Dance Beat: Kinzua Dam, West Point Ballet, Benjamin Millipied

January 4, 2017


KINZUA DAM. Thanks to more media coverage, celebrity support and the support of organizations like veterans, people are learning about the Indian plight at Standing Rock. But what we don’t remember is how the United States government has exerted force over Indian nations for a large part of our history, taking land that rightfully belonged to them. Western Pennsylvania has an Indian area that was flooded by the Kinzua Dam. The Kelly Strayhorn Theater, a hotspot for minority art, brought in a moving, heartfelt performance by Minneapolis’ Rosy Simas Danse. Rosy went to visit the Kinzua site, where her ancestors were forced to evacuate. Click on Kinzua Dam for a complete history. And from the Seneca Indians’ perspective remembering 50 years ago...

west-point-nutWEST POINT BALLET. The West Point Ballet, located in Coraopolis,d served notice that it is joining the upper tier of local dance studios. Only in its third year, it presented its own “Nutcracker,” showcasing the Cuban ballet style, so poetic and lyrical, and filled with those signature pirouettes that seem so effortless. WPB fielded at least half a dozen young women who distinguished themselves and has a growing contingent of young men that would be the envy of other schools. Congratulations to owners Cynthia Castillo, formerly with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and a graduate of the National Ballet of Cuba, and Damien M. Coro, formerly with PBT and the National Ballet of Cuba. Damien performed with the group alongside his twin brother, David, a former principal with the National Ballet of Cuba who is teaching at the Laurel Ballet with his wife, Vanessa Haider, also a former member of the National Ballet. Certainly their combined expertise will enrich the ballet community for many years to come.

peter-farmerPETER FARMER. World famous costume and scenery designer Peter Farmer passed away a few days ago. He worked on a number of productions at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, including the recent Giselle production this past fall. You can read about the process and his career from Janet Groom Campbell, good friend and PBT costumier, here.

BENJAMIN MILLIPIED.  For those who like a juicy ballet backstory, there is an upcoming documentary about Benjamin Millipied (famously the husband of movie star Natalie Porter) and his dramatically short tenure at the Paris Opera Ballet. Called Reset, it should hit movie theaters sometime in January.

DANCE LISTINGS. There’s not a lot happening in January with Pittsburgh dance (see Listings). What is happening?






On Stage: 15 Years of “Nut”-iness

December 5, 2016
Alexandra Kochis with Christopher Budzynski in "The Nutcracker." Photo: Rich Sofranko

Alexandra Kochis with Christopher Budzynski in “The Nutcracker.” Photo: Rich Sofranko

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre celebrates 15 years of “Nutcracker” in the Terrence Orr production. Click on Nut for the review.

Dance Beat: Jessica, Jewels, James

December 5, 2016



DANCE JAM! Pittsburgh artist manager Jessica Marino (JAMpress management) is joining with Green Street Studios of Cambridge, Massachusetts to form Tracks to provide multiple showcase opportunities for dancers. Jessica and friends hope to “foster a creative environment where artists and presenters can meet, network and build meaningful relationships” with a goal of increasing performances, residencies, masterclasses and collaborations. Pittsburgh artists include Maree ReMalia & HyunJung Lee, Staycee Pearl Dance Project, Teena Marie Custer, Shana Simmons Dance, Brady Sanders and Jamie Erin Murphy. Already on tap are Gibney Dance Choreographic Studios in Cambridge, PearlArts Studios in Pittsburgh and Lehigh Valley Dance Exchange in Allentown, PA.

JEWELS. This looks like the ballet equivalent of Hamilton. Bolshoi Ballet! New York City Ballet! jewels_1421185cParis Opera Ballet! All together in one glorious run of George Balanchine’s Jewels. Wonder what the tickets will go for? Click on Jewels for more information.


JAMES. James Gilmer, formerly a student at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, now residing and dancing at Columbus Ballet (soloist!) went to Kennedy Center as part of the company’s Nutcracker production. In this video clip from the company, you can spot him in two places, the first one a pirouette about 10 seconds in.


On Stage: Attack-ing the Holidays

December 3, 2016


Take in Attack Theatre’s spirit-driven (holiday, uplifting, etc.) Unbolted. Click on Attack.

Dance Beat: Lovin’ Lil Buck

December 3, 2016

Art is art.

On Stage: A Millennial Response to “Dora” and World War II

November 29, 2016



This critique was written by Annette Elphinstone, a senior dance major at Point Park University from Freedom, Pennsylvania. It was given as an assignment in the newly-created course, “Dance Aesthetics and Criticism” 

We have all read and discussed the tragic and forever changing event we call World War II. When brought up in history class, we do not realize the anguish and complexity of the war through the ink that describes the happenings of the past. Even through film, we cannot begin to understand how the humanity of each individual was stripped away each moment during the war. However, when this event is explained to you in person through physical and oral representation and conversation, the observers feel an impact and connection to the events that occurred decades ago. It is through human to human connection that people can begin to empathize all of the experiences the survivors and victims have endured. By watching Bill T. Jone’s “Analogy/Dora: Tramontane,” I better understand the complexities of human beings and the influences of war.

