On Stage: Premieres!

March 18, 2015
Jerome Robbins' "The Concert." Photos by Rich Sofranko.

Jerome Robbins’ “The Concert.” Photos by Rich Sofranko.

Jiri Kylian's "Petite Mort." Olivia Kelly and Ruslan Mukhambetkaliyev.

Jiri Kylian’s “Petite Mort.” Olivia Kelly and Ruslan Mukhambetkaliyev.

They weren’t world premieres, but this trio of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s local premieres gave the company’s repertory a new heft in this unprecedented program. Kylian. Morris. Robbins. A true ensemble experience for the dancers. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.








Mark Morris' "Sandpaper Ballet."

Mark Morris’ “Sandpaper Ballet.”

Dance Beat: PBT

April 25, 2014
Alexandra Kochis Photos: Rich Sofranko

Alexandra Kochis Photos: Rich Sofranko

ENDING AND BEGINNING. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre ended its season in various areas of sunny Spain. First there was a weekend of Don Quixote performances at the Benedum Center (read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). And the Sunday matinee was followed by a reception at Larrimor’s (the latest cool place for Downtown organizations), where attendees could not only nosh on a great buffet and sip sangria and wine, but listen to the Spanish duende (or soul) of Alba Flamenca.


Alejandro Diaz

Alejandro Diaz

PBT also had a surprise announcement involving the annual mixed bill. Not only was it moved from the August Wilson Center and then the Byham Theater, but with the help of an anonymous donor, the program will be held at the Benedum Center with full orchestra to help celebrate the company’s 45th anniversary. The program will include a triple bill from three master choreographers: the wit of Mark Morris’ Sandpaper Ballet and Jerome Robbins’ The Concert flanking Jiri Kylian’s more dramatic Petite Mort. There is no doubt that this will be a rich program, with works that are already lauded in the classical ballet repertoire. And therein lies the rub. This will be part of a 45th season that will look back rather than send the company into the future — The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Beauty and the Beast and La Bayadere. The “Premieres” program is supposed to be adventurous, but artistic director Terrence Orr has chosen to play it safe…and increasingly so in a ballet world that is continually pushing the envelope.

In the meantime, enjoy some snippets…


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: Chekhov the Dance

April 9, 2012

It’s not often that we see so many aspects of dance performed with such insight — the emotional, the intellectual and yes, the technical, although this production of Last Touch First was a magnificent display of movement in slow motion. But that didn’t mean that it was any less physical than most other forms of dance. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and relish this clip.

On Stage: Improvising Through Dance and Life

March 31, 2012

We often say that the world is connected by six degrees of separation. But the dance world, so familial, has to be half of that.

Over the past few years, we’ve become more acquainted with Gia Cacalano, who has brought her improv skills to the forefront, much to our delight. She has spoken about her brother, Vincent, and will finally bring him here this weekend for BLINK at the Wood Street Galleries for an evening of improvisation with guest artists, musicians and HC Gilje’s light installation, in transit.

But there’s more. As it turns out, Vincent has worked extensively with another improv great, Michael Schumacher, who will be in town next week for the Pittsburgh Dance Council presentation of Last Touch First, a project created by Michael with iconic contemporary choreographer Jiri Kylian.

Small world, indeed. It turns that the pair are good friends and have worked together extensively at Magpie Music Dance Company, based in the Netherlands and a cult favorite in Europe. FYI: The group was founded by Katie Duck and, to put things in perspective, American dancer Steve Paxton, founding father of contact improvisation, often worked with the artists in the collective.

As Vincent puts it, “Improvisation in a Magpie performance is not the antithesis of choreography or composition; it is how the choreography’s and compositions are made, out of practice both in the studio setting and the newness of real time improvised performance. A Magpie performance is about the experience of being there, you are participating in the event and thus, in a sense, the work.”

But how did this Virginia boy, a former gymnast who had some ballet studies but was far more interested in studying theater at the college level, make his way into the farthest reaches  of dance?

