Dance Notes: Alloy, PBT and the Studios

November 30, 2009

TAYLOR-ED. The planets obviously aligned to bring together a favorite Alloy mix, when five former members showed up at the company’s Alloy on Alloy program to lend support to Gwen Hunter Ritchie’s sneak preview of her premiere for the company. Former artistic director Mark Taylor (on the right) was joined by (right to left) Andre Koslowski, Jennifer Keller, Gillian Beauchamp and, of course, Hunter Ritchie. Together they have continued to give back to Pittsburgh. Taylor continues his work with Body Mind Centering and teaching, while Koslowski is artistic director of Pennsylvania Dance Theatre in State College and recently assisted in the Pittsburgh Playhouse production of “The Queens.” Keller is on the dance faculty at Slippery Rock University and Beauchamp is in the final stages of becoming a doctor. Hunter Ritchie is currently teaching at SRU and pursuing independent projects.

PBT ON TOUR. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will be downplaying the Pittsburgh traditions built into Terrence Orr’s “Nutcracker” production when it hits the stage in Baltimore this coming weekend at the Hippodrome Theater for four performances. But it still works in the land of the National Aquarium, Camden Yards and Francis Scott Key. For more information, see Listings.

BILLY’S BACK. The stars are coming out in area studios. Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh will feature Pittsburgh native Stephen Hanna as the Cavalier in its “Nutcracker.” Hanna recently completed a run as the adult Billy Elliot on Broadway and will be returning to New York City Ballet as a principal dancer. For more information, see Listings.

PAUL’S BACK. Rising star Paul McGill (of the movie remake of “Fame”) is also back in town for the holidays to visit his family. While he’s here he will give a master class at Karen Prunzik’s Broadway Dance Studio in Robinson Township Dec. 21 from 4 – 6 p.m. For those in the know, McGill made his Broadway debut at the age of 17 in the revival of “La Cages aux Folles” and immediately backed that up in the revival of “A Chorus Line” while still only a senior at Bethel Park High School. He has also appeared in the award-winning documentary “Man on a Wire” as the young daredevil Philippe Petit. For more information, call 412-920-1841 or email at

On Stage: Made for Each Other

November 27, 2009

During the fall dance season, there were three groups that offered dances that were designed by company members. They were, in chronological order, Point Park University’s Conservatory Dance Company (Student Choreography Project), Bodiography Contemporary Ballet (Multiplicity) and Dance Alloy Theatre (Side By Side). Different labels, same philosophy.

This approach has been part and parcel of the local dance scene for a number of years. One good reason might be finances. But, at a deeper level, some company members might show a gift for creating dance and this is a wonderful way to develop those talents.

Opportunities such as these benefit all of these budding choreographers, talented or not, because they come to know the inner workings of movement. By participating in this process, they also develop a finer appreciation of it and an ability to explain it to others.

And perhaps when they work with another choreographer in the future, they will be able to respond more fully. After all, choreography is often a partnership.

Student Choreography Project

Conservatory Dance Company. This was a real surprise as I watched the student choreographers and realized how far dance has come in the 40 years or so that I’ve been watching Pittsburgh move. In the early days, a dance would often start with a concept and then meander through a series of new ideas without providing connective tissue or structure. The CDC choreographers, 12 in all, not only had some intriguing ideas, but the ability to develop them in a structured way, most likely under the guidance of Point Park staff members.

There was a prize to be had. Two of the choreographers would  go on to the American College Dance Festival Association regional conference at Mercyhurst College in Erie and the possibility of participating in the national festival at John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington D.C. next May.

It would have to be said that all of the works on the 2009 program had a certain polish, although the

Student Choreography Project

selective process was responsible for that improvement. The faculty took great care in paring down the applications from 24 to a dozen and the program reflected their input.

Who won, you ask? This had to have been the closest decision yet, but the faculty members chose senior dance majors Ahmad Simmons’ “Unconscious Entrapment” and Michael Bagne’s “De Facto.”

