On Stage: Making Something Out of Nothing

September 18, 2013

Gia T.It’s fun to watch dance at the Wood Street Galleries, most of all because those terrific installations provide a fascinating and often interactive landscape for movement. Gia Cacalano and friends recently refurbished a blank Wood Street Gallery, long and lean white box, with their own film, score and improvisation with impressive results. Click on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for the details.



Dance Bites: Gia T., Stein l Holum, Brain Dance

July 21, 2013

MORE THAN A TRIO. Gia Cacalano was only supposed to do a quick turn and leave the evening to Ravish Momin’s Tarana. But the evening went above and beyond. Ravish is a Carnegie Mellon graduate with a B.S. in Civil/Environmental Engineering. He bases his music on Indian influences, including rhythmic speech, but with a more contemporary use of meter and syncopation. On July 13 at Wood Street gallery, Tarana, which varies in size with collaborative artists, was a duo with Rick Parker, noted jazz trombonist in New York. It was so much more, however, via a smart use of electronics. Perhaps inspired by Ravish’s background, Gia appeared with scarves wrapped around her bodice both at the beginning and later in the performance with large, satisfying chunks of dance. She responded to the sophisticated musical backdrop with pirouettes that swirled into deep knee drops and a use of open hips, with dramatic tensions that took her performance to another level.

Suli Holum

Suli Holum

PLENTY OF HEART. Stein l Holum Projects is a New York duo, the latest artists tagged by Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s janera solomon. As is her method, she brought them in for a workshop, culminating in a sneak peak at Dance Alloy Studios. While The Wholehearted was a work-in-progress, only excerpts, it was a terrific tour de force for the talented Suli Holum, nominated for a Drama Desk award in 2012. The tale, written by co-director and writer Deborah Stein, is that of a former boxing champ, set to make a comeback but hampered by an emotional past. With KST’s Joseph Hall expertly guiding the Q&A, the audience offered a penetrating feedback, where the artists listened intently. And the production company itself transformed the Alloy space into a boxing ring, with projections, lighting, original music, choreography, live video work — and possible tips for KST in the future. Put the KST’s workshop series on your calendar, well worth the time and modest admission.

A FRICK PARK WALK. Ella Mason has joined the Pittsburgh dance community, forming Yes Brain Dance Theater, and is in the midst of a series of site-specific works. This one, the second in the series, Of Snails and Lips and Walking Sticks, took place in Frick Park, opposite the museum and heading down the trail to the bottom and out again. With a morphing group of dancers (the thoughtful Jasmine Hearn, Beth Ratas, Taylor Knight, Anna Thompson and more) and musicians (percussionists Dave Bernabo and Ketan Bakrania nuanced and effective, with cellist Gordon Kirkwood soulful) at hand, Ella lead the walk herself, gradually unraveling a knit skirt like Hansel and Gretel’s crumbs. Over 25 people and several companion dogs followed her as we had about 10 “encounters,” including a trio improvising on a fallen tree, a conversation/hand dance that descended down the hill, a scene around a giant pile of sticks, a treehugger and cello and a group of creatures that didn’t seem to be snails in this particular environment. Watz the German shepherd playfully nipped at Ella’s skirt to everyone’s delight. Then we all exited up through Tranquil Trail, punctuated by human statues, and gathered around Ella and Gordon and Watz for closure. It was a cool walk on a hot day.

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On/Off Stage: Gia T.

April 18, 2013

Gia CacalanoGia Cacalano’s first love was visual art (her father was a painter). When she finally moved into dance at age 15, it was ballet that captured her heart. But over the last ten years, she has been wooed by the wonders of improvisation.

But lately she has been widening her dance arena and headed to the International Improvisation Festival at Manchester Metropolitan University. “Hopefully it’s the first of many to come,” she says with her trademark enthusiasm.

So Gia hopped on a plane and, when she landed, jumped right off and into rehearsal. During the week-long stay, she shared cooking and cleaning and movement with the others.

Funded by the university, the Festival was the “baby” of brother Michael Caccialano, who brought in some icons of the improvisational scene including Maida Withers of George Washington University and post-modern dance pioneer Anna Halprin.  India’s Tanusree Shankar (yes she’s related to that Shankar), talked about her students, some of whom walk two hours to get to her studio.

The transfer of knowledge was very rich with films and presentations every day of the week. In an open space Gia Cacalanoon campus, a pianist set up a loose score for people to come in and out of a group.

Gia led master lessons for students and performed the piece she had performed at Wood Street galleries, Complex Stability, but “changed radically.” Musical partner Jeff Berman provided a more structured accompaniment in rhythm and dynamics, so it was still “open, but a little more aligned with time.”

She came back to Pittsburgh with more information, ready to share it with Pittsburgh. Perhaps some ideas filtered into The Frequency of Structure and Flow, recently presented at Wood Street.


