Recently I have been steeped in dance history, so satisfying because of the wonderful outcome we are currently experiencing. Here is the first installment of three: Dr. Freddie Fu. I have been aware of his importance to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, of course. But his 30th anniversary with the company revealed much, much more. Some of it I have experienced, having been there for Shari Little’s dramatic injury and Tamar Rachelle’s determined response to a knee injury. But Dr. Fu has a mainstay in the company’s development and his staff revealed a lot about the development of dance medicine, where Dr. Fu was a national pioneer. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and enjoy additional archival photos of Shari and Tamar.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre added an outdoor performance at Chautauqua Institution to its annual opener at Hartwood Acres, which you can read about in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The dancers looked happy to be back and the four new ones (adding two artists to the roster total) looked happy to be there.
So was I, as well as friend and colleague, ©Martha Rial, Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer, who also happens to love dance. Enjoy her unique perspective on the Chautauquan experience at a new Pittsburgh entertainment site called Entertainment Central Pittsburgh by clicking on the link.
With Japan’s Kaori Yanagida leaving to get married and Makoto Ono retiring due to injury, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will turn to another part of the globe by adding two Brits, a Kazakh and an Ohioan to its corps de ballet.
If you do the math, it appears that the company raised the barre to 29 members next season, a real plus for an upcoming season heavy on tradition.
PBT will literally expand its family as well with a cousin of principal Nurlan Abougaliev. He has an even more complicated name, Ruslan Mukhambetkaliyev, perhaps the longest in company history.
Born in Kazakhstan (along with Nurlan, of course), he followed sister Dinara (“I wanted to be with her”) to train at Almaty Ballet Academy, then went on to a laundry list of companies.
Blessed with a big grin (and perhaps his cousin’s onstage confidence and showmanship), he decided to go to Moscow (at only 18) and “try my luck.” That led to positions with the classically-oriented Moscow City Ballet, then Russian National Ballet Theater, both touring companies, the latter led by former Bolshoi Ballet soloist Sergei Radchenko. They gave him the opportunity to try his hand at principal roles in Swan Lake, Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella and Don Quixote, which should provide an interesting “dancer watch” for the upcoming season.
When Ruslan performed with Russian National Ballet Theater in 2006, Jennifer Dunning of The New York Times called him “the most interesting cast member…, a very young and untried-seeming Prince Siegfried with a long lyrical body line and buoyant jumps.” That might prove fruitful in the 2014 PBT production.
With global tours including Germany, Siberia, Italy and South Africa (“it was hard but we were young”) taking their toll, Ruslan headed for the United States and a more settled career at the Cincinnati Ballet and Oklahoma’s Tulsa Ballet, before coming to PBT at Nurlan’s urging.
He lives near Nurlan and wife and former PBT member Aygul Abougalieva and their family in the North Hills and
hopes to resume an enthusiasm for fishing.
As for the Brits, Hannah Carter, born just outside Essex, and William Moore, from Ipswich, have classic English names and a melodious British accent. Both attended the Royal Ballet School, where the couple graduated with honors and went on to a stint with the Estonian National Ballet.
Estonia. It lies in the vicinity of Sweden and Finland, which had a chilling effect on the couple. So the young dancers took to the internet, with the goal of dancing in the United States.
PBT popped up.
The duo has danced in Royal Ballet productions such as Giselle and The Sleeping Beauty, but have contemporary interests as well. Hannah also brings an attraction to murder mysteries, mostly the book kind, but also Criminal Minds and C.S.I. As for William, he has a passion for tennis, although he never made it to Wimbledon (no!) and can cook a mean English roast.
Closer to home is Diana Yohe, a product of the company’s graduate program. A graduate of Cleveland City Dance, which is a school that does competitions (“I was always ballet-oriented, the one with pink tights and hair slicked back into a bun”), she visited The Joffrey Ballet in Chicago, but knew she wanted to stay when she came to
PBT in 2012.
“Immediately the teachers and instructors talked to be, showed me a personal interest,” she explains. While at PBT, she performed in The Nutcracker, Serenade and Cinderella, among others.
As to her future, Diana proves to be thoughtful. While most young women have certain roles in mind, she simplysays, “I want to dance for a long time — the future is open for me.”
