Off Stage: Exploring Ballet In a New Way

January 15, 2015

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The Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has created a much-loved holiday tradition with its multi-million dollar production of The Nutcracker. But sometimes there can be just as much satisfaction to be found in the studio., not necessarily with the professionals, but students.

Beginners.

I was invited to watch such a class with seven very special beginners. There were no overhead lights, just the natural kind, giving the studio a warm, comforting feeling.

The students were reviewing the five ballet positions from their instructors, Kaila Lewis and Jamie Murphy. Also on hand for support was Alyssa Herzog Melby, education and community engagement director at PBT, who was integral in opening up the normally aristocratic world of ballet to those with autism.

It all started with special performances at the Benedum Center using low light and subdued special effects.

Now, with the assistance from the ABOARD’s Autism Connection of PA, PBT has initiated a series of four classes for high school students.

“We push for inclusion at the elementary level,” says outreach and eduction director Lu Randall. “But high school can be more difficult — it’s more competitive.”

There was autism training for the entire ballet school staff and the Nutcracker cast, enhanced by a high interest among PBT board members.

But the class concept may be a whole new thing in the ballet world. Ms. Fulton doesn’t know of a similar program anywhere else.

With this class in place, ballet could eventually become a lifelong movement activity for these students — a real plus.

The students learned warm-up exercises, along with relaxation techniques to help with stress management. There was a brief barre, beginning with plies, tendus and “the hard one,” piques. They jumped. They began to move across the floor.

Then came the fun stuff. The students actually learned slightly simplified, but real dances from the Nutcracker. First, the mice from the Transformation Scene, where they got to sneak around. Then everyone’s favorite, where they became the Pirate, swashbuckles and all.

It was obvious that everyone is enjoying themselves, from the family members sitting along the back wall and applauding enthusiastically to the dancers, whose smiles seem to grow during the class.

One young man even made his parents buy him a pair of ballet slippers. And they were all talking about what they would wear for their informal performance at the end of the sessions.

Cue the lights.

 


On Stage: A Holiday Finish

January 1, 2015
Hannah Carter as Marie. Photos: Rich Sofranko.

Hannah Carter as Marie. Photos: Rich Sofranko.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre brought its annual “Nutcracker” run to a close. Click on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I was also able to see Hannah Carter as Marie, a dancer lovely of lines, along with her significant other in real life, William Moore, ready, willing and able as her Nephew/Nutcracker partner.But Julia Erickson established herself as the star attraction of The Nutcracker, this time as the Sugar Plum Fairy. with Alexander Silva deservedly garnering considerable backstage applause from the company for his Cavalier solo. On to 2015…

Gabrielle Thurlow and Luca Sbrizzi.

Gabrielle Thurlow and Luca Sbrizzi.

Julia Erickson and Alejandro Diaz in the Snow Scene.

Julia Erickson and Alejandro Diaz in the Snow Scene.


Dance Beat: Kyle, Attack, Tammies, PearlArts

September 16, 2014

KYLE SMILE

Another Kyle Success. It’s becoming more and more apparent that Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is passing up on a golden opportunity to hire Pittsburgh native Kyle Abraham for a commissioned work. The MacArthur “Genius” Award-winner has turned many knowledgable heads with work on his company, Abraham.In.Motion. and recently produced a duet for New York City Ballet principal and international star Wendy Whelan, which is still touring. Now he garnered a rave review in the Chicago Tribune for a premiere he created for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Hopefully it isn’t too late for PBT artistic director Terrence Orr to jump on the Kyle bandwagon…

New Attack. Attack Theatre founders Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope did an entertaining tag team announcement of AT’s upcoming season in their home studio at the Pittsburgh Opera recently. Click on AT for more info. Also on tap — there will be two new dancers for the opening series, Are You Still There? (opening Oct. 3). Both are Juilliard School alumnae (as is de la Reza) — James Jude Johnson, who gave us a sample of his fluid movement at the announcement even, and Brittanie Brown, who hadn’t arrived yet, but has also danced with Kyle Abraham.

