On Stage: A Robust Fall Opening for Texture

October 6, 2014


Texture Studio Session-155-Edit

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.

Dance Beat: BRAZZIES, Carmen, Abby Lee, SYTYCD

August 19, 2014
Leslie Anderson-Braswell, Alan Obuzor and Julia Erickson (L to R).

Leslie Anderson-Braswell, Alan Obuzor and Julia Erickson (L to R).

JULIA AND ALAN. Greer Reed of REED DANCE awarded the second annual BRAZZY Awards to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal Julia Erickson and Texture Contemporary Ballet founder Alan Obuzor during her REED DANCE summer intensive this past weekend at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater. It turned out that there was a strong PBT connection here. The award is named for Leslie Anderson-Braswell, who began at PBT, trained at Stuttgart Ballet and performed with Geneva Ballet and Dance Theater of Harlem before returning to Pittsburgh following a career-ending injury. Here she taught and was recognized by President Ronald Reagan with an Outstanding Teacher Award at the White House among other awards. As for the recipients, Julia had a stellar performing year, showing great range, not only in Swan Lake, but in the Twyla Tharp program, where she glamorized Sinatra Songs (in a designer dress and heels) and then turned around and became a Stomper (in tennis shoes) for In the Upper Room. Alan already occupies a singular place in Pittsburgh dance, having started at PBT and, after an injury, founding Texture. There he wears many hats, operating as artistic director, choreographer and dancer. This season the Dance Magazine award winner (25 To Watch) is now branching out, as was seen in the softly sculpted jazz inflections of Looking Back and Moving Forward, a terrific collaboration at the Dance Alloy with songstress Angwenique Wingfield.


CARMEN. Most people don’t yet know that the Kelly Strayhorn Theater is bringing a piece of living dance history — Carmen de Lavallade — for three evenings! See a documentary film, Carmen and Geoffrey (Holder, her husband) and talk with Carmen Sept. 10 at Dance Alloy, then take in her solo evening Sept. 12 and 13 at the Kelly Strayhorn. An uncommonly rich woman who was one of the first African American ballerinas,  encouraged Alvin Ailey to dance, artist in so many facets of life and former professor at Yale University. A once in a lifetime experience!


BIG. Abby Lee Miller is gradually assembling a juggernaut business as an offshoot of Dance Moms. She sent a photo of a class in Australia — 900 students!


SYTYCD NEWS. I was waiting to see how far So You Think You Can Dance would go in translating two to three minute routines into something longer and more developed choreographically. It has already had an impact on concert dance, both amateur and professional. But I think jaws dropped over the announcement a couple of weeks ago that choreographer Sonya Tayeh would be working with the Martha Graham Company. A late starter to dance, Sonya doesn’t have an extensive Graham history, but has been assembling a resume including Dance Magazine’s 25 to Watch (2009), an Emmy nomination (2013) and choreography for Madonna, Florence and the Machine, Kyle Minogue and Miley Cyrus. Judge Nigel Lithgow also revealed that Emmy-nominated Travis Wall wants to choreograph for the New York City Ballet. We shall see…


On Stage: Opera Theater and Attack Theatre

July 14, 2014
Breaking down the Wall. Photos: Patti Brahim.

Breaking down the Wall. Photos: Patti Brahim.

It seems like The Fantasticks has been around forever. And it has. Really, it is the longest-running musical in the world, having been off-Broadway for 42 years and 17,162 performances.

But I can’t say that I have seen it.

Of course, I have been deeply aware of the musical itself, historically speaking, but mainly through its score. Everyone worth their musical salt seems to have sung Try To Remember and/or Soon It’s Gonna Rain at some point in their careers.




Now I can take my place among the thousands who have enjoyed the interactions of El Gallo (Sean Cooper), Matt (Adam Hill), Luisa (Rachel Eve Holmes), Hucklebee (Brian Hupp), Bellomy (James Critchfield), Henry (Martin Giles), Mortimer (Daniel Arnaldos) and The Mute (or The Wall, if you may, Dane Toney).

It was, in a word, terrific — hence the listing of all the players (more to follow).

Yes, it was fun to engage with the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh, in partnership with Attack Theatre at that wedding cake of a building, The Twentieth Century Club, in Oakland. And engaging it was, with the cast parading, dancing and singing amidst the audience at times.

A double flourish.

A double flourish.

The story line is simple. Boy meets Girl (despite the objections of their fathers, who built The Wall, ostensibly to keep them apart). Boy and Girl fall in love. Boy loses Girl when the truth comes out (that the fathers did staged it all so that their children would fall in love). Boy and Girl rediscover their love for each other.