Starting off, I noticed that the show itself was visually minimal. When initially thinking about historical themed performances, I tend to believe that all of the details – costumes, sets, décor, etc. – have to be time appropriate. Otherwise, the depiction of the happenings could be incorrect. However, due to the simplicity of the set, costumes, and even makeup, observers were able to create the scene for themselves and live in the moment being described as they heard it to be. Another interesting factor is that the characters of the overall story switched between performers. On one hand, it was confusing as to who was playing who in each section. On another, it allowed for observers to understand that the experiences Dora (a survivor of WW II and the central voice of the show’s concept ) could have, and most likely did, happen to other people. While the visual display of the show was at times confusing or too modern for the subject, the simplicity and fluidity of the performance invited creativity and human connection on the historical events orated by Dora.

Another aspect I want to focus on is the structure of the performance. While it focused on a historical plot, the sections did not follow sequentially to the time period. It is interesting that the artistic choice was made to seem like each new memory was discovered in conversation. In fact, the order of events was probably in the same order as spoken by Dora with her one-on-one with Jones. In following this choice, the audience became like Jones and saw how the questions that were asked stirred up specific memories and experiences. Also, for how dark the theme of the concept was, I highly enjoyed and appreciated the lighter moments. In dark times, humans tend to create lighter situations to remember to celebrate life as they can and to strive to find that life again after the darkness ends. With the shifting dynamics of mood from serious to playful to tragic to loving, the conversation orated was highly human and kept interest.

Overall, “Analogy/Dora: Tramontane” was an impactful representation of one person’s experience during a time of suppression and desolation. While there may have been many struggles and much of humanity lost, such stories provide listeners the courage to strive for a better and more loving future. With the events happening today, this work greatly encourages the audience to find that positivity and remember to not allow the mistakes of the past to circle about again. It is works like this that educate the general public and aim to better humanity. Hopefully one day text books are replaced by art like “Analogy/Dora: Tramontane” so our community can begin to better understand that history is more than just the past – it is a part of the now.

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On Stage: Introducing Peter

October 20, 2016

In a way, Finding Neverland is the prequel to the numerous films and stage productions of J.M. Barrie’s celebrated story, describing the boy who became Peter Pan. Except, perhaps, that this Broadway musical focuses on the author himself, a man who didn’t want to grow up.

Now on display at the Benedum Center as part of PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh, Finding Neverland is also the musical translation of the delicately nuanced and intimate film that starred Johnny Depp. However, Broadway musicals would seem to be the antithesis of that, boldly drawing in audiences of several thousand.

And so this Neverland is. It borrows from the film in unfolding the creative process and imagination that went into the formation of the original play, telling the story of Barrie, who was suffering from writer’s block when a chance encounter with a young widow and her four sons in London’s Kensington Park changes his life.

The boys help to unlock his sense of invention. Like a jigsaw puzzle, they assemble the pieces of the story from real life while we watch. Tick tock. A large furry dog. That vaguely familiar bedroom for the children, with a large double window through which dreams come true.

The stage story only hits a snag when it toggles between reality and the imagination. In the film, it easily faded from a scene into Barrie’s mind. But at first, a man dressed in a bear suit had to suffice in the stage version. Aside from a Dali-esque carousel inside Barrie’s mind and a rousing recreation of a ship, the musical had to wait until the end, when the young widow, gravely ill, makes her final trip to Neverland amid a breathtaking whirlwind of glittering fairy dust.

Magical, indeed, in just the right dose. That was the signal to hit all the right buttons, making the segue into a Disney-esque finale.

Some of the problems came from director Diane Paulus, who won a Tony Award for Pippin, for forcing the story beyond its borders. Choreographer Mia Michaels, best known for So You Think You Can Dance, resorted to typical Broadway vocabulary, rather than surrounding the characters with some period choreography that tapped the Barrie imagination.

The talented cast does a lot to offset this assertive interpretation. Kevin Kern (J.M. Barrie) and Christine Dwyer (Sylvia Llewelyn Davies) were the perfect match — he romping about the stage and she a partner in constant invention. Their voices did great justice to a rather familiar-sounding musical score by Gary Barlow and Eliot Kennedy, particularly in terrific duet, Neverland.

Peter, played hauntingly, then warmly by Ben Krieger had a similar moment in When Your Feet don’t Touch the Ground with Kern. Krieger was joined by three boisterously lovable brothers who added plenty of grit and spirit to the production.

And you can’t forget Captain Hook, one of theater’s oddly adorable villains, here rendered in a double role by Tom Hewitt (also playing theater impresario Charles Frohman).

So what should we take from Neverland? While it pushed and pulled the Barrie story, sometimes stretching its limits and occasionally tapping its inherent fantastical effects, there was a Tinker Bell effect.

Despite the flaws, the audience seemed to float out the door, ready to follow the second star to the right and straight on ’til morning.