Bodiography Contemporary Ballet. Bodiography took the stage at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater last weekend with a new outlook, not only in choreography, which is what its “Multiplicity” program is all about, but with a bundle of new dancers. As a small contemporary ballet company, artistic director Maria Caruso has dealt well with the rather frequent performer transitions that come with the territory.

Kelly BasilShe faced this first program of the season without experienced dancer Lauren Suflita, the rehearsal director and longtime friend who has been with her from the start. Thus the company skews young at this point, but with graduates from substantial programs at Mercyhurst College, North Carolina School of the Arts and Point Park University.

But this may be the Bodiography group that has the greatest potential. Every dancer had technical expertise as a foundation with which to build a company. As for “Multiplicity,” Caruso interspersed newly ordained choreographers with more experienced fare, amounting to a stronger program.

Caruso is building a partnership with Cello Fury (formerly Cellofourte), a good move when it comes to live music. I’d never heard the previous configuration, but Cello Fury has a parallel energy to Bodiography that should work well. However this particular concert had some intonation problems in the higher registers and the players’ aggressive playing style sometimes seemed overly raw.

Caruso provided two pieces, one a reworking of “Intimate Liasons.” It focused on loss and featured some of Kelly Basil’s best work with Colleen Landwerlen in the emotional landscape of the piece. “No Bad Hair Days” included three breast cancer survivors who related their stories during a solo by Meghan Dann. It signaled a significant change from Caruso, who showed a sculptural sense that was ultimately satisfying. That carried over into her solo, “The Red Dress,” by Ilana Suprun Clyde. Except for an unexpected series of pique turns that seemed out of context, Caruso made it into a powerful showcase.

Although Landwerlen’s “Swing Into the Night” was a lively opening selection, it relied too much on geometric patterns and chorus line elements, and Kaitlin Dann’s “No Character for Every Actor” lacked dimension.

However, Nicole Cerilli’s “Alone in Kyoto” had the linear aesthetic of the Far East and Alex Salerno, company apprentice and student at Point Park, provided a silky little solo in “Child.” Claudie Morris Lawrey contributed an entertaining finale, “Nuances de Chocolat.”

Dance Alloy Theatre.

Pittsburgh’s oldest modern dance troupe is once again changing its configuration (or “alloy”) under the leadership of Greer Reed-Jones and there were signs of change flitting through the FriendshipChristopher Bandy and Michael Walsh studio in “Alloy on Alloy.”

One would expect a certain depth of perspective, given that this company has a seasoned roster of veterans and the dancers’ choreographic selections bore that out. Maribeth Maxa led the evening with “302,” the code number for an involuntary admission to a hospital. It was a turnaround for Maxa, who always exudes a dewy disposition, but set the stage for quirky dance behaviors and straitjackets. I particularly liked Maxa’s astute character observations, although “302” could have been trimmed a bit.

It’s been particularly satisfying to watch Christopher Bandy open himself up to new possibilities at the Alloy. Just last spring, he was still in a balletic mood. But this time he presented a whimsical duet, “Maestro,” where Adrienne Misko seemed to lead Bandy’s a capella vocal accompaniment. Bandy also gave Michael WaStephanie Dumaine and Christopher Bandylsh and Maxa an interactive duet, “Where You’re Not Strong,” based on their longtime friendship. They were playful, supportive and occasionally twisted into a headlock, cementing both their partnership and Bandy’s modern dance transformation.

There was plenty of connective tissue in Walsh’s “Dance By Post-It,” with the premise that anyone could make a dance. Beginning with the words on scraps of paper and a scattershot style, the piece gradually gained a formal structure and a strength that showed Walsh’s increasing sophistication.

Reed-Jones made her choreographic appearance with “Remembrance,” a solo for Caitlin Cahill that drew from recent deaths in Reed-Jones family. It came from a deep emotional core, but marked a change of direction from Reed-Jones in a choreographic break from her own Ailey tradition and the willing establishment of  a new Alloy tradition.

