On Stage: Giving Back to Pittsburgh

July 25, 2011

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre fans can still remember Kwang Suk Choi’s great work ethic and meticulous attention to detail during his career in ballets like “Don Quixote” (Basilio) and  the title role in  “Peter Pan.”

But despite his ability to grab the air, Kwang has always had two feet on the ground, given his roots in the North Hills with wife Sae-Young Kang  and children Grace, 14, and Daniel, 10. With Sae-Young expressing a desire to teach, he founded Pittsburgh Ballet House (a name both so Asian and heartwarming – don’t you love it?).

The most recent performance (hard to believe it was only PBH’s sixth anniversary at North Hills Junior High School) had those same qualities in the students’ training. Judging by the results, this school has already taken a place in the upper echelon of serious ballet academies in the Pittsburgh area.

Kwang and his wife have also decided to enter the competitive arena, specifically the Youth America Grand Prix, where Grace placed among the top 12 dancers in her age bracket and the others, Christianne Sadaka and Nicole Rizzitano, with good results as well. The dancers have also been accepted to various summer programs, including American Ballet Theatre, Boston Ballet, Chautauqua and Cincinnati Ballet.

Kwang has obviously chosen to follow the ABT/PBT connection, with an emphasis on traditional classical training. That has translated into a superior student technique. I would wager that no other independent school could have offered a quartet of variations — “Coppelia,” “Sleeping Beauty,” “Paquita” and “Giselle” — all performed with surprisingly strong pointe work  (and the best that I have seen in a while), along with an accompanying ease of style.

It was similar to a music school that has advanced students who can perform a concerto from the classical repertoire — and do it well. Let’s face it — it’s great to watch contemporary choreography where the dancers can pique onto the tips of their toes and move well. The classics require extra strength in the foot and ankle, accurate placement and a large dose of courage. No small mistake goes unnoticed.

PBH students also study tap, jazz and hip hop — loved how Kwang listed the class day, time, routine title and  (!) precise length of the routine.  He also ventured into a Mozart ballet (speaking of concerti), glued together by a tenacious connection to classroom technique. Obviously pirouettes and fouettes got their due diligence.

The main draw was an adaptation of “Cinderella,” set to the Prokofiev score. This was Kwang’s first full year of retirement and, although he played the character role of Cinderella’s father and pulled the coach across the stage, it was obvious that he had devoted himself to the students.

PBH fielded two casts. Saturday night’s included Arielle Lawton (Young Cinderella), Nicole Rizzitano (Cinderella), Shadoe Brandt (Prince) and a pair of very game stepsisters, Carley Rice and Maggie Wiest. There were fairies and an army of little fairies, violinists and young violinists — you get the idea — plus the prince’s journey to Arabia and Spain, just to give some of the older dancers a chance to explore more exotic moves.

The ballet was, on the whole, well-staged, with costuming and cloth drops that gave it a professional feel. This is a young studio that produces ballet with a meaningful intent, but doesn’t lose that sense of joy and passion.







On Stage: From Broadway to Pittsburgh

July 23, 2011

It’s that time of year when local dance studios unveil the fruits of their labors. When I can schedule it, I like to visit a couple of new locations to better assess the quality and quantity of the Pittsburgh area dance scene. After all, I still assert that local dance studios are Pittsburgh’s hidden treasure.

The first I was able to attend this year was Karen Prunzik’s Broadway Dance Studio recital at West Allegheny High School. Karen has strong Broadway roots (“42nd Street,” “Gentlemen Prefer Blondes”) and plays to her strengths, as does staff member and Pittsburgh theater icon Lenora Nemetz (“Cabaret,” “Chicago,” “Gypsy”).

Students at BDS volunteer to be in the recital and all rehearsals are conducted outside of technique classes. Led by Karen, the staff sets up a theme, this year called “Lights! Camera! Action!,” and produces a night of entertainment that includes theatrical sketches, song and, of course, dance.

“Lights!” focused on the history of film, though, and it was a choice extravaganza. The students actually participated in a history lesson, from Mack Sennett to Ann Miller and . As for me, I was delighted to see actual film clips — “42nd Street,” “The Wizard of Oz” and “American in Paris” among them.

