On Stage: Kyle Abraham — Homeward Bound

January 29, 2010

Some people say that you can’t go back, but Pittsburgh native Kyle Abraham never quite left. He made the New York break, but returned in 2001 after his father was diagnosed with Altzheimer’s disease. Singular memories of his father/son relationship are playing out in Abraham’s latest piece, “The Radio Show,” set to debut at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater this weekend.

His life in New York — he still spends considerable time there —  is on the upswing. Abraham’s company,  Abraham.In.Motion (A.I.M.) is starting its fifth year and his solo work is in demand. This summer he will debut a company commission for the prestigious Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival.

Life is good there. But Pittsburgh’s impact on him is boldly resurfacing in this upcoming premiere. Abraham wistfully remarks how, as a teenager, he wouldn’t talk to his father as he drove him to school until he had a bottle of Snapple from a store one block from Schenley High School. Now his father has aphasia, which renders him unable to talk.

But there has been a surprise development. “Dad is a still a fun guy,” Abraham explains. “The second music comes on he dances (and this is a man who never danced at parties).”  In the past they had also listened to AM860, the sister station to WAMO, the popular urban radio station that went off the air last year. “The Shirelles, the Vulvettes — I wanted to bring those memories to the work as well.”

So “The Radio Show” will have both an AM side and an FM side, drawing parallels between human and social contexts. It will provide commentary on the function of an urban station that offers opportunities for people to call and express their opinions like the much lamented loss of WAMO. And it will stay true to his family.

It’s a lot of territory to cover. “I’m just trying to come up with a balance of all those things,” Abraham offers. “I want to let it be its own voice.”

For more information, check Listings.

Dance Beat: On the Pillow, Point Park and Flamenco

January 28, 2010

THE PILLOW — JACOB’S THAT IS. Jacob’s Pillow just announced it’s 2010 season and has commissioned a work from Pittsburgh native Kyle Abraham along with two other young artists, Monica Bill Barnes and Camille A. Brown. Also on tap are star attractions like Nina Ananiashvili, Karole Armitage, Trey McIntyre, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Lucy Guerin, who was part of the Australia Festival here in Pittsburgh two years ago. For more information, click on Jacob’s Pillow. For more on Kyle, he’s at the Kelly Strayhorn this weekend. Check Listings.

POINT PARK NEWS. Ann Reinking had to pull out of the premiere of the new musical, “Time After Time” due to health reasons and Trey McIntyre had to cancel due to a conflict with the Byham Theater program. But dance activity is still way up in preparation for February’s Byham concert with its sleek line-up of dance. Former Joffrey Ballet principal Maia Wilkins came in to set Gerald Arpino’s “Light Rain” and former Hubbard Street dancer and Point Park alum Cheryl Mann staged Daniel Ezralow’s “SUPER STRAIGHT is Coming Down.” Daniel Charon came in with Doug Varone’s “The Constant Shift of Pulse” and popular Point Park instructor Jason McDole, a former dancer with David Parsons, was readily available for Parsons’ “Nascimento.” See Listings.

FLAMENCO WORKSHOP. The Guitar Society of Fine Art is sponsoring Flamenco Tangos workshops Feb. 9 at PNC Recital Hall, Duquesne University and Feb. 10 at Simmons Hall, Pittsburgh Center for the Arts with flamenco dancer Cihtli Ocampa and guitarist/singer Ethan Margolis. For more information, click on Guitar Society.

On Stage: Overwhelming In More Ways Than One

January 27, 2010

Choreographers and dancers have traditionally been the ultimate in multi-taskers, moving various bodies and/or numerous body parts all at once and usually adding a number of other artistic dimensions like music, lighting, scenery and costumes.

Maybe that’s why terpsichoreans have always been congenial and astute collaborators, open to the possibilities that surround them. So there was nothing new to expect when director/choreographer Jeremy Wade’s production of “there is no end to more” (with “more” being the operative word) scattered across the New Hazlett Theater stage last Saturday as part of The Warhol’s Off the Wall series.

Wade had planned text, illustration, movement, video, music and lighting — on the surface not much “more” than what we had already seen in other multidisciplinary performances. The set was an angled cyclorama, a nifty way to reign in the sweeping open space of the Hazlett and, as we were to see, condense the numerous effects. A Snoopy-like doghouse was the only set piece.

“I am moving fast…I am a butterfly.” Solo performer Jared Gradinger began his list of thought-provoking observations and commentary — some witty, some surprising, some oddball, but still a list. Gradinger’s words certainly tickled the fancy and seemed to drive the production. “What if your mom used to be a boy?” “I have to poop.” But after a while it simply became an extension of the sensory bombardment that we experience daily. Parts of it became disposable in our minds.

