On Stage: Dance Africa

July 21, 2016

Dance Africa 01

Dance Africa’s Erin Perry and staff have put together a  rich look at traditional ethnic dance and more. It’s also a great opportunity for artists to immerse themselves in the sophisticated and alluring rhythms of West African and Caribbean drumming. And the marketplace — you can’t forget about that! Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

On Stage: Inside Women

July 9, 2016

ELISA MARIE FACESWe all know that women wear many faces while they perform many things — nurture children, run a home, hold down a job and create new and wonderful things. But it’s great to see younger women realizing this, as in Elisa-Marie Alaio’s feminist-inspired Eff.Ul.Gents. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

On Stage: Cirque’s “TORUK” Flies Over Pittsburgh

June 25, 2016

Expectations can sometimes produce limitations. For those who have enjoyed  visiting Cirque du Soleil’s numerous flights of fancy, the Montreal organization has built its audiences through an emphasis on “cirque” or circus acts. However, they have increasingly improved those acts to harbor a real artistic flair in the choreography and obviously wanted to keep growing physically and aesthetically.

The group’s latest production that flew into Pittsburgh, an arena show called TORUK — The First Flight, indicated a new path. Yes, there were spectacular aerial and acrobatic performances, but it was easy to see that TORUK was another breed of performance animal.

Photo: Errisson Lawrence

Photo: Errisson Lawrence

Unlike previous arena shows such as the mega-rock Delirium (2006), the “joy”-ful Alegria (2009) and Fellini-esque Quidam (2011), all in the traditional mold, this show emphasized a new direction, a stretching, if you will, of Cirque’s fertile imagination. It was no longer a show loosely built around a series of standalone acts. There was an obvious emphasis on a cohesive concept show that integrated acrobatics in a far more sophisticated way.

Yes, folks, the acts were still there. A giant webbed loom was crawling with performers and served to “catch” aerial jumpers. The huge skeleton of a reptilian Thanator was the basis for a brilliant group balancing act. A warrior dance used large poles that not only hinged in two but lifted some of the performers high into the air. Yes, it often wasn’t business at usual. And TORUK demanded more of the audience because it didn’t always indicate noticeable endings to draw applause. In some instances, the audience might not be sure if something was finished. (Don’t worry — just settle back and allow yourself the luxury of multiple choices because there is never a single focal point. There is always something else to catch the eye.)


TORUK LEADAlthough the Na’vi Storyteller could not always be understood, the story itself was simple enough, a tale of life-long friends, Ralu and Entu, who, just on the brink of manhood, join forces with a new friend, Tsyal, to save the sacred Tree of Souls and thus the Na’vis themselves. It supposedly took place 3,000 years before the film. One note: audiences must get past the fact that these Na’vis aren’t the tall, lithe characters found in James Cameron’s award-winning movie, AVATAR. They are shorter, more muscular characters, but with a lightness and elegant physicality of their own as they prowl and play on a versatile set by Carl Fillion.

Unlike the afore-mentioned arena shows, this wasn’t a set that seemed separated from the audience. Those productions would use oh-so-clever clowns to lure audience members into the fabric of the show through skits. TORUK did it in a different way. Expert, multi-focal direction from Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon made great use of a three-dimensional landscape that had an island at the center and was ringed with rocks and soft tumbling platforms. It brought the action even closer and  better yet, sent cast members scampering up and down the steps radiating into the nearly 20,000 seat arena’s rafters.TORUK EMUSThe technology, however, was not as simple as the story. It was, if anything the star of the show —  cutting-edge and verging on the spectacle of the opening ceremonies in an Olympic event. This was epic movie-making in the flesh — a true 3-D rendering of its own, inspired by Cameron’s film. It bathed the seats in shades of blue, almost transforming the audience into Na’vis and the special effects included a flood, an earthquake, a volcano and so much more.


Some of it may have seemed vaguely familiar, like the play on Lion King puppetry, so artistic and with AVATAR-like Viperwolves and Direhorses (six legs!), and newly formed Austrapedes (ostrich/pink flamingo/dinosaur) and a Turapede (turtle/shark) added to the mix. There was also a projection at the back that might have been gigantic Na’vi eyes from the movie and the whole story once again circled around a fantastical tree and its environment.