Karen also showed Gene Kelly’s acceptance speech at the American Film Institute, where he said he wanted to be a Pittsburgh Pirate baseball player — a real slice of local dance history!

The tap numbers, in particular were, well, tip top. Two of her students, Natalie Sciulli and Gabriela Zueckero (only 11 years old!) took off on a Fred Astaire and  Eleanor Powell number, “Begin the Beguine” from “Broadway Melody of 1940.” The duo was spot on the original choreography, echoing each other in swift succession.

Karen and friends also took the Mack Sennett idea to another level with a silent movie based on a Keystone Kops scenario and filmed on local train tracks.

All I can say is that I was continually intrigued by the inventiveness of the show. Karen and company bring a real sense of professionalism and dedication to the Pittsburgh dance school scene.


On Stage: Africa — Wave of the Future

July 21, 2011

The Kelly-Strayhorn Theater recently presented Baker & Tarpaga Dance Project, which I reviewed in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The company’s thick personal ties to Africa reminded me of August Wilson Center’s “first” First Voice a few years ago at the New Hazlett Theater, which had a rich dance substance from Zimbabwe’s Nora Chipaumire, Washington D.C.‘s Step Afrika and Pittsburgh’s Kyle Abraham, Staycee Pearl and (then) Greer Reed. It also presented “Movement (R)evolution,” an acclaimed documentary heralding contemporary dance in Africa. Here are some Youtube clips of that film.

Dance Beat: Back with Maria, Daniel, Nandini and Eva

July 18, 2011

BACK IN THE ‘BURGH. In case you haven’t been reading the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, I’ve been in Italy reporting on the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony Orchestra in Zavattarello, Florence, Rome and more. After two weeks of being virtually danceless, I turned around and headed up to Chautauqua, where the North Carolina Dance Theater is in residence. Read about it in The Chauatauquan Daily.

DANCE FOR HEALTH. A few weeks ago Bodiography’s Maria Caruso traveled to Hollywood to attend the Donate Life Film Festival where the company’s resident choreographer, Daniel Urbanic, placed in the top three films at the festival for his work on “HEART: function vs. emotion.”  To view the film, click on HEART. Maria has also announced Bodiography’s upcoming anniversary season, including Sept. 17, Fallingwater’s 75th Anniversary Celebration; Nov. 12- 13, Multiplicity, Kelly-Strayhorn Theater; Feb. 24-25, The Red Carpet Rollout – 10th Anniversary Celebration, Byham Theater; Mar. 16, La Roche College Presents Bodiography Ballet 2012 Spring Gala, Byham Theater; June 8-9, Ovrearts Presents “Alkenost” by Luke Mayernik and  “Infinity” by Blake Ragghianti with Bodiography, Byham Theater. The company will also perform at the Festival of Awareness at Virginia Wimberly Theater in Boston, Mass. on a date TBA.

DANIEL FROM DAYTON. Former Point Park University student Daniel Karasik took the time to touch base with CrossCurrents about his current project in Dayton, Ohio. It seems that Dan is taking the bull by the horns by pulling together cutting edge dance, visual arts and media at Sinclair College’s Blair Hall Theatre Aug. 5 and 6. Called the Dayton Arts Project, it appears that there will be a considerable Point Park connection with Angela Dice, Aubrey Klinger and Ashley Sass as well. For more information click on Dayton or visit the Dayton Arts Project on Facebook.

ARANGETRAM. That means “ascending the stage as a solo performer for the first time.” Dara Premsirin Wilson, student of Nandini Mandal, did just that June 25 at the Bellefield Auditorium in Oakland. A junior at the University of Pittsburgh, Dara performed in the Bharatanatyam style, which is even more outstanding when you consider the fact that her mother is from Thailand and her father from America. As Nandini put it, “This is unity in diversity at its best.”

A NEW LOOK AT PBT. For those who attended Alan Obuzor’s Texture Contemporary Ballet, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre soloist Eva Trapp was sporting a smart new pixie haircut and was almost unrecognizable at first. But maybe that was because her dancing had taken on a terrific new definition as well.