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


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.

On Tour: Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in Israel

August 6, 2012

Photos: Rich Sofranko

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has gathered its forces for a collective grand jete, via the airways, to Israel. The company will return August 12, after a visit to two cities, Kfar Menahem and Karmiel, as part of the renowned Karmiel Dance Festival.

This year the festival, celebrating its 25th anniversary, will feature 100 performances with 10,000 dancers from Israel and abroad for three days (and nights, I hear — people just dance, mostly folk, the night away). According to Pittsburgh Dance Council executive director Paul Organisak, just take Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Arts Festival, keep the focus on dance, multiply it it a couple of times and condense it to three days.

It might have seemed to be a natural extension of the company’s performance of “Light/The Holocaust and Humanity Project” in 2009. That involved a trip to the National Holocaust Museum in Washington D.C. and started a relationship with Pittsburgh’s Jewish Community Center.

The hora may not be a part of the ballet vocabulary, but Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancers threw themselves into the signature folk dance last spring as part of a program with members of the JCC, all as a prelude to the tour.

They received an overview of Israel:

● There are Christians, Muslims and Bedouins among the population of 7 million.

●  The main languages are Hebrew and Arabic, although signs also have English.

●  Over 90 percent live in the cities, while five percent live on the signature kibbutz, a commune, most likely farming, where celebrities like Helen Mirren and Sigourney Weaver have spent time.

●  Most Israelis have mandatory military service when they turn 18, for a period of two to three years. (Even dancers.) The presence of soldiers is a part of Israeli society.

●  Israelis are huge travelers.

●  Noting the above, Israelis take their time and may not graduate from college until they are 25.

●  All of Israel would fit in Lake Michigan and it is about the size of the state of New Jersey.

●  The food will be fresh.

The PBT dancers also got some cool facts:

●  Israel is one of nine countries in the world space club, mainly due to launching espionage satellites.

●  It has the highest percentage of university degrees in the world.

●  The life expectancy is one of the highest in the world.

●   There are more museums per capita than any other country.

●   Among Israeli inventions: cherry tomatoes, the pill cam, the irrigation drip, the electric car and flash drive technologies.

●  Israelis have received 10 Nobel Prizes.

●  The Dead Sea is the lowest place in the world.

After seeing a brief performance from a teenage group, Spirit of Israel, the PBT engaged in their own spirited dances, taught by West Virginia University’s program director of the dance department, Dr. Yoav Kaddar.

He explained first that Karmiel was the first festival in a field. “I was a happening, the Woodstock of dance,” he said, noting that it was mostly folk, but now brings in professional groups.

“Karmiel is taken over by dancers,” he explained. “It goes on 24/7. You go to sleep so you can dance.”

And dance they will, with a program consisting of Mark Morris’ “Maelstrom,” George Balanchine’s “Sylvia Pas de Deux” and Dwight Rhoden’s “Step Touch.”  But..maybe more.

Keep up with PBT as they experience Israel at http://pbtontour.wordpress.com/

Dance Beat: School Update with PPU, PYB, ALDC, DC PGH.

July 1, 2012

RECONNECTING. Point Park University installed a new series this year called Point Park Connections. That meant extending its performing wing opportunities to adjunct faculty, including like Danielle Pavlik and Pearlann Porter. This was an implementation of PPU’s policy, to make sure that all dance majors have an opportunity to work with professional choreographers and perform original work. It was surprisingly good for a first effort, showing the depth of Point Park’s dancing talent and the adjunct faculty itself.

A SWEEPING BALLET. The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School Pre-Professional Showcase finished with one of the best, George Balanchine’s Serenade, set to the sweeping Tchaikovsky score of the same name. This work is akin to playing Beethoven or Mozart in an orchestra, where no matter how far down the food chain your part may be, say viola or fourth horn, you somehow feel like an important cog in an organic whole. That was reflected in the rapturous faces of the students, who obviously enjoyed their experience. But the big news from the graduate student program came from the Japanese students, who captured many of the juiciest solos. To balance the program, the advanced students romped through Bournonville’s joyous Napoli divertissements and had another piece of lovely choreography from Alan Obuzor, A Voice in Time.