Upon further reflection, she has bonded with Odette, where she performed excerpts at PBT’s grad program, and maybe Aurora. But she adds, with a bright, open face, “However long, I’ll be happy.”
YOSHI IN BEIJING. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre corps member Yoshiaki Nakano, now starting his fourth year with company, made good use of his summer “vacation.” He went to the Beijing Ballet Competition and came away with the gold medal, worth $10,000 and the Morningstar Foundation Special Award, worth $2,000.
KYLE IN NEW YORK. Kyle Abraham continues to make the news. This one is a New York Times article on the Restless Creature project with noted ballerina Wendy Whelan. Click on Times. But we get to see it anyhow March 22 at the Byham Theater. Talk about bated breath…
MARIBEL IN MIAMI. Former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal Maribel Modrono is part of the educational restructuring at Miami City Ballet under new artistic director Lourdes Lopez. Not only will they benefit from her teaching, but her trademark ebullient personality will bring out the students’ best. Click on Miami.
THOMAS IN VEGAS. The Thomas Studio of Performing Arts was named the Peoples’ Choice Award winner for the Federation of Dance Competitions in Las Vegas. The company were also crowned the National Champion, with 15 overall high score awards. Congratulations!
ALAN FROM DALLAS. Okay, this is fudging things a little. But Attack Theatre’s Michele de la Reza, primo advocate for the arts in Pittsburgh, stopped in at the Harp and Fiddle in the Strip District. She struck up a conversation with businessman Alan from Dallas. He asked about the nightlife in Pittsburgh and she mentioned Texture Contemporary Ballet. Alan showed up…and stayed for the entire performance. Way to go, Texture! And Michele!
TAP-ETTE? I’m still surprised as I write this, that Michelle Dorrance received the 2013 Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award (the same one awarded to Pittsburgher Kyle Abraham last year), which carries a cash award of $25,000. In a dance form dominated by men, she evidently taps like a butterfly while her rhythms sting like a bee. Check it out on Youtube, by herself and with her company, Dorrance Dance/New York. Love it.
PPU LINKS. Point Park Connections closed the season for the university’s dance department this year. Only in its second year, the program showcased some of the adjunct faculty, which, when combined with last year’s group, seems to be a considerable list. Besides being an opportunity for young choreographers, it gives the students a chance to participate in original works by professionals who included Sarah Everhart, Kellie Hodges, Daniel Karasik, Mariah McLeod, Jill Randolph-Lazzini and Maria Vignone Slutiak.
SHARING. Last year Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre broke audience boundaries at the annual Nutcracker with a program designed to enable the blind to “see” the annual holiday favorite. On Dec. 27, 2013 at the Benedum Center, there will be an autism-friendly performance. The entire theater will be reserved for families with individuals on the autism spectrum. The company will create a fully supportive environment, including designated quiet areas and activity stations in the lobby, adjustments to potentially startling light, sound and special effects, an illustrated guide and opportunities for the families to familiarize themselves with the production in advance of the performance. The house lights will remain dimly lit and audience members will be able to come and go as they please. “This is a performance where families can come as they are and be who they are,” said PBT Educational Director Alyssa Herzog Melby, who heads Accessibility Initiatives at PBT. “Whether they are looking for a new artistic experience, bonding time with their family or simply an escape into a magical world, we can offer all of that through this performance. We hope that we can become a model for other ballet companies across the country to open their doors to people on the autism spectrum, sharing the beauty of what we do with all people in our community.” By the way, there will be a PBT edition of No Menu Monday May 20 at Bar Marco in the Strip District. A guest chef will devise the menu, which will be served by company dancers. Food proceeds will benefit PBT’s autism-friendly Nutcracker.
