On Stage: Prix-ty Terrific!

January 31, 2011

This week all eyes at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre are on two students, Aviana Adams, 15, and Anwen David, 16, who are competing at the prestigious Prix de Lausanne (pree  deh  la-ZAWN). This international Swiss competition and educational workshop was designed for pre-professional dancers ages 15 to 18.

Out of 205 candidates representing 31 countries, 82 dancers were selected to attend the 2011 festivities in Lausanne scheduled to run Feb. 1 through 6. There are eight female contestants from the U.S. and PBT is the only sponsor with more than one female participant.

The company gave the two dancers a send-off last Thursday, where they could showcase their talents at the PBT studios in front of family and friends. In his introduction, artistic director Terrence Orr called the Prix “the creme de la creme of all competitions. We’re so proud of the school and our students. They’ll be working with directors and coaches, who will see how much they learn and adapt.”

The students could choose one each from the Prix list of classical variations and contemporary solos. PBT school director Marjorie Grundvig explained the students’ ultimate selections.

Aviana picked the second variation from the Kingdom of the Shades’ pas de trois from in “La Bayadere,” which played up her impeccable lines. Anwen chose a “Coppelia” variation from the first act, which also showed off some of her acting skills to go along with a naturally exuberant technique.

According to Marjorie, Aviana’s contemporary variation, “Caliban,” was by Cathy Marston and involved a” lot of difficult floor work.” It can be performed by both the girls and the boys. Anwen picked “a slightly more playful one” called “Traces,” by the same choreographer.

During the course of the week, the two will take classes with the 15-16 year old age group. They will also be coached in their variations, and in the case of the contemporary solo, by Cathy Marston herself. A panel of judges will observe their progress.

All of the contestants will perform on Saturday and then the finalists will be announced. The finals will take place Sunday, Feb. 6 at 3 p.m. CET, which is 9 a.m. Pittsburgh time and will be streamed live.

Said Aviana, “Getting this far is amazing and I’m still in shock. Everything from now on is icing on the cake. Anwen looked forward to the future in noting, “Hopefully we’ll have a great time and learn a lot.”

That goes without saying…

Check the nifty Prix de Lausanne website, chock full of more information at http://www.prixdelausanne-live.com. Certain candidates will be spotlighted throughout the week on http://videoblog.prixdelausanne.org, which will be updated daily.

Prix de Lausanne Artistic Committee member and rector of the Palucca Schule Dresden Jason Beechey will tweet about the experience at http://twitter.com/jasonbeechey.

For the Prix scene through Aviana’s eyes, check her tweets at http://twitter.com/aviana71

More to come…

On Stage: Gaga for Dance

January 29, 2011

The last time Pittsburgh saw Lauri Stallings she was dissecting ballet terminology in “The Great Gatsby.” But when I walked into the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater on Wednesday, the dancers seemed to be either primordial organisms or creatures from outer space.

Oh, how times change…but maybe not.

The quartet were distorting their various bodily planes to a whole pastiche of iPod tunes, never mindful of what was playing, be it electronic, an eastern European song or a music box tune. Hips jutted. Arms did a slow flail. Spines were askew.

After a while, Lauri came over, her eyes bright with dance. She has the kind of face that is developing into a comforting landscape of smile lines. (After all, she is immersed in the art that she loves.) Her clothes had the complex layering of her choreography — over-the-knee socks, brown tracksuit pants, a patterned mini-skirt, black turtleneck and a sweater on the verge of urban decay.

Mismatched? Hardly, when it’s a style that actually suits her so well. She simply says, “I’m just trying to keep warm.”

The four dancers, all from Lauri’s company, gloATL in Atlanta, have her choreographic back these days. They also seem to be periodically surprised — but then that’s part of the choreography, too.

It is, she openly admits, Gaga, a movement innovation created by choreographer Ohad Naharin. According to Lauri, it relates “to the onlooker, to the audience, to the public, to the community.” It’s about “trying to be available…that’s the third grade form explanation.”

It is also “movement coming from the inside out,” for Gaga is derived from the Martha Graham technique. “It was no accident — he was in her company,” Lauri explains. “It’s simply the power of Martha — given her contractions. He softened it all and completely internalized it.”