EN POINTE WITHOUT BREAKING. Pittsburgh Youth Ballet Company’s Jean Gedeon announced that Allison De Bona, one of the stars of CW’s Breaking Pointe and a PYBC alum, will be in town to teach for the school’s summer intensive. Visit the website, PYBC, call 724.969-6000 or email info@pybco.org. It was good to see that Allison was the lead in George Balanchine’s Walpurgisnacht, which I still fondly recall. But Jean still thinks big, with her talented dancers being featured in Balanchine’s terrific Gershwin-inspired Who Cares? and lovely Waltz of the Hours at the annual recital this year.

MORE THAN DANCE MOMS. Reign Dance Productions presented its annual recital at Shady Side Academy in Fox Chapel. At the same time, Abby Lee Miller Dance Company presented its recital for Lifetime’s Dance Moms series. Yes folks, the Richard E. Rauh Theater was packed to the gills as the cameras rolled for the television show. The Dance Moms themselves only sat in the hall for a short segment, then left, presumably to support their daughters backstage. But the entire recital was filmed, and that also meant the senior company members. Everyone got to do their solos and group numbers over the course of the year. The show itself ran nearly three and a half hours, but the students all acquitted themselves with professionalism, along with a strong dose of youthful spirit. And the graduating seniors shed tears at the thought of leaving the school…really.

TRIPPING THE LIGHT FANTASTIC. Well, Pittsburgh schools’ Dancing Classrooms held its second annual Colors of the Rainbow final team match at Pittsburgh Allderdice High School in May. Pittsburgh Linden K-5 captured the grand champion title for the second time in a close dance-off with Pittsburgh Dilworth PreK-5. Also providing plenty of spirited competition silver medalists Pittsburgh Concord K-5, Pittsburgh Miller K-5 and Sister Thea Bowman PreK-8 Catholic Academy and bronze medalists Pittsburgh Lincoln K-5, Pittsburgh Phillips K-5 and Pittsburgh West Liberty K-5. And Pittsburgh Conroy offered a skilled exhibition. Actually this is a real reality show that has plenty of natural emotion, all of it stemming from the students themselves. The adults then took to the floor in June at Dancing Classrooms’ annual Mad Hot Ballroom event at the Westin Convention Center in Pittsburgh. They had dinner, cocktails, dancing, a silent auction and their own competition, won by Jane and Bob Bukk of Tobacco Free Allegheny. It all raised $35,000 for the program, which I hear will expand to the eighth grade next year, incorporating some of those students in the inaugural program from 2009-10. Dance on!

On Stage: Getting Punked

March 3, 2012

Sometimes we are inexplicably driven through life and its seemingly disparate connections, like George Balanchine, Merce Cunningham, punk rock and quantum physics. But Wisconsin-born and Kansas-raised choreographer Karole Armitage has enthusiastically embraced them all.

One of America’s most fascinating dance figures and finally part of the Pittsburgh Dance Council series at the Byham Theater this weekend, Karole is the daughter of a research biologist. But the long-limbed lovely was drawn to ballet and rigorously studied the Russian technique with an eye on the Balanchine prize.

Well, except for a little diversion with the iconic Leonide Massine in London, noted for his work in Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes and as chief choreographer in the classic ballet film The Red Shoes.

“He had the most beautiful brown eyes,” she recalls. “They were full of life and charm and charisma and the sense of possibility. He must have been in his eighties, but he gave a very technical Russian class, full of lightness. Some Russians say to push harder, higher, bigger. He did everything through charm and you learn how to dance in a  different way.”

Karole eventually moved on to the Geneva Ballet, but after only a few years, she was itching to dance something more contemporary. A friend suggested that she try Merce Cunningham.

Making the jump from the often note-to-note musical aesthetic that Balanchine followed to Cunningham’s aversion to any musical connection wasn’t as hard as it seemed.

