On Stage: PBT Dancers Coming and Going

April 3, 2014

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s mixed rep program at the August Wilson Center always provides the opportunity to see the company grow over the course of two weekends. There is no substitute for those extra performances.This year there was a bonus — rumors swirling around changes in the company for the upcoming season.

When the dust had settled, PBT’s dynamic duo, named to Dance Magazine’s 25 to Watch list in successive seasons, leaped to the top as Amanda Cochrane and Yoshiaki Nakano were promoted to principal dancer. Following in their footsteps were corps members Gabrielle Thurlow and Alejandro Diaz, who both moved up to soloist.

Four company members will also be leaving. Principal dancer Christine Schwaner will have a tough end to her 8-year run with the company. She was diagnosed with a severe case of shin splints just prior to the company’s Swan Lake and has not recovered enough to participate in the season finale of Don Quixote. Sadly she had developed a quite a following. Fans waited until the casting was posted just so they could see her.

Soloist Eva Trapp and corps member Nicolas Coppula, a couple in real life, will be heading for New York City and plan to work with American choreographic master Twyla Tharp.

And corps member Steven Hadala, a stalwart dancer for 16 years (and a record!), will move on to teaching in Michigan.

Actually the above dancers had quite a run during the 3×3 program, making an impression on several occasions. Here are some of the most memorable:

● Yoshiaki led the mens’ entrance of Ketubah with such gravity and commitment, while Gabrielle led the women on stage, burning like a glowing ember.

● Eva and Nicolas took advantage of a moment during In Your Eyes, where they crafted an intimate, beautiful duet. Everyone was holding their breath at the end.

● Stephen was obviously relishing every moment on stage as he appearedin all three ballets.

Other members of the company took advantage of new performing opportunities:

● It was my first chance to see three-year veteran Cooper Verona in a leading role, the groom in Ketubah. Such a handsome, fluid mover!

● Favored with such elegant legs and feet, Joseph Parr finally grew to appreciate them, particularly when interpreting the tricky rhythmic phrasing of Dwight Rhoden in Smoke ‘n Roses.

● Another trio — the three dancers who came across the Atlantic and landed in Pittsburgh for their first season. Brit Hannah Carter had such a deep ease and polish about her dancing — look for great things from her. Compatriot William Moore is just latching onto a fine contemporary flair. And Ruslan Mukhambetkaliyev, cousin of principal Nurlan Abougaliev, showed major glimpses of the real confidence and charm that audiences love about Nurlan.

On Stage: Swiss-made Ballet

March 21, 2014


Recent Dance Magazine award winner Patricia Wilde still looked regal as she stood in the audience for the Ballet de Grand Théâtre de Genève. The former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre artistic director was there as an alumnus of the company, where she helped George Balanchine establish a school. The group has since changed its style to another contemporary niche, but she looked radiant as she watched the work of two rising choreographers, a rare treat for Pittsburgh viewers. Read about the performance in the Pittsburgh  Post-Gazette.Geneve red dress-Gregory-Batardon_50A1622

"Requiem" Photos: Gregory Bartardon.

“Requiem” Photos: Gregory Bartardon.

On Stage: Pittsburgh Ballet — Holding on to Tradition

March 6, 2014

Julia Erickson Photos: Rich Sofranko

Julia Erickson Photos: Rich Sofranko

Under artistic director Terrence Orr, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has developed a theatrical path reminiscent of his alma mater, American Ballet Theatre, one of a few American companies to do so. Most others have built some variation on the speed and contemporary flair of George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet.

Alexandra Kochis

Alexandra Kochis

Mr. Orr mounted four separate casts for the company’s latest encore of Swan Lake, which produced backstage drama all its own when it was reduced to three. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Gabrielle Thurlow and Nurlan Abougaliev in The Sleeping Beauty Photos: Duane Rieder

Gabrielle Thurlow and Nurlan Abougaliev in The Sleeping Beauty Photos: Duane Rieder

His balletic philosophy will apparently continue as PBT celebrates its 45th anniversary season next year, where four of the productions will be large and classically oriented. Given classical ballet’s limited full-length repertoire, we will again see The Sleeping Beauty, always a challenge for the company due to its pristine technique, and the annual Nutcracker.

