On Stage: Growing Old With The Pillow Project

January 30, 2013

Pillow Project 3D It’s almost ten years since Pearlann Porter launched her dream-y Pillow Project. Since then I’ve enjoyed an overrun of P’s, along with the environmental direction that Pearlann has taken. She has also defined jazz in a number of ways. Currently she is immersed in total improvisation, although the movement itself is much more varied, as if Pearlann is moving back to the middle ground a bit. And you have to notice that the dancers are maturing and starting to add their dreams to Pearlann’s mix. What a fun ride it has been! Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And enjoy the slide show (click on a photo to start) — just imagine the projections MANY times larger.

Dance Beat: 3 Rivers, Spilling Ink/Kirov, Ellie

January 25, 2013

TRAF-2012-DB-ARTY-3.23.2012 Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival has issued a call for new artist opportunities. Supposedly this is very popular, so the deadline is Feb. 15, 2013. In addition to a proposals for “Riverlights” (see website) and “Musicians,” there will be a “Performing Arts Series,” which will include dancers, actors, musicians, literary and performance artists. Artists are “encouraged to collaborate across disciplines for performances and to present original work as well as audience engagement and participatory activities in the Creativity Zone, Artist Market and Katz Plaza.” Visit 3RiversArtsFest.org to apply. Good luck!

Spilling Ink/Kirov

EAST/WEST. Former Pittsburger Vijay Paliparty continues to maintain his connections with the Steel City. But first, his company, The Spilling Ink Project, will present a new connection with Kirov Academy of Ballet in the Washington D.C. area. The two groups, in conjunction with the Embassy of India, will collaborate on “Deflect Our Light: Articulate A Dance,”  with Russian ballet and Indian Bharatanatyam classical dance forms on Feb. 23 at the Atlas Performing Arts Center’s Paul Sprenger Theatre. Chief guest will be Her Excellency Nirupama Rao, Ambassador of India. Following that, The Spilling Ink Project will tour to the Pittsburgh area for workshops and performances at the University of Pittsburgh at Greensburg (Mar. 1) and Seton Hill University (Mar. 2), with other events a possibility.

ON TO THE PRIX. News from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre: seventeen year-old Ellie Morris will be competing in the Prix de Lausanne Jan. 27 to Feb. 2, 2013. Click on Prix for more info.

On Stage: Pillow Project Anew

January 23, 2013

Pillow Project Second Saturday Blue RedshiftThere’s a changing of the guard afoot at The Pillow Project. Dance guru Pearlann Porter will be heading to Paris for a couple of months and won’t be back in Pittsburgh until late April. (Don’t worry, she already has projects in place.) During her stay in the City of Light, she’ll be reconnecting with poet and East Liberty native Moe Seager and other artists that she met on her last several trips, as well as delving more deeply into la langue française.

So there was a transition at the latest edition of Second Saturdays. Pearlann could be seen skirting the shadows, but she handed over the brief emcee duties to Zëk Stewart. Caitlyn Cahill was managing the house, something she will continue, and Taylor Knight will be teaching at The Space Upstairs.

All were on hand for this industrial-strength evening of improvisation. Blue Redshift, a tight-as-a-drum funk band with a cool vibe and liberal doses of improv, was oh-so-perfect for the dancers on hand. And when they weren’t dancing, the ensemble members could be seen operating Mike Cooper’s in-the-moment setup. Like Big Brother, they played over the action and manipulated the images so that they were sometimes a smear or a funhouse mirror, often askew, like turning life on its head.

Over on the black wall, chalk artist Jordan Bush was morphing a tiger into…who knows what? As I left, they were just starting to hit an even deeper groove. Time has no meaning here — it’s only about the moment at hand.

Pillow Project Second Saturdays Blue Redshift



On Stage: He-e-ere’s “Alice!”

January 22, 2013
Jillian Vanstone in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Photo: Cylia von Tiedemann

Jillian Vanstone in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Photo: Cylia von Tiedemann

WASHINGTON D.C. — “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” is a quintessentially British tale, whimsically based on the Victorian world around author Lewis Carroll. But mostly American audiences at Kennedy Center found a marvelously updated, but still quintessentially British ballet, by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon unfold at a breakneck pace this past weekend.

It was a rarity — an enthralling new full-length ballet — and perhaps the first true action/adventure ballet to hit the stage. There was a lot to swallow, particularly for American audiences not quite as familiar with the story, despite the familiar title.

Mr. Wheeldon has admittedly been enamored with the story since childhood, so he was well aware of the whimsical wordplay and oddball mystery. So he was the perfect choice to take on the challenges of an evening-length production about “Alice,” a co-production of The Royal Ballet and the company that performed it at Kennedy Center, The National Ballet of Canada.

Jillian Vanstone and Aleksandar Antonijevic in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Photo: Cylia von Tiedemann

Jillian Vanstone and Aleksandar Antonijevic in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Photo: Cylia von Tiedemann

Along with the help of author Nicholas Wright on a wickedly strong scenario, Mr. Wheeldon opted to include the most recognizable elements of the story — The Queen of Hearts, The Mad Hatter, The Caterpillar and The Duchess among a virtually flawless Canadian cast — filtered, not through the expected idea of drug hallucinogens, but an equally fantastical dream-like state. (There is another twist, but you’ll have to see for yourself.)