It turned out that he was an arts adventurist. The theater program at Virginia Commonwealth was more play-based — it wasn’t about making work. During college breaks, Vincent would join Gia, three years older, in New York where she was studying, and had exposure there to the acclaimed experimental theater company, The Wooster Group, founded by artists like actor Willem DeFoe and monologuist Spalding Gray.

So Vincent began to make his own  work back at VCU, using movement and text. When he showed at a local gallery, the dance people attended, pointing out how it looked like choreography.

He was already taking Laban and had assembled quite a few dance credits, including a ballet class, just for fun. So the young would-be actor “naturally gravitated” into becoming a dance major. During college breaks in NYC, he studied with Alwin Nikolais and Erick Hawkins and performed in a piece by Meg Harper, who was running the Cunningham studio.

Vincent did his first real improvisation, though, with Alwin Nikolais, who designed specific improvisations for performance goals, rather than just an exploration in the studio. “It was the first time I saw it not as a method to make choreography, but as a way within itself,” he recalls. “I remember it very, very distinctly.”

He decided to pursue his masters degree at George Washington University, emphasizing composition and body-movement and alignment theory. While there, Vincent had the occasion to tour with a local company to Germany and the Netherlands.

At a festival in the Netherlands, he met students from the School for New Dance Development. As he recalls, “I liked their work very much and they liked what I was up to.” The enterprising students suggested an exchange program. While in Amsterdam, Vincent met Katie Duck, but returned to finish his degree.

Another colleague informed him that there was a teaching position open at the School, so he headed back to Amsterdam and taught an audition class and got the job. He renewed his friendship with Katy and along with Michael Schumacher and some other artists, founded Magpie.

It grew to a loosely-organized company of 16 improvisers — eight dancers and eight musicians within the space of a decade, from 1995-2000. During that time the group was instrumental in bringing a renewed respect for the art form. But the members then decided to give each other some space to develop personal projects and Magpie became an umbrella organization. Vincent decided that he would accept a position at The Manchester Metropolitan University in England where he could work in an interdisciplinary setting.

But there are signs that Katie is re-organizing Magpie and certainly she and Vincent remain close. In the meantime he is looking forward to bringing his skills to the Pittsburgh dance turf.

He’s “really excited” about BLINK, particularly in coordinating the “movement of light in relationship to our movement. It’s like working with another dancer and it will really play off and with the other dancers and musicians. It kind of reminds me of Nikolais…fascinating.”





Dance Beat: Tim, Andre, PBT, PPU

March 10, 2012

FAN-TASTIC. He may be ballet’s ultimate fan. Tim Evans looks positively rapturous whenever he’s around it, whether the studio or the concert hall, it’s all the same. Or Paris, San Francisco and who knows where else. Anyhow, Tim contacted me about Tennessee Williams and Streetcar Named Desire and John Neumeier. Evidently Tim is in his own stratosphere of ecstasy at the prospect of the North American premiere of this ballet this weekend. Although he’s been an admirer of Williams since high school, it all began, as many terrific stories do, in Paris. He went to see Paris Opera Ballet’s La Bayadere, but stayed to see Midsummer Night’s Dream, by a young Neumeier. I never heard of him,” Tim says. “But it knocked me out of my seat.” He’ll tell you the date, too — Tuesday, July 10, 2001. Inspired, he returned two years later for Neumeier’s Nijinsky, which he gave a standing ovation at intermission. Time has been so impressed that he is putting his money on Neumeier and Matthew Bourne as the future of ballet. And he was so impressed that he negotiated a lunch with Neumeier, gleaning details on the symbolism within Streetcar. He’ll be heading to the Benedum Center twice this weekend and says “I’m tickled to death that he’s here.”