After the initial shock, she “saw that he used all of the articulation that you develop as a dancer, just all of that work was being used in a different way. What was thrilling was that it had all kinds of new ideas like weight, so I had to work very hard to get into the earth. Then you have all kinds of different movement in the torso that was very exciting.”

And it helped that contemporary luminaries like Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg and John Cage simply hung around the zen-like atmosphere of the studio. The young dancer eagerly absorbed it all and quickly began to dance featured roles.

But Karole also started to make her own movement. By 1981, she jolted the dance world with only her second piece, Drastic-Classicism. “I think it is the title of what my work is,” she says firmly. “It was a kind of manifesto of the way to combine the poetic, metaphoric, refined virtuosity of ballet with all the technical rigor, with something raw, funky, rock-influenced, democratic American. It’s putting the American and European together in many ways. Basically it is what I have continued to do.”

Drastic-Classicism had “fantastic” music with four electric guitars by Rhys Chatham. But then, composer had actually been Glen Gould’s piano tuner, so he was actually working in the classical tradition, thinking about how people hear sound.

“It was never punk,” Karole asserts. “It was using the energy and ideal of punk. With very simple means, you can make a very strong statement. We never thought of ourselves as punk, really.”

She got the moniker “Punk Ballerina” and she’s okay with that, even after all these years, noting that the name is appropriate because it does embody those contradictions.” But she would rather have an equally good term that could be used in today’s society. “I wish there was more of a counterculture now that it would mean more,” she ventures. “You know, things have gotten so corporate and the media is so controlling, it’s just much harder to have an alternative counter-culture. It’s co-opted so quickly that if someone does a new kind of music, it’s in the next Nike ad.”

Even back then before development of the 24-hour news cycle, the young Punk Ballerina who made such a splash was quickly offered so much work in Europe that she spent the next 15 years there — choreographing at Paris Opera Ballet, directing Maggiodanza in Florence, resident choreographer of Ballet de Lorraine in France, among other projects.

So why did she decide to return to America, to abandon a secure artistic life where she could hone her craft? “I came up against that wall — people have protected and comfortable lives,” Karole says. “New York dancers are willing to go on a more extreme level of self-involvement because of what it takes to survive — there is no structure, money, no support. You have to do it with unbelievable commitment; I would be able to push boundaries even further.”

“The other thing is that I’m an American and I wanted an American audience, people who understood the funky democratic nature of what I was doing. And I wanted a group of dancers that were my dancers, who I picked because I believed I could push a technical, philosophic aesthetic further.”

Armitage Gone! Dance was the very first title of the company and she reverted back to it. Karole calls it a “hipster” mentality, as in “she’s a real gone gal — gone from the mainstream, gone from the predictable and often just plain gone because we work in Europe so much.”

The balance had shifted, but not much. It seemed that she was coming full circle in a lot of ways. Maybe due to her biologist father, she was an avid researcher and came upon Brian Greene’s book, The Elegant Universe.

The two happened to meet at a party sponsored by an arts patron. She was there to present work, while the best-selling physicist/author was there because other artists had a scientific air to their work. The two started talking and hit it off.

Slowly the pair collaborated on a dance piece, called Three Theories, that would deal with Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity, Quantum Mechanics and String Theory.

Maybe Karole always had a strong connection between the right and left brain. “I do so much love structure because ballet has an enormous amount of structure,” she concedes. “I think the ballet that I love the most (and music) is that you perceive a sense of pattern and you see it unfold and mutate. But there’s a kind of wondrous, almost trance-like high that you get from seeing that pattern develop and mutate. Science does the same thing — they are looking for pattern in nature.”

Of course, they have great differences. “In science you really have to prove things and you kind of have a peer group that understands and judges what you said. Whereas in the arts, there is no one who can really say if it’s right or wrong. So there you’re kind of isolated that way and you have to go with your gut belief. Perhaps there is a consensus people who believe that it’s important or not. It just doesn’t have that built-in system of checks and balances and it can’t, it just can’t.”