Alexandra Kochis in La Bayadere

Alexandra Kochis in La Bayadere

Amanda Cochrane and Robert Moore in Beauty and the Beast

Amanda Cochrane and Robert Moore in Beauty and the Beast

Mr. Orr has also chosen La Bayadere, another Russian masterpiece, full of exotic aromas. He has subsequently reached into his own past for Lew Christensen’s Beauty and the Beast, a marketable title and apparently garnering good reviews, but choreographed in 1958.

That leaves the singular repertory night, next year moving from the August Wilson Center, currently an arts question mark due to financial difficulties, back to the Byham Theater.

PBT only announced Dwight Rhoden’s 7th Heaven, created for the larger Benedum Center stage and panned when it was condensed for the smaller Joyce Theater in New York. It will need trimmed for the Byham.

The other two ballets on the program were not announced. They will celebrate “innovations from its 45-year collection.” I would like to suggest Ohad Naharin’s Tabula Rasa (1986), by far the best commission that PBT has produced (I can still see it), a ballet that has been performed all over the world with PBT’s name attached.


And then there is the obvious — a brand new commission for Pittsburgh native Kyle Abraham and a harbinger for a bright future as PBT nears its 50th. He recently received the MacArthur “Genius” Award and was tapped by Wendy Whelan, principal with New York City Ballet and one of the premier ballerinas dancing today, for a duet commission in Restless Creature. Why not give him a chance?

But then, you might have some other suggestions. Email me at jvranish1@comcast.net.

Dance Beat: PBT Honors

January 23, 2014
Janet Groom, Terrence Orr, Nicholas Petrov and Patricia Wilde.

Janet Groom, Terrence Orr, Nicholas Petrov and Patricia Wilde.

DRESSING UP FOR JANET. She’s been one of the pillars of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre over the past 40 years. And most certainly, costumier Janet Groom has been one of the reasons behind PBT’s success. Having seen other regional companies and some of the costumes that have been imported for various productions, I can easily say that Janet has been a hidden treasure. Mostly, that is. She often views performances, sometimes in a handmade Groom original that picks up on the theme of the evening’s ballet. PBT honored her at Perlè, one of Pittsburgh’s newest and coolest venues, a versatile contemporary space in Market Square. There Janet was in the spotlight, honored by board member Carolyn Byham and current artistic director Terrence Orr. Also in attendance were founding and first artistic director Nicolas Petrov and the always elegant artistic director Patricia Wilde, amid a fine “turn out” by board and company members. As a bonus, several of Janet’s exquisite costumes adorned the walls, so that we could get an up close and personal look at her remarkable attention for detail.

KUDOS TO PATRICIA. Speaking of Patricia Wilde, she was recently honored by Dance Magazine, putting her in some stratospheric company, including the likes of Mikhail Baryshnikov, Merce Cunningham and Pina Bausch.(Click on  DM for a complete list.) “Oh, I thought was long forgotten,” she said when we talked at the PBT company studios. But when she was contacted for a Dance Magazine article on batterie — she was known for her sparkling footwork — her name resurfaced for editor Wendy Perron. When all was said and done, Patricia was noted as a real triple-threat. She moved from a hard-working principal at New York City Ballet (she once attended a rehearsal on the day of her wedding) to a ballet mistress and globe-trotting teacher to a 15-year stint as PBT artistic director. These days she still can be seen at rehearsals and performances and is still in demand as a teacher. Pittsburgh is truly lucky.

