On Stage: The Innermost Corps of Ballet

August 7, 2014
Accompanied by wife and son, Steven Hadala takes his final bow after a performance as Gamache in "Don Quixote." Photo: Aimee Waeltz

Accompanied by wife and son, Steven Hadala takes his final bow after a performance as Gamache in “Don Quixote.” Photo: Aimee Waeltz

It was a classy finish to Steven Hadala’s career as a corps de ballet member of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, where the whole company gathered around him after his final performance. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. But former PBT corps dancer Desiree Mastriano Arredondo, who knew Hadala briefly during her career with PBT, wrote to me following the article. “I just wanted to point out that PBT honors all of its members, in my opinion,” she said in her email. “When I retired four months pregnant in 1998 to move to Houston with my husband and soon-to-be child, [artistic director Patricia] Wilde gave me a performance of the Scotch Lass in [George Balanchine's] “Scotch Symphony” and presented me with flowers after my performance. It was a beautiful send off, and one I will never forget!”

Steven Hadala (Drosselmeyer) asks for a kiss from Alexandra Kochis (Marie) in "The Nutcracker." Photo: Rich Sofranko

Steven Hadala (Drosselmeyer) asks for a kiss from Alexandra Kochis (Marie) in “The Nutcracker.” Photo: Rich Sofranko

 

 


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: 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 Screen: Balanchine in America Part 1

March 4, 2013

They are hidden in what looks like Russian, but this is the Dance in America series with choreography by Balanchine. This segment has Tzigane, Divertimento No. 15 and The Four Temperaments with stellar casts.


Dance Beat: From Florida — Sun, Dance and a Food Fight

February 28, 2013
Naples beach

Naples beach

NAPLES, FLORIDA — So many snowbirds, young and old alike, head for the southern borders of the United States during the winter to grab some vitamin D. I recently headed to Naples, Florida, just above the Everglades on the Gulf Coast, primarily to visit friends Bonnie and Steve Crosby.

I had not been there since 2006, when I wrote a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article about the impressive growth of the arts scene under Myra Janco Daniels in only 25 years and the large Pittsburgh community that had collected there, including the still-active Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra tympanist and now composer/lecturer Stanley Leonard.

While it was relaxing to take a boat ride around the harbor and learn that the largest property belonged to Federated CEO J. Christopher Donahue of Pittsburgh or to saunter atop a camel and feed a giraffe at the tropical zoo, my friends also took me for an update at the Naples Museum of Art, attached at the hip to the all-inclusive Philharmonic Center for the Arts and primarily known for its glass collection by Dale Chihuly (some us may still remember the fascinating Phipps Conservatory exhibit in 2007). It offered the meaningful Painting Women, a scintillating wordplay on an exhibit by and about women, including Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keefe and balletic art master Edward Degas.

Admiring Chihuly's Persian Ceiling

Admiring Chihuly’s Persian Ceiling

I also was surprised to find Visual Connection: Painting, Sculpture & Photography Inspired by Dance. Artists included Rose Eichenbaum, photojournalist and contributor to Dance Magazine, Mark Haegman, photographer of the Bolshoi Ballet and sculptor Richard MacDonald, best known for his neo-realism, which captures perfect lines and proportions (down to prominent veins and muscular tissue), movements that are unattainable for most dancers and even the flow of a chiffon skirt. His subjects featured Rudolph Nureyev, artists from London’s Royal Ballet (including current star Sergei Polunin) and a new series on Cirque du Soleil. Perhaps inspired by that, his most recent sculptures capture amazing feats of balance. Click on his website for photos.

Richard MacDonald's "Romeo and Juliet"

Richard MacDonald’s “Romeo and Juliet”

At The Phil I was able to attend a performance by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, but more on that in another post.

Steve has also become quite the connoisseur of dance, a direct result of Bonnie’s career and continuing passion. He brings something else to his talks, though, through his Julliard music training and understanding and is able to formulate a wonderful connection that you can rarely find — seeing the dance through music.