The beauty of working this way is that “I discover all this hidden movement. I can literally channel it and see where its going in the body and find it. And with that, what’s really exciting is that we conjure up the senses with it. That’s where the Gaga is. You can’t touch it — it’s where the humanity is. If our heart is beating, then the body is moving.”

She’s also into movement research, something that has resulted in a connection with director Julie Taymor (“Across the Universe”) and Cirque du Soleil, and will soon complete her Bogliasco fellowship to study the “relational aesthetics” theories of French critic Nicholas Bourriaud in Italy.

It’s been a busy last year for the Atlanta choreographer, one that included 12 commissions (Ballet Augsberg Ballet, Atlanta Ballet). So she’s glad to have the week to rehearse with this core of four dancers at the Kelly-Strayhorn, for what she considers “stage two” of “This Is a World,” based on the concept of flight and focusing on man’s preoccupation with his inability to fly. The piece will have it official premiere at New York City’s Duo Theatre in mid-May.

In the months after that, it’s presumed that Pittsburgh will see the finished project at the Kelly-Strayhorn.

In the meantime, check out the Next Stage Residency Artists concert tonight with Pittsburgh choreographers Jamie Murphy and Renee Smith at the Kelly Strayhorn at 8 p.m. Tickets: $5-10.

On Stage: “TAKES” Takes to the Kelly-Strayhorn

January 27, 2011

Maybe Nichole Canuso’s “TAKES” didn’t theoretically break any new ground, but it still felt like it did. A seamless combination of dance, installation and cinema, it took the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater audience (including me) on a journey of our own making.

We arrived for a pre-performance meet-and-greet, then were escorted into the theater and onto the stage, where a giant gauze cube, 20 feet on each side and 10 feet high, nearly swallowed the performing space. Approximately 40 chairs were arranged in linear clusters on three sides and we were cautioned to stay away from the front edge.

The idea was to blur artistic lines of the three art forms — the ephemerality of live dance, the viewing flexibility of an art gallery and the changing perspective of film. I was escorted to stage left for the start of the performance.

Nichole entered the cube with Dito Van Reigersberg for “TAKES,” a piece steeped in the nodules of everyday life between a man and a woman. There were a few skeletal set pieces — a small ladder, a chair, a table — that would come into play.

There was also an old record player and occasionally the couple would play pieces that created an atmosphere, perhaps reminiscent of places they had been. It was subtle, but the music needed to take a subsidiary role because there was so many visual images to absorb.

I can’t say that we were exposed to emotional or physical intimacies that made things uncomfortable. In fact, I found that I was sometimes indifferent to the couple, because ‘TAKES” wasn’t about the emotions, but about the abstract interplay of the various images.

So I moved. It was a little awkward — you felt as if you were interfering with others who were seated. Then I used the ramp that led to the stage. It allowed me to take in that fourth wall, either by sitting in the audience or standing at various locations on the ramp. Generally that is my favorite location in a theater, just far enough away to assess the total artistic vision.

But “TAKES” had close-knit moments requiring floor work as well, best seen by moving back up to stage right to eliminate the distance. This final solution — repeatedly moving down the ramp and onto stage right — enabled me to have the best of both worlds, so to speak, with less interference for the other audience members.

It was an odd sensation, even though I have attended other performances where movement was possible. With this production, my eyes felt like a camera lens as I walked around.

I wasn’t sure I totally understood the circumstances that surrounded this couple, given the non-linear time frame. Nor did I need to care. There was a such a serene beauty in “TAKES”  that it superceded any one of the art forms. Thus the dance, film and art created a synergy in which the whole transcended the sum of the parts.

Dance Beat: Evolve, Parsons, Tharp, Carnegie

January 26, 2011

NEW YORK BARGAIN. If you happen to be in the New York area, David Parsons’ company, Parsons Dance, is presenting three world premieres at The Joyce Theater Jan. 26 – Feb. 6, 2011. David will account for two of them — “Portinari,” which was inspired by Brazilian artist Candido Portinari, whose sculptures, “War” and “Peace” adorn the United Nations, and “Walk,” reflecting on human positivity and negativity with music by Steely Dan. Choreographer Monica Bill Barnes was commissioned to do the third premiere, “Love, oh Love,” using music by Kenny Rogers, Lionel Ritchie and Diana Ross to convey “details from everyday life.” Also on three separate programs are Parsons’ favorites such as “Caught” and “Hand Dance,” along with a couple of works that have been presented at Point Park University’s Conservatory Dance Company, “The Envelope” and “Nascimento.” But here’s the good part — for those of you reading this, there is a 50 percent discount on all performances except Fridays and Saturdays. The code is BLOG.