YOSHIAKI NAKANOMORE FOR YOSHIAKI. Newly-appointed PBT soloist Yoshiaki Nakano broke through as a winner of the Beijing International Ballet Competition this past summer. Now he has capped that by being named to Dance Magazine’s 25 to Watch for 2014. Congrats!

SOPHIE. And last but not least, PBT student Sophie Sea Silnicki,16, will be participating in Switzerland’s Prix de Lausanne, one of the major ballet competitions in the world. Follow her journey beginning January 27 by clicking on Sophie.

On Stage: Top 10 in Dance for 2013

January 15, 2014
Henri Michaux: Mouvements

Henri Michaux: Mouvements

In case you missed it, here you have the best in dance as listed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Dance Beat: Wrapping up 2013 — Part Two

January 11, 2014

1391781_10151981930346460_911768040_nPBT  POINTE IN TIME. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre had its annual ball at the Westin Hotel, perhaps its most beautiful ever. It pirouetted around Swan Lake, with many guests clad in elegant black and white amid Mt. Lebanon Floral’s towering table designs. While guests could dance to Gary Racan and the studio-e Band and around the meandering musicians, they came to see one of the most anticipated features — PBT dancers performing clips from the current season. There was a sneak preview of Julia Adam’s Ketubah, rather restrained in its traditionalist Jewish overtones, and not one, but two of fine pas de deux from Christine Schwaner and Nurlan Abougaliev (Black Swan) and White Swan Alexandra Kochis with Christopher Budzynski (good to see him making an appearance in the midst of his recovery from a back injury). Most popular were the Twyla Tharp numbers — Gabrielle Thurlow  and Alexandre Silva in the Sinatra-inspired All the Way and a Stomper segment from In the Upper Room. But the PBT school students raised the roof when 60-some dancers squeezed onto the dance floor, to the palpable delight of the audience.

MORE DELIGHT. Maree ReMalia and Jil Stifel split the Kelly Strayhorn’s Fresh Faces series at Dance Alloy. Both were preludes to full-length works on the horizon, but managed to captivate on their own. Jil produced Objects For Dance, joining with husband/sculptor Blaine Siegel and movement partner Maree. Blaine constructed a real gallery feel (the piece was subsequently performed at a gallery in Philadelphia), with substantial walls and featuring art installations, dominated by a waterfall of colored fabric. It became a playground, with the women penetrating a flexible audience, who were free to move and respond. The women daringly chose Mark Taylor for a quizzical trio, opening up a delectable box of memories from the former artistic director of the Alloy in that very studio. Maree then followed with the Ubiquitous Mass of Us, a contemporary Keystone Kops scramble of a piece that somehow managed to harness the almost overwhelming energy of the nine performers, that also included Jill and artistic collaboration from Blaine. Us also broke down the wall, strikingly so, between performers and audience. Can’t wait to see the full-blown premiere at the New Hazlett Theater in June.

On Stage: Another “Nut”-ty Year…

December 15, 2013
The Clowns. Photos: Rich Sofranko

The Clowns. Photos: Rich Sofranko

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre took to the floorboards in the latest edition of Terrance Orr’s “Nutcracker.” The company has a lot of depth and confidence right now, enough to see it through the entire run. Read about it at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Yoshiaki Nakano flying high as Mr. McTavish.

Yoshiaki Nakano flying high as Mr. McTavish.

Dance Beat: Freddie, Our Dance Love

December 9, 2013
Shari Little

Shari Little

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.

Tamar Rachelle and Steven Annegarn in "Romeo and Juliet."

Tamar Rachelle and Steven Annegarn in “Romeo and Juliet.”

On Stage: Summertime With PBT

August 28, 2013

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.

On Stage: PBT’s Newest Members

August 17, 2013
Ruslan Mukhambetkaliyev

Ruslan Mukhambetkaliyev

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

Hannah Carter

Hannah Carter

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.

William Moore

William Moore

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

Diana Yohe

Diana Yohe

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.”


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