Off Stage: Dance MVP’s 2010

It was the year for local dance companies, who went above and beyond during 2010 (click on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). But what about the people who made it all happen, both on stage and off?

WOMAN OF STEEL. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal Alexandra Kochis has been flirting with her talent, which hovered on stage with her beautiful line and pristine technique, ever since she arrived at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 2006. The only thing she needed was to authoritatively engage the audience. She lived up to that promise this year with bright and shining performances as the spunky Constance in “The Three Musketeers” and a confident Marie in “The Nutcracker.”

MAN OF STEEL. I’ll give it to Nurlan Abougaliev because he took his promotion to principal dancer so seriously. Nurlan always had a fluidity about him and a natural dance presence that sometimes seemed almost casual at times, but he now takes charge of the stage with more depth, more strength, more power.

JILL OF ALL TRADES. No, she isn’t named Jill, but Michele. De la Reza, that is. Still a compelling dancer. Always prompt with her emails. A master educator. One of Pittsburgh’s most articulate advocates for dance and the arts in general.

A BALANCING ACT. Okay, one company is enough for most people. But we have two dance administrators who have taken on more than most of us can chew. Greer Reed-Jones became the artistic director of Dance Alloy Theater and also took on the birth of August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble with both verve and style. Her strength appears to be her dance connections — bringing some of the most current choreographers to Pittsburgh. Maria Caruso began with Bodiography Contemporary Ballet, added Club One fitness classes to her schedule, then branched out to take on La Roche College’s dance program this past year.

HIP HOP HAPPENING. It’s here to stay. En route to an article about hip hop dance for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I encountered Brian “BWEAR” Starks, whose fervor for street dance over more than 30 years was  inspiring. A self-styled promoter, he generously chronicled the history of hip hop in Pittsburgh (with long-time pal Donald “Sodda Pop Kid” Wilson) and expertly conveyed the energy of this relatively new dance phenomenon.

NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK. It’s definitely a trend, folks. Pittsburgh’s dance community is growing, despite the tattered American economy. During the past year, there were dance seedlings sprouting everywhere, from the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble and STAYCEE PEARL dance project to the presenting side of Three10 Moment and EVOLVE Productions (which is in the process of spawning a spin-off company), all making a mark last year. Welcome!

DANCE, DANCE EVERYWHERE. Dance was a featured player in the Performing Arts Exchange (which we like very much) that was held in Pittsburgh for three days in September. PAE is a presenting organization that covers the Eastern and Southern parts of the United States and is an important cog in the touring machine. It was great to see the performing arts at work and congratulations are due to the Pittsburgh community for helping to make it such a success. Loved seeing the artists super-sized on the screen at PNC Park!

DANIEL ULBRICHT. He’s the real deal — an artistic entrepreneur. A top-level principal dancer at New York City Ballet, Daniel has had a relationship with Pittsburgh since he was in his early teens. This past year he came back with a thoughtful, mostly Balanchine program and a cast of home-grown dancers from NYCB (Faye Arthurs, Stephanie Zungre and Stephen Hanna), along with other young talents from the company. But he did so much more by teaching classes at  four different locations around the city and making himself accessible, something that the audience at the Byham Theater loudly appreciated. His company bosses must have been watching — they are forming a smaller touring group, New York City Ballet Moves, to access smaller American cities that couldn’t support the full company. And yes, Daniel will be one of the performers.

MOVING ENCORE. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre did a private performance of segments from its “Light/ The Holocaust & Humanity Project” production in the studios this past fall, proving once again that dance in the studio has its own aura. The cast, led by the singular emotional quality of Julia Erickson, inhabited their characters with even more vivid portrayals this time around.

ONE IS THE ONLY NUMBER. If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound? I came close to that philosophical riddle when I (and only I) attended one performance of The Pillow Project’s “Paper Memory,” a delectably intimate production about a writer. And if I wasn’t there, Pearlann Porter declared that the admirable cast and crew would have done it anyway.

MY NEW FAVORITE THING. See international dance greats without leaving the Pittsburgh city limits. Visit the Oaks Theater, where the Oakmont film house started new dance and performing arts series, beginning with the Royal Ballet in December and continuing into 2011 with the Bolshoi Ballet, Bill T. Jones and Gene Kelly. Enjoy.

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