Tamburitzans_B

Tammies Go Solo. The Duquesne University Tamburitzans, long a staple under the wing of Duquesne University will become an independent, nonprofit organization over the next two to three years. That will enable them to audition students from other universities, as well as Duquesne, which will make up for the 40 percent drop in applicants over the years. DU will still provide scholarships for the Duquesne students and will donate $2 million in buildings, land, costumes, instruments, vehicles and equipment. The school will also provide transitional support while the group establishes itself and hires an executive director with a volunteer board. In the meantime, the Tamburitzans Executive Council will provide additional support.

A Day to Celebrate. The Pittsburgh City Council is declaring September 23 Mary Miller Dance Company Day for 30 years of excellence in dance performance and education. Congratulations!

 

Nurturing at PearlArts. With their welcoming studio on North Braddock, Staycee and Herman Pearl have become an indelible part of the community. Recently they sponsored a night for young urban artists, many from the Alumni Theater Company. Led by Len Starr and Cherish Morgan, this was a night of dance, song and just hangin’ out.


Dance Beat: BRAZZIES, Carmen, Abby Lee, SYTYCD

August 19, 2014
Leslie Anderson-Braswell, Alan Obuzor and Julia Erickson (L to R).

Leslie Anderson-Braswell, Alan Obuzor and Julia Erickson (L to R).

JULIA AND ALAN. Greer Reed of REED DANCE awarded the second annual BRAZZY Awards to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal Julia Erickson and Texture Contemporary Ballet founder Alan Obuzor during her REED DANCE summer intensive this past weekend at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater. It turned out that there was a strong PBT connection here. The award is named for Leslie Anderson-Braswell, who began at PBT, trained at Stuttgart Ballet and performed with Geneva Ballet and Dance Theater of Harlem before returning to Pittsburgh following a career-ending injury. Here she taught and was recognized by President Ronald Reagan with an Outstanding Teacher Award at the White House among other awards. As for the recipients, Julia had a stellar performing year, showing great range, not only in Swan Lake, but in the Twyla Tharp program, where she glamorized Sinatra Songs (in a designer dress and heels) and then turned around and became a Stomper (in tennis shoes) for In the Upper Room. Alan already occupies a singular place in Pittsburgh dance, having started at PBT and, after an injury, founding Texture. There he wears many hats, operating as artistic director, choreographer and dancer. This season the Dance Magazine award winner (25 To Watch) is now branching out, as was seen in the softly sculpted jazz inflections of Looking Back and Moving Forward, a terrific collaboration at the Dance Alloy with songstress Angwenique Wingfield.

CARMEN DE LAVALLADE IN SWOOP

CARMEN. Most people don’t yet know that the Kelly Strayhorn Theater is bringing a piece of living dance history — Carmen de Lavallade — for three evenings! See a documentary film, Carmen and Geoffrey (Holder, her husband) and talk with Carmen Sept. 10 at Dance Alloy, then take in her solo evening Sept. 12 and 13 at the Kelly Strayhorn. An uncommonly rich woman who was one of the first African American ballerinas,  encouraged Alvin Ailey to dance, artist in so many facets of life and former professor at Yale University. A once in a lifetime experience!

ABBY AUSTRALIA

BIG. Abby Lee Miller is gradually assembling a juggernaut business as an offshoot of Dance Moms. She sent a photo of a class in Australia — 900 students!

 

SYTYCD NEWS. I was waiting to see how far So You Think You Can Dance would go in translating two to three minute routines into something longer and more developed choreographically. It has already had an impact on concert dance, both amateur and professional. But I think jaws dropped over the announcement a couple of weeks ago that choreographer Sonya Tayeh would be working with the Martha Graham Company. A late starter to dance, Sonya doesn’t have an extensive Graham history, but has been assembling a resume including Dance Magazine’s 25 to Watch (2009), an Emmy nomination (2013) and choreography for Madonna, Florence and the Machine, Kyle Minogue and Miley Cyrus. Judge Nigel Lithgow also revealed that Emmy-nominated Travis Wall wants to choreograph for the New York City Ballet. We shall see…

 


Dance Beat: Christine, Eva, Nick and Robert

August 19, 2014
Christine Schwaner in "The Nutcracker." Photos: Rich Sofranko

Christine Schwaner in “The Nutcracker.” Photos: Rich Sofranko

Corps member Steven Hadala wasn’t the only one to move on at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. Actually PBT lost principal dancer Christine Schwaner, soloists Robert Moore and Eva Trapp and veteran corps member Nichols Coppula. Read about their plans in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Eva Trapp and Nicholas Coppula in "In Your Eyes."

