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.

On Stage: Hear/Now

May 18, 2013

The ever-lengthening arm of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater continues to operate at Dance Alloy studios, not only with dance classes, but an increasing number of performances that take advantage of the intimate performing space that is available.

The latest was HEAR/NOW, a periodic series devoted to experimental music and sometimes dance. It is raw, spare, sometimes confusing, but the creative side is juicy. The first one primarily centered around music, with movement included.

This time the series framed the dance, where the music was created by the dancers themselves. Maree DeMalia and David Bernabo, the only certifiable musician, per se, on the program, had some choice concepts in their piece.

Maree is a fresh new voice on the local dance scene. In slants revisited/take away the mountain, third in a series,  she worked with Dave, who is knee deep in a current dance trend where musical artists don’t just adhere to a fixed position with their instruments, but instead venture into the movement as well. 

So they played with bags and lights and shadow and the floor. They both also recorded their voices from writings in a notebook, although there was a technical glitch when the recorder itself fell to the floor and stopped at one point. No matter — it was engaging throughout.

They set up the theme for the evening, Experiments in Dance and Sound, in the ensuing works, all of which created a sound score through the dancers’ bodies. But each had an individual character.

In her work-in-progress, Mom, I’m so sweaty, New York City’s Jaime Boyle did it by the numbers. How do you feel? Five days ago? Five months ago? Five years ago? With a clock strapped to her waist, sometimes muffled when she lay on the floor. It was like being caught in a time warp continuum.

And Ohio State University instructor Abby Zbikowski brought two solos, look at my box for herself and jm, performed by Jennifer Meckley, which had a punk-ish feel to the hard-edged physicality. So you could see the hip hop aura, but stylishly invoking substantive modern dance.

Overall it was an informal shocker how the body and, in particular, the floor could be used in such individual ways…to be both visually and aurally satisfying in its own element.


On Stage: Pittsburgh Dance Council 2013-14 Season

May 5, 2013

They say you can’t go back, but the Pittsburgh Dance Council is ignoring that with its upcoming 2013-14 season. Executive director Paul Organisak, perhaps inspired by the Pittsburgh Festival of Firsts (exciting news in itself!) this fall and which he curated as well, has gone back to the adventuresome, experimental, what-the-hell-was-that programming that many of us knew and loved.

It appears that the PDC companies will include their own list of firsts: two North American premieres in partnership with the Festival, four new companies/projects out of six and seven new choreographers armed with local premieres.

Montreal’s Marie Chouinard will open both the Dance Council season and the Festival of Firsts. Gymnopedies, set to Eric Satie’s minimalist piano pieces, is the North American premiere, and will be paired with Michaux Mouvements, based on the poetry and drawings of Belgian Henri Michaux, which served as the literal jumping off point for the choreography. This will be the Quebec choreographer’s fourth visit to Pittsburgh, which has in the past produced The Rite of Spring and 24 Preludes by Chopin (a personal favorite of Organisak’s), among others (Sept. 28, Byham Theater).

Another sneak peak at the Festival line-up comes with Swiss artists Zimmermann & de Perrot, a physical theater duo, who will be literally thinking out of the box and inside it during Hans was Heiri. According to Organisak, Pittsburghers will see this event before it gets to New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music (Oct. 18, Byham).

On to the debut of the Brazilian group Compagnie Käfig, an international sensation that takes hip hop and puts it to samba and bossa bova. A company guaranteed to raise the spirits, it has appeared at Jacob’s Pillow and the Spoleto Festival, among others. What more can you do with plastic cups? (Feb. 1, Byham).

One of the highlights of the season is sure to be Ballet du Grand Thèâtre de Genéve and the start of a balletic finish to the season, but showing us where ballet is headed. Yes, this is the only company where George Balanchine served as artistic advisor (1970-78), but it has worked with numerous artists, including Baryshnikov, Kylian and Forsythe. Founded in 1962, the 22-member company brings two emerging artists on the international scene — Andonis Foniadakis’s Gloria, which will create a stylish new symbiosis with music by Baroque composer George Frideric Handel, and Ken Ossola’s Sed Lux Permanet, with sculpted shadow play to Fauré’s Requiem. (Mar. 8, Byham)

Wendy-Whelan-Nisian-Hughes-Photographer-2aAcclaimed New York City Ballet principal dancer Wendy Whelan will be bringing her Restless Creature project, set to debut at Jacob’s Pillow this summer. She will dance four duets with four emerging choreographers — Pittsburgh’s Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish, Brian Brooks and Alejandro Cerrudo, whose Lickety Split was a sensation recently at Point Park University’s annual Byham concert. This one is creating a lot of buzz in the dance community. (Mar. 22, Byham)

The final contemporary ballet event will mark the return of Wayne McGregor l Random Dance, (Apr. 26, Byham). He is the resident choreographer at The Royal Ballet in London and it is his company. He has a scientific bent on ballet — using film, music, visual art and technology —  that is truly unique (Apr. 26, Byham).