Off Stage: Behind the Scenes with PBT and the Tammies

November 24, 2009

“LIGHT” TRIBUTE. It was a magical evening prior to the local premiere of Stephen Mills’ “Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project” at the Renaissance Hotel. If you’ve never been there, the second floor has the flexibility to house a variety of events. The area near the elevators (accessible for those who couldn’t negotiate the stairs) featured hors d’oerves and a  bar. But the great space was to be found at the other end at a banquet facility where guests could overlook the 6th Street Bridge and more. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre paid tribute to over 50 survivors of the Holocaust (out of 115) in a moving program that served as a prelude to the performance. Congratulations to PBT for its efforts in one of Pittsburgh’s premiere collaborative events. More information in my Pittsburgh Post-Gazette review.

LIGHT NEWS. Newly ordained company member Caitlin Peabody performed most of the weekend with bruised ribs. She elected to sit out the athletic tosses of “Sirens,” but was on stage for the rest of the rest of the ballet. Soloist Eva Trapp sat out the weekend with with a foot infection and PBT split her role between five  ballerinas at the last minute.

FAN FAVORITES. In response to “Ten from Forty,” my list of ten of the most influential dancers during PBT’s 40 years, John McCarthy wrote in to add some of his favorites, which included Dagmar Kessler, Eleanor D’Antuono and, no surprise here, his sister, JoAnn McCarthy. John has played viola in the orchestra for many of those 40 years and maintains that PBT is definitely his favorite “pit” option. PBT principal dancer Erin Halloran logged on to CrossCurrents to add a pair of her favorites, Jennifer Davis and Daisuke Takeuchi.

FLU TO YOU. Duquesne University Tamburitzans artistic director Paul Stafura reports that the Tammies had to cancel a recent concert due to the H1N1 virus that infected the troupe.

On Stage: A Season of Awareness

November 14, 2009

Bodiography's Lauren Suflita with members of Cello FuryHow often art imitates life. “I always found dance to be very therapeutic,” Maria Caruso begins. “And it has, in general, had some sort of medical component for me, whether it be physical or psychological.” But now her dance is immersed in health issues as she fashions her 2009-2010 season around awareness.

It really began when Caruso met Dr. Sally Boyle, an author and psychologist who has worked with breast cancer patients. Caruso appreciated Dr. Boyle’s feedback and, when the psychologist suggested a script about breast cancer, she was more than willing to listen.

“I heard so much about the patients that I wanted to do something to honor them,” Caruso notes. But life and art began their own serious dance for the Bodiography founder. Caruso’s internist discovered a lump on her left breast, then sent her for a mammogram. The wait was taxing, but the results were good.

She was cancer-free personally, but wanted to continue to be involved artistically and continued on to create “No More Bad Hair Days.” Three cancer survivors will take the stage to read Dr. Boyle’s script, which has put the dancers on an emotional roller coaster. Even Caruso’s mammogram will serve as inspiration.

Says Caruso, “As artists we’re always doing research, sometimes on sensitive subjects. I always ask myself how I can sure that it is portrayed in the best light. I don’t want to simply describe a situation; I want to see the physician, see the patient and create a ballet about their experiences.”

But Caruso’s awareness won’t end with “No Bad Hair Days.” She’s already working with noted heart surgeons for a work based on heart patients that will take place — no guessing here — in February.

Also on Bodiography’s “Multiplicity” program at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater will be choreography by Ilana Suprun Clyde, Nicole Cerilli, Kaitlin Dann, Colleen Landwerlen, Alex Salerno and a special performance by Cello Fury. Check the CrossCurrent Listings.

On Stage: A Pittsburgh Storey

November 14, 2009

Krisofer StoreyThe voice still sounds the same after all these years. I first interviewed Kristofer Storey back in 1994 as a 17-year-old senior who was setting his sights on the prestigious Juilliard School in New York and maybe a role in a Broadway show. I remarked on his “deep, slow-as-molasses voice.” As it turns out that voice has served him well.

