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


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.


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.

Dance Beat: Wrapping up 2013 – Conclusion

January 14, 2014


LOVE STORY. That’s what it was at Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse, where the dance department paid tribute to retiring Nicolas Petrov and his production of Romeo and Juliet. It was one of his early works, as layered with Bolshoi-inspired choreography as it was with heavy-duty lifts. The most complex ballet project ever undertaken by Point Park, it was obvious that both staff and student dancers put a great deal of work into this production.

ARTS BARGAIN. It was a two for one night. The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust put on a holiday party at Sonoma, filling it with fine wine and food and great people who support the arts downtown, which has been so instrumental in transforming the area. Then it was over to the Kelly Strayhorn, where janera solomon and her super productive staff filled the lobby with fine wine and food and great people who support the arts in the East End. We need them both, demonstrating, as they do, the incredible range to be found in the arts.

Web_Banner7e0024c8c933 A GREAT PACKAGE. What can’t the Attack-ers do? Not only do they do original adult programming, but Attack Theatre can take a children’s production like Holiday Unwrapped and entrance everyone, from tiny tots to lofty ladies like me.

“V”. We’re like sisters – the two Ms. V’s. Tall, beautiful, talented…oh, stop! I bask in the shadow of Vie Boheme, alias Kendra Dennard. It was great to see her back in town, performing at the Dance Alloy, under the aegis of the Kelly Strayhorn. She had taken her own strong path, using artists like Josephine Baker and Nina Simone in constructing the third and final installment of Viva: Black, where she started to unfold and enrich her own considerable stage personality. Love the way Vie used those strong black women, segments that could stand on their own, to to provide a platform to launch this new one-woman show.


Dance Beat: Wrapping up 2013 — Part Two

January 11, 2014

1391781_10151981930346460_911768040_nPBT  POINTE IN TIME. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre had its annual ball at the Westin Hotel, perhaps its most beautiful ever. It pirouetted around Swan Lake, with many guests clad in elegant black and white amid Mt. Lebanon Floral’s towering table designs. While guests could dance to Gary Racan and the studio-e Band and around the meandering musicians, they came to see one of the most anticipated features — PBT dancers performing clips from the current season. There was a sneak preview of Julia Adam’s Ketubah, rather restrained in its traditionalist Jewish overtones, and not one, but two of fine pas de deux from Christine Schwaner and Nurlan Abougaliev (Black Swan) and White Swan Alexandra Kochis with Christopher Budzynski (good to see him making an appearance in the midst of his recovery from a back injury). Most popular were the Twyla Tharp numbers — Gabrielle Thurlow  and Alexandre Silva in the Sinatra-inspired All the Way and a Stomper segment from In the Upper Room. But the PBT school students raised the roof when 60-some dancers squeezed onto the dance floor, to the palpable delight of the audience.

MORE DELIGHT. Maree ReMalia and Jil Stifel split the Kelly Strayhorn’s Fresh Faces series at Dance Alloy. Both were preludes to full-length works on the horizon, but managed to captivate on their own. Jil produced Objects For Dance, joining with husband/sculptor Blaine Siegel and movement partner Maree. Blaine constructed a real gallery feel (the piece was subsequently performed at a gallery in Philadelphia), with substantial walls and featuring art installations, dominated by a waterfall of colored fabric. It became a playground, with the women penetrating a flexible audience, who were free to move and respond. The women daringly chose Mark Taylor for a quizzical trio, opening up a delectable box of memories from the former artistic director of the Alloy in that very studio. Maree then followed with the Ubiquitous Mass of Us, a contemporary Keystone Kops scramble of a piece that somehow managed to harness the almost overwhelming energy of the nine performers, that also included Jill and artistic collaboration from Blaine. Us also broke down the wall, strikingly so, between performers and audience. Can’t wait to see the full-blown premiere at the New Hazlett Theater in June.

On Stage: Another “Nut”-ty Year…

December 15, 2013
The Clowns. Photos: Rich Sofranko

The Clowns. Photos: Rich Sofranko

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre took to the floorboards in the latest edition of Terrance Orr’s “Nutcracker.” The company has a lot of depth and confidence right now, enough to see it through the entire run. Read about it at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Yoshiaki Nakano flying high as Mr. McTavish.

Yoshiaki Nakano flying high as Mr. McTavish.

Dance Beat: Freddie, Our Dance Love

December 9, 2013
Shari Little

Shari Little

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.

Tamar Rachelle and Steven Annegarn in "Romeo and Juliet."

Tamar Rachelle and Steven Annegarn in “Romeo and Juliet.”

On Stage: Tharp Dance

October 29, 2013
Robert Moore and Hannah Carter in "Nine Sinatra Songs." Photos: Rich Sofranko

Robert Moore and Hannah Carter in “Nine Sinatra Songs.” Photos: Rich Sofranko

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. 

Elysa Hotchkiss, Eva Trapp and Julia Erickson in "In the Upper Room."

Elysa Hotchkiss, Eva Trapp and Julia Erickson in “In the Upper Room.”

Elysa Hodgkiss and Alejandro Diaz in "In the Upper Room."

Elysa Hodgkiss and Alejandro Diaz in “In the Upper Room.”

On Stage: Fall Dance Preview

September 13, 2013
Marie Chouinard

Marie Chouinard

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…


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