For ticket information click on Pittsburgh Dance Council.

On Stage: Point Park’s New Byham Collection

April 27, 2013

Point Park UniversityThere was something old, something new and, yes, something a little blue as Point Park University’s Conservatory Dance Company took to the Byham Theater for its annual formal showcase. And, of course, Point Park borrowed four distinctly different works from around the country to construct an evening that had a balanced zest about it.

For example, it’s important that CDC taps the historical side of dance to expose the students to some of the greats. Certainly some of those have been highly successful, like works from George Balanchine (Valse Fantaisie) and Martha Graham (Heretic).


This time the choice was selections from José Limón’s Choreographic Offering (1964), another seminal piece in the modern dance lexicon. I had my doubts going in — the last time the Limón company came to Pittsburgh, the style looked stodgy. But not so with this production, set by former company member Ryoko Kudo and assisted by dance faculty member Jason McDole.

The beautiful architectural details — it was easy to think of his relationship to former student Paul Taylor (another great choice for CDC’s future) — had sculptural authenticity and weight.

At the Saturday matinee, it was immediately apparent that Kyoko and Jason had worked exceptionally well together, transmitting the dance to the students with a real immediacy so that there was both life and breadth.

They made it so satisfying to watch the dance elements unfold with clarity, like the lovely pinwheel that slowly morphed into a series of turns, arms held high and the dancers’ spirits right along with them.

Point Park UniversityBen Stevenson’s End of Time was one of a series of award-winning pas de deux that he created for various ballet competitions around the world. This particular duet, inspired by a man and a woman who are the last two people on earth, didn’t have the urgency found in the Rachmaninoff score. That only comes with time.

But Veronica Goldberg and Robert Hutchinson wove their way through the seamless series of tricky lifts with an aplomb far beyond their years. 

Raphael Xavier’s A Movement and Front Street Walk were both apparently works-in-progress. Raphael himself has walked with Philadelphia hip hop guru Rennie Harris. While CDC was supposed to present a Harris’ piece, it ultimately evolved into Xavier’s own work.

There were were some engaging elements in this two-part movement study, with no apparent connection to them as of yet. A Movement featured a solo by Elisa Alaio, with an intriguing dichotomy between a front and back bending of the body.

But there was better material to be had in Front Street Walk. Surrounded by sounds of traffic (apparently from Pittsburgh, a nice touch), the dancers were clad in red, black and white and plenty of attitude. I loved the use of a two-dimensional walk, as if flattening the human form a la television.

There were other elements — a slapping of the floor accompanied by giggles and moon walks in new dimensions — that were fresh ideas as well, but lacked a connectivity. The best things about Street Walk was its use of female dominance in what is usually a male-dominated hip hop world. It has the potential to be downright street-sophisticated work, but needs further development.


The highlight of the program came from Alejandro Cerrudo’s “sock hop,” Lickety-Split, created for the dynamic Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. (Well, maybe we can call it “sock slide,” since the performers’ footwear determined some of the dance vocabulary.)

A Pittsburgh Dance Council audience saw the work in 2006, when HSDC took this Indie film of a dance and literally popped the inventive choreography. As it turned out, Lickety was a real find for CDC. Alejandro has been tapped by veteran New York City Ballet ballerina Wendy Whelan to participate in a commission this summer at Jacob’s Pillow that has the dance world buzzing. I’m sure his career will be taking off.

The work itself was sensational — a passionate whisper of a dance that threaded its way through a quirky trio of duos. Filled with life’s uncertainty during the periodic sock slides, it still had a Neverland aspect that floated in the imagination.

On Stage: A Fitting Homecoming

February 25, 2013

Kyle Abraham

They had to delay the curtain for homeboy Kyle Abraham’s Pavement at the Byham Theater because the box office line was out the door. Of course there was family. But so many friends came, both past and present, that his first dance teacher was in attendance.

The dance community responded mightily as well, with some who don’t attend a performance without good reason. Excitement was high and the company, Abraham.In.Motion, responded well, with an emotional Kyle speaking gratefully from the stage at the end. Read about the performance in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

On Stage: Catching up with Kyle

February 16, 2013

Kyle AbrahamYes, Kyle Abraham is coming homing to a spot on the Pittsburgh Dance Council season, the first time a local company/choreographer has been featured since the Dance Alloy initially broke the PDC barrier in 2002 when the company was under the directorship of Mark Taylor.