The first talk took place at Naples United Church of Christ and was part of a six-week video lecture series. He had already touched on such delectable pairings as Bach/Neumeier and Stravinsky/Kylian.

I attended a session on contemporary Christian songs, interpreted through Mississippi’s Ballet Magnificat, subject of an extensive article by the Washington Post’s Sarah Kaufman. We all know how dance can inspire and uplift, but this focused on it in a whole new way.

The next day Steve moved to The Phil  for the first of a two-session talk on “choreographers that have a keen sense of the music,” which, he admitted, meant “no Merce Cunningham” in this instance. (By the way, he is in good company — The Phil’s Life Long Learning program also includes talks by Merrill Ashley, former principal with the New York City Ballet, and Peggy Lyman Hayes, former principal with Martha Graham.)

Steve covered his own personal choices (and astute they were) — ranging from Tchaikovsky/Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty (with a particularly eloquent Viviana Durante of the Royal Ballet, who got the loudest round of applause) to Alvin Ailey’s Sinner Man (from Revelations), Brazil’s sleek Grupo Corpo and a tasty Balanchine tidbit, of course (a poignant Mikhail Baryshnikov and Patricia McBride in The Steadfast Tin Soldier). Ah, Mr. b. lived and breathed music, but with his own artistic signature.

Finally we got to lick our lips over a Chaplinesque “food fight” from Jiri Kylian and his wife, Sabine Kupferberg, which has a presence on YouTube. Enjoy…


On Stage: A New “Group” Pas de Deux

November 12, 2012

Photos: Aimee Waeltz

It’s important for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and other companies like it to expand their sphere of artistic influence without taking on the financial risks of major touring. It also offers artistic benefits, either to give all members of the company additional performing experience, which is so important, or to showcase some of the younger dancers in a setting that holds less pressure.

In the past few years, PBT has pirouetted to regional destinations like West Virginia University, Shady Side Academy in Fox Chapel and Penn State Fayette’s Eberly Campus just outside of Uniontown. But perhaps the most fertile relationship has developed in Greensburg, where the most recent performance produced a tantalizing program, much better than the recent crop of pop-oriented programs.

It was most intriguing because it included the first viewing of Antony Tudor’s Lilac Garden, which Pittsburgh won’t see until March, George Balanchine’s Serenade with live music(!) from the Westmoreland Symphony and a debut for corps member Yoshiaki Nakano, along with the bright-eyed Amanda Cochrane, in the Peasant Pas de Deux from Giselle.

Mr. Nakano has been a dancer to watch. As a graduate student in the PBT school program, he had trouble controlling his tall thin frame. But his raw technique included a soaring jump, an appetite for conquering space and an undeniable connection with audience, which is something you can’t teach.

At the Palace Theater Mr. Nakano had a better handle on that elusive control, although he held back a little in order to concentrate. But his promise bodes well for the future. As for Ms. Cochrane, she had an unflagging energy and delightful personality in a showpiece that relies on its buoyancy for impact.

Serenade has been rather popular with advanced ballet programs in the area (which is alright with me, because it has always been one of my favorite ballets). But PBT has not performed it since 2004.

While there were eight graduate students in the corps, the women had a silky-smooth, cohesive flow throughout the windswept patterns. Julia Erickson always possessed that leggy Balanchine look and her role here, where she filled the romantic expanse of the music, suited her superbly. Elysa Hotchkiss’ remarkable jump produced an added dimension to her performance, but did not totally define it, because she now enhances the dance with a complimentary phrasing in the porte bras. Alexandra Kochis completed the trio of featured ballerinas with a delicate style.

Daniel Meyer showed a natural flair for dance conducting and set precise tempi for the romantic Tchaikovsky score, allowing the dancers to literally ride the music. After only a few moments of hesitation, the Westmoreland Symphony strings dug in to provide a lush accompaniment. If this is any indication of the full orchestra, the Westmoreland area has a real arts asset in this group.