A NEW YEAR. With enthusiasm riding high at the New Hazlett Theater, EVOLVE Productions started 2011 with what amounted to a dance festival that  featured, for the most part, “Emerge”-ing choreographers. It was great to see some of Pittsburgh’s companies lending a helping hand, with Pearlann Porter (The Pillow Project) in a silky improvisation, “[here],”  Kaitlin Dann’s (Bodiography) neatly morphing trio, “Harbored Indecisions,” plus the sustained  intensity of Shantelle Jackson’s (August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble) duet, “Nightingales,” Gabriel Ash’s thoughtful urban style in “Bleed” and Staycee Pearl’s (STAYCEE PEARL dance project) own take on celebrity in selections from “circlePOP.” Uniontown’s Fluidity once again showed a disciplined approach to Pascal Rioult’s “Views of a Fleeting World” and artistic director Joci Hrzic’s “Extremity.” But it was mostly Sarah Parker’s show, with young talent under her umbrella organization, EVOLVE, and a sneak peak at her new group, called Continuum Dance Theater and due to debut formally this spring. Sarah and company were set in the mode of “So You Think You Can Dance,” wearing their hearts and accompanying emotions fully on their sleeves. But they will have to be careful to develop more thoughtful and  complex pieces. And a suggestion for the future — include program bios for the choreographers so that audience members can easily become more familiar with the next generation of choreographers.

TWYLA ON FRANK. A friend sent me this link to a conversation with resident American genius Twyla Tharp on KNPR radio Las Vegas and how she transcribed Broadway’s “Come Fly Away” to Vegas’ trimmed-down version, “Sinatra: Dance With Me.” A fascinating background look into a complex choreographic mind. Also great if you’re a Sinatra fan. By the way, it looks like the video has the Broadway cast pretty much intact. I don’t think enough has been made of the choreographic opportunities for these exceptional veteran dancers, who established successful careers along the way with Alvin Ailey, American Ballet Theatre and Merce Cunningham, plus other.

HIP HOP HEAVEN. Dedicated to creating well-rounded commercial dancers in Pittsburgh,  Jame Elis’ JamDANCE Productions is bringing in Sean Bankhead and Xavier Wilcher for an “Industry Ready Workshop” at Dance Alloy on Sunday, Jan. 30. There will be two 90-minute classes, the first at 11 a.m. – 12: 30 p.m. and the other at 12:30 -2 p.m. This duo has worked with Beyonce, Diddy-Dirty Money, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber and more. $20 per class, $35 for both.

On Stage: Petronio — 25 and Counting

January 24, 2011

Photo by Yi-Chu wu

Stephen Petronio Dance Company blew into town with an anniversary program for Pittsburgh Dance Council. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

On Stage: Welcoming a new MAC

January 21, 2011

Gerard Holt is following his dream and, as a result, Pittsburgh has a new ballet company. Called Mid-Atlantic Contemporary Ballet Company (MAC Ballet for short), it’s making its debut Saturday night at the Father Ryan Performing Arts Center in McKees Rocks.

Gerard is best known as a former corps member of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and remained in the Pittsburgh area to teach, primarily at La Roche College’s dance program. There he and Miriam Scigliano, co-founder of MAC Ballet, talked about starting a new company.

“I pretty much ran the department at La Roche that way,” says Gerard. “But it was hard to do both, to keep the academic setting and still prepare the dancers for a professional environment.”

“I had known for some time that I was going to have to make a major change,” he admits. So with Miriam’s help, the two started the non-profit paper work in the spring of 2008. But Gerard knew that he would have to make a major change to take things to the next level, so he resigned from La Roche last year.