COLORS OF THE RAINBOW. That’s what Dancing Classrooms Pittsburgh calls its competition events. Well, it’s all over, but we’re still cheering for this year’s dancers, who looked better than ever and made the finals at Pittsburgh Allderdice extremely close. When the dust had settled, it was Lincoln K-5 who took the trophy. Others participating in this exciting final were Gold: Linden K-5; Silver: Miller K-5 and West Liberty K-5 and Bronze: Phillips K-5, Sunnyside and Sister Thea Bowman PreK-8 . And for the first time, DCP expanded to the 8th grade, where the routines and style were much more difficult. Congrats to the four schools who participate in the first year’s event: Winner: St. Benedict The Moor PreK-8; 1st Runner-up: Sister Thea Bowman PreK-8; 2nd Runner-up: Langley K-8 and 3rd Runner-up: Montessori PreK-8. Many of the students were veterans of the 5th grade competition. And while we’re at it, supporters can participate in Pittsburgh Mercy Health System’s online auction to benefit Dancing Classrooms Pittsburgh, which will include tickets to the Pirates, a $100 Pampered Chef gift certificate, 18 holes at Glengarry Golf Links and much more. For more information, click on Dancing Classrooms. It begins June. 1.
NEWBIE. It looks like Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s 2013-14 company announcements might come in spurts. The first installment is a new apprentice for the upcoming season, Diana Yohe of Cleveland, Ohio. A member of PBT’s graduate program, she received training at Joffrey Ballet’sTrainee Program and Cleveland City Dance and attended summer intensives at San Francisco Ballet, Julliard and Cincinnati Ballet in addition to PBT School. She has already performed with the company in Cinderella, Moulin Rouge® — The Ballet, Giselle, The Nutcracker and George Balanchine’s Serenade, but recently she was featured in the PBT School annual recital as Odette in highlights from the second act of Swan Lake.
A BEAUTIFUL MEMORY. Ballet great Frederic Franklin recently passed away at the age of 98, which triggered a whole raft of memories, both in and out of Pittsburgh. I last saw him perform as the Tutor in American Ballet Theatre’s Swan Lake — age 95! While he traveled the globe during his career, he had strong ties to the early days of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, where he served as artistic director from 1974-76 and set both Giselle and La Sylphide. The company also performed his work, Tribute, several times, the last time celebrating his 50th anniversary in dance in 1982. How wonderful that he contributed to the ballet world for so many years afterward!
It’s amazing how we have managed to Disney-fy very dark and scary European fairy tales, which have been tapped for glittering full-length ballets: The Nutcracker, The Sleeping Beauty, but most of all, Cinderella. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre brought back Septime Webre’s version, a bit of a patchwork quilt on its own with references to other tales. There was no doubt it was designed to appeal to families despite the sometimes jarring, darkly haunting, yet beautiful score by Prokofiev. Read the review in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
While Septime Webre’s production was child-like and pastel, more recent versions have a contemporary adult perspective. Jean-Christophe Maillot put his Cinderella in bare feet and gave the final pas de deux to the fairy godmother, who was actually Cinderella’s mother, and Cinderella’s father.
Christopher Wheeldon’s co-production for Dutch National Ballet and San Francisco Ballet is receiving rave reviews, calling it the best ever.
Alexei Ratmansky is scheduled to do a new version for the Australian Ballet. It will be set in the 1930′s, like one of his first ballets for the Bolshoi. In an odd twist, he will work with Jérôme Kaplan, who did the costumes for Maillot’s production. In the meantime, here’s a clip of Ratmansky’s adagio from his original Cinderella, performed by Diana Vishneva and Andrey Merkuriev at a dance competition in Russia.
MEET ME UNDER THE CLOCK. Yes, the final location for Attack Theater’s The Dirty Ball has been revealed. The Attackers and friends are headed for The Clock Building on the South Side (you can’t miss it). The official address is 2101 Mary Street in the vicinity of the Birmingham Bridge and UPMC Mercy South Side Outpatient Center. Sat., Apr. 27. Tickets: $50 (General Admission, 8-midnight), $125 Velvet Lounge, 8-midnight, Dirty Donor Reception, $250 6:30-midnight).
SWAN. The program at the New Hazlett Theater may have run a tad over three hours, but virtually all of the women presenting premieres in dance, theater, music and art rose to the occasion like the graceful bird that figures into the letters of the title. Actually it means Support Women in the Arts Now, a global initiative that plays out during March, and was curated in Pittsburgh by No Name Productions. There was a particularly strong theater contingent, including Tammy Ryan’s Forgiveness, and no less than four local dance companies took part. It was good to note that the disciplined professionalism and a wonderful growth from Bodiography’s Maria Caruso, Texture Contemporary Ballet’s Kelsey Bartman, August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble’s Kaylin Horgan and Continuum Dance Theater’s Sara Parker.
