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: 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.

Dads!

Dads!

 

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: 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: 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: 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: 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: 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: Gene Kelly — The Legacy

May 20, 2014

Movie icon Gene Kelly has always been larger than life here, being that he was a Pittsburgh native. This week viewers will have a rare opportunity to see him when Kelly returns to the big screen at the Byham Theater Wednesday night.

Wife Patricia Ward Kelly will bring a separate set of clips in this complimentary piece to her talk at the University of Pittsburgh in 2012, which focused on his use of the camera. The Byham evening will be more personal, an in-depth look at the varying dimensions of Kelly. “There are a couple of similarities,” says his wife. “But much of it will be very, very different.”

So it will again prove something: “Gene — we hardly knew ye.” “People come away with an altered sense of who Gene was,” she notes. “They love him up on the screen, but they kind of think that’s who he really was. They kind of forget that he’s acting up there. I think they think that he danced around the house and was this happy-go-lucky guy. I don’t think they think of him as this guy who was mostly cerebral — sitting down in a chair reading a book, writing poetry and things like that.”

Actually most people don’t know that he directed what we see in movies like On the Town and An American in Paris, choreographed what we see in Singin’ in the Rain. They don’t understand how revolutionary so much of the work was.

“That’s what is really fun about it,” she continues. “People don’t realize that he spoke so many languages [Yiddish, French, Latin and Italian], that he was a cultural ambassador to Africa. They don’t realize that he had these personal friendships with great writers like Carl Sandburg and Samuel Becket and Thornton Wilder.”

So they just come out with a greater appreciation for him.

Patricia underlines that he didn’t just study one form of dance. He studied everything — history, literature, poetry and mathematics. And Kelly wasn’t just that athletic all-American guy. He wasn’t only a tap dancer, but a classically-trained ballet dancer who also conceived what you saw and positioned the camera for what we saw.

Hamburg Ballet artistic director John Neumeier, San Francisco Ballet artistic director Helgi Tomasson, Joffrey Ballet principal dancer Fabrice Calmels, American Ballet Theatre principal dancer Roberto Bolle. The name that they give is Gene Kelly as the man who got them to dance. It’s not Baryshnikov. It’s not Nureyev. It’s Kelly.

“He made it okay for a guy to dance,” Patricia explains. When he saw Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo in Pittsburgh, he auditioned and was offered a position in the corps de ballet. But he turned it down, because he didn’t think he could support his family on that salary.

Kelly could go on to study with modern dance pioneers like Martha Graham, Charles Weidman and Doris Humphrey, plus some Spanish dance along the way.

He saw the interconnectedness of it all. So if a young artist asked, “What should we study?” He would say, “Everything.”

Maybe that’s why he touches people in so many ways.

 

This Renaissance man conceived a completely different style of American dance. “It’s not what Astaire was doing, continuing the tradition of ballroom dancing,” says Patricia. “This was dance that furthered the plot and was incorporated into the plot. Singin’ in the Rain is understood around the world. Instead of saying that he’s in love with a girl and is so happy, he does it all in motion. That was really a shift, something that wasn’t seen before him.”

She continues, “That was the challenge for him — not only to make something that’s really contemporary, but something that’s timeless.”

That’s what still inspires Patricia, who always watches the clips during her talk. ”The funny thing is that I have to remind myself to go back on stage because I get so caught up in what’s going on and I hear the audience responding. It’s a selfish thing for me, because I get so much out of it. I guess it was also a way of dealing with the absence and the loss because it makes him so continually present and alive.”

Thus she shares the legacy, reaping the rewards of his timeless art. “I’m constantly reminded that this is stuff that holds up,” she admits. “It’s sixty-plus years old, but it’s still really vibrant and fresh.”

Patricia happily provides the link to Kelly’s history. “It was personal for me, but I hear how it touches the people. I see the wit of it, the brightness of what he executed.”

So she will greet people before and after the show, giving it her own personal touch, then will talk to four high schools over the next two days. After rehearsals for the Gene Kelly Awards for excellence in high school musicals at the Benedum Center, she will step on stage to present the final awards Saturday“It’s really Gene on Gene that people are getting,” she says of The Legacy talk. “It’s as close as they’re going to come with this guy.”


On Stage: PPU’s Dance Explosion

May 17, 2014
Nick Fearon and Vanessa Guinto in "Wolfgang." Photo: Jeff Swensen

Nick Fearon and Vanessa Guinto in “Wolfgang.” Photo: Jeff Swensen

Conservatory Dance Company literally filled the Byham Theater stage with dance during its annual visit, but in four vastly different ways.

The first was George Balanchine’s Serenade (1934) one of the most memorable ballets in the classical repertory and full of ever-changing tidal patterns that never fail to entice, even after multiple viewings.It was a remarkably cohesive performance, especially give that the student cast was probably not schooled exclusively in the Balanchine technique.

Still, they were confidently led by Kathryn Van Yahres, Cassidy Burk and Alyssa Blad, surprisingly so when partnered by Alex Hathaway and Justus Whitfield. The two young men, in particular, exemplified the wonderful attention to detail used by stager Joysanne Sidimis — how to walk like the Elegy Boy or how to place the arms with authority.

Martha Graham’s Steps in the Street (from CHRONICLE) came from the same time period (1936). The two works couldn’t be more different, one an abstract romantic ballet, the other evoking images of war. Both, however, were connected by the genius of their creators and remained timeless.

They also set a high standard for the rest of the program.

David Parsons has contributed several worthy pieces to the Point Park University dance department (The Envelope, Nuevo). He is an offshoot of Paul Taylor’s athleticism, but without the intellectual purpose behind it.

So the beginning of Wolfgang was unfocused and heavy-handed. Part of that had to do with the sophisticated delicacy of Mozart’s music, a labarinthian task for any choreographer. By the third movement, however, he had settled on a wry humor and lightly etched dance that was more suitable.The students, notwithstanding, gave it their all throughout.

Dwight Rhoden put the exclamation point on the evening with Mercy. There are two ways that a Rhoden piece can come across, given his penchant for a form of choreographic multi-tasking — multiple moves per beat — as either relentless or mesmerizing. With the passion of PPU’s Mercy cast, it was the latter on opening night, despite the fact that the overall intent wasn’t particularly clear, what with a disparate accompaniment from Bach and The Hallelujah Chorus to Indian music driving the dance.

Even so, Will Geoghegan had the solo role of his years of Point Park and the cast certainly followed suit.


On Stage: Sean Dorsey Dance

May 16, 2014

Dance has always been a venue for displaying the human condition. But until Sean Dorsey came to the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, many of us didn’t realize that we viewed dance in a traditional masculine/feminine way.

We had seen Pittsburgh native Kyle Abraham make his homosexuality a major part of his choreography in an oblique way with great success. Dorsey was more direct in The Secret History of Love, using a recorded history of homosexual love stories to accompany the movement, although it almost bordered on a lecture/demonstration.

 

And while Abraham’s style embraced a more contemporary feel, drawn from a street-inspired dance vocabulary, Dorsey presented clean, traditional modern dance with a heavy overlay of ballet technique.

Abraham was always masculine in his approach to the movement, but Dorsey allowed his dancers to shed that. They remained in touch with their own skins as they moved, forming a comfort zone that was honest and grounded. There wasn’t a lot of artistic surprise here, something that sets Abraham’s work apart, but no matter. The audience was happy to see and hear their own stories on the stage and touch the deep emotional content to be had.


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