Not only did the familiarity draw people in, but audience members could be part of the production in a new way, by downloading an app onto their iPhones. So when a starlit night appeared, it was enhanced by dozens of tiny screens that twinkled on their own.

TORUK FANSAfter all those dazzling effects, the ending actually topped it all with thousands of LED lights. It was a huge magical message, much like the spaceship that came to rescue ET.

This is a production that filled the vast Consol Energy Center, scene of exciting hockey contests (including this year’s Stanley Cup series and ultimate win), driving rock ‘n roll shows and Monster Jams, none of which can match Cirque du Soleil. TORUK brought something new — a welcome sense of wonder, which is no easy feat.

The city of Pittsburgh even took its cue from TORUK. When the audience left , they were greeted by buildings set against the onset of a night sky, yes, in shades of blue, yet another award, this time from nature itself.








On Stage: Dance Recitals 2016

June 22, 2016
Wexford Dance Academy

Wexford Dance Academy

Congratulations to all the dance studios in the Pittsburgh area for another stellar year. Dance Showcase made its recital Destination Dance, while West Point Ballet followed the yellow brick road to its own destination with a new production of The Wizard of Oz.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, meanwhile, performed an encore of one of my favorites, George Balanchine’s Serenade, and created a selection of dances for the various class levels around the music from The Sleeping Beauty. And Movements in Dance took a Step Right Up, along with guest artist Sophie Silnicki, a student at San Francisco Ballet.
Carnegie Performing Arts Center may have named its recital Sugar and Spice. That could also apply to graduates Megan Blackwell, who will attend Robert Morris University in Pittsburgh for Business, and Adrienne Elion, who will go to Shenandoah University in Virginia for Dance. Wonder which is which?
And Wexford Dance Academy had a versatile recital with not only the signature classic, Paquita, but a Rhinoceros Tap. The graduating seniors are versatile as well: Haley Raphael, Hamilton College, Biochemistry, Dance minor; Natalie Gardinier, Ohio State University, Biology (pre-med), Dance minor; Morgan Beaver, Case Western, Business Management; Kyra Launcher, Butler University academic scholarship in the Butler Honors Program, Dance Performance & Ballet, Art & Design and French minors.

April 30-May 1: Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh, Independence Middle School in Bethel Park, 412-343-9333. or http://www.balletacademypgh.com.

May 12-14: Chartiers Valley High School Performing Arts Department, Chartiers Valley High School, 412-429-3712 or http://www.showcase.cvsdtheatre.com.

May 13-15: Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Pre-Professional Showcase, George Roland White Performance Studio at Point Park University, 412-281-6727 or http://www.pbt.org.

May 14: Dancing Classrooms, Pittsburgh Allderdice High School,

May 21: Sandra Lynn’s School of Dance, Franklin Regional High School, 412-287-0515 or http://www.sandralynnsdance.com.

May 22: The Dance Company for the Performing Arts, West Mifflin Area High School, 412-672-2200 or http://dancecoperformingarts.com.

May 21-22: The Thomas Studio of Performing Arts, West Allegheny High School, 412-257-2000 or http://www.thomasdance.com.

May 17: Dance Showcase (Jeffrey and Reserve), Shaler Area High School, 412-860-7764 or http://www.danceshowcasell.com.

May 20-21: Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School, Byham Theater, 412-456-6666 or http:// http://www.pbt.org.

May 21: Pittsburgh Youth Ballet, Byham Theater, 724-969-6000 or http://www.pybco.com

May 21: Sandra Lynn’s School of Dance,Franklin Regional High School, 412-287-0515 or http://sandralynnsdance.com

May 22: Movements in Dance, East Fairmont High School, West Virginia, 304-288-3081.

May 26-27: West Point Ballet, Pittsburgh Masonic Center, 412-872-8325 or http://www.westpointballet.com.

May 29-30: Dance Showcase (Jeffrey), Shaler High School, 412-512-1187 or http://www.danceshowcasell.com.

May 28: Allegro Ballet, Greater Pittsburgh Masonic Center, 412-973-5500, allegroballetpa@gmail.com or http://www.allegroballetpa.org.