But Lilac Garden (Jardin aux Lilas) held the real allure for me. It’s a rarity to see Tudor ballets these days. I had seen several at American Ballet Theatre back in the ’60’s and I wondered if the distinctive psycho-drama of the British choreographer would hold up.

The ballet takes place in the Victorian Era, where Caroline (Ms. Kochis), is attending a party prior to her nuptials with The Man She Must Marry (Robert Moore). Also in attendance are Caroline’s lover (Luca Sbrizzi) and the fiancée’s former lover (Julia Erickson).

It’s a rather short ballet, but uncommonly complex as the relationships unfold. The dancers have to have a certain stoicism reminiscent of the Victorian Era so that the underlying emotions dart to the surface, but without becoming melodramatic. At the same time, they also have to convey the overall escalating passions indicated in the score.

Then there’s the idea of the lilacs — a garden filled with that wafting scent — so that entrances and exits have an aromatic feel, drifting in and out.

It’s a lot to think about and the dancers were still making their way in their roles, although Mr. Moore had a wonderful weight to the simplest of gestures, like the turn of his head or the placement of his hand. But it was a good beginning.

For now it looks like Greensburg dance fans are intent on continuing the partnership. Hopefully that will extend to the symphony as well and wonderfully-balanced programs like this.

 

 

 

 

 


On Stage: A Spirited Conclusion to the Chautauqua Season.

August 22, 2012

Photo by Tom WolfThere’s always a powerhouse end to the Chautauqua dance season as Chautauqua’s School of Dance produces a student-driven Choreographic Workshop, often with live music from Chautauqua program participants, on Friday afternoon. Then North Carolina Dance Theatre joins with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra on Saturday night and Chautauqua’s School of Dance students strut their stuff on Sunday afternoon. It’s a win-win situation as parents not only get to see their own children, but the quality of the program and, with a weekend stay, the professional resources of NCDT. (You can read the NCDT review and see the accompanying photo slideshow by clicking on The Chautauquan Daily.)

Now for a few words about the students themselves. Five works came from the Choreographic Workshop and were repeated on the Sunday program. Ranging from the Gershwin-like Preludes to Tango Bramare with a live tango quartet, they were all remarkably astute. This appears to be a trend among various student programs in the area, hinting that dance will perhaps be producing a high level choreographer in the near future.

The School of Dance has been expanding its curriculum and the students performed some contemporary works, always clever, by Jon Lehrer, and modified hip hop for ballet students by Rachel Humphrey, a terrific addition, although Mark Diamond’s Foresight had heavy-handed subject matter that was above the teenagers’ life perceptions.

Some of the treasures of this performance always come from Maris Battaglia, who coaches the younger students, beginning at age 11. They promenade onto the stage like mini-Bolshoi Ballet members, so lifted and pleasant and so in sync as if they had trained together for years. There was an exquisite Pas de Trois for the talented Claire Georgiadis, Caitrin Murphy and Scotto Hamed-Ramos and a brilliant take-off on The Red Shoes, where 14 budding ballerinas, all in white leotards and tights with simple red skirts, carried shoe boxes onto the stage. Yes, they all contained red ballet shoes and followed with smart references to the classic movie.

And it all began so charmingly with Mozart and a bevy of little beauties in blue.

It also ended in a gossamer blue, as Patricia McBride staged George Balanchine’s Serenade, which has become a staple for advanced ballet programs in our area (and we are blessed!) and is obviously a transcendent experience for every young dancer who has had the pleasure of floating through this masterful piece of choreography. Maybe it wasn’t as moonlit as usual, being held in the open air during the afternoon, but the young cast made it feel that way, particularly Isabella LaFreniere, who was only 16, but was making artistic choices worthy of a dancer in her mid-20’s.

The following is a Youtube video featuring Isabella last year at age 15.


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