Dance Beat: Attack, Pillow Project, Glue Project, Jacob’s Pillow

June 26, 2012

LA BELLA DONNA. When things are going so swimmingly, we resist any changes. We’ve seen Attack Theatre grow from a spontaneous and likable dance ensemble to a stable artistic force that somehow still retains those great attitudes. Executive director Donna Goyak played a major hand in guiding this everyone-wants-to-Friend-them group with her terrific sense of wordplay and an acute business sense toward that stability. Now Donna feels that it’s time to move on and somehow we’re all happy for her, although we hope she stays close at hand. (With La Donna gone, the group will surely stay on track when associate director marketing and corporate partnerships Rebecca Himberger jumps into place. While we’re at it, I have to note Attack’s recent foray once more into the classical music kingdom with Milhaud’s nifty La Crèation du Monde and the Pittsburgh Youth Symphony. Although it followed a complete Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra concert (also dance-oriented, as well as part of the Paris Festival with Stravinsky’s Petrouchka and Gershwin’s terrific American in Paris, along with PSO principal cellist  Anne Williams in Honegger’s cello concerto), many in the audience stuck around for the work. Conducted by the astute Lawrence Loh, with his talented group doing true justice to the difficult score, the Attackers made the two formerly lethargic children in front of me sit up and take notice. But even for adults, Attack always provides a strong visual interest in its collaborations with Heinz Hall orchestras.

Photo: Cassie Kay Photographs

OVERSEAS WITH THE P’S. I caught up with Pearlann Porter about The Pillow Project’s encore trip to Europe. While Paris was once again the centerpiece, with two visits, the two-week May tour also included London, Amsterdam and Dublin. First up was London, where the Pillow dancers could not find any street musicians (“shocking!”), which has rules against that sort of thing. So they headed to a jazz club and then on to Big Ben, Parliament and Piccadilly Circus, where they didn’t loiter per se, but did “intentful and purposeful” neutral movement that perplexed the bobbies a bit, but no more. They found improv master Michael Schumacher in Amsterdam, had some lunch and exchanged ideas and did some similar stillness exercises in this “completely comfortable” and “particular” culture. Paris felt “way more comfortable” because people remembered them. Moe Seager was there and a couple of familiar venues. But the Pittsburgh dancers loved Parisians’ “genuine intrigue about the new — little kids have it.”  As for Dublin, it had an “obscene amount of street musicians.” So the Pillow group just “showed up and started going for it,” moving from player to player, “like bar-hopping, but with musicians.” Pearlann also had news of a mini-tour next spring. The Heinz Endowments has funded the Project’s 2012-13 season, made up of five full performances. It will culminate in a day-long encore at Braddock’s Carrie Furnace sometime in May 2013.

PROJECTS AND PUPPETS. Firebrand choreographer Beth Corning has a new Glue Factory Project set for this September at the New Hazlett Theater. Called “The Life & Death of Little Finn,” it will include “6 puppets, original animation & other numerous moving parts,” including 3 live performers. In the meantime, she’s in New York for her new Solo Project, where she is working with Tony Award-winning director Dominique Serrand (and director of The Moving Company) over the course of a year. The project is funded by an Individual Artist Grant from the Heinz and Pittsburgh foundations. See an animation preview by clicking on Little_Finn_She_Left.html

Photo: David Cooper

THE BIG 80.Yes, Jacob’s Pillow is celebrating a milestone anniversary this year, with plenty of great dance attractions. If you’re in the neighborhood (western Massachusetts), check it out. Click on 

On Stage: Newfound Art in Lostwax

June 25, 2012

Blinking (2010)

No wonder Jamie Jewett felt a sense of déjà vu when he came to work on his friend’s house here in Pittsburgh (Aaron Henderson, assistant professor at the Studio Arts Department at the University of Pittsburgh). Currently working out of Providence, the artistic director of Lostwax talked about the faded mill sites in the Rhode Island capitol.

But more than that, he is an unabashed fan of Gene Kelly and couldn’t wait to visit his hometown and begin a week’s residency at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater in East Liberty, which opened a whole new interactive summer series built around works-in-progress.

His company, the 10-year old Lostwax, is part of a burgeoning dance scene in the New England state. Lostwax, you say? Just for the record, the title comes from a very ancient casting process. Among the steps to making something like a metal sculpture are model-making, moldmaking and burnout, where a wax copy is heated, then melts and runs out…and is lost.

That idea can also be seen in juniper berries, which can be toxic when eaten in large amounts. But they can also be distilled and used to flavor gin, still retaining the essence of the berry. And it can be seen in his latest project, Particular, which gets its inspiration from the group behavior of a flock of starlings or a school of fish, or even rain.