May 29: The Dance Conservatory of Pittsburgh, Shady Side Academy, 412-344-3900 or http://www.dcpdance.com.

Wexford Dance Academy

Wexford Dance Academy


June 4: Larry Cervi School of Performing Arts, Norwin High School, 412-856-7713 or http://www.cervi-school.com.

June 4-5: Carnegie Performing Arts Center, Carnegie Library & Music Hall in Carnegie, 412-279-8887 or http://www.carnegieperformingartscenter.com.

June 4-5: Dance Workshop By Shari, Upper St. Clair High School, 412-884-5099 or http://www.danceworkshopbyshari.com.

June 4-5: Karen Prunzik’s Broadway Performing Arts, Carlynton High School Auditorium, 412-920-1841 or http://www.prunziksbroadwaydancestudio.com.

June 4-5: The Thomas Studio of Performing Arts Petite Performer Recital, Chartiers Valley Intermediate School, 412-257-2000 or http://www.thomasdance.com.

June 5: Wexford Dance Academy, Shady Side Academy in Fox Chapel, 724-934-9233 or http://www.wexforddance.com.

June 6: Lisa DiGorio School of Dance, Pleasant Hills Presbyterian Church, 412-650-9986 or http://www.dance4lisa.com.

June 10: Dance Factory, Jeannette Senior High School, 724-527-6190 or dancefactorydancers@yahoo.com.

June 11: Laurel Ballet, The Palace Theater in Greensburg, 724-837-7776 or http://thepalacetheatre.org.

June 11-12: Arena’s Performing Arts Centre, Moon Area High School, 412-264-9925 or http://www.arenaspac.com.

June 11-12: Ken and Jean Dance Studio, Norwin High School, 412-823-2753 or http://www.kenandjean.com.

June 17-18: Kickline Dance Center, Baldwin High School, 724-941-9839 or

June 17-18: Starlight Dance Academy, Deer Lakes High School, 412-767-0400 or http://www.starlightdanceacademy.net.

June 18-19: Michele’s Dance Center, North Catholic High School, 412-366-4134 or http://www.michelesdancecenter.com.

June 25: Mary Ann & Company Dance Studio, West Mifflin Area High School, 412-461-7229 or http://www.maryannandcodance.com.

June 26: Cynthia’s School of Dance and Music, Carson Middle School, 412-418-7498 or http://www.cynthiasschoolofdance.com

On Street: Spawning an Ellipses Condition

June 8, 2016

ELLIPSES CHALK DRIZZLEPearlann Porter and John Lambert threw out a colorful and meticulous tease of their fall series of events designed to puzzle and delight onlookers in Downtown Pittsburgh. Pearlann talked about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and John apparently chalked himself into, not a corner, but a circle or two (with some help, I assume) along Strawberry Way. Were they the thought pockets in question?

ellipses close-up of john in circleellipses circles

Dance Beat: Following a Tune

June 5, 2016

Tommy-Tune_in redI’ve never had a true Bucket List — I tend to live in the present, which is all that matters for the dance that I have watched for 40-plus years. But when I was in my 20’s, living without Internet and with Pittsburgh dance still in its infancy, I frequently had to turn to movies and Broadway to satisfy my thirst for movement.

Along the way, I discovered Tommy Tune, a lanky Ambrose Kemper in Gene Kelly’s Hello Dolly film in 1969. Subsequently I started hearing about him and seeing his work in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas (1980, director and choreographer), then A Day in Hollywood / A Night in the Ukraine (1980, director and choreographer) and Nine (1982, director).

By then I was smitten with his talent and used to periodically joke that one day I’d like to dance with Tommy Tune — I had learned that he was 6’6″ and I was nearly 6′ myself. When I saw him in My One and Only (1983, performer and choreographer), that sealed the deal.

He went on to become a Broadway legend and I enjoyed seeing his productions and catching glimpses of him over the years, being that he was a director, song-and-dance-man and author as well.

Then I saw that he was coming to Pittsburgh as part of the Cultural Trust’s Cabaret series, a solo evening he called — so appropriately — Taps, Tunes and Tall Tales.