The scenery (Marie Yokoyama) fell along those lines — a collection of scenery pieces perhaps gleaned from the backstage of a theater and affording the characters many levels on which to clamber around. Costumes (Julianne D’Errico) were mostly uncomplicated, as they should have been (watch for the vest switcheroo). And the music was appropriately intimate, with a quartet made up of piano (Walter Morales, also the musical conductor), percussion (Kevin Danchik), bass (Cory Palmer) and harp — loved the sparkling touch! (Marissa Knaub).

This musical is over 50 years old. Yet it seemed timeless (apparently with a few tweaks to the script) under Attack founder Peter Kope’s direction.

This is an young opera program on the rise, bolstered by veteran actors and singers that give it some heft. You might say it takes a village to raise an opera, with over 40 artists populating nearly 30 performances, workshops, recitals and the like.

Lovers and umbrellas.

Lovers and umbrellas.

With its off-Broadway history, The Fantasticks might seem to be a lightweight choice. But it translated to an operatic approach, with epic overtones, quite nicely.

Kope kept the cast on a taut physical rope to maximum effect, so the songs were staged so effectively and with great detail. The cast, not all of them dancers, took to it all with gusto.

Over-the-top, you might think. But this Fantasticks gathered steam as it rolled along, producing many moments to relish. Holmes’ skill at the devilish operatic leaps. Her obvious connection with Hill. Cooper’s robust presence as Narrator/El Gallo. The similarly obvious connection between the dads, Hupp and Critchfield. And who could play a Wall (et. al.) better than Toney?

This Fantasticks provides a great escape, along with some food for thought. But if you’ll otherwise preoccupied for Fantasticks, make it a point to check out the musical breezes wafting through Summerfest up to and including July 27.

Will she or won't she?

Will she or won’t she?

On Stage: Ubiquitous!

June 17, 2014

maree ubiquitous photo

Maree ReMalia and friends put together an invigorating work, The Ubiquitous Mass of Us, at the New Hazlett Theater. It concluded the Community Supported Art series in a big way. (Click on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for the article.) There’s more really good news, though. Next year dance will play a dominant role as well, with Moriah Ella Mason’s Untamed Myth (Oct. 11), performance artist Jennifer Myers’ Spatial Investigations (Dec. 12), Jil Stifel and Ben Sota in Contemporary Circus/Dance (Feb. 12) and Teena Marie Custer and Roberta Guido in a Double Feature (June 11). Also on the series will be composer Federico Garci-de Castro with Innovative Piano Music (Aug. 14) and Anya Martin’s Folkloric Performance (Apr. 2).

On Stage: Alexandra

June 9, 2014

14_05_02 Alexandra-112

Dance is an art form that, more than any other, exists in the moment. So there will be changes, some minute and some large, from day to day. But let’s consider the work-in-progress. This has always existed — Twyla Tharp brought a work-in-progress, with live video cam, to the Pittsburgh Dance Council at Heinz Hall.

Even now we see works prior to their formal debut in the Big Apple, much like the previews of a Broadway musical. It has become prevalent at the local level as well within the past few years. Alexandra Bodnarchuk’s CONNOTATIONS: unknown is a case in point.

We first saw part of the piece at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s newMoves Festival last year. But that was then and this is now. The work at KST was lopsided and disjointed. What emerged at PearlArts was a classic case of the ugly duckling that was transformed into a swan.

The piece was based on Alexandra’s theatrical experience at Bricolage Production’s STRATA in 2012. She stayed in a dimly lit room, the last girl at the prom, meeting people one by one, absorbing and interacting with the emotions they allowed themselves to present. Certainly that series of brief relationships was the basis for CONNOTATIONS.

14_05_02 Alexandra-81

But you didn’t have to know the history to discern the humanity of her piece and appreciate it for its own identity, especially given the strong team that Bodnarchuk had assembled, including Steve Hudock’s evocative soundscape and the striking costuming, a gray/neutral palette with red accents.

Cut into three sections, it approached the material from three differing perspectives. The first with four women in red, might have been the facets of Bodnarchuk herself. The second, a blindfolded duet with Zek Stewart, was an intense compilation of those multiple meetings in a nameless room, ranging from tentative touching to violence. Very powerful and the strongest segment of the piece.

In the final section, she responded to what had gone before, perhaps trying to make sense of it and learn from it, wrapping up the whole experience, but not too neatly.

