WOMAN OF STEEL. You know that Michele de la Reza has always been a superwoman, lurking high on the CC list. She’s an intelligent dancer who always seems to make things happen, with moves that are always bright with promise, something so hard to pull off over the years with such consummate ease! Beginning this summer, Michele’s reputation extended well beyond the dance floor, invited, as she was, to participate on international dance festival panels in China and Germany and to be part of the Fullbright Program selection committee. Yes, the world was her oyster this year.
MAN OF STEEL. It’s easy to adore Jason McDole, even if you’re meeting him for the very first time — he’s got that X factor. An Aliquippa native and largely dance-trained in Pittsburgh, he headed for New York and performed with Twyla Tharp, Robert Battle, David Parsons and Lar Lubovitch. A couple of years ago he accepted a teaching position at Point Park University, but the dance wasn’t over and drew him back to Lar’s company. How lucky we were to see one of his last performances in a Pittsburgh Dance Council with the Lubovitch company last April. I still remember the unbridled passion he showed that night, bordering, as I wrote, on “ecstatic,” and how he, at one point, “threw himself splayed into the air several feet above the ground and landed like a pillow flat on the floor.” And now the Point Park students who cheered him on that night have him back, along with the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble, where he is on the artistic staff.
BREAKOUT DUO. Christine Schwaner and Alexandre Silva might be married, but they truly connected in another way on stage during Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Giselle this fall at the Benedum Center. I’ve seen a lot of Giselle/Albrecht combinations, but never did they have such an immediacy, making this classic love affair and its tragic conclusion seem very, very current.
WHO KNEW? He’s like a stealth bomber here in Pittsburgh, that master dancer and skateboarder we know as Bill Shannon. A world traveler (most recently in Australia), he can usually be found whizzing along Pittsburgh streets in a freewheeling ode to the urban environment. But Vie Boheme coaxed him into one of her performance stews thissummer. With gleaming white suit, fedora and crutches, he was nothing less than a star presence.
VIE BOHEME. Yes, the same person as mentioned above. She’s the alter ego of August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble member Kendra Dennard. The long-legged lovely also happens to have a terrific singing voice and a charismatic personality, bringing all sorts of Pittsburgh artists into the fray for her multidisciplinary events (that can also include food trucks). They’re all different, all scintillating, all encompassing. And they show that the arts are indeed alive in Pittsburgh.
PANEL DISCUSSION. I love it when arts organizations go above and beyond. The Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s newMoves Contemporary Dance Festival has become a much-anticipated event. This year’s May event included a series of panel discussions on residencies, community and touring with an A-list of speakers that included Kyle Abraham, Sidra Bell, Reggie Wilson and representatives of New England Foundation for the Arts, New York Live Arts and Philly Fringe Festival, among others. It was a great way to infuse the community, with KST staffers heading the list.
THE NTH DEGREE. Dancers go through a number of obstacle course to create art. But no one anticipated that July weekend when Shana Simmons’ Relative Positions at the Union Project went off successfully despite temperatures that flirted around 100 degrees. And the next night Texture Contemporary Ballet held a fundraiser at The Space Upstairs that was hot enough to melt the icing on the cake. Anything for dance…
Attack Theatre on the North Shore.
BEST ENSEMBLE. Yes, it’s Attack Theater again. This tightknit group spent two weeks this fall improvising and interacting with some of Pittsburgh’s outdoor art during Some Assembly Required: Public. You know, the imposing murals and sculpture that have been there forever, but you probably never noticed. (I do now.) Braving some threatening weather and rain, the Attackers (including live musicians) never wavered, turning in immensely varied, good-natured (sometimes sly) and always entertaining performances. But the main thing was, there was always a finely-tuned artistic foundation to it all. If we could all only make it look that simple.
CO-OP. The Pittsburgh dance community has always extended its borders, but this year the combos were unusually satisfactory. In addition to Relative Positions, Shana joined Eclectic Laboratory Chamber Orchestra in a multidisciplinary performance at Future Tenant and Texture joined OvreArts (composers Blake Raggianti and Luke Mayernik, plus full orchestra!) for an evening of two original ballets at CAPA. Those were great examples of a vibrant new energy in the Pittsburgh arts scene. But the veteran Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre also joined the Westmoreland Symphony in Greensburg for a great arts community workout in George Balanchine’s Serenade.
A WELCOME DOSE OF JGJ. A sentimental favorite here. As young as she is, Jasmine Hearn has a probing intellect far beyond her years. And that led her to invite Pittsburgh dance icons Jennifer Keller and Gwen Hunter Ritchie to PearlArts Studio to lead an evening of very cool improvisation as part of The Citrus Series.
MISSING YOU. A posthumous nod to Mansur Kamaletdinov, who died this past spring. Formerly of the Bolshoi Ballet, he settled in Pittsburgh and could easily be called a Godfather of Ballet here. So many terrific teachers are carrying on the traditions of Russian ballet that they found in his classes, including Pittsburgh Youth Ballet’s Jean Gedeon, who first remarked about his skills so long ago; Wexford Dance Academy’s Liz Mackin, who noted his knowledge of the classical variations, a direct link to Petipa through the Bolshoi Ballet; and Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh’s Stephen Piper, who considered him a great influence, uses the techniques that he learned even now. So in a way, Mansur will still be here…