“There are a lot of things that we view as a collective,” he begins. “But they are made of specifics that we can also think of as unique and particular and beautiful. I’m interested in that dialogue.”

The dialogue takes place on stage, forming a new brand of communication between the technology, the music and the dance…and the humans who are creating it, in this case Jamie as choreographer and artistic director of Lostwax, and R. Luke Dubois, composer and currently director of the Brooklyn Experimental Media Center at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University.

The music came from Luke’s kitchen, sort of found objects of everyday life, but remixed in different ways on his laptop. The dance came from Jaime’s movement ideas. They are both also media artists, so the “media happens in the space somewhere between us.”

It relies on an advanced computer animation that was famously used to create the bats in Tim Burton’s 1989 flick, Batman. Called Boids Algorithm, it is a mathematical equation that describes the individual’s behavior in a flock.

But Particular relies on the synthesis of it all.

Jaime asserts that synthesis is nothing new in dance. After all, Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes had the likes of Stravinsky and Picasso folded into the artistic mix. Merce Cunningham used composer John Cage and assorted visual artists. “Dance has always used technology as soon as it is available,” he says, although the participating artists worked independently before assembling the final product.

But his maxim is “no technology without need.” And unlike previous companies, he is interested in the antithesis, where different parts of the work are developed in dialogue with each other.

That’s why the week-long residency at KST was so important to Jaime. “It gives us a time to be in one place, where we can set up our gear and leave it so we can focus on the creative act,” he says.

Actually it turned out that there were two works-in-progress. They showed the first cut of Melt, a video transfer of a former Lostwax piece. Since dance is so fleeting, this was a way of preserving it in another form.

It began with the nifty image of a retro refrigerator and a cascade of ice cubes inside. Slippery blocks of ice contrasted with the crusty mill setting. The movement filled in the spaces, then moved outside and inside a river. As yet, the film was somewhat jumpy, both in the camera work and the various angles and could benefit from smoother transition. But there was very good news that KST had purchased a huge scrim that gave the film the clarity it deserved.

Lostwax must have worked fast on Particular, which had three segments to present. The first had a lacy series of circles repeatedly passing like a Xerox machine, although the choreography didn’t establish itself in the way it should.

However, the piece seemed to escalate from there and the growth was satisfying. In the second segment, there was a flickering border along the bottom of the scrim, where shadows of the dancers were sometimes revealed in real time. And the choreography seemed to balance that.

Then it escalated to the idea of the flock in the most successful of the segments, where both individual and group behavior was visible in a sweep of poetry. On the scrim where abstractions of birds, while the stage the stage was occupied with unfolding movement patterns. Similar, but independent.

There were so many layers to observe here. I liked the idea that the various elements, dance, music and video, carried a real relationship, unlike other multi-media productions where they might interfere with the viewer’s concentration. And within each genre, you could observe subsets of the original idea — flock versus individual. It all seemed to harmonize…

KST executive director janera solomon indicated that this might be the start of a new relationship. This could be one very cool team to watch.

On Stage: Being a Part of the Process at KST’s Summer Series

June 21, 2012

We’re in a new era of dance in Pittsburgh. Once a city that played it artistically safe, now there’s a sense of adventure and the Kelly-Strayhorn is one of the key players. But KST is, in turn,  letting the artists themselves play a role by leading the way.

“We wanted to keep the Kelly Strayhorn and the Dance Alloy busy,” KST executive director janera solomon begins. “We’ve had more and more artists reaching out to us for more residencies.”

So she decided to build a summer series around that idea and it turned out to be all dance, a boon for local fans. That won’t necessarily be the case in future years — choreographers just happened to fit the project’s schedule, something that will provide us with a treasure trove of some of the latest dance trends virtually every week over the next couple of months.

It will be a serendipitous mix of personalities and aesthetic approaches, all in different stages of the creative process, and Pittsburghers will be able to provide feedback that may well affect the final outcome. Certainly Andre Koslowski presented a highly theatrical work-in-progress in the spring of 2011, but returned in the fall with a radically different production, then named por la blanda areana, which ultimately wound up on my top ten list.

There will be more theater dance on the agenda, with the singular Zimbabwean artist Nora Chipaumire, who is establishing some deep roots here, unveiling a “deeply personal” work, MIRIAM, that will deal with the tensions that contemporary women face. Point Park graduate and Irish native Luke Murphy, who has worked with Martha Clarke and has appeared in NYC’s movement theater hit, Sleep No More, will return with Drenched, which will probe the expectations and navigation of romantic relationships.

Everyday sources can lead to art, as Staycee Pearl dance project will explore in a new work-in-progress. Then too, Philadelphia’s idiosynCrazy, which was a big part of KST’s newMoves Festival last May, will give a sneak peak at Private Places, which will incorporate the emotional demands put on flight attendants.

