Never one to be a wallflower, Attack Theatre co-founder Peter Kope is considering himself “shameless” and “brazen” — just because he’s celebrating his birthday.
The occasion, his 45th, happens to coincide with the opening of the company’s latest dance bash, Traveling, which will pass through the New Hazlett Theater this weekend. (Friday night includes a post-performance party for the man of the day.)
Birthdays usually aren’t a topic of conversation approached by journalists with dancers. But then, Attack Theatre never focuses on the usual. In fact, Traveling will be the reverse of the group’s customary dance plan.
Pittsburgh has seen Attack productions that have gone on to travel on their own, such as the Japanese collaboration No-to: memory fades, the interactive art experience of Some Assembly Required (which also toured Pittsburgh) and, perhaps most notably, Games of Steel, which garnered National Dance Project touring support.
But Traveling was simply born to roam, concocted for a performance Delaware last summer, as a matter of fact, and complete with live music from Ben Hardt and the New Victorians.
Of course, in true Attack Theatre fashion, they’ve changed “this and that” for its latest incarnation, which began with a tour of five West Virginia towns, including Fairmont State University and Pocohontas Opera House in Marlinton, where the man who ran the sound coincidentally had given Attack dancer and West Virginia native Dane Toney his first professional job.
But then, this company has all the best connections; few of us have established more. Traveling itself was always about a journey, but somewhere along the way it turned into the idea of a traveling salesman.
As it so happens, Peter’s father travelled quite a bit and always came back home with little presents inside his valise (often those little liquor bottles that went on to fill a locker in the cellar). So the first act of Traveling will be about “what you can do with the little things matters most in life.”
That translates to “every prop Attack Theatre has ever used” — a table, ladder, pole rings, the “blue monster,” a red tube and more. The segment was created to be open and accessible, “an introduction to the style of the company, how we introduce ourselves to a new site.”
The second act will have “full-on, hardcore, beautiful dance” and a more abstract feel, all about traveling in time and “missing relationships, connecting relationships, opening doors.”
But Peter and wife and co-founder Michele de la Reza have been opening the doors for Pittsburgh dance fans since 1991, when they met as members of Dance Alloy. It didn’t take long for the energetic duo to make their own connection and start their trademark multi-tasking. They also performed with the New York-based PerksDanceMusicTheatre and by 1995 were formulating Attack Theatre, going on the “attack” in window fronts and living rooms in bringing art to the people.
But then, Peter was the seventh of eight kids in his family, where “the things we would do with a table were outrageous.” Like “monstrously long battles,” which were foot scuffles on the table brace during meals. Attack, indeed.
He also learned to share early on and that would serve him well as the young company, without the resources to buy its own building, moved from studio to studio, like 937 Liberty Avenue Downtown, Penn Avenue Garfield and the current home at Pittsburgh Opera in the Strip District. They “talked with people, trying to make arrangements, borrowing and renovating and repairing and working with community groups and community development organizations. It’s become an extension of the program, what Attack Theatre is.”
“It made us better collaborators because we HAD to collaborate,” Peter emphasizes.
He has had the opportunity to watch the Pittsburgh dance community evolve, how support from both foundations and individuals has stabilized over those years. And he shows awe and admiration for the “plethora of college programs,” where schools like Point Park and Slippery Rock are “churning out amazing movers.”
But Peter is most proud of the fact that he and Michele “worked together to create this dance company, one that is providing honest jobs for people.” And he takes note that they provided health insurance and added vision and dental this year.
“We all work really hard,” Peter says. “But we’re doing what we love.”
But the birthday might help.
While Peter is equally conversant in pie charts and exploring dance on camera, he tends to do less of the “big, bombastic, throwing-Michele-around that we’re used to, although there’s still a fair amount of that.” Still, he feels great. “We’ve always focused on being performers in our lives,” he says. “I think, ‘Forty-five — what the hell?’ Besides, I have a three-year old [Xander] who’s killing me. I sleep more, I eat better vegetables and the number of times I’ve fallen asleep before nine at night is beyond me.”
But there is still that passion for creation and a passion for performance that drives this dancer/father/arts administrator/handyman. What more could he ask for? Well, maybe attend his birthday, the proceeds of which will increase Attack’s creative fund, a solution to support “our crazy silliness and wacky dreams.”
So Peter, too, can dream — and dance — on. And continue sharing.