The Homewood native was back in Pittsburgh to set one of his dance works, “Stimela,” on Point Park University’s Conservatory Dance Company. “Stimela” will appear on the “Pittsburgh Connections” program, on view this weekend and next, along with works by Marissa Balzer, Jeffrey Bullock and Patrick Frantz.

It was fun to catch up on things with Storey. As it turned out, Juilliard was “not easy for the ego and not easy for the mind,” but it served as his first introduction to techniques found in Martha Graham and Jose Limon, among others. The young, hard-core ballet dancer from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Schenley program soon became well-versed in modern dance.

Upon graduation, he had to turn down an offer from a “Lion King” audition because he had just secured a contract with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater. However, he was told to come back “when you get tired of concert dance and want to make a real paycheck.”

The Ailey’s heavy touring schedule only whet his appetite for more. Storey left the company after three years to free-lance and perform with Donald Byrd and Mark Morris, in addition to teaching and choreographing.

But those were the years after September 11 and Storey was ready to explore something new outside the U.S. Through Juilliard he hooked up with American choreographer Kevin O’Day at Mannheim National Theater in Germany. (Yes, that’s the same O’Day who choreographed for PBT’s “Indigo in Motion” and Sting projects.) He also would perform with former PBT expatriates Terence Marling and Lauren Schulz.”It was new for everybody,” Storey recalls. “There was a lot of passion involved.”

Not knowing anything about Mannheim, he bought a Lonely Planet Guide, which told him that it was “not one of the ten nicest cities in Germany.” Mostly destroyed in World War II, it boasted a lot of new construction. But if it wasn’t the prettiest, Storey enjoyed the city’s energy and its central location in Europe.

During his travels, he met his wife, Miriam, who lived in Hamburg. And he decided to see if “Lion King” would make good on the offer so many years ago.Before he say Mufasa, Storey was placed in the Hamburg production in Germany. Since he was already 30 he had the option of making the transition to vocalist. Although Storey had taken a few vocal lessons at Juilliard, he learned on the job, standing next to South African singers who “in essence, had been singing from the womb.”

Storey has been with the company for eight years (yes, “Lion King” translates well into German),Cailin in Kristopher Storey's "Stimela"working his way up the ladder. Now he not only performs, but is learning the artistic end of things with the organization.

It’s been a blessing for his family. While Storey’s wife is attending school working on a degree in psychology, he is able to spend the days with his daughter, Jona, now 2. And he always had vacation time to come back to Pittsburgh and visit with his mom.

The timing was right for “Pittsburgh Connections” and to revisit some other personal connections. So he pulled on his choreographic experience, which included a prize-winning work for Chicago’s Hubbard Street 2, to set “Stimela” on the CDC students.

Inspired by Hugh Masakela’s music, Storey composed a piece about the men who travel from countries all around South Africa. They board coal trains to get to Johannesburg, where they work for pennies a day. “It’s a symbol for tearing apart the African family and community,” he says.

“Stimela” also questions Africa’s debt. Storey’s political views come into play as he notes how many countries built their wealth on the backs of African slaves, including the United States. “Who will pay that African debt?” he asks.

Storey himself still has many questions and is ready to find the answers. But for now, it’s good to redevelop his realtionship with Pittsburgh.

On Stage: Attack Theatre, Bared in the Strip

November 13, 2009

Preparing for "incident[s]"It’s controlled chaos at Attack Theatre’s new digs, only a week before the company bares its latest production, “Incident(s) in the Strip.” Without much ado, co-founder Peter Kope introduces Angel Streitman, a “swing dancer” who takes turns standing in for Kope himself, wife and co-founder Michele de la Reza and percussionist/skate boardist Charlie Palmer, along with being stage manager and electrician.

But then, I like to think that all the Attackers are cloned.

Although “Incident[s]” contains “40 minutes of balls-out dancing” in the first act, according to de la Reza, they are working on the second half, where “life is continuing with a series of intense movements that continually alters it.”

They are rehearsing on an array of platforms that will play a part in “Incident[s],” not only for the performers, but, yes, for you, the audience. Atop the platforms are four carved wooden screens that represent the interior, the home, a personal space.