That can also mean new sources of technology in dance. Lostwax, set to start things off this weekend (more on that tomorrow) will move from video and projection to social media. “It will show how audiences can be more immersed in real time simulation,” notes janera. In fact, idiosynCrazy, which opens next week, is involved in a one-year blog project as well.

Some performances will have educational values. Mama Kadiatou will present an African tweak on Cinderella and performance poet Reenah L. Golden will offer No Child,  a depiction of how a teaching artist can “engage a class of uninspired and underachieving 10th graders by challenging the students to put on a play.” And YOUTHMOVES will spotlight local youth dance programs.

At the other end of the educational spectrum will be a professional workshop with Miguel Gutierrez, a major figurehead in New York’s experimental dance scene and one that LABCO (the now-defunct Laboratory Dance Company) snared for a commission early in his career here. He will also pair with Kate Watson-Wallace, another of the KST Philadelphia connections, for a Behind the Curtain talk. And virtually all of the residents will offer master classes, a great interaction for resident Pittsburgh artists.

As janera puts it,  “I like to discover new things. I enjoy seeing things in progress.  The most creative artists are inspired by so many different things and we can watch it evolve over time this way. It’s great for the Kelly-Strayhorn to be part of that, to bring new experiences to the people around us.”

The complete KST season: June 20, Lostwax Master Class; June 22, Lostwax; June 27, idiosynCrazy Master Class; June 29,  idiosynCrazy Productions: Private Places (June 26 and 28 for airline and service employees only); July 4, Luke Murphy Master Class; July 6, Luke Murphy: Drenched; July 13-14, FAMILYtime Series: Mama Kadiatou; June 18-19, Miguel Gutierrez: Ineffable, Intangible, Sensational Workshop (Dance Alloy Studios); July 19,Behind the Curtain talk with Kate Watson-Wallace, Miguel Gutierrez and janera solomon (Dance Alloy Studios); Aug. 3, FAMILYtime Series: Reenah L. Golden: No Child; Aug. 10, FAMILYtime Series: YOUTHMOVES; Aug. 22, Staycee Pearl Master Class; Aug. 24, STAYCEE PEARL dance project: STUDY; Aug. 29, Nora Chipaumire Master Class: Aug. 31, Nora Chipaumire: MIRIAM. All other performances are at the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater. Click Kelly-Strayhorn for more information.




On Stage: Underscoring a New “Line”

June 19, 2012

Photos: Matt Polk

The “line” is part and parcel of the dancer’s vocabulary in many forms.  One of the most important is a beauty of line in the movement. But dancers flirt with other lines as well. Making a bee line for class. Putting it on the line every day in the studio, at risk of injury. Kick lines. Keeping in line with other dancers in complex choreography.

And, of course, A Chorus Line, one of the treasures of the Broadway stage. This is the Pulitzer Prize-winning story of the über-talented artists who are usually part of the background scenery in a show. But Michael Bennett ended that when he put them front and center in his ground-breaking 1975 production.

Now it’s back in Pittsburgh at the Benedum Center for the Civic Light Opera’s major new, must-see revival under the direction of the original Connie, Baayork Lee. It seems strange that this show, where only rehearsal clothes and a large mirror backdrop service the production can now be considered a period piece, given that dance has changed so much, from its technique to Broadway’s current choreographic direction of blending the movement seamlessly with the dramatic thread.

Certainly this was apparent in the recent revival of Jerome Robbins’ West Side Story, where the dancers, trained on today’s hyper-flexible standards and competition lifestyle, changed the impetus of this landmark musical with loose-limbed kicks and jumps instead of the inherent tension and explosive control to be found in the ’50’s recreation of  Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Not so with this “Line,” where Ms. Lee lovingly recreated the original choreography by Mr. Bennett and Bob Avian. The cast obviously had a wealth of information about the jazz Broadway style of the ’70’s and the discipline to execute it.

At Sunday night’s performance, the now-familiar steps had a joyous spring to them. Surprisingly it became a fresh-faced look to these veteran eyes of numerous productions, from high school to Broadway.

There were a few glitches to be sure. The ballet audition sequence had overblown porte bras and Frank, the boy in the headband, wasn’t believable as he continually stared at his feet. The womens’ top register in the chorus numbers seemed a tad thin and there were still a handful of missed notes.

But those problems were, in the end, minute in a performance that mined the performers’ stories in compelling fashion and came so, so close to the award-winning standard set by the original cast nearly forty years ago.

Ms. Lee’s smart casting choices, a blend of veterans from the Broadway revival and various tours (A Chorus Line family?), paid off.  Point Park University graduate Nadine Isenegger (Cassie) led the way, exhibiting much of the unbridled passion of the original Donna McKechnie.