We appreciated that.

On Stage: “Hearing” Murphy/Smith

November 14, 2013
Jamie Murphy and Renee Smith

Jamie Murphy and Renee Smith

At first glance, Jaime Murphy and Renee Smith couldn’t be much more different. Jaime has dark, curly hair framing her big eyes, and an edgy look, while Rene is a strawberry blonde, all arms and legs and angles.

As you might suspect, Jaime likes to play with dance, while Renee feeds on technique and line.

But there’s more than meets the eye (and ear) as the rising choreographic duo prepares for their first formal performance at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, See What I Hear.

The Point Park University graduates noticed each other in the dance program there, but didn’t really communicate until well into their college careers. Jaime, younger by a year, admitted to being intimidated by upperclassman Shannon at first.

But one day in a modern dance class, Renee, then a senior, walked over and admired a new tattoo that Jaime, a junior, had acquired.

That broke the ice.

The friendship didn’t heat up until after graduation when Jaime was choreographing Gravity + Grace and hired Shannon. They bonded over the project and now consider themselves to be best friends.

That bond led to collaborative projects and Murphy/Smith Dance Collective. At first they stuck to their individuality, creating independent phrases to be performed at the same time.

Now they’re getting to be two sides of the same artistic coin.

They always shared a home state, Ohio, and a similar sense of humor. Now they have discovered a state of constant compromise.

“It involves a lot of trust,” explains Renee. “But it’s starting to feel very comfortable. Now I’m  not as much of a control freak.” Jaime adds, “We kept the integrity of how we work, but we’re able to adapt things together.”

See What I Hear began as a 25-minute work-in-progress called Sound Project at The Alloy Studios this summer. Using some of the kernels of creativity formed there, the piece will arrive at about an hour’s length in its transfer to the KST stage this weekend for two performances.

With original music, mostly textured percussion by Gordon Nunn and his revamped sound sculpture, eight dancers will deal not only with sound, but communication.

Organized loosely around six parts, it will begin with a segment based on memories, specific to each of the dancers. Jaime calls it “really special.” But they both particularly love the ending, where any miscommunication encountered in subsequent movement is resolved.

Says Renee, “It feels really right every time we go through that section.”

Contact KST.

Dance Beat: Dueling Festivals — PIFOF and newMoves

October 1, 2013
Henri Michaux: Mouvements

Henri Michaux: Mouvements

I love it when Pittsburgh has dueling festivals and the Fall 2013 pairing is particularly rich. The Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts (PIFOF) already grabbed national press from the BIg Rubber Duck and the first performance was well-nigh perfect, from Compagnie Marie Chouinard. See the review in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, then what is coming next. Click on Pittsburgh Cultural Trust.



But don’t forget the Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s newMoves Dance Festival, now in its fifth year and chock full of adventurous dance, workshops, lunches with the artists, parties and so much more. Click on KST for tickets and more info. In the meantime, here’s the press release:

Over the course of three evening presentations, works by 18 different choreographers are performed onstage Kelly Strayhorn Theater. Emerging and established choreographers from Pittsburgh, New York, Philadelphia, State College, and beyond showcase excerpts, new works, and works-in-progress, providing a lush mix of performances that will energize artists and audiences alike.

Tickets are $10 for students and artists, $15 for 15206 residents, and $20 for general audiences. Each day of the festival is ticketed separately, and a festival pass is available for $45. Performances begin at 7:30 p.m. each night and run approximately 75 minutes. The theater will open one hour prior to show time for ticket sales and pre-show mixers at 6:30 p.m.

Note the Sidra Bell Workshops on Wednesday and Thursday and that Pennsylvania Dance Theater will conduct auditions on Friday, both at The Alloy Studios.

New for 2013, Kelly Strayhorn Theater co-presents the premiere of the interactive performance group
on Saturday, October 5 in partnership with VIA Festival. group is a two-person stage performance that draws upon conventions of rock concerts, spiritual rituals, exercise classes, team-building exercises, self-help seminars, and group therapy. group debuts at The Alloy Studios, 5530 Penn Avenue on Saturday, October 5 at 1:00 p.m. and 5:00 p.m. Both showings are free. Seating is limited and pre-registration is required.

Thursday, October 3 

Sidra Bell | Contemporary systems workshop 2

10 a.m. – 1 p.m. @ The Alloy Studios, 5530 Penn Avenue; $15

Artist lunch and talk

12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. @ Kelly Strayhorn Theater Lobby, 5941 Penn Avenue Open to all Festival Pass holders, pre-registration required.

