Dance Beat: Dave Eggar, LaRoche, PBT, Monica Ryan

July 26, 2010

MUSICIANS ON THE MOVE. Dave Eggar, Attack Theatre’s terrific music director, composer and cellist, passed back through Pittsburgh after a sojourn to the Phillipines, where he, guitarist Tom Pirozzi and percussionist Charlie Palmer rented an old truck and spent six hours or so driving up into the mountains to learn from one of the tribes there. Dave called it the most exciting musical  experience he’s had in a while. But the musicians had to bring a live chicken, which was sacrificed, before they could play. Talk about going the extra mile! Still, Dave and company are eager to return soon to the Phillipines and hope to include their findings in an Attack performance. In the meantime, Dave will be heading back to New York City where he will perform as choreographers honor Merce Cunningham July 26, the anniversary of his death last year, at the River to River Festival in Battery Park City. Dave calls it “easiest gig I’ve had.” After all, he will play a piece of his own selection while the dancers concurrently perform their own movement — Merce would have it no other way. For more information, click on Merce.

TRANSITIONS. The affable Gerard Holt is leaving the La Roche College dance department after a nurturing nine years to open his own studio. Taking his place as director will be Bodiography’s energetic Maria Caruso. Maria took college courses there during her high school days and graduated with 30 college credits, which she transferred to Florida State University, where she received her B.F.A. at age 19. She has since added a master’s degree in professional leadership at Carlow University. Maria will continue to run Bodiography, where the upcoming season will include  “Bodiography At The Polo Match” (Sept. 11, Hartwood Acres), “Heart (Function vs. Emotion)” (Oct. 9-10, Barrow-Civic Theatre in Franklin), “Multiplicity” (Nov. 6-7, Kelly-Strayhorn Theater) and a premiere exploring tissue and regeneration with the McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine and live music by Cello Fury (Feb. 18-19, Byham Theater). Bodiography will also present Cello Fury at the Byham Theater Nov.  5. But she wants to connect her company with La Roche, where she hopes to initiate a college preparatory dance program and expand the college program in new ways.

PBT WINS. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre student Yoshiaki Nakano recently won a silver medal and $3,000 at the World Ballet Competition in Orlando, Florida. He came in second to Isaac Hernandez of San Francisco Ballet.  For those who were at the PBT School performance at the Byham Theater, it comes as no surprise given his breezy confidence. Maybe we’ll be seeing him onstage at the Benedum Center soon (he was listed as a professional with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre).

A DECADE OF DANCE. Monica Ryan, director of the Carnegie Performing Arts Center, is celebrating her tenth year at CPAC, which includes a semi-professional company, Ballet Forte, and a studio setting. To mark the event, Monica, a former member of the San Francisco Opera and graduate of San Francisco State University, will produce a new original children’s ballet, “Cinderella,” along with a repeat of her children’s play, “Snow White,” the annual “Nutcracker” and dance recital, “Catch a Rising Star.”

Video: Sylvie Guillem in “Two”

July 23, 2010

Royal Ballet star Carlos Acosta talks about his career as he rehearses Russell Maliphant’s “Two,” which is becoming a much-cherished solo, in England’s Telegraph. See Sylvie Guillem perform it on YouTube.

On Stage: Serious Dance in Happy Valley

July 21, 2010

STATE COLLEGE, PA. — Pennsylvania Dance Theatre made some inroads into Pittsburgh in the early ’90’s at Chatham College’s Eddy Theater, bringing with it a repertoire that included works by Dan Wagoner, Shapiro and Smith, Doug Varone and, surprisingly, former Dance Alloy Theater artistic director Beth Corning.

The company had been founded in 1987 and appeared to struggle in the ensuing years. But it apparently nurtured more Pittsburgh and Dance Alloy connections (former artistic director Mark Taylor and company members), enough to develop its own brand of dance in the Penn State area also known as Happy Valley.

I arrived in State College in the midst of the robust Central Pennsylvania Festival of the Arts, which draws upwards of 125,000 people annually. There is also a local jewel, the Palmer Museum of Art, which had an intriguing touring exhibition about England’s Bloomsbury artists, a somewhat scandalous, avant-garde group of intellectuals who abandoned the Victorian Era and included artists like Vanessa Bell and Duncan Grant and writers such as Virginia Woolf and Lytton Strachey.

