On Stage: A Summery Encounter

July 31, 2013


It was a perfect summer evening as I made my way to Enright Park. I had googled the location, but arrived to find it surrounded by a maze of chain link fences. No matter, it was a nice walk along the borders of East Liberty and Friendship, the end result yet another gem of a Pittsburgh green space.

And yet another gem of a young local choreographic talent in Jasmine Hearn.

This was the second installment in her site specific work called that’s what she said. I had missed the first in a Lawrenceville garden. This one was subtitled First Dance, in other words, all the emotions, thoughts and situations surrounding that essential part of growing up.

Jasmine and collaborator Beth Ratas had decorated the outdoor basketball court with blue and white and yellow streamers. Oh, the school dance memories, the kind that can span generations!

They approached from a distance, shy and clingy with anticipation, dressed in short party dresses…and athletic shoes.

But this was not to be a sugary summer lemonade of a dance. Beth began with, “I told him no…” as she started to climb the fence, her face unreadable.

The duo finally entered and traced the lines around the basketball hoops. There was some walking and, of course, some hoop shots to be taken. Oh, and a variation on one of those line dances that we all did.

The piece unfolded in movement as natural as a second skin — skips, turns, hugs. There was a play of sunshine, as expected, across their faces. But it was broken by awkward shadows of confusion and frustration and teenage angst, much like the delicate facial techniques of an updated Indian dance.

The series will continue monthly through October at different locations. Tune in via Facebook, but CrossCurrents will also post upcoming segments.


On Stage: The Delectable Mark Morris

May 12, 2013
The Muir

The Muir

If you ever wondered why Mark Morris’ choreography had such breadth and wit and intelligence, you only have to talk with him. I found that over the course of several interviews over the years and the Pittsburgh Dance Council audience saw it for themselves after Mark Morris Dance Group’s performance at the Byham Theater (click on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for the review).

Dressed super-casually in shorts and shirt, with a graying beard, he attracted quite a crowd and didn’t disappoint, jumping on questions he deemed short on critical thinking, but calling one “the best question ever!!”

He’s so-o-o immediate.



Some Q&A tidbits:

Most of it focused on the music, “not live music, just music.” Mark said there was a huge difference between dancing to taped music and making subtle alterations during a music performance. He then asserted that if more choreographers demanded it, like Paul Taylor and Twyla Tharp (yes, he named names!), audiences would get it.

Mark fully admitted that he was as highly knowledgeable about music as choreography  — “I have the most exquisite taste in music of anyone I know.” His favorite musical centuries are the 18th and 20th. He doesn’t like “heldenleben” (the 19th), probably referring to Richard Strauss, which doesn’t have a discernible, danceable beat. It is music that bleeds and bursts.

For those who think his style of dance looks too easy, he revealed that “you’d be surprised how many people can’t do my work” at auditions were 500 people show up and he only needs “1.5 women.”

Mark doesn’t want to do “suppositories of entertainment.” He creates a show for “adults, not thinking babies.”

Afterwards he went out with Carolyn and William Byham, longtime supporters of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, which also happened to present the outspoken choreographer’s “Drink To Me Only With Thine Eyes” this season.

More Morris, please.

On Stage: Point Park

March 19, 2013


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FACULTY STREAM. While university faculty most often publish written work, dance staff members have a much more attractive option with choreography (although it can be a bit testy to switch from well-structured, but educational movement phrases designed to improve students’ technique, to the true emotional power of extending that to performance choreography.

They called this program Conservatory Dance Company at Point Park University and it featured a list of veteran instructors. Sometimes the quality has varied — after all, these artist/teachers spend a lot of time in the studio. But this was different, one of the best in years.

That was mainly due to senior staffers Nicolas Petrov, former artistic director of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and Ron Tassone, noted jazz instructor with a photographic memory.

They both contributed their best efforts in years, Mr. Petrov with selections from his heavily Bolshoi-inspired Prince of the Pagodas, and Mr. Tassone’s Swing It, a primer of Broadway jazz, laden with tricks and treats, all the while letting the students show off their best angles with a generous dose of light-hearted spirit.

