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: A Tale of a Soldier, Attack and Dave

February 27, 2014


Dave Eggar is the modern-day equivalent of a medieval musician, who moved from court to court. But now he has a jet set mentality, trilling in China for an Adidas commercial, or Alaska for a video of American Idol winner Philip Phillips’ latest hit single, or, our favorite, returning to Pittsburgh and Attack Theatre.

He is a superhero kind of cellist, at ease as much with local transport as he is with airports. We’re glad when he touches down in our fair city to play, perform and, in this instance, to compose.

Dave was on hand for Attack’s encore production of Stravinsky’s monumental chamber work, Histoire du Soldat (The History of a Soldier). It was a big hit its first time out two years ago (relish Jonathan Eaton’s updates like “subprime mortgages” and “FDIC-insured”) and is even better now. Opening night was as tight as it could be, with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra musicians merrily chewing on the impossibly tricky score. With a few new tweaks to be had, the Attack dancers transformed this parable into a devilishly smart, entertaining and absolutely delightful performance.

Dave came in, though, to compose the music for the world premiere of  A Tiny Droplet of a Portrait in collaboration with Chatham Baroque. Featuring the blossoming duo of Kaitlin Dann and Brent Luebbert, the piece, conceived and choreographed by Peter Kope and Michele de la Reza, was a Baroque relationship study in, according to Dave, 5 1/2 movements, using structured musical elements like the gavotte and sarabande and injecting African rhythms and electronica.

The latter innovations signaled the underlying emotions of the relationship, imbuing it with a contemporary patina. Along that end, both wore plush Baroque pants costumes, giving the piece the illusion of time travel. Kudos to Chatham Baroque, who plunged into the Eggar mix with verve and a sense of adventure.

dave eggers-smallWhenever Dave comes to town, it’s always fun to catch up on his own latest adventures. So read on to capture his own version of time travel.

Q: It’s been almost a year since you’ve been in Pittsburgh. Bring us up to date.

A: This year has been insanely exciting. After I did Attack’s public art project, I toured with Phillip Phillips, winner of American Idol two years ago. Gary Wattenberg pulled me into the studio to listen to his mega hit, Home. Within 5 minutes I was completely mesmerized. I wound up on the tour and played the Super Bowl right before the game at a tailgate party. I also wrote the score for the Mark Jackson film, War Story, and Difret, which won the audience award for best dramatic foreign film at Sundance. And I’m doing a new ballet doing created by Bylle Redford, performance artist and wife of Robert Redford who will star. Based on the four elements, it’s choreographed by Desmond Richardson and premiere in Miami in March.

Q: So you’re finally back in Pittsburgh. Tell us about your latest project.

A: When the idea first came to the table, it was kind of challenging for me. I thought, well, how do I write for Baroque instruments in a way that flatters the incredible virtuosity of these players on their instruments in that style, while making it something contemporary? I just didn’t want to write classical contemporary music on Baroque instruments. So what we ended up doing was something really interesting, a mixture of them playing a modern look at Baroque dance suite movements fused with various African rhythms and electronica.

Part of what I was thinking a lot about was the relationship between France and Africa in the Baroque period. Obviously France colonized Mali. So when you listen to the music of Senegal and Mali, a lot of the music seems related to the French Baroque because the musicians had to play that music for the French royalty when they were there. So I thought it would be fun to cross-pollinate those worlds and bring some of that rhythmic energy.

The choreography looks at a relationship between two dancers. At the beginning and the end, the dancers have a certain decorum, as if everything is okay in the relationship.  As these primal rhythms take over you start to see the ogres and the shadows and the darkness come through the relationship.

Q: What was the process like?

A: At Attack we’ve always had a process where the music and dance talk to each other.  I’ll inch a few steps forward and they’ll inch a few steps forward.

It’s an introverted piece and it’s nice that it’s on the program with L’Histoire, this incredible masterpiece that’s so theatrical and extroverted. When I was writing it, it was sort of intimidating. Who wants to be on the same program where the other composer is Stravinsky? I mean, like no one.

So I decided to go the opposite direction, try to do something that was more vulnerable and fragile. You could almost wonder if the Chatham Baroque players are accompanying the dance or if they might be the players in the bedroom where this is going on in Louis XIV’s court, the way that my predecessors might have played for royalty in that day.

And in another through-the-looking-glass kind of thing, it starts with Baroque, then everything starts to go awry. The electronica shows the passion and the energy that connects these two dancers. When they go back to putting their masks on, it’s probably with a little bit more intelligence and knowledge.

I wanted it to feel like a Baroque dance suite, but the electronic and tribal components started interfering with them playing these very specific movements. It let me explore things like the Courante and Sarabande and the tarantella and kind of like a Gigue — to explore these rhythms and explore them in a more rhythmical sense. That was exciting to me.


Q: How did Chatham Baroque respond to the score?