Touring may be the operative word here, for Penn State apparently takes care to bring in wide variety of attractions to its Center for Performing Arts. They should keep the students and residents of Happy Valley, well, happy for the upcoming season, heartily ambitious, which will range from violin superstar Joshua Bell to Cleveland’s Baroque orchestra, Apollo’s Fire, and Broadway attractions like “Spamalot” and “Spring Awakening.”

Dance apparently has an audience here, too, because the Center will showcase Rioult (which will also appear on the Pittsburgh Dance Council series), Tango Buenos Aires and Ballet Grand Prix, an alumni group of leading dancers from the Youth America Grand Prix that will include New York City Ballet’s and Altoona native Jared Angle and American Ballet Theatre Stars Irina Dvorovenko and Maxim Belotserkovsky. Another surprise: Merce Cunningham Dance Company will appear there on its farewell circuit, a noteworthy event that will not pass through Pittsburgh.

Still, I was in for yet another suprise to find that Pennsylvania Dance Theatre, now headed by former Alloy company member Andre Koslowski, put forth a program that looked more like something you would find in Downtown New York amid experimental spaces like Dance Theater Workshop and The Kitchen.

The final shocker: He was joined by former Alloy dancer and Slippery Rock University staff member Jennifer Keller and a familiar award-winning Pittsburgh theatrical figure Sheila McKenna, who performed with longtime PDT member, Tina Konrath. Other members of the PDT production team who have worked in the Pittsburgh area include music director Efrain Amaya, scenic designer Susanna Amundarain, costume designer Myra Bullington and lighting designer/stage manager Scott Nelson.

The 90-minute program featured two works that generated a series of memorable images, part of an undeniably challenging program, especially in a festival setting. But then, Koslowsky was never one to lower his standards.

The first was a duet for Koslowski and New York choreographer Jill Sigman, “Fowl Play.” Yes, it appeared to be about play itself. Bones lined the front of the stage at the intimate State Theater. Vertebrae. Fingers. Maybe an ulna. Human? Not so human? They stacked them like Lincoln Logs and “play”-fully sold them to the audience from a basket.

Like CSI investigators, the pair proceeded to investigate this mysterious world, with the audience left to pick the clues apart. Questions swirled around the title. The “play” on words — fowl instead of the usual foul. Was it a childlike world, where they used blocks as platform shoes and backpacks and trembled with fear at an unseen terror? Memories from Sydney and Santiago — the reason for the text was uncertain — later permeated the skin of the production.

But mostly it was about imagination, not necessarily practical or coherent as in child’s play, but compelling in its own way.

Koslowski followed with “For Those From Before,” inspired by his parents’ memories of early childhood in their native Germany. He was noted for the clarity of his images and the pathways they took during his time in Pittsburgh (and he will return to choreograph for DAT next season).

In “For Those” he added a personal story that delved into a deep emotional territory that he has not explored in the past. The beginning was atmospheric, but tentative. Koslowsky was seated, spilling a series of Germanic words and phrases. Like ghosts, a family materialized in the middle of a lake scene on the screen at the back.

Like shards of memories, the subsequent scenes gradually began to unfold . But it wasn’t until the performers constructed a mountain of suitcases that “For Those” truly began to touch its emotional core, including touching solos for Keller and Konrath and a monologue for McKenna that amounted to a string of words delivered with virtuosic aplomb.

There was no certainty as to whom the dancers played and perhaps they were composite characters. What mattered most was the interactive depth they achieved in this performance.

It was apparent that Happy Valley has itself a singular company that walks on the edge of modern dance. It is supported by a technology company, Minitab, Inc., where Koslowski is on staff as a wellness instructor, an enviable artistic and business position that should be emulated in other towns and cities.

Settled into a wonderful wooden house that operates on many levels just like his choreography, Koslowski wants “to do work I’m intersted in.” And despite the challenge of his choreography, “the audience has slowly been growing.”

Cheers for Happy Valley.

On Stage: Small Dance, Big Effect

July 20, 2010

Two local dance organizations, one with increasing effect over five or so years, the other a newbie (sort of) on the arts scene, performed on the same weekend and inspired me to write about the need for small arts organizations. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

On Stage: American Dance Festival!

July 6, 2010

Photo by Michael Slobodian

I braved the 100 degree heat of the Deep South to visit Durham, North Carolina and the American Dance Festival, where dance passions ran just as hot. Although I saw RUBBERBANDance (above) and Dendy Dancetheater (below), there is still more to be seen through July 24. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Photo by Sara D. Davis