WENDY/KYLE? Jacob’s Pillow executive and artistic director Ella Baff will moderate a panel discussion as part of a Works & Process at a Guggenheim presentation featuring New York City Ballet star Wendy Whelan Apr. 14-15. The program will feature excerpts from Wendy’s new work, Restless Creature, to be premiered at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival Aug. 14-18. It will consist of four commissioned duets featuring the ballerina and each of her partners, young choreographers Kyle Abraham, Josh Beamish, Brian Brooks and Alejandro Cerrudo. While they are not disclosing which choreographers will perform and/or talk, it might be worthwhile to see it. The Guggenheim performances are currently sold out, but the presentation will be streamed live on Sunday, Apr. 14 at 3 p.m. EST at www.ustream.tv/worksandprocess. Check it out now — there are already some intriguing videos to be seen, including NYCB’s Justin Peck, American Ballet Theatre’s Alexei Ratmansky, the Royal Danish Ballet and How Judges Judge — Youth America Grand Prix.
KENNEDY CENTER. The Washington D.C. institution has released its 2013-14 season, which will include bigwigs NYCB, ABT, the Bolshoi, plus Boston and Pennsylvania ballet companies and, on the contemporary dance side, Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty–New Adventures and noted British choreographer Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance. See the full play list by clicking on Kennedy.
AYGUL? Yes, Aygul Abougalieva was on hand for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Unspoken series at the August Wilson Center to see husband Nurlan Abougaliev perform. What was remarkable was that she had just given birth to their son five days earlier. What was even more remarkable was that she didn’t have an extra ounce on her trim figure and looked just like this photo.
KST FOREIGN AFFAIRS. Kelly Strayhorn Theater executive director janera solomon is taking Center Stage, not literally, but a cultural diplomacy program organized by the U.S. Department of State. janera and three other arts leaders from the United States and Pakistan are on a 10-day trip to Morocco, where they will select between six and eight ensembles from three countries to tour the United States from June to December, 2014. solomon reports, “It’s exciting to be here. We are meeting with artists and independent producers. I’ve learned that as producers, we face many of the same challenges such as funding and audience development and we share a passion for connecting people with great artists. The possibility of bringing Moroccan artists to Pittsburgh or sending our local talent there is exciting.”
PIROUETTING INTO THE COMMUNITY. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre celebrated National Women’s History Month at Carnegie Library in Oakland with a trio of PBT “stars” — principal Alexandra Kochis, ballet master Marianna Tcherkassky and marketing director Aimee Waltz. They explored the role of the ballerina over the years and connected gender and relationships as they were depicted in the Victorian-inspired Jardin Aux Lilas (Lilac Garden) ballet by Antony Tudor.
GRAND RESULTS. PBT student Sophie Silnicki has achieved high honors at the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) semifinals in Indianapolis, enough to earn her a place at the finals at the Jack H. Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in New York City Apr. 12-17. Her winning combination consists of Gone, a contemporary solo by Adrienne Canterna (1st place) and the classical variation from Raymonda Act II (3rd place), Congratulations, Sophie!
SNOW WHITE. Monica Ryan’s latest childrens’ ballet will use 60 children from surrounding communities this weekend for the Carnegie Performing Arts Center. They will play Russian Dolls, Carnival Dancers and Jewels in the production at Andrew Carnegie Music Hall in Carnegie. For more information, call 412-279-8887 or visit www.carnegieperformingartscenter.com.
Most often I am faced with the professional polish exhibited by ballet dancers on stage (above, courtesy of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre). But sometimes it’s good to delve into the everyday activities of dance, often so special in their own way. Recently I accompanied a gaggle of fresh-faced budding ballerinas for that Very-First-Pointe-Shoe-Experience. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And photojournalist Rebecca Droke contributed the accompanying photos in the article and the video (below).
But in the end, the professional ballerina will do almost anything to change a hand-made shoe conform to her foot: