s choreography seemed to come at the title from many oblique angles, ripe with emotional details that gave it a full-bodied, pungent sense of humanity.

Alan Obuzor took the program title, Life, Love, & Jazz, and did what he does best, explored the music, this time Marty Ashby’s comfort-driven original score for the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild quartet. This was a glam jazz ballet, playing (or not playing) with black hats and Bob Steineck’s nifty geometric lighting design, which laid out alleyways and squares for a landscape.

Obuzor set the mood with a solo that was as light as a feather, toying with the rhythmic pulse (as he does so well) set by Ashby. Tiso then made a night of it in her playful number with five guys. But there was an even better connection (this company tends to the audience rather than engaging with each other) between the leggy Katie Miller and Obuzor in a duet where she was so relaxed, due to his expert partnering skills, and where they created a mesmerizing aura.

Even though this is the annual program that brings in so many dancers, encouraging the choreographers to expand their vision, it was so good to see the small things that added a malleable “texture” to Texture.


On Stage: Charlotte Ballet

July 12, 2014

Charlotte BalletNorth Carolina Dance Theater has made a rare switch to change its name to Charlotte Ballet, the largest city in the state of North Carolina. Right now the name may not be familiar to resident Chautauquans. But artistic director Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, the staff and the dancers by and large remain the same. They were on view recently at the grand old Amphitheater. Click on Charlotte for the article and photos in The Chautauquan Daily.


On Stage: PBTS Sneak Previews

June 11, 2014
Photos: Rich Sofranko

Photos: Rich Sofranko

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.

Marisa Grywalski and Andrew Kaczmarek

Marisa Grywalski and Andrew Kaczmarek

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.

Maine Kawashima and Masahiro Haneji

Maine Kawashima and Masahiro Haneji

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.

BAYADERE FINALE


On Stage: Dancers Trust, Maree, PPU

June 9, 2014

dancers trust

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 ubiquitous photo

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.

PointParkDanceADD-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.Connections performance


On Stage: Annual Dance Studio Listings

May 13, 2014

Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh in Peter Martins' "Eight Easy Pieces"

Every year it gets more exciting to hear what the local dance studios have to offer. More choreography. More themes. More high quality dance. The professional dance scene can only benefit from all this activity, as evidenced by the growing presence of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre alumni. Read more about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


Dance Beat: PBT

April 25, 2014
Alexandra Kochis Photos: Rich Sofranko

Alexandra Kochis Photos: Rich Sofranko

ENDING AND BEGINNING. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre ended its season in various areas of sunny Spain. First there was a weekend of Don Quixote performances at the Benedum Center (read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). And the Sunday matinee was followed by a reception at Larrimor’s (the latest cool place for Downtown organizations), where attendees could not only nosh on a great buffet and sip sangria and wine, but listen to the Spanish duende (or soul) of Alba Flamenca.

 

Alejandro Diaz

Alejandro Diaz

PBT also had a surprise announcement involving the annual mixed bill. Not only was it moved from the August Wilson Center and then the Byham Theater, but with the help of an anonymous donor, the program will be held at the Benedum Center with full orchestra to help celebrate the company’s 45th anniversary. The program will include a triple bill from three master choreographers: the wit of Mark Morris’ Sandpaper Ballet and Jerome Robbins’ The Concert flanking Jiri Kylian’s more dramatic Petite Mort. There is no doubt that this will be a rich program, with works that are already lauded in the classical ballet repertoire. And therein lies the rub. This will be part of a 45th season that will look back rather than send the company into the future — The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Beauty and the Beast and La Bayadere. The “Premieres” program is supposed to be adventurous, but artistic director Terrence Orr has chosen to play it safe…and increasingly so in a ballet world that is continually pushing the envelope.

In the meantime, enjoy some snippets…

 


On Stage: PBT Dancers Coming and Going

April 3, 2014

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s mixed rep program at the August Wilson Center always provides the opportunity to see the company grow over the course of two weekends. There is no substitute for those extra performances.This year there was a bonus — rumors swirling around changes in the company for the upcoming season.

