Dance Beat: PBT News and Round-up

February 26, 2013
A student performance at the Amphitheater

A student performance at the Amphitheater

TO THE LAKEPittsburgh Ballet Theatre will make its debut at Chautauqua Institution this summer (Wed., Aug. 21 at 8:15 p.m.), a bit of a surprise since the historic Amphitheater, outdoor performing space, has been the turf of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, Patricia McBride and North Carolina Dance Theatre for over 25 years. It’s a company with a decided Balanchine look, a given since the two artistic directors once starred with George Balanchine’s officially “starless” New York City Ballet. So it should provide a tangible style comparison for residents there. If you’re interested in making the drive (a little over two hours from Pittsburgh) up to the picturesque Victorian community and surrounding attractions, check the website for more information.


Olivia Kelly, JoAnna Schmidt and Casey Taylor kick up their heels in the Can-can. Photos: Rich Sofranko

Olivia Kelly, JoAnna Schmidt and Casey Taylor kick up their heels in the Can-can. Photos: Rich Sofranko

BACK TO THE MOULIN ROUGE. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s production of Moulin Rouge translated well for all three casts over a weekend of performances (click on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for an article on opening night). Because the movement phrases often were plucked from familiar classroom exercises, tombe pas de bouree glissade (and substitute your favorite jump) —  the dancers could relax and exchange choreographic pleasantries all night long.

That also meant that each audience could peruse different (although never bawdy) takes on the world’s most famous (and infamous) cabaret. Let’s take the Nathalie/Matthew combination first, where there were varying flavors, enough to keep things interesting.

Opening night cast Christine Schwaner and Luca Sbrizzi had an independent clarity and freshness, more in a classical vein, while Friday night’s Alexandra Kochis and Christopher Budzynski, always on top of the technical elements, also connected on an intimate level that helped to sustain the dramatic line.

The Saturday matinee featured a pair of corps members who jumped at the opportunity and did surprisingly well. Caitlin Peabody had plenty of spunk and determination in her first starring role. While hers was a cozy technique, it had a thoughtful, yet piquant quality that suited this role. Her partner, Nicholas Coppula, was detailed in drawing his character as both an art student and a fine romantic lead.

Christine Schwaner as Nathalie

Christine Schwaner as Nathalie

It was hard to pick a favorite between the two Zidlers, Robert Moore’s brooding owner  or Nurlan Abougaliev’s more flamboyant villain. Joseph Parr posed no such problem , however — he was cast as Toulouse-Lautrec for all five performances. In fact, choreographer Jorden Morris singled him out at a post-performance soiree downstairs at the Benedum Center, calling him one of the best among 14 casts that he has worked with on the ballet.

Among the women, La Goulue, the iconic redhead from the famed Toulouse-Lautrec poster, was a juicy role. Elysa Hotchkiss had the snap of a whiplash in her deep backbends, while Julia Erickson brought the requisite star quality to dominate the Can-can. Eva Trapp could use her sensuality at full force, something that also played exceptionally well as the tango lead dancer with Alexandre Silva. Elysa showed off her flickering footwork with partner Alejandro Diaz.

Historically speaking, Moulin Rouge was marvelously detailed, including the Top Hats, perhaps a reference to Valentin the Boneless (also partner of La Goulue), but here a chance to give the men a chance to show off their ballet technique.

I am still puzzled, though, by the woman in green, not to be confused with the Green Fairies, although they appeared all together in Matthew’s absinthe-driven hallucination scene. There was a woman who appeared in Toulouse-Lautrec’s art work, but she had only a green cast, most likely from the eerie lighting inside the club. In this production, she seemed to serve as some sort of muse, but the color coordination with Green Fairies, might have indicated something else. To confuse things more, she was played by the dancers (Amanda Cochrane and Garielle Thurlow) who also appeared as Mome Fromage, without any distinction in the program.

By the way, kudos to this increasingly versatile company, who sometimes played three roles or more.


On Stage: Maria Reborn

April 7, 2011

She entered our collective consciousness, this “Maria de Buenos Aires,” up through the gymnasium, onto the stairs and into a rebuilt tango cafe at East Liberty’s old YMCA.

In the future the YMCA will house luxurious condos. But for now, it’s the setting for Quantum Theatre’s “Maria,” certainly one of its most evocative productions and that’s saying something for this adventurous Pittsburgh theater collective.

It’s a real live jigsaw puzzle of artistic pieces, seen mostly in pairs — two singers, two dancers, two actors, plus Joe Seamans’ plush video sequences that sometimes take us beyond the four walls and Tony Ferrieri’s snaking playground of ramps, costumes by Richard Parsakian and Jen Sturm that enhance the characters and a spirited tango orchestra led by Andres Cladera.

Oh, and the sangria is delicious.

Audience members are scattered throughout the room around those ramps, making for an intimate tango experience that doesn’t necessarily need a complete translation, a handy thing to know since the original is in Spanish.

But the music, the primary force behind this “tango operita” needs no translation. The score by composer Astor Piazzolla — is there anyone else that captures the tango as he does? — is seductive throughout.

The participants willingly latch onto the curl of the rhythm in this surreal journey where Maria is seduced by the tango, then dies, a ghostly reminder of the music itself. The two vocalists have a beautiful control of both tone and inflection — Carlos Feliciano (Payador) for his clarity, Raquel Winnica Young for her spirituality, although she could add more emotional depth to her pervasive anthem, “I Am Maria.”

Attack Theater’s Michele de la Reza and Dane Toney toy with tango-istic elements without ever gettingMichele de la Reza and Dane Toney downright specific. Yet it is the dance that serves as the glue behind Mr. Piazzolla’s music, in a production where it is shared by all.

Carolina Loyola-Garcia and Karla Boos carry the deeply poetic phrases sculpted by Horacio Ferrer. As an aging madam, Ms. Boos serves to translate and enlighten some of the story as Ms. Loyola-Garcia prowls the premises like a sensual, mysterious beast.

It took a little while to get the “Maria” gears in motion at an early performance, but it should become more seamless with time as the performers transform the death and rebirth of the tango from so many perspectives.

Sometimes it was a vaporous mist, other times so pungent you could almost taste it. A singular experience not to be missed.

(See Listings for more info.)


On Stage: Attack-ing the Tango

March 29, 2011

Catch a promising new view of the tango from East Liberty. Attack Theatre’s Michele de la Reza and Dane Toney will play a prominent part in Quantum Theatre’s “Maria de Buenos Aires,” set to begin its run on Friday at the YMCA. Music, video, the dance — read how it all will come together in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

On Stage: Dance Ablaze

February 15, 2011

It was a tricky weekend for dance, where Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s “Dracula” had ghostly endings that seemed to abruptly fade and Tango Fire drove theirs home with a piston-like energy. Read about the Argentinian heat wave in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.


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