Dance Beat: PBT, Gia

February 20, 2013

In the Upper Room with Luca Sbrizzi and Kumiko Tsuji

PBT TEASE. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will be treading mostly familiar ground during its 2013-14 season, anchoring things with full-length ballets like Swan Lake (Feb. 13-16 with orchestra), Don Quixote (Apr. 11-13 with orchestra) and The Nutcracker (Dec. 6-29), all in the Benedum Center. The season will get an unusual launch, however, with An Evening of Twyla Tharp, although both contemporary pieces, In the Upper Room and Nine Sinatra Songs, previously have been performed here. Nonetheless Twyla’s trademark slouch, coupled with her own musical zest, should give the PBT dancers a spirited send-off into the season (Benedum, Oct. 25-27).

The only new wrinkle so far will come from Julia Adam, who has choreographed for San Francisco Ballet (where she was a principal dancer) and Atlanta Ballet, among others, and is currently Artistic Associate at Ballet Memphis. She brings a cross-cultural fusion of ballet, modern and Israeli folk dance set to traditional Klezmer music in Ketubah, a Pittsburgh premiere that was commissioned by the Houston Ballet in 2004. Set to music by The Best Little Klezmer Band in Texas, it follows a Jewish couple from first glance to wedding night. The work will be part of the annual August Wilson Center program, titled 3×3, along with an encore presentation of Dwight Rhoden’s Smoke ‘n Roses, featuring Pittsburgh songstress Etta Cox. A third choreographer has yet to be determined, but it will definitely be a world premiere (Mar. 7-16).

Don Quixote with Ying Li

Subscriptions for 3, 4 or 5-ballet packages can be purchased by calling 412-454-9107 or going online at www.pbt.org. Single tickets go on sale in September 2013.

Gia T Presents - January 26, 2013 FlierGIA TEASE. Gia Cacalano returned to her current home away from home, Wood Street Galleries, for an evening-long (and welcome) partnership with Philadelphia dancer Wendell Cooper that served as a preview for a European trip where they would conduct workshops and perform.

It turned out, though, that Mr. Cooper was a skilled videographer, creating a radiating link of light that played constantly during their performances.

Ms. Cacalano began with The Property, a childlike creature (inspired by her daughter’s first beach experience) with whirling legs and an awestruck demeanor. Dressed in a hooded sweatshirt, she tugged at it, but gradually became more daring as the piece progressed, skidding across the floor as she fell.

Mr. Cooper was a “man of one-way tickets and no savings account” in his gender-bending [Bodied]. Cutting wide swathes of movement across the gallery floor, the viewer didn’t know which direction would come next.

Despite their differing approaches to improvisation — she a winsome flower of hidden tensile strength (you could imagine her completing a marathon), he a lush outpouring of muscular movement — they forged a connection on a deep level together in their duet.


On Stage: Growing Old With The Pillow Project

January 30, 2013

Pillow Project 3D It’s almost ten years since Pearlann Porter launched her dream-y Pillow Project. Since then I’ve enjoyed an overrun of P’s, along with the environmental direction that Pearlann has taken. She has also defined jazz in a number of ways. Currently she is immersed in total improvisation, although the movement itself is much more varied, as if Pearlann is moving back to the middle ground a bit. And you have to notice that the dancers are maturing and starting to add their dreams to Pearlann’s mix. What a fun ride it has been! Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And enjoy the slide show (click on a photo to start) — just imagine the projections MANY times larger.

On Stage: Pillow Project Anew

January 23, 2013

Pillow Project Second Saturday Blue RedshiftThere’s a changing of the guard afoot at The Pillow Project. Dance guru Pearlann Porter will be heading to Paris for a couple of months and won’t be back in Pittsburgh until late April. (Don’t worry, she already has projects in place.) During her stay in the City of Light, she’ll be reconnecting with poet and East Liberty native Moe Seager and other artists that she met on her last several trips, as well as delving more deeply into la langue française.

So there was a transition at the latest edition of Second Saturdays. Pearlann could be seen skirting the shadows, but she handed over the brief emcee duties to Zëk Stewart. Caitlyn Cahill was managing the house, something she will continue, and Taylor Knight will be teaching at The Space Upstairs.

All were on hand for this industrial-strength evening of improvisation. Blue Redshift, a tight-as-a-drum funk band with a cool vibe and liberal doses of improv, was oh-so-perfect for the dancers on hand. And when they weren’t dancing, the ensemble members could be seen operating Mike Cooper’s in-the-moment setup. Like Big Brother, they played over the action and manipulated the images so that they were sometimes a smear or a funhouse mirror, often askew, like turning life on its head.

Over on the black wall, chalk artist Jordan Bush was morphing a tiger into…who knows what? As I left, they were just starting to hit an even deeper groove. Time has no meaning here — it’s only about the moment at hand.

Pillow Project Second Saturdays Blue Redshift



On Stage: Getting In Touch With the Movement

December 31, 2012

It’s been fun to watch the evolution of improvisation and where it is trending, most recently at PearlArts Studios where dancers collected to move and groove to the touch of the body under Jasmine Hearn’s umbrella title, The Citrus Series. Read about improv in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and enjoy a sampling of what went on.


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