This is the last rehearsal before the Attackers fly off to North Carolina Arts Market, a prestigious adjudicated festival that only occurs every two years. They will fly down as a team, since the Attack musicians are here rehearsing a wild blend of “La Traviata,” “The Muppet Show Theme” and a sassy samba.

All in the same spacious room. Whew! No walls, but tremendous concentration skills.

The Attack team will perform on Monday, fly back Tuesday and go into tech rehearsal for “Incident[s]” that very day for the opening night Friday.  “That’s nothing new,” says de la Reza in an off-handed way. “We rechoreographed a dance on the plane to Indonesia once. We’re used to totally multi-tasking.”

The show originally was called “Strip.” Think Pittsburgh’s Strip District. Think the current economic downfall, stripping funds from the arts organizations. Although the “incidents” idea subsequently became the meat of the production, they didn’t want to lose the “Strip” idea.

So they do.

Protected by the wooden dividers, where the dancers do interior space tasks simulating shower andAttack Theatre's Charlie Palmertoilet routines, and some strategically-placed newspapers (Post-Gazette, of course), they begin to experiment.

“Hm-m-m,” I think, “This may be the most exciting rehearsal I’ve ever attended.”

Attack dancer Dane Toney blithely walks across the platforms with a piece of toilet paper trailing from his right shoe. But he quickly concedes that he won’t be wearing shoes. It’s all part of the creative process where Attack draws from a myriad of resources, all of which at some point tumble onto the dance floor.

In other words, abstract dancerly rebounds from the first half turn into people running into each other in the street…in the Strip, of course.

Here’s some of the sections to look for: “Mail,” “Jacket,” “Stupid Human Tricks,” “Hairpull,” “Praying.” Quite a range, you might say. But there’s more. While the dancers have a playful argument over eating eggs, music director Dave Eggar takes a break from his Latino mode to talk about the music, always such an important part of Attack Theatre’s appeal.

The first act, he explains, is “full and transcendent and atmospheric. In other words, the band rocks out. The second act, with its huge shift, finds the band going acoustic, which means cello, water bottles, bicycle wheel and other accoutrements.

Eggar invokes the name of 20th century composer Morton Feldman. According to Eggar, Feldman says that when musical pieces transcend an hour, “structure gives way to proportion and proportion is impacted by groups of material invading the space.”

Think about it.

In the meantime, Eggar moves on. He likens “Incident[s]” to a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, where the Attack artists make a number of decisions during the creative process that determine any number of outcomes.

Pittsburgh Opera studio is being prepared for Attack TheatreThe musicians like that because they have a part in the artistic plan. Take Palmer, ordinarily a percussionist. When he was 11, “Back to the Future” inspired him to take up skateboarding. He can do tricks like a 360 degree kick flip. That will affect the performance.Tom Pirozzi, ordinarily holding forth on electric bass, will lose it in the second act, becoming, according to Eggar, a “hovering existential existence” or an overseer with Seinfeldian observations.

Eggar also calls it “harrowing because we’re creating in the studio in the moment. So right now we don’t know how act two ends. Anything can happen, like my doing a dance solo on a pile of people while I’m playing the cello. All bets are off.”

So the band might write the best or most popular or the hookiest music the member can write, if it’s for themselves. In the Attack show, the goal will be to dissolve a little and re-emerge with something that both serves the music and heightens the overall artistic vision of the piece. “It’s that marriage of the art forms at Attack Theatre that makes things fun and vital and alive,” says Eggar.

Not only for the dancers and the band, but for the audience.

Photos by Rebecca Himberger.

On Stage: “Light” Watch No. 4

November 12, 2009

Photographer Martha Rial attended the dress rehearsal of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s “Light/The Holocaust & Humanity Project” and captured the highly charged emotional quality of Stephen Mills’ ballet opening tonight at the Byham Theater in a series of nine photos. Click on YouTube to ensure a full-blown image.

All photos by @Martha Rial.