The two founders have designed a program around their own choreography for the company’s initial performance. Miriam will contribute “Now We Rise,” a “haunting,” but inspirational piece set to music by Nick and Molly Drake, and a duet to Rachminoff that was “well-received” when it was performed  in New York City by La Roche dancers. Gerard has created “A Tribute to Vivaldi” and is collaborating with local pianist Erica Lynn on a Schubert work.

Now Gerard is happily facing a different kind of challenge, teaching at Sandra Lynn’s School of Dance to pay the bills and moving around his dancers’ work schedules. It’s obviously worth it all to him because Gerard’s passion comes through as he talks about bringing another professional outlet to Pittsburgh dancers.

“You get to the higher levels and there’s nowhere to go for people who really want to stay here,” he explains. “Not everyone can dance with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Dance Alloy or Attack Theatre. I want to be able to contribute. Being able to support yourself as an artist is very important to me.”

See Listings for more information.

On Stage: New York City Pet

January 21, 2011

Photo by Yi-Chu Wu

In a telephone conversation that seems to conclude in a New York minute, it’s easy to see why choreographer Stephen Petronio has been the intellectual darling of the SoHo crowd over the past 25 years. He rattles off the reasons for his own love affair with the Big Apple —  “constant ongoing energy, the diversity, the information, people all around you — it’s a barrage. Plus you can get any kind of food at any hour.”

It also may be that he grew up in the East Village, where you can still “see the latest in everything.” But his success also came from two major inspirations — that prowling panther of ballet, Rudolph Nureyev, and the father of contact improvisation, Steve Paxton.

Stephen just wrapped them into his own singular style, which Pittsburghers saw a decade ago at the Pittsburgh Dance Council. So the two of us proceed to play our own private numbers game during the conversation. He quips that he has “gotten much handsomer” in the past ten years. But more than that, he says, “The seeds of the work have been there from the beginning — they just keep developing. I think they’ve gotten deeper and I have the pleasure of continuing and watching.”

As for the 25-year milestone, this quintessential New Yorker is happy to be “staying alive, keeping the company in the game” because “it’s like running an obstacle course.” Better yet, he says that Pittsburgh audience will have a sampling of some of his career highlights on the Byham Theater program this weekend.

Photo by Sarah Silver

The first is “# 3,” a favorite solo from 1986, with music by a friend, Saturday Night Live band leader Lenny Pickett, and one that Stephen will perform. And the second is “MiddleSexGorge,” a work that “crystallized the sexual nature of the AIDS crisis” when it was created in 1990. “It really became fundamental in developing the aggressive tack of the [movement] language — the push and the slipperiness of the spine,” he explains.

He also will bring his penchant for pop songs, parlaying a love for Elvis Presley into  another solo, “Love me Tender,” and an admiration for Radiohead (“Creep”), into “Foreign Imports,” which Stephen created for the Scottish Ballet.

“I like to work with ballet companies,” Stephen says, Ballett Frankfurt and Lyon Opera Ballet among them. His own dancers are ballet-trained, but he “wouldn’t consider them classical dancers. In a spectrum from black to white, I think the classical dancers are more about the quick refinement of the feet, more about holding lines and shapes. My dancers are interested in moving through them.”

He notes that “what you lose in flow in a a classical company, you gain in vertical articulation,” although he likes to “mess them up and throw them off their action.”  But even with his own company, he looks for “wild ass dancers who are not afraid to look awkward. And also, the technique has to be so good it’s invisible.”

Speaking of invisibility, he’ll also be presenting a new work, “Ghostown.” After 25 years of defining his movement, he wanted to bring something that seemed like it was no longer there.” Set to music by Radiohead’s lead guitarist Jonny Greenwood, the work uses a recording with 33 strings, “Popcorn Superhet Receiver,” which he calls “beautiful, haunting music” that is “quite arhythmic. It’s a kind of a disintegration, a very challenging piece.”

It’s symptomatic of Stephen’s daring dance that he collaborates on such a wide scale. “Dance is a social form primarly and it must be done with most diverse social group I can gather. I mean, we’re there to push each other as we do.”

That extends to his dancers, who he calls “spectacular — I worship the floor they dance on. They are energetic and fearless and they keep me moving forward. One of the nice things in my life is that I get to watch them every day.”

See Listings for more information.