It was a calculated risk — Kyle was generating some interest. But the PDC series strikes a delicate dance balance between the edgy and the established. At the time he was scheduled, Kyle had a raw quality. But his learning curve shot upwards in the ensuing year or so, making PDC executive director Paul Organisak look like a dance visionary.

Kyle Abraham is zigzagging around the country these days — Florida, Minnesota, back to Florida(!)  — before he returns to his hometown this weekend (see Listings).

Things are happening so fast, including nearly $500,000 in grants from United States Artists, New York Live Arts Resident Commissioned Artist, Jacob’s Pillow,  that he has barely had time to digest it all.  And he’s only on his third major production, Pavement, which the New York Times’ Brian Seibert said   “expresses confusion with searching eloquence.”

But Kyle has barely had time to digest it all the attention. While those in the know are well aware of him, he appreciates the fact that “nobody knows who I am” while he’s on tour. Spoken like a true Pittsburgh native, he retains a certain modesty in face of all the acclaim.

The Pavement project has six men and one women. This one marks his return to classical music (he studied piano and cello). And it focuses on Homewood and the Hill District and the gangs that constructed parallel lives there.

While the company tours Pavement, Kyle focuses on the day-to-day details of building a company — how to replace dancers who move or have children, how to schedule time to pay the bills.

And still have a life.

But not one to sit on his laurels, Kyle has a need to fill his spare time. So he brings the dancers into the studio to work on whatever comes next because “I’m really in love with dance right now.”

Dance Beat: Dynasty Dance Beat

August 6, 2012

Gabriel “Kg” Ash recently conducted a workshop called The Royal Grind along with guest instructor Sean Bankhead at Pittsburgh Dance Center in Bloomfield. The turnout was good and the participants patient as they waited for Sean, who was a little late due to an airline snafu. Evidently his flight was overbooked — it’s getting harder and harder for the gypsy-like nature of dancers! But all was well that ended well, as you can see in this slideshow by photographer Bob Shirley. You can also click on his website at www.billshirleyphotogaphy.com.

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Dance Beat: Gabe, Dennis

January 17, 2012

Lock It Up. Hip hop is coming alive in Pittsburgh. Gabriel “Kg” Ash just held a successful two-day workshop, Kg Dynasty Presents: Due Season, at the August Wilson Center, with over 60 participants. In other words, Due Season is the burgeoning professional wing of Gabe’s Kg Dynasty. It was the prelude to what he hopes is a big dance storm because Gabe and Due Season (Gabe plus LJ Duncan, Sean W. Green, Asia J,  Antwane Younger and Sharnell Younger) have big plans to conquer the New York City auditions January 21 for America’s Best Dance Crew, the hit series on MTV.

Board-ing. Choreographer Dennis Nahat comes to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre as a man under fire. His board at Ballet San Jose has gradually been moving him out of the picture and officially fired him yesterday, as reported in the San Francisco Chronicle. The beleaguered director will be in town for the week of PBT’s Uncommon at the August Wilson Center, where the company will perform his Brahms Quintet, along with Mark Morris’ Maelstrom and Dwight Rhoden’s world premiere, Chromatic. This seems to be developing into a trend. Miami City Ballet board bungled the retirement of iconic artistic director and founder Edward Villella  last fall. And of course, we still are stinging from the bite the Dance Alloy Theater board put on artistic director Beth Corning, who had actually brought them onto the board, and the abrupt dismissal of all employees, including successor Greer Reed and the dancers, just last summer. Is dance, particularly ballet, going corporate?’

On Stage: Catching Kyle

November 16, 2011

Exciting. Scary. Satisfying. Frightening. Those are the kinds of emotions that have running through Kyle Abraham’s mind since June.

The Penn Hills native has been on a steep artistic curve lately with the success of “The Radio Show,” largely inspired by the silencing of WAMO, a pivotal part of Pittsburgh’s black community and his father, a pivotal part of Kyle’s life, who also stopped speaking when he contracted aphasia.

Certain subsequent events have been sad because some of his original company dancers have opted to have children and can no longer tour. At the same time, he’s getting plenty of opportunities to tour with the support of the prestigious National Dance Project.

It’s been a big slice of life for the still 30-something choreographer.

From the Joyce Theater’s Gotham Dance Festival performance in June, he’s been on the go. Some of the highlights: a return to Jacob’s Pillow for the second year in a row, the Fire Island Dance Festival, a number of residencies and adding fellow Pittsburgher Patrick Ferreri as company manager.

Kyle also found out that he is “the big poster boy person” for the dance season at his alma mater, SUNY Purchase, where his company will be appearing. He jokes that he “has such an inner giggle because I was probably the only guy in the dance program who did not enter with a scholarship” (although the school rectified that after the first semester and has offered continued support).