A. They were very good about trying things. With the first draft I told them not to freak out, because it might be completely non-thematic. They were been great at learning it, and adapting it when it needed it. Now my goal for the piece in a lot of ways is the two dancers and three musicians as one band, really as a unified little world where the electronic is an exterior and the two dancers and three musicians are an interior. I love to juxtapose contexts and make people think. I love artists who think outside the box.

Q: How do you shift musical gears so effortlessly?

A: I’m very organized in my head, which is very good. I have a lot of pragmatic Swiss genes from my Swiss ancestors.

I used to wrestle with multiple hats a lot, but then I started to embrace it. Am I a producer? Am I a cellist? I say I’m going to do chamber music again. Then I’m asked to compose this amazing action film score. Eventually all of these different worlds started to connect in really fun interesting ways. It’s quite magical. I feel very blessed and very lucky.

It’s made me very empathic, because I have to understand people from all sorts of traditions — written music people, pop stars, Middle Eastern musicians, Chinese musicians. Every style I’m playing with, I’m dealing with a different kind of personality, a different kind of approach to music. It’s made me away better musician just to have that breadth.

One day I’m working on how to have a hit song for an artist, another refining chamber music. I wish more musicians would have more diversity.

I went from playing the Super Bowl to teaching 3000 kids in Chicago the next day. I went from playing before 89 million at the Super Bowl and in the next day was able to touch a bunch of school kids with music. It’s a beautiful thing. None are better than others – they’re just all different.

Yes, it’s been a really interesting time. I’m also exhausted.

Q: Do you ever take a vacation?

A: I had this vacation time planned, saying there’s nothing that’s going to get in the way of this. Then Phillip Phillips called, asking if I want to be in this video in Alaska around his next big single. Then I got a call to play for a commercial for Adidas sneakers in China. Two massively paid gigs. Two incredible experiences.

Life throws you a lot of curve balls and a lot of unexpected stuff. You have to look at it and sort of move and bend and turn.

Q: So it keeps you flexible.You say that the first week of March changed four times in three days. What keeps you coming back to work with the Attack Theatre?

A: There’s a lot that I love about Attack, but what I really feel is it that they’re not afraid in the creative space of the performance, that they’re not afraid to go through a period of the unknown to redefine the performance space. And for me as a versatile musician, that is very exciting. So when you look at the final project, it’s nothing like what you imagined when you first started. You end up finding out more about yourself through the collaborative process.


That philosophic outlook continues to pay off. In the weeks ahead, in addition to the Redford ballet, Dave will appear on PBS’ Emmy Award-winning Bluegrass Underground and will be finishing up the new Phillip Phillips record. He also plays on an average of seven or eight records a week, some of which he records on tracks from the road, including Grammy-nominated jazz saxophonist Chris Potter.

Dave is also addicted to his mobile devices. Another message come through and I reluctantly bring the interview to an end. He admits that living on a tour bus for six months will do that to you.

Catch it through Sunday. Click on Attack.


On Stage: Compagnie Käfig

February 6, 2014
Photo: Michel Cavalca

Photo: Michel Cavalca

It was almost like a breath of fresh air when France’s Compagnie Käfig breezed into town with its own brand of hip-hop. See what all the excitement was about in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Dance Beat: More KST

February 6, 2014


A Second Season. Aren’t we lucky to have the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, so full of dance adventure? It’s almost like a bonus right now – KST is producing a terrific second season that will add a lot of punch to the Pittsburgh dance community.

Baker & Tarpaga Dance Project returns with the local premiere of Beautiful Struggle Feb 21–22 and we will welcome back Sidra Bell Dance New York March 7–8 with the world premiere of garment. Also on tap is Sean Dorsey Dance in the Secret History of Love April 4–5.

KST’s Next Stage Dance Residency has produced some exceptionally fine productions. This year’s resident artists will be Mana Kawamura, who made a strong impression at the last newMoves Festival, and local improv queen, Gia T. Cacalano. See them Feb.1.

KST is also providing a springboard for Pittsburgh-based artists in Fresh Works, where they are given 80 rehearsal hours at The Alloy Studios to explore cross-genre collaborations. The program culminates with a performance during Unblurred: First Fridays on Penn. First up is Alan Obuzor on February 7. Click on KST for more info.

Love to see Pittsburgh dance living on the edge.

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.

Dance Beat: Holiday Studio News

December 9, 2013

tumblr_mwxfu2W3kv1slhgi2o1_500A HOLIDAY PACKAGE. Wexford Dance Academy’s Kate Gardinier just finished touring the Southeast with the Radio City Music Hall Christmas Spectacular as Clara. She touched down in West Palm Beach, Atlanta and Tamps. Catch up on her blog at pittsburghclara.

NYC. Elva Scapes’ Ballet Baroque is heading for Carnegie Hall in New York Jan. 18 to participate in a program sponsored by Performing Arts Educators. For more info, call Elva at 412-366-0726.

GIFTS OF DANCE. Congrats to Dance Workshop by Shari, which celebrated its 10th annual “Gifts of Dance” Benefit Performance this past weekend at Baldwin High School Auditorium. The studio has raised over $85,000 for various charitable organizations over the years.


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.


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