When the dust had settled, PBT’s dynamic duo, named to Dance Magazine’s 25 to Watch list in successive seasons, leaped to the top as Amanda Cochrane and Yoshiaki Nakano were promoted to principal dancer. Following in their footsteps were corps members Gabrielle Thurlow and Alejandro Diaz, who both moved up to soloist.

Four company members will also be leaving. Principal dancer Christine Schwaner will have a tough end to her 8-year run with the company. She was diagnosed with a severe case of shin splints just prior to the company’s Swan Lake and has not recovered enough to participate in the season finale of Don Quixote. Sadly she had developed a quite a following. Fans waited until the casting was posted just so they could see her.

Soloist Eva Trapp and corps member Nicolas Coppula, a couple in real life, will be heading for New York City and plan to work with American choreographic master Twyla Tharp.

And corps member Steven Hadala, a stalwart dancer for 16 years (and a record!), will move on to teaching in Michigan.

Actually the above dancers had quite a run during the 3×3 program, making an impression on several occasions. Here are some of the most memorable:

● Yoshiaki led the mens’ entrance of Ketubah with such gravity and commitment, while Gabrielle led the women on stage, burning like a glowing ember.

● Eva and Nicolas took advantage of a moment during In Your Eyes, where they crafted an intimate, beautiful duet. Everyone was holding their breath at the end.

● Stephen was obviously relishing every moment on stage as he appearedin all three ballets.

Other members of the company took advantage of new performing opportunities:

● It was my first chance to see three-year veteran Cooper Verona in a leading role, the groom in Ketubah. Such a handsome, fluid mover!

● Favored with such elegant legs and feet, Joseph Parr finally grew to appreciate them, particularly when interpreting the tricky rhythmic phrasing of Dwight Rhoden in Smoke ‘n Roses.

● Another trio — the three dancers who came across the Atlantic and landed in Pittsburgh for their first season. Brit Hannah Carter had such a deep ease and polish about her dancing — look for great things from her. Compatriot William Moore is just latching onto a fine contemporary flair. And Ruslan Mukhambetkaliyev, cousin of principal Nurlan Abougaliev, showed major glimpses of the real confidence and charm that audiences love about Nurlan.


On Stage: Swiss-made Ballet

March 21, 2014

Geneve LUX-PERMANET-2

Recent Dance Magazine award winner Patricia Wilde still looked regal as she stood in the audience for the Ballet de Grand Théâtre de Genève. The former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre artistic director was there as an alumnus of the company, where she helped George Balanchine establish a school. The group has since changed its style to another contemporary niche, but she looked radiant as she watched the work of two rising choreographers, a rare treat for Pittsburgh viewers. Read about the performance in the Pittsburgh  Post-Gazette.Geneve red dress-Gregory-Batardon_50A1622

"Requiem" Photos: Gregory Bartardon.

“Requiem” Photos: Gregory Bartardon.


On Stage: Pittsburgh Ballet — Holding on to Tradition

March 6, 2014

Julia Erickson Photos: Rich Sofranko

Julia Erickson Photos: Rich Sofranko

Under artistic director Terrence Orr, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has developed a theatrical path reminiscent of his alma mater, American Ballet Theatre, one of a few American companies to do so. Most others have built some variation on the speed and contemporary flair of George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet.

Alexandra Kochis

Alexandra Kochis

Mr. Orr mounted four separate casts for the company’s latest encore of Swan Lake, which produced backstage drama all its own when it was reduced to three. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Gabrielle Thurlow and Nurlan Abougaliev in The Sleeping Beauty Photos: Duane Rieder

Gabrielle Thurlow and Nurlan Abougaliev in The Sleeping Beauty Photos: Duane Rieder

His balletic philosophy will apparently continue as PBT celebrates its 45th anniversary season next year, where four of the productions will be large and classically oriented. Given classical ballet’s limited full-length repertoire, we will again see The Sleeping Beauty, always a challenge for the company due to its pristine technique, and the annual Nutcracker.