On his way to Ecuador in July, Kyle heard that his father was in hospice care. He made a quick stop, a good thing because he learned that his father had passed the day after he got back. “I’m glad I got to see him,” Kyle says, although his dancers had to work on a residency without him while he dealt with funeral arrangements. People responded with “a lot of letters and donations” and the International Aphasia Movement has since expressed an interest in “The Radio Show.”

These days, though, the grieving comes in waves. But Kyle doesn’t allow it to engulf him. He will be heading back to the Joyce in January on a program with fellow NDP recipient Kate Weare and, in the meantime, premiere his latest project, “Live: The Realest MC,” at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater.

“Live” will be a re-imagining of Pinocchio and his quest to be a real boy, “putting that into a gay urban context.” Kyle says that the piece took a darker turn when the Tyler Clementi story, about the gifted 18-year old Rutgers student who was outed on the Internet and committed suicide, broke in the middle of the creative process.

Tyler’s tragedy influenced the work, giving it a more aggressive outlook with much more movement. But there is still “a bit of humor” to be had in “Live.

As there is in Kyle’s return to Pittsburgh to visit some of his favorite haunts. Record Exchange, “one of my favorite stores.” Michael Varone at Shadyside’s Moda, where Kyle used to work and where his dad shopped. Gullifty’s for the apple pie.

And pizza in general, because Pittsburgh’s “doesn’t taste like any other.” Therein lies the quandary, because Kyle can’t choose between Aiello’s and Mineo’s. So he just gets both because “one tastes better warm than the other and one tastes better cold than the other.”

Which is which? You’ll have to ask Kyle.

Check Listings for the Abraham.In.Motion performance of “Live: The Realest MC” this weekend.

On Stage: A New Dance Community Evolve-ing

August 31, 2011

Photos by Bill Shirley

Sarah Parker likes to pack her dance into bundles. This summer she not only engineered a weeklong summer intensive at the New Hazlett Theater, but also tacked on something called “THE BOOM,” event that brought together area companies.

The bubbly choreographer is into community, gathering emerging dance talent in Pittsburgh together. As for the intensive, the performance showcase was called “4-3-2-1 — From BROADWAY to the STREETS,” with an army of choreographers including Renee Danielle Smith, Shana Simmons, Maddy Landi, “Nine” (2003 revival) associate choreographer Gustavo Zajac, who happened to be in town at Point Park University, and, of course, Sarah, who turns out big production numbers at the snap of a finger.These students had no less than 15 numbers to remember, including Pearlann Porter’s nifty improv and Gabriel Ash’s popular hip-hop creations.

The next night at “THE BOOM” featured a number of young dance professionals, coming together to show the intensive students how it’s done. Among those companies represented, the oldest was Bodiography, with Chelsea Shott holding the fort .

Pearlann’s Pillow Project was next, having been founded in 2004. It was represented by Taylor Knight, who gave the event an intriguing start in “Luminography,” a sort of duet with “luminographer” Mike Cooper. So Taylor initiated the movement, with images resembling a discus thrower or a stylized hip hop artist. Then Mike took over so taht the screen behind Taylor became one of those flip books, where a figure seems animated. Crucial to the success of the process was Taylor’s choice of movement, interesting enough to be repeated, sculptural enough so as not to blur the screen.

On the whole it was a strong program, composed mostly of a new tier of companies that have cropped up recently and demonstrating that they are worthy of attention. August Wilson Center’s James Washington was a lyrical miracle in Antonio Brown’s “Solo” and Staycee Pearl showed that she was onto something new and different and exciting, coming deep from her African American heritage, in an untitled duet for Renee and Seth Grier.

Renee cropped up along with partner Jamie Erin Murphy in several pieces — the two have recently started the newest kid on the dance block, Much More Than Bones. And it was good to see something by Maddi, in collaboration with performer Katarina Danks in “Life Cycle,” an insectile solo somewhat inspired by Cirque du Soleil.

I also had my first acquaintance with Poof!, another new company and one that promotes social change through art, in a quirky little number, “Lucille and Eddie,” choreographed by Annalee Traylor and performed with Raymond Ejiofor.

Filling out the bill were Gabriel’s K.G Dynasty, Sarah’s Continuum Dance Theater and Fluidity Dance Company, an ambitious group out of Altoona that is benefitting from its Pittsburgh connections.

All in all, it seems that a whole new tier of Pittsburgh dance, one where the companies interact frequently through workshops and performances, is taking shape. Under the leadership of Pearlann, Sarah and Bodiography’s Maria Caruso, these groups seem to forging their own community identity, something that can only expand an increasingly vibrant dance scene here in Pittsburgh.




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