Eva Trapp and Nicholas Coppula in “In Your Eyes.”

Eva Trapp, Alexandra Kochis and Robert Moore in "A Streetcar Named Desire."

Eva Trapp, Alexandra Kochis and Robert Moore in “A Streetcar Named Desire.”

 


On Stage: The Innermost Corps of Ballet

August 7, 2014
Accompanied by wife and son, Steven Hadala takes his final bow after a performance as Gamache in "Don Quixote." Photo: Aimee Waeltz

Accompanied by wife and son, Steven Hadala takes his final bow after a performance as Gamache in “Don Quixote.” Photo: Aimee Waeltz

It was a classy finish to Steven Hadala’s career as a corps de ballet member of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, where the whole company gathered around him after his final performance. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. But former PBT corps dancer Desiree Mastriano Arredondo, who knew Hadala briefly during her career with PBT, wrote to me following the article. “I just wanted to point out that PBT honors all of its members, in my opinion,” she said in her email. “When I retired four months pregnant in 1998 to move to Houston with my husband and soon-to-be child, [artistic director Patricia] Wilde gave me a performance of the Scotch Lass in [George Balanchine’s] “Scotch Symphony” and presented me with flowers after my performance. It was a beautiful send off, and one I will never forget!”

Steven Hadala (Drosselmeyer) asks for a kiss from Alexandra Kochis (Marie) in "The Nutcracker." Photo: Rich Sofranko

Steven Hadala (Drosselmeyer) asks for a kiss from Alexandra Kochis (Marie) in “The Nutcracker.” Photo: Rich Sofranko

 

 


On Stage: Dancers Trust, Maree, PPU

June 9, 2014

dancers trust

IN DANCERS WE TRUST. The Dancers Trust annual performance, by PBT dancers and for PBT dancers in transition, managed to put together an evening despite an extensive list of company injuries. There was a sneak preview of Sleeping Beauty from the charming duo of Alexandra Kochis and Alejandro Diaz and a sneak peak of new company member Masahiro Hanyi with PBT grad student Maine Kawashima in Don Quixote, plus a sneak peak of what corps members Diana Yohe and Corey Bourbonniere might do in something like the drama of Le Corsaire. There was a trio of choreographic treats from company dancers William Moore, Yoshiaki Nakano and Cooper Verona, always a good sign of independent thinking. And there were a couple of bonus dances from Point Park University seniors, newly graduated that afternoon and nominated participants in the American College Dance Festival Association at Kennedy Center, Jennifer Florentino and John O’Niel in ‘til the end,’ and Luca Sbrizzi’s playful solo, Futbolist. All in all, a good time.

maree ubiquitous photo

MAREE AND MORE AT THE HAZLETT. Maree ReMalia has been unveiling her lightly raucous piece, The Ubiquitous Mass of Us, at various venue. The segment at PearlArts Studio began with a “Mass” question, “Where is Adil?” What followed was attention-grabbing in its outright cleverness. Can’t wait to see the who-o-ole thing June 14 at the New Hazlett Theater. By the way, the Hazlett has announced its second round of Community Supported Art (CSA) for next year. Dance again plays a stellar role, with Moriah Ella Mason’s Untamed Dancing Oct. 14, Jennifer Myers’ Spatial Investigations Dec. 12, Contemporary Circus/Dance with Jil Stifel and Ben Sota Feb. 12 and a Dance Double Feature with Teena Marie Custer and Roberta Guido June 11.

PointParkDanceADD-JUNCT. Adjunct faculty add a great deal of variety to the dance department at Point Park University. This year’s concert edition ranged from Ernest Tolentino’s klezmer-inspired and very smart ballet, Meron, to Heather Goelz-Carpenter’s razzmatazz (and very hot) tap, Swing & Sing, with Kellie Hodges (After All, Even Now, Even If), Mariah McLeod ((mis)Connect), Daniel Karasik (Vantage Point) and Laura Warnock (Starts at Goodbye) in between.Connections performance


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