Kiesha Lalama and Garfield Lemonius elicited a real commitment from their young artists. Ms. Lalama brought Sneak Peek, a clean cut piece of jazz choreography in the traditional style, while Garfield Lemonius had a real unisex solidarity in the contemporary energy of Memoirs. Peter Merz pulled The Togethercoloured Instant, inspired by poet e.e. cummings. While the choreography was interesting in its own way, Mr. cummings’ words, projected on screens, detracted from the movement.

On Stage: Ailey On Tour in Naples

March 19, 2013


Probably the most popular company in the world, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has periodically visited Pittsburgh since 1969, always to great audience and critical acclaim. So I guess I can claim to be an Ailey-an.

Recently I was down in Naples, Florida for an all-too-brief winter respite. The Ailey company was appearing at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts and I decided to pay a visit. It had been all too long since I had last seen Revelations.


I was most interested in the changeover from artistic director Judith Jamison, a direct link to Ailey, to Robert Battle, who was brought on for his choreographic verve and strong work ethic, two assets of which I am well aware, but only the start, I’m sure, to what got him this job.

There had been another changeover since we last met. Renee Robinson, the last dancer to have worked with Ailey, retired last November and names like Dudley Williams (yes, it’s been that long!) and Clifton Brown were gone from the company list. And a trio of stars — Alicia Graf Mack, Glen Allen Sims and Linda Celeste Sims — did not make the trip.

Mr. Battle took the helm about a year and a half ago with an interesting agenda, designed to bring in master choreographers to stretch the artistic capabilities of the vaunted Ailey dancers.

The first piece was a case in point — Paul Taylor’s Arden Court, a pastoral-flavored work for six men and three women and one of his best.  It was easy to see why Mr. Battle chose it — Mr. Taylor is known as well for his strong, muscular men.

Arden Court showed the six males off to great advantage in several sections. Although the Ailey company is known for its audience communication skills, its bold physicality was showcased in a casual sense (swinging runs) and a sense of whimsy (a line of men with one upside down).

Was it a good fit? Not yet. The men seemed unstable, with a rare control problems — some wobbles here and there — and a lack of flow. But the airy and ultimately delightful choreographic sense still engaged the audience.

Battles’ own solo, Takademe, followed. Based on the rhythmic maze found in Indian music, the solo was almost always a literal translation of the oral rhythms, which, in some ways resembled a frenetic type of rap. It appeared that Takademe would always be a great showcase for the performer, and Michael Francis McBride suitably hit all of his marks.

The Ailey company next embraced Rennie Harris’ Home, a loose-knit, gaggle of a number where dancers came and went, yes, just like family and friends. It was obvious that Harris has evolved as a choreographer.

While he used, as usual, thick slabs of unison movement, there was more complexity to this crowd of participants. Eventually though, it didn’t develop the mesmerizing quality that it needed.

Which brings us to Revelations. Having seen some of the early performers (the first Pittsburgh performance had the audience dancing in the aisles), there is a certain standard of spirit that they set that remains ingrained in the memory.


Let’s just say that the extra effort, so much a part and parcel of the Ailey company, wasn’t there, although the discipline remained. So it was up to the choreography to hold firm. The opening segments from Pilgrim of Sorrow, beginning with that iconic wedge in I Been ‘Buked, did that with a simplicity of form, execution and innate spirit.

On Stage: Inspirations For Black Grace

March 7, 2013
The Arrival of the Maoris in New Zealand

The Arrival of the Maoris in New Zealand



When New Zealand’s Black Grace came to Pittsburgh, the group brought its history with it, but in a contemporary context that gave the program a true originality, which you can read in my review from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.  But take a few minutes to see two of the inspirations, The Arrival of the Maoris in New Zealand by Louis J. Steele and Charles F. Goldie and The Raft by Bill Viola, for the hour-long Vaka (above) how they translated to the stage on a German tour (below and incorrectly spelled Waka).


On Stage: More Pearls of Dance

March 1, 2013

Staycee Pearl jump

Staycee Pearl dance project can be jumping for joy. Symbolic of Pittsburgh’s current dance boom, where choreographers are collectively reaching a new level of thought and maturity, Staycee and husband Herman delved into the topic of post-blackness during a trio of intriguing salons and a final performance. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

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.



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