Bryan Knowlton’s Paul, shy and awkward, but a focal point in the finale, still grabbed the heartstrings when he went back to his beginnings, where he was bullied, quit school and joined a drag production, which his parents’ subsequently discovered. While the tale of his emerging homosexuality didn’t carry the shock value of the original, he still managed to make it meaningful.

All of the major highlights of the smashing Marvin Hamlisch/Edward Kleban score were there — Diana’s (Gabrielle Ruiz) powerful rendition of the show’s anthem, “What I Did For Love,” Val’s (Carleigh Bettiol) sassy “Dance: Ten; Looks: Three,” Mike’s (Shane Rhoades) bell-like voice and pristine technique in “I Can Do That,” Kristine (Hilary Michael Thompson) and Al’s (Theo Lencicki) quick-witted repartee in “Sing!.”  And Emily Fletcher’s drip-dry Sheila folded in with Bebe (Gina Philistine) and Maggie (Emily Rice) for a sweet tribute in “At the Ballet.”

Already this cast was acting like a top-notch company, leading me to add one more phrase of note. It was hard not to fall hook, “line” and sinker in love with this production.

For more information, go to Listings.














Off Stage: Kyle’s in Fine Company

June 1, 2012








June 1, 2012 (Becket, MA) – Jacob’s Pillow announces today that Executive and Artistic Director Ella Baff will present the sixth annual Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award to Kyle Abraham, an acclaimed contemporary dancer, choreographer, and Artistic Director of Abraham.In.Motion.  The Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award honors outstanding, visionary dance artists and carries a prize of $25,000, one of the largest cash awards in the dance industry, to be used by the choreographer to enhance their artistry in any way they choose. The Award will be presented in person and celebrated at the Jacob’s Pillow Season Opening Gala on Saturday, June 16.

“Kyle Abraham is a charismatic performer, ambitiously creative, and an insightful dance-maker who connects powerfully with audiences,” comments Ella Baff. “With this award, we can help this exceptional young artist turn a corner in his career and artistic development. I am so pleased for Kyle to join the amazing group of Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award honorees, including Merce Cunningham, Bill T. Jones, and Crystal Pite.”

Kyle Abraham comments “Jacob’s Pillow is the ultimate resource for imagination, inspiration and artistry. Receiving this award is something that goes far beyond what I could have ever imagined for myself at this stage of my career.”

The Jacob’s Pillow Dance Award was created in 2007 with an ongoing, annual anonymous gift of $50,000, of which $25,000 is given to an artist of exceptional vision. In addition to the cash award, the honoree receives a custom-designed glass sculpture by Berkshire-based artist Tom Patti, whose work is in the collections of the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Museum of Modern Art in New York, among other prominent institutions worldwide. In 2007, the inaugural Award was given to Annie-B Parson and Paul Lazar, co-directors of Big Dance Theater. In 2008, the Pillow honored Alonzo King, Artistic Director of Alonzo King’s LINES Ballet. In 2009 the Award was given to Merce Cunningham, whose company gave its final performances during his lifetime at Jacob’s Pillow later that season; in 2010 Bill T. Jones accepted the Award weeks after receiving his second Tony Award for the Broadway hit FELA!  Last season Crystal Pite, international choreographer and Artistic Director of Kidd Pivot, was honored; her company returns to the Festival in 2012 with the work Dark Matters June 27-July 1.

The additional $25,000 of the anonymous donor’s annual gift supports Jacob’s Pillow commissions, presentations, and the Creative Development Residency Program, which has supported residencies for numerous dance artists including Kyle Abraham, Camille A. Brown, Suzanne Farrell, Big Dance Theater, zoe | juniper, Stephen Petronio, Kimberly Bartosik, Rashaun Mitchell, and many others. During Creative Development Residencies, artists are invited to spend one to three weeks at the Pillow creating or rehearsing new work, with free housing for the company, unlimited use of studio space, and access to the Pillow’s rare and extensive Archives and other Pillow resources. In the beautiful, retreat-like atmosphere of the Pillow, the Creative Development Residencies are rare opportunities for artists to focus on the creative process without distraction.

Notable artists who have created or premiered dances at the Pillow include choreographers Antony Tudor, Agnes de Mille, Alvin Ailey, Donald McKayle, Kevin McKenzie, Twyla Tharp, Ralph Lemon, Susan Marshall, Trisha Brown, Ronald K. Brown, Wally Cardona, Andrea Miller, and Trey McIntyre; performed by such artists as Mikhail Baryshnikov, Carmen de Lavallade, Mark Morris, Dame Margot Fonteyn, Edward Villella, Rasta Thomas, and hundreds of others.