Certainly the Kelly-Strayhorn’s executive director Janera Solomon is looking for more choreographic talent to supply her newMoves Festival. But first she is searching to fill her Next Stage Artists Residency Program. It has rehearsal time and a premiere performance built into the schedule, but the date for applications is fast approaching — Nov. 29.
Next Stage has only been in existence for two years, but the beginning has been nothing short of smashing. The first artist, Kyle Abraham, has since appeared at Jacob’s Pillow and is garnering critical acclaim. He produced “The Radio Show,” which is enjoying widespread success on tour, for KLT.
Sidra Bell was Janera’s second year choice. She, too, has been to Jacob’s Pillow and has established a strong reputation. A savvy and surprisingly youngPittsburgh audience saw just why last month when she unfolded her “Revue” at the Kelly Strayhorn.
It was unlike any other revue that has crossed my path, one that was conjured up in an exceptionally vivid imagination. So many things crossed my mind during that short hour during the premiere. Think filmmaker Federico Fellini and his circus touches. Or in today’s terms, Cirque du Soleil, with its own touches of surrealist artist Salvador Dali.
Sidra fractured those inspirations and reassembled them into a singular and strong choreographic style all her own. Supposedly this “Revue” was inspired by the “old grandeur” of the Kelly-Strayhorn itself and, by extension, the “destroyed beauty of Pittsburgh.”
It began, appropriately enough, with “Great Expectations,” presided over by master of ceremonies, complete with top hat and ruffled pants. But this was no ordinary “Revue,” containing, as it did, 13 sections like “your hand,” “your distance kept, “Savage Birds” and “A Quietly Gathering Tragedy.”
It used to be so easy at a dance performance — just follow the plot, the story, the ambience or simply be entertained. Now choreographers are working in a non-linear way that asks more from the audience. Patience. Concentration. Like assembling a human jigsaw puzzle, but you only have one hour to do it.
Sidra’s movement is a product of the contemporary dance theater today, the kind that emanates from our splintered society. Despite that, it had a boldness that is the product of the young. But she backed it up as she skillfully switched gears between modern, ballet and burlesque and elevated it by using a palpable sense of humanity.
There were arresting images along he way that leant an urgency to the movement. The performers could pull at the mouth or the thumb the nose or look like broken ballet dancers where they would degenerate into bouncing plies. They walked and fell at the same time. Later you would think, “Are they broken or are they a reflection of us?”
In the end, there is doubt that this was one of the performances of the year, one where this choreographer undeniable has her finger on the pulse of a new American dance.