It was a dream come true. He emerged, looking fabulous in a royal blue suit, silver tap shoes, silverish hair perfectly coiffed and a sincere, Texas-style grin that  could make anyone feel warm and fuzzy. Yes, it was “Too Darned Hot.”

Like most cabaret shows, this was an intimate look inside the life of a truly talented and influential Broadway performer. It took a while for his voice to warm-up, but the authentic power of his personality was the prime reason for coming and he delivered that.

There was an ease and an elegance to the song selections, symbolized by Let’s Take It Nice and Easy to You’ve Gotta Have Heart and I’m Old Fashioned.

Tommy could do a ton of name-dropping. Fred Astaire. Salvador Dali. The sophisticated Honi Coles, probably my favorite segment of the show.

And there was a list of leading ladies, from Chita Rivera and Barbra Streisand to Drew Barrymore and Twiggy (The Boyfriend and My One and Only). One leading lady was in the audience, Niki Harris, the former Barbara Harris of West Mifflin and best known for her work in Tommy’s A Day in Hollywood/A Night in the Ukraine as those outstanding dancing legs.

Among other shows, she went on to perform in and more in Tommy’s My One and Only (1983 – Dance Captain); Grand Hotel (1989 – Assistant Choreographer, Dance Captain); The Best Little Whorehouse goes Public (1994 – Swing, Dance Captain, Associate Choreographer).

They had a few private moments backstage, but I waited around for his Meet and Greet in the Backstage Bar. Sure enough, I got to meet Tommy and tell my story. And like a perfect gentleman that he is, we did a spontaneous little routine.

Sigh…and thank you.


On Stage: Waltzing “Matilda”? No Way!

June 4, 2016


MatildaTour0234r birthday


Matilda the Musical might be based on Roald Dahl’s classic children’s book, but its transformation to the stage, a co-presentation of the Pittsburgh CLO summer series and the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s PNC Broadway in Pittsburgh, is just as smart as the title character. Woven with darkly-drawn character critters like school headmistress Miss Trunchbull and Matilda’s parents, it nonetheless is balanced by a sharp, biting sense of humor that really defines this Tony Award-winning production.

Right off the bat, the cast launches into a gigantic birthday celebration for children-at-large, fostered by overbearing parents and led by a terrific battalion of kids who belt out Miracle around a large movable table. “My mummy says I’m a miracle.” Soon after: “My daddy says I’m his special little soldier…has my daddy told you, one day when I’m older, I can be a soldier, and shoot you in face?”

It sets the tone for the uncanny wit that that merrily oozes itself into every pore of this production. The cast’s delicious playground is Bob Howell’s set, a gaggle of assorted-sized, Scrabble-like tiles that are given ever-changing splashes of Hugh Vanstone’s lighting, mostly in Crayola’s palette of primary colors. Tim Minchin’s score is angular and pointed for the most part, the kind of music that you get when you watch bird documentaries, full of darting movement.

Which brings us to the dance, particularly important in Matilda because, unless you already know the lyrics beforehand, you will have trouble understanding the words. Peter Darling’s choreography and Matthew Warchus’ staging punctuate this visual feast in so many ways.

Who knows where direction ends and choreography begins? The students reveal hidden horrors in School Song while they cleverly insert building blocks into the giant gate. And the swing number is simply soaring. As for the Hammer Song, filled with eye-popping gymnastic tricks, well…

But getting back to the basics of Matilda, centered on a little genius who won’t be cowered by clueless parents who prefer television over reading — mom so ballroom-obsessed (Darcy Stewart) and dad a cheap used car salesman (Brandon McGibbon) —  and a towering Miss Trunchbull, played by David Abeles and bolstered by a tight topknot bun and ample bosom. All were excellent.

But the whole cast is, from the adults who can also don a mean school uniform to the children themselves, who shoulder most of the production, even to moving set pieces and particularly Bruce, the cake eater with a great voice (Ryan Christopher Dever).

You had to love this production as it joins a growing list of musicals that center on girls’ empowerment. Hmm, I’d like to see Matilda go toe-to-toe with Annie and Elphaba.


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