Still Wade deserves credit for a laser-like deconstruction and reinterpretation of a foreign culture. Tokyo can be called New York on steroids, a volatile jousting between Japanese tradition and Americanisms and even more compressed. Wade’s piece filtered that sensory experience through Japanese-style animation or “anime,” a visual art form using the simplistic lines of cartoon imagery and most noted for its doe-like eyes and bold outlines, and “cute” culture, symbolized by characters like Pokemon. But illustrator Hiroki Otsuka created a fantasy world of such sweet imagination that it almost overwhelmed the other elements.

It was easy to see Wade’s intentions and the vivid contrasts captured the essence of media, anime and “cute” culture that surround the Japanese, and subsequently everyone in this Internet-connected, all-consuming society. But Wade could still have used a few moments that would give pause for reflection and allow the audience to digest his wealth of information.

After all, we do have remotes.

On Stage: An American in Tokyo

January 22, 2010

Think: Pokemon. Think: Hello Kitty. Think: American Cutting Edge Multi-media Performance Art.

No, it’s not a figment of my imagination.

American director and choreographer (currently living in Berlin) Jeremy Wade was commissioned to create his own individual take on The Land of the Rising Sun by the Japan Society.

The result is “There Is No End to More,” part of the Andy Warhol Museum’s Off the Wall series on Saturday. Depending on what wall serves as the jumping off point, Wade has already racked up some serious New York interest. His “Glory,” a nude duet, received a Bessie Award (the dance equivalent of the Oscar, Emmy, etc.) in 2006. It was his first evening-length work after graduating from the School for New Dance Development (SNDD) Amsterdam in 2000.

That was enough to attract the eye of Japan Society’s artistic director Yoko Shioya. “It’s often been said that my work is butoh-esque,” explains Wade, former swimmer and rave dancer, over the phone from New York. “I found that flattering.” He had never studied the Japanese art form born of the atomic bomb that was dropped over Hiroshima and Nagasaki to end World War II in the Pacific. “But my work is quite grotesque and quite an actionist, extreme monstrous body at times.”

Soon Wade and a few collaborators were on their way to Japan for a month-long stay in the cities of Tokyo and Kanazawa during Sakura, the flowering of the cherry blossoms, in April of 2009.

First impressions? “I was totally overwhelmed,” Wade concedes. Then he adds, “I was slightly claustrophobic — I felt like I was on another planet with remnants of Western capitalism that I had never seen before. Capitalism on steroids. Consumerism beyond your imagination.”

Wade found himself “walking through Tokyo and having 4,000 people cross Shibuya [train] Station every ten minutes, floating in a sea of numbers. This I found really fascinating and it became the basis for the work.”

Although Wade had a prior interest in Japanese manga (a variation on comic books), he instead filtered those impressions through another interest,  “kawaii” or “cute” culture, most noticably symbolized by Pokeman and Hello Kitty. Wade found himself wallowing in “this kind of overwhelming nightmarish sense of infinity,” which translated into never-ending layers of text, movement, sound and imagery.

“The whole structure is really lessons in a children’s show,” he explains. “But these lessons end up having adult subjects.”

Wade likes to “compose an event that is made of two oppositional aesthetics.” That might mean arrogance and groveling.” In the case of  “There Is No End No More,” he was fascinated by the ideas of beauty and disgust. “When I put them together, they begin to blur and it’s that blur that I really love.”

Wade kept asking himself, “Is it Japanese enough?” In the end, he stuck to his own process noting that  “it has the influence of Japanese, but it’s its own beast — it’s how I see the world.”

For more information, click on Andy Warhol Museum.

On Stage: Stepping Out!!!

January 20, 2010

There seems to be a plethora of exclamation points associated with step dance. Like tap, it’s all about the sound — both use shoes that have metal cleats attached. But unlike tap, step dance doesn’t yet have the range of dynamics that would make it a more pertinent art form. It only operates at full throttle.

Yet Step Afrika!, in its second performance here in Pittsburgh, showed that it can engage an audience. Certainly the  packed house at the Byham Theater thoroughly responded to the unbounded energy put forth by this Washington D.C. company of ten dancers.

Essentially it was the same program that this group offered in its local premiere in the August Wilson Center’s “First Voice,” its initial presentation of a black arts festival in 2007. (There will be a second festival this spring May 21-23 — click on August Wilson Center for details.) It took the format of a lecture-demo introducing the audience to the history and various angles of step dancing.

