On Stage: Attack-ing the Holidays

December 3, 2016

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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

 

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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.

 

 

 

 


On Stage: Head Over Heels for “Kinky Boots”

September 22, 2016

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One famous quote about dancer Ginger Rogers smirked that she did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels.

Well, ladies, the shoe company/drag queen musical Kinky Boots is putting its own stamp on that, in fact, elevating it to a new level with platform shoes and six-inch heels.

kinky_boots_tour-lolaThis heartwarming look at diversity and mutual respect, now at the Benedum Center, goes above and beyond any chorus line musicals we’ve ever seen. It tells the tale of a young Brit named Charlie Price (Adam Kaplan) who inherits a failing men’s shoe company. He accidentally bumps into Lola (J. Harrison Ghee), star of a drag show, and thinks that he could save her from some ruffians.

But Lola doesn’t need help in a lot of ways. In fact, she could give Ginger and any other woman a run for her money. But not with a broken heel. As a result, the intrepid drag queen turns herself into a fashion consultant who knows a niche market when she sees one. And the men’s shoe company transforms itself into a custom boot corporation, making “a range of shoes for a range of men”  like Lola. Along the way, everyone involved, from the employees to Lola and Charlie themselves undergo personal transformations.

This musical was the perfect vehicle for hometown favorite Billy Porter, who won a Tony Award as Lola last year. But would it stand on its own without him? Kinky Boots is, in many ways, an old-fashioned, uplifting evening of musical theater. It sports a rousing score by Cyndi Lauper, a versatile industrial scenic design by David Rockwell.

But most of all, it is yet another working class British musical (Billy Elliot, The Full Monty) that is able to make the leap across the pond to America because it strikes a universal emotional chord.

In this production, sans Porter, I sensed a new-found danger, though. Kudos to the Angels, Lola’s back-up singers and dancers. Full of unquenchable energy, the six performer/athletes zipped up and down stairs in their eye-catching platforms, could high kick and split with the best, and, most daringly, danced along moving conveyor belts as well.

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I don’t know ladies — I can’t imagine Ginger keeping up, even in her heyday.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Dance Beat: Patricia, Matt, Brazzies, Charrette, Attack

August 30, 2016
Patricia Wilde with Savion Glover

Patricia Wilde with Savion Glover

A Wilde Award. Former Pittsburgh artistic director Patricia Wilde added yet another award to her treasure chest. She was honored by the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga, New York, along with famed tap dancer Gregory Hines, whose award was accepted by tapper extraordinaire Savion Glover, who was mentored by Hines. She was surrounded by her family, including children Anya Davis and Yuri Bardyguine, plus a sizable contingent who worked with her at PBT, including Terrence Orr, Harris Ferris, Janet Campbell with David and Roberto Munoz.

Fresh Addition. He has popped up in performances with Attack Theatre ever since he and husband Rubén Garcia, head of the dance department at Point Park University, moved to Pittsburgh two or so years ago. Dance Europe Magazine selected him as one of the “Top 100 Dancers in World” for 2010/2011 and he is a former dancer with Lucinda Childs. But he gave Pittsburgh a sweet surprise this spring at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, simply titled Matt Pardo: An Evening of New Works. It was actually the culmination of a Master’s of Fine Arts Degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and showcased a subtle blend of jazz, which had a certain weight, and contemporary dance, which gave it a liquidity. That clarity and balance in Pardo’s choreography were easiest to see in Matt’s solo and another for Point Park dancer, the talented Justus Whitfield. There were two group dances for Point Park College dancers which further demonstrated a transparency in thought and execution to be found in Pardo’s style. Most exciting, though, was a trio he created with Childs dancers Caitlin Scranton and Sharon Milanese, beautifully interacting in various formations. It was a preview, though, because Pardo and  Scranton have designs on establishing a professional company in Pittsburgh.

BETH CORNING HEADSHOTThe Brazzies. The latest edition of the Brazzy Awards, named after former ballerina and inspirational teacher Leslie Anderson Braswell went to two veterans of the local dance scene. Congratulations to Beth Corning, who always offers deep, thoughtful performances for dancers over 50 (!), this time taking on avant-garde writer Samuel Beckett in Beckett and Beyond, and Christopher Budzynski, principal dancer with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, who has contributed so much to an array of leading roles, including Swan Lake,  Don Quixote and Le Corsaire.

Christopher Budzynski with wife Alexandra Kochis in "Cinderella."

Christopher Budzynski with wife Alexandra Kochis in “Cinderella.”

Fresh Choreography. This is the must-see project developed at PearlArts Studios. Take a choreographer, give him or her the opportunity to develop work and present it in a  atmosphere, complete with expert feedback (in this instance dance artists Mark Taylor — who seamlessly coordinates things — Michele de la Reza, Jasmine Hearn and visual artist Maritza Mosquera). Do yourself a favor and take in the soft glow of changing light at the Studios, complete with intelligent, nurturing conversation and support for the likes of Jean Paul Weaver, Ella Moriah Mason and Slowdanger duo Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight.

Real Attack. One of my favorite activities, rain or shine. No real dance, just connecting with real dancers (and friends) who proclaim “We’re On a Boat.” The Attackers had a real presence this year, with co-founders Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope, of course, the inimitable executive director Rebecca Himberger, Dane Toney, Ashley Williams, all at Lock Wall One Marina at 23rd Street in the Strip District

 

 


On Stage: Dance Africa

July 21, 2016

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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.