Pre-show Mixer, Box office open

6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. @ Kelly Strayhorn Theater Lobby, 5941 Penn Avenue

newMoves – Program a

7:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. @ Kelly Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Avenue

Mar ́ya Wethers new york, ny (w)hole, again

Created and performed by Marýa Wethers, (w)hole, again follows a solitary character through a landscape of debris and discarded objects, navigating a psychological and energetic journey through loneliness, aggression and surrender, alternating between a perceived need for protection and a desire for transformation.

Abigail Zbikowski ColuMbus, oh guttural Fling
Guttural Fling is a duet about the futility in the release of the body and the necessary emergence of

form as a performance tactic.

Annalee Traylor Pittsburgh, Pa blue

Revealed through the eyes of two different characters, this piece is a journey through the thoughts, feel- ings, and emotions of a man who has been left by his woman, and the woman who chooses to leave her man.

Megan Mazarick PhilaDelPhia love-joy diver

love-joy diver is a re-mixed, re-mastered, and re-imagined duet originally created in 2005. It is a col- laboration between Megan (a post-modern choreographer) and her partner, Les Rivera (a hip hop dancer and performer). The duet initially looked at how differences (racial, sexual, political, artistic, physical, etc) informed perception in their relationship both onstage and offstage. Seven years later, they are incor- porating new ideas and focusing on the intersection of “us” as artists, people, archetypes, and moving bodies.

Staycee Pearl Pittsburgh, Pa encryption Cipher Variations

An algorithm that turns information into a secret code. A new work based on the up-coming release, Encryption Cipher— a series of locally grown hip-hop projects electronically remixed by Soy Sos of Tuff Sound Recording.

Friday, October 4

Pennsylvania Dance Theatre Auditions

10 a.m. – 12 p.m. @ The Alloy Studios, 5530 Penn Avenue

Founded in 1979, Pennsylvania Dance Theatre (PDT) has earned a reputation for staging intense dance theater works that are challenging and thought-provoking. Under the direction of German-born chore- ographer André Koslowski, the company has performed on national and international stages, and has brought to central Pennsylvania the type of powerful, progressive dance experience enjoyed by audi- ences in cultural centers like New York City and Berlin. pdtdance.org

Artist lunch and talk

12 p.m.-1:30 p.m. @ Kelly Strayhorn Theater Lobby, 5941 Penn Avenue Open to all Festival Pass holders, pre-registration required.

Site visit: Attack Theatre

2:30 p.m. –3:30 p.m. @ 2425 Liberty Ave. Pittsburgh, PA 15222

Attack Theatre has been making personal and collaborative dance performances for 19 years. Based in Pittsburgh’s historic Strip District neighborhood, their interdisciplinary productions have toured through- out the US, Europe, and Asia – including the Avignon Festival, the 7th Next Wave Dance Festival/Japan, Indonesia Arts Festival, Monaco Danses Forum, the Spoleto Festival, the Broadway production of Squonk, and over two dozen operas and symphonies worldwide. Open to the public. attacktheatre.com

Pre-show Mixer, Box office open

6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. @ Kelly Strayhorn Theater Lobby, 5941 Penn Avenue

newMoves – Program B

7:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. @ Kelly Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Avenue

Gia T. Cacalano Pittsburgh, Pa still liFe 2013

STILL LIFE 2013 reflects a concentrated focus over the last ten years in the study of and interest in understanding improvisation and instant composition in live performance. Made using a composed and loosely set framework of spatial patterns, the movement is created in the moment of choice to show real time in performance and the desire to connect with public by being.

Katie Rose Mclaughlin new york, ny Fun Molly
FUN MOLLY investigates transcendental moments of commonplace virtuosity set to bad pop music in the back of a dirty bar.

Shana Simmons Pittsburgh, Pa Dancing solo (excerpt)

Dancing Solo is a piece of music originally composed for clarinet player Caroline Hartig by composer Libby Larsen. It is a nationally known piece that originally premiered in 1994 at Carnegie Hall in New York City. Larsen composed it to interpret through a clarinetist what a dancer does on stage. The piece has been played countless times, but never with a dancer. In Larsen’s words, “The music is the dance and the dance is the music.”

Samantha Speis new york, ny the way it was and now

The Way it Was and Now looks through the lens of Samantha Speis and her experience as a black woman grappling with internalized racial oppression and the multiple ways it presents itself in her life. Conditioned to think and behave as society has instructed and been constructed, Speis teeters on the precipice of the need to overstate her blackness and the struggle not to retreat from it.