With the inspiration of a couple of movies (“Stomp the Yard,” “How She Move” and, of course,”StepUp”) and a current groundswell of interest, things at the Byham Theater Sunday nightcommenced  with an onslaught demo of step dancing, downlit and dramatic. The troupe didn’t waste any time bringing on the rhythms in the hands and the feet. And the audience didn’t waste any time participating with rhythmic clapping.

This step dance show made the most of its engaging core rhythms. The first section took its cue from the streets, moving from unison patterns to a challenge dance between the guys and the ladies, where attitude was a must. One of the ladies clearly channeled Pam Grier, while the guys responded with a pose resembling Rodin’s “The Thinker.”

As might be anticipated, the challenge ended in a tie, setting the stage for a series of historical related styles, which included a re-enactment of a  fraternity/sorority initiation, American takes on African rites of passage with dance and drumming, South African gumboot and my favorite, a tap solo of considerable skill (that employed the use of a variety of dynamics).

Some things for consideration: a romantic duet or a lyrical take on step dancing. At any rate, that would add an additional layer to what is undeniably an emerging and exciting art form.

On Stage: The King’s Dance

January 19, 2010

Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet came to the August Wilson Center last weekend. In case you missed it, here’s my review (click on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). And, in case you missed visiting the August Wilson Center, certainly a must, check out the schedule, which will include hip hop concert pioneer Rennie Harris: Puremovement in the First Voice Festival during May.

On Stage: King of the World

January 15, 2010

These days dance aficionados are questioning, “Is it ballet or contemporary dance?” With true blue ballet choreographers at a premium — I’m referring to hot commodities like Alexei Ratmansky and Christopher Wheeldon, although neither might attain the stratospheric heights of George Balanchine — ballet companies are stretching their artistic range with an assortment of modern/contemporary choreographers.

Think Twyla Tharp (fast becoming a staple in ballet companies across America), Mark Morris (Rubenesque modern, although classical in music concept), Dwight Rhoden (a fixture at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and resident choreographer at North Carolina Dance Theatre)…the list is seemingly endless.

Then there is Alonzo King, who is bringing his San Franciso-based company, Alonzo King’s Lines Ballet, to the August Wilson Center this weekend. He spent a number of weeks here during 1999 nurturing The Move, a short-lived company begun by Pittsburgh ballet members Andrew Blight and Terence Marling. But it wasn’t until 2005 that he unleashed his vision with a company performance at the Pittsburgh Dance Council.

Yes, his women perform mostly in pointe shoes and the style is undeniably a variation on the off-center exploration employed by Balanchine. His company begins with ballet barre. But he fudgesthe description on the company website, calling it “contemporary ballet.”

King wants to put it all to rest during a recent phone conversation. “Ballet is a misnomer,” he begins inPhoto by Marty Sohl his robust voice. “It’s an Italian word that means dance and is a moniker for what we term Western classical dance. Everything we do in the West, whether it’s hip hop, whether it’s jazz, whether it’s modern, has to do with the way the Western mind looks at the body front, side, back, above, below.”

But King also asserts that “you can’t get away from what we call classical ballet. It’s basis is not in Europe; it’s basis is in nature and primordial truths. The interpretations of different cultures produced different classical forms and all the great civilizations had that.”

He contends that Europe was in a deep cultural deficit when compared to older civilizations, noting that the Spanish language is full of Arabic terms and both algebra and arabesque are, at their root, Arabic.

Photo by Marty Sohl“People underestimate the science of geometry, which is ballet [or dance],” King goes on to explain. He compares the movements of India’s Kathak with Spanish flamenco, illustrating that the two distinct styles share a commonality in their footwork. In addition, their connection can easily be traced. He also laments that “no one has really done that trace for ballet. Its origins have to go back further than Catherine de Medici.”

But King goes even deeper by stating that everything in ballet can be found in nature (“pirouettes are whirlpools or eddies”). What is a tutu? “Saturn’s rings, the nimbus around a saint’s head, a hula skirt. It’s the honoring of the sacred circle — that’s the point.”

He calls himself a “truth-seeker,” a word that defines King and his global perspective in such locales as China, India and Morocco. His company will bring a contrasting program to Pittsburgh, beginningwith “Signs and Wonders,” a piece that King designed for the Dance Theatre of Harlem in 1995, which combines ballet with African music and storytelling, and “Dust and Light,” a 2008 work that falls at the other end of the King spectrum with music by Poulenc and Corelli.

Then it’s off to new horizons with Bejart Ballet Lausanne, Royal Swedish Ballet and Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo, with detours to work with award-winning authors Colum McCann and Howard Zinn.

It appears that all the world is indeed a King-sized stage.

For more information, visit Listings.