Alexandra Kochis in La Bayadere

Alexandra Kochis in La Bayadere

Amanda Cochrane and Robert Moore in Beauty and the Beast

Amanda Cochrane and Robert Moore in Beauty and the Beast

Mr. Orr has also chosen La Bayadere, another Russian masterpiece, full of exotic aromas. He has subsequently reached into his own past for Lew Christensen’s Beauty and the Beast, a marketable title and apparently garnering good reviews, but choreographed in 1958.

That leaves the singular repertory night, next year moving from the August Wilson Center, currently an arts question mark due to financial difficulties, back to the Byham Theater.

PBT only announced Dwight Rhoden’s 7th Heaven, created for the larger Benedum Center stage and panned when it was condensed for the smaller Joyce Theater in New York. It will need trimmed for the Byham.

The other two ballets on the program were not announced. They will celebrate “innovations from its 45-year collection.” I would like to suggest Ohad Naharin’s Tabula Rasa (1986), by far the best commission that PBT has produced (I can still see it), a ballet that has been performed all over the world with PBT’s name attached.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mJY6IatydKc

And then there is the obvious — a brand new commission for Pittsburgh native Kyle Abraham and a harbinger for a bright future as PBT nears its 50th. He recently received the MacArthur “Genius” Award and was tapped by Wendy Whelan, principal with New York City Ballet and one of the premier ballerinas dancing today, for a duet commission in Restless Creature. Why not give him a chance?

But then, you might have some other suggestions. Email me at jvranish1@comcast.net.


Dance Beat: PBT Honors

January 23, 2014
Janet Groom, Terrence Orr, Nicholas Petrov and Patricia Wilde.

Janet Groom, Terrence Orr, Nicholas Petrov and Patricia Wilde.

DRESSING UP FOR JANET. She’s been one of the pillars of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre over the past 40 years. And most certainly, costumier Janet Groom has been one of the reasons behind PBT’s success. Having seen other regional companies and some of the costumes that have been imported for various productions, I can easily say that Janet has been a hidden treasure. Mostly, that is. She often views performances, sometimes in a handmade Groom original that picks up on the theme of the evening’s ballet. PBT honored her at Perlè, one of Pittsburgh’s newest and coolest venues, a versatile contemporary space in Market Square. There Janet was in the spotlight, honored by board member Carolyn Byham and current artistic director Terrence Orr. Also in attendance were founding and first artistic director Nicolas Petrov and the always elegant artistic director Patricia Wilde, amid a fine “turn out” by board and company members. As a bonus, several of Janet’s exquisite costumes adorned the walls, so that we could get an up close and personal look at her remarkable attention for detail.

KUDOS TO PATRICIA. Speaking of Patricia Wilde, she was recently honored by Dance Magazine, putting her in some stratospheric company, including the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov, Merce Cunningham and Pina Bausch.(Click on  DM for a complete list.) “Oh, I thought was long forgotten,” she said when we talked at the PBT company studios. But when she was contacted for a Dance Magazine article on batterie — she was known for her sparkling footwork — her name resurfaced for editor Wendy Perron. When all was said and done, Patricia was noted as a real triple-threat. She moved from a hard-working principal at New York City Ballet (she once attended a rehearsal on the day of her wedding) to a ballet mistress and globe-trotting teacher to a 15-year stint as PBT artistic director. These days she still can be seen at rehearsals and performances and is still in demand as a teacher. Pittsburgh is truly lucky.

YOSHIAKI NAKANOMORE FOR YOSHIAKI. Newly-appointed PBT soloist Yoshiaki Nakano broke through as a winner of the Beijing International Ballet Competition this past summer. Now he has capped that by being named to Dance Magazine’s 25 to Watch for 2014. Congrats!

SOPHIE. And last but not least, PBT student Sophie Sea Silnicki,16, will be participating in Switzerland’s Prix de Lausanne, one of the major ballet competitions in the world. Follow her journey beginning January 27 by clicking on Sophie.


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