Mana Kawamura new york, ny cloud
cloud is a duet exploring the movements of body and their textures when manipulated and affected by imaginary things. cloud follows the theme of childhood, summer vacation, and restlessness.

Andre Koslowski state College, Pa Wiegenlied (excerpt)

Wiegenlied is the German word for lullaby. The piece takes place in a damaged landscape occupied by dead trees and trash. The dancers perform solo, often with their eyes closed, like lonely people who are dancing to comfort or calm themselves. The performers wear each other’s costumes, as if they just found something to put on. Their clothes don’t fit, men wear dresses, women wear men’s clothes, as if they don’t care—or aren’t even aware—that they are dressed strangely, or in the clothes of another gender. Isolated individuals keep looking for things they’ve lost. One woman keeps digging through the trash, finding cigarette packs and hoping one might still be in there.

Site visit and After Party: the Pillow Project

10 p.m. – 12 a.m. @ 214 N. Lexington Street, Pittsburgh, PA 15208

The Pillow Project is a band of artists who create, perform and share their work out of The Space Upstairs in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The artists involved are passionate jazz experimentalists who are driven to develop a new idea in physical movement and public performances and happenings. Open to the public. www.pillowproject.org

Saturday, October 5

Artist lunch and talk

12 p.m. – 1:30 p.m. @ Kelly Strayhorn Theater Lobby, 5941 Penn Avenue Open to all Festival ticketholders, pre-registration required


1:00 p.m. – 2:30 p.m. | 5:00 p.m. – 6:30 p.m. @ The Alloy Studios, 5530 Penn Avenue

newMoves co-presents group in partnership with VIA Festival. group is an interactive performance that draws upon conventions of group therapy and contemporary performance. Free, registration required. iamgroup.me/register

Site visit: Pearlarts Studios

2:30 p.m. – 3:30 p.m. @ 201 N Braddock Avenue, Pittsburgh, PA 15208

PearlArts Studios is a unique private art space shared with the public through artist residencies, re- hearsal rentals, informal showings, and short term movement and art workshops. PearlArts Studios is the home of STAYCEE PEARL dance project, a contemporary dance organization that exists to interpret and mirror culture and community. pearlartsstudios.com

Pre-show Mixer, Box office open

6:30 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. @ Kelly Strayhorn Theater Lobby, 5941 Penn Avenue

newMoves – Program C

7:30 p.m. – 9 p.m. @ Kelly Strayhorn Theater, 5941 Penn Avenue

Alexandra Bodnarchuk Pittsburgh, Pa Connotations: unknown, Part one

CONNOTATIONS: unknown, Part One uses dance as a medium to explore the ways in which we as people come in and out of each other’s lives for short or long durations of time. This is a section of the longer work, Connotations Unknown, which will premiere in Spring 2014.

Anthony Williams Pittsburgh, Pa back to black
Organic movement inspired by personal experiences related to identity, color, and the human condition.

Jasmine Hearn Pittsburgh, Pa mama, am i clean yet?
A solo exploration of a young middle class black American girl and her journey with the rituals of wearing white. This work is a memory wash of her story.

Devynn Emory New York, NY

In the early stages of development, this work is interested in finding structures and patterns that could marry dancer Aretha Aoki and devynn’s distinct styles in the service of a movement pallet that speaks to both an improvised self exploration as well as returning to a use of formally designed spatial patterning, creating portals where subtlety can interplay. As they have both broken away from classical trainings, they return to and embrace it through choreographic choices and modalities. This feels similar to the actions of self organization and pattern existing in queer and trans culture that can serve as a container, although often reveal intimacy, truth and genuine awkwardness of a body. The work you will see per- formed will continue into an evening length work and premiere in January at the Actors Fund.

Gierre Godley new york, ny 3 breaths
3 breaths is an abstract exploration on what are the most important stages in a persons life: their first breath, their last, and their first love.

Reed Dance Pittsburgh, Pa Chaos

Day of wrath and doom impending, David’s word with Sibyl’s blending, Heaven and earth in ashes ending! // Oh, what fear man’s bosom rendeth, When from heaven the Judge descendeth, On whose sentence all dependeth. // Wondrous sound the trumpet flingeth; Through earth’s sepulchres it ringeth; All before the throne it bringeth. // Death is struck, and nature quaking, All creation is awaking, To its Judge an answer making.

Festival Closing Party

10 p.m. – 12 a.m. @ Kelly Strayhorn Theater Lobby, 5941 Penn Avenue


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