On Stage: Point Park Goes Contemporary

Photos: Drew Yenchak

Photos: Drew Yenchak

Since its inception, Point Park University’s Conservatory Dance Company and its Contemporary Choreographers program has served as a showcase for rising young talents. Apparently this year the dance department ran into a pickle, though, when several of the scheduled artists had a sudden change in plans.

However, sometimes Plan “B” can be a resounding success, though, and such was the case here at the George Rowland White Performance Studio (a wonderful facility where dancers magically appear so much larger than life).

Of course, the switches (whatever they were) markedly changed the tenor of the program itself. Perhaps the staff was so enthusiastic, I am assuming, that they assembled a number of veterans, so the end product took on the powerhouse quality of the annual Byham Theater presentations.

Christopher Huggins' "Enemy Behind the Gates"

There was Robert Battle, so generous with Pittsburgh organizations even though he is leading the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater these days, and his Rush Hour, inspired by his student days at The Juilliard School and a piece that was first presented in Pittsburgh by Xpressions in 2003. It was full of his trademark energy, so glued to the idea of life in the fast lane, although the cast could have given the flurry of movement more definition.

And then there was Christopher Huggins, who provided Enemy Behind the Gates, a recent favorite at Philadanco, and very similar in tone to Rush Hour. This is a piece that is on constant alert, with the dancers attacking the stage full throttle in military garb, doing the difficult choreography justice. And the ending had a startling conclusion, where no less than 24 dancers occupied the stage, certainly different from the Philadanco version and, in some ways, doubly satisfying.

Former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre artistic director Patrick Frantz contributed Celsius, a pas de deux that was performed at PBT in 1988. One of the dancers, Ernest Tolentino, a PPU staff member, set the duet on two of the department’s best talents, Amanda Summers and Zack Kapeluck. The most arresting part of the Celsius was not the transfer of emotion between two lovers, but instead Mr. Frantz knowledgable and difficult partnering choices, and the dancers’ silky negotiation of this geometric distillation of dance.

Patrick Frantz' "Celsius"

That left two newbies. Cooper Verona, only a second year corps member at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, was the main surprise with Very Instinctual, the only premiere on the program. Who knew? Like any young choreographer, he had an abundance of ideas to display. But he wisely chose to play with textures that alternated between angular and curvilinear. Contemporary and traditional ballet? Earthy and airy? At any rate, it was a solid first effort from an artist who has yet to determined his choreographic path.

And there was the debut of Jessica Lange, who has designed for The Joffrey Ballet, Richmond Ballet and New York City Ballet’s Choreographic Institute, among others. Although her background seems to focus on the balletic, except for a Twyla Tharp diversion, I found La Belle Danse to be inspired by Paul Taylor, particularly his Esplanade.

It had a similar communal, playful quality, where there was a soft casualness within Ms. Lange’s holistic structure. There was sometimes a sense of formality, particularly in the music — Corelli, Handel and Mozart.  But then the women ran full tilt to the men, flinging themselves into their arms. They held hands and walked and ran.

Once the dancers parted to reveal a soloist, her leg extended. So we were occasionally caught blissfully unawares as to where the choreography was going, giving Ms. Lange’s lovely choreographic voice her own breath of fresh air.

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