Dance has traditionally been vertical and horizontal in the way the body is held. Karole had been interested in fractals, which are the geometry of clouds and seashores and mountains as they constantly evolve. So she actually uses Euclidian geometry to make movement that is sinuous and curvilinear, an art where science plays a part in creating the movement vocabulary in a very concrete way.

But would audiences respond to complex scientific theories? She responded by simplifying it enormously. But she always tries to make it as “exciting, articulate, accessible, I suppose in a way, so that they audience really has the real thing.”

She also edits “like crazy. The most interesting thing is that the piece is possibly the most popular piece I have ever done. I think part of that is because there is science in it and people are unbelievably fascinated by these ideas because they’re very philosophical as well as about science. You know, Einstein said the world is majestic and predictable. Quantum mechanics says it’s flimsy and chaotic and there’s nothing one can predict in any way. They’re exactly opposite points of view about how the universe operates. Then strings theory says you need both — order emerges from disorder. To me, they’re just fascinating.”

For the non-scientifically-inclined, the dance is also very sensual, “a hallmark of mine. You feel the dancers moving, you feel them as personalities.”

It took about five years to distill some enormously complex information down to some very simple principles. She continued to read and study and think and question how to transfer the science to the stage. “It was good that I took that long because it was only when I made it incredibly simple that I realized I should do one scientific principle for each theory and that was the best possible way of doing it,” she says. “Continue to fight until it’s right is the lesson. People thought I was crazy — no one’s going to want to see anything about physics. So sticking to your guns is another lesson.”

Of course, Karole learned a lot about physics, which she adores. “It’s just incredibly fun to learn about these things,” she says. “Just on a purely personal level, I enjoyed that.”

And why not ? It’s in her DNA — obviously it had to come out like this at some point.




On Stage: Thanks to Contemporary Dance, the Real Deal

February 15, 2012

If any of you tuned into the 54th Annual Grammy Awards, Chris Brown performed Beautiful People/Turn Up the Music on a skyscraper-like set with parts that moved like building blocks. It was also a solid white, which opened the eyes to colorful block lighting, alternating with projected patterns and and street scenes.

The movement was a take on the French-originated street dance known as Parkour, where daredevils jump from ledge to ledge, wall to ground, well, you get the idea. It tries to convey an ease and sophistication.

Parkour spawned Freerunning, first seen in England, which incorporates more gymnastics in spectacular approaches to the urban environment.

Back to the Grammies — credit Rich + Tone Talauega and Flii, the creative directors/choreographers, and Gui Dasilva, Tre Holloway, Hefa Tuita, Timor Steffens, Paul Kirkland, JD Rainey, Nick Bass and Derrell Bullock, a back-up group clad in capes that were a combination of superhero/ninja chic. They performed nimble and effortless flips and feathery jumps along the moving platforms.

But, gee, that’s already being done in contemporary dance. Dance Works Rotterdam, which is coming here next week, has already transformed Freerunning into a stage presence, although, being an arts organization, it doesn’t have the bucks for a sensational moveable set. No folks, artistic director Andre Gingras has to rely on real choreography.

Which brings up Beyonce, whose choreographer created a flap a while back by literally copying a few chunks of choreography from Anna Maria de Keersmaeker’s Rosas Danse Rosas and Achterland, with a tribute to Audrey Hepburn. (By the way, the Belgian choreographer appeared here with the Pittsburgh Dance Council.)

Some might support Beyonce and fall back on the old adage, “There’s nothing new under the sun.” While concert dance might not have a true original genius right now, like George Balanchine and Martha Graham, it does have street dance and its deep African roots, which have energized everything from commercial to ballet.

So where do you draw the line, even with 30-year old contemporary dance that finally finds its way into the mainstream? Evidently the Beyonce/Anna Maria disagreement is now in litigation.

In the meantime, decide for yourself. The bottom line? While the video itself is a whole new entity in itself, some of the parts are too close for comfort.


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