ANDRE AT THE ALLOY. The Pittsburgh Dance Council had a terrific choreographic interaction in conjunction with Dance Works Rotterdam/Andre Gingras. Apparently the artistic director/choreographer loves to teach young artists and he had a quartet — Alan Obuzor, Staycee Pearl, Gwen Hunter Ritchie and Mita Ghosal, a newcomer to the city who combines modern and Indian dance forms. Each artist showed a short video of his/her work. What followed was nothing short of masterful manipulation by Andre — they each offered observations about each other and got feedback from Paul Organisak, presenter and Laura Colby, arts management. If you missed this one, there will be another, a free class for dance professionals, with improvisationalist extraordinaire Michael Schumacher on Sat. afternoon Apr. 7, in conjunction with the Dance Council’s Last Touch First in collaboration with choreographic icon, Jiri Kylian. Check the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust website.This is great for Pittsburgh dance, folks.

SHALOM. It’s leaking out that Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will be going to Israel in August. Stay tuned.

MORE MARTHA. The Martha Graham company will present an Inner Landscape program at the Joyce Theater in New York City on March 14 at 7:30 p.m. Point Park University students will be the modern dance pioneer’s Heretic from 1929, something that will also be performed at the University’s Byham program Apr. 19-21. Also featured on the Joyce program will be students from Graham II, University of Arizona, Hartt School (CT), Skidmore University (NY), New World School of the Arts (FL) and Interlochen Arts Academy (MI).

Dance Beat: Dutch, Crawl, Emily, Dance Dangereuse

January 25, 2012

Photo by Chris Nash

Going Dutch. There was gouda arancini, smoked mackerel potato salad, red cabbage with smoked sausage and apples and slavinken, all signature dishes of the Netherlands and meticulously prepared by Meat & Potatoes restaurant. Yum Well, if Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s upcoming Distinctly Dutch Festival is as tasty as the food, we’re all in for a treat that will take us through the spring. I have loved the Trust’s previous festivals (Montreal, Australia, International Festival of Firsts), which gave us the opportunity to explore different cultures without leaving home. Of course we already knew that that the Pittsburgh Dance Council will be presenting Dance Works Rotterdam/Andre Gingras, which will open the festival Feb. 18, and Last Touch First, co-choreographed by Michael Schumacher and Jiri Kylian (a national and international choreographic treasure). But there will be plenty more to sample. For theater buffs, there will be Detroit Dealers, which is oddly set against the American car industry, Diespace, an interactive multimedia performance set against the Internet, and Jean Cocteau’s La voix humaine, featuring one of Holland’s foremost actresses. Halina Reijn. Music lovers can catch The News, a video/opera, or Dutch Women of Jazz. Girls ‘N’ Guns and Global Navigators will enhance the Pittsburgh art scene and Dudes and World of Rhythm will be geared to families. Accompanying it all will be workshops, wine tastings, a tulip display (of course) at the Phipps, film and more, including menu offerings at local restaurants. Hungry?  Intrigued? (I am and will attend as many events as possible.) For more information, click on Distinctly Dutch.

Crawl-ing. The Trust also sponsors the Gallery Crawl four times a year, a great (and free) way to explore the Cultural District. This go ‘round on January 27 will feature Maddy Landi’s kNOTdance transferring your own drawing of a dream into a dance. Also interact with a digital installation, Summer Sky Eternal, and see how your personal movement affects it (604 Liberty Ave.). Or interact with a partner at Arthur Murray Dance Studio, with free lessons and demos (salsa at 7:30 p.m., tango at 8 p.m., swing at 8:30 p.m.) Much, much more, from Norwegian artist HC Gilje at Wood Street to a Cell Phone Disco. A real bonus — Chatham Baroque rocks the Trust Arts Education Center with three performances. From 5:30 – 9 p.m. Click on Gallery Crawl.

Emily Kitka. The Pittsburgh dancer, who joined the corps of New York City Ballet last fall, got her first real review in The New York Times. Congrats, Emily!

Risky Business. Top Dating Sites website has posted 10 Dances You Should Only Attempt if You Are a Pro. Really? How do you actually become one? See for yourself when you click on Dangerous Dance.


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