So this production was extremely family-friendly. Novice ballet goers, both young and old, will be particularly captivated by Bob Crowley’s designs, including a Lewis Carroll photographer who, all of a sudden, sprouted a tail and gradually transformed into the White Rabbit, Alice’s plummet down a giant jelly mold (instead of the rabbit hole), real and animated integration in The Pool of Tears sequence, the puppetry that allowed the Cheshire Cat to appear and disappear…and so much more.

It was a jaw-dropping journey for all.

Jillian Vanston and Aleksandar Antonijevic in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Photo: Cylia von Tiedemann

Jillian Vanston and Aleksandar Antonijevic in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Photo: Cylia von Tiedemann

Veteran ballet goers will enjoy The Queen of Hearts (Greta Hodgkinson) sneering take on the Rose Adagio (of course) from “Sleeping Beauty,” here with four very reluctant attendants instead of ardent suitors. Perhaps inspired by British musical hall traditions (with a dash of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo), it went one step further, becoming a woman imitating a man who is imitating a woman…hilarious.

As for the choreography, it lay mostly in the classical vein. But with Mr. Wheeldon’s superb musical sensibility, the flower garden waltz, so voluptuous, spilled over into the audience as women danced down the aisles and petals floated from the ceiling. And Alice (a lovely Jillian Vanstone) and Jack/The Knave of Hearts (an underused Naoya Ebe) had an appealing duet. Speaking of the music, Joby Talbot had the compositional skills to provide an atmospheric, snarky, but mostly magical score that suited every delectable twist and turn.

It all came to a head in a huge finale, with plenty of action that escalated as the house-of-cards courtroom came tumbling down.

Greta Hodgkinson and Jillian Vanstone in Alice's Adventures in Wonderland. Photo: Cylia von Tiedemann

Greta Hodgkinson and Jillian Vanstone in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. Photo: Cylia von Tiedemann

Yes, this “Alice” had a bit of everything, my dears. There were snippets of Victoriana — with some original John Tenniel drawings and a floral design with cherubs during the waltz. But then there was a contemporary overlay — a Downton Abbey-setting setting at the onset, a bit of Sweeney Todd in The Duchess’ sausage scene and a little Sgt. Pepper via the psychedelia and the White Rabbit, who wore a pair of colored John Lennon glasses.

And there was tap dancing to boot. Robert Stephen (The Mad Hatter) got the biggest ovation of the evening for his snazzy rhythms.

Occasionally this “Alice” went daringly over the top, becoming a mixmaster of images. But then, what dream isn’t? With so much going on, it only made me curiouser and curiouser to see it again.

Dance Beat: Backstabbing at the Bolshoi

January 19, 2013
Bolshoi artistic director Sergei Filin among member of the Bolshoi company.

Bolshoi artistic director Sergei Filin among members of the Bolshoi company

And we thought that the movie Black Swan was over the top. Apparently real life trumps art in this New York Times story about an acid attack on the artistic director of the Bolshoi Ballet.

On Stage: Dance MVP’s 2012

January 15, 2013

Michele de la Reza overlooking Pittsburgh.

WOMAN OF STEEL. You know that Michele de la Reza has always been a superwoman, lurking high on the CC list. She’s an intelligent dancer who always seems to make things happen, with moves that are always bright with promise, something so hard to pull off over the years with such consummate ease! Beginning this summer, Michele’s reputation extended well beyond the dance floor, invited, as she was, to participate on international dance festival panels in China and Germany and to be part of the Fullbright Program selection committee. Yes, the world was her oyster this year.

Jason McDoleMAN OF STEEL. It’s easy to adore Jason McDole, even if you’re meeting him for the very first time — he’s got that X factor. An Aliquippa native and largely dance-trained in Pittsburgh, he headed for New York and performed with Twyla Tharp, Robert Battle, David Parsons and Lar Lubovitch. A couple of years ago he accepted a teaching position at Point Park University, but the dance wasn’t over and drew him back to Lar’s company. How lucky we were to see one of his last performances in a Pittsburgh Dance Council with the Lubovitch company last April. I still remember the unbridled passion he showed that night, bordering, as I wrote, on “ecstatic,” and how he, at one point, “threw himself splayed into the air several feet above the ground and landed like a pillow flat on the floor.” And now the Point Park students who cheered him on that night have him back, along with the August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble, where he is on the artistic staff.

BREAKOUT DUO. Christine Schwaner and Alexandre Silva might be married, but they truly connected in another way on stage during Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Giselle this fall at the Benedum Center. I’ve seen a lot of Giselle/Albrecht combinations, but never did they have such an immediacy, making this classic love affair and its tragic conclusion seem very, very current.

WHO KNEW? He’s like a stealth bomber here in Pittsburgh, that master dancer and skateboarder we know as Bill Shannon. A world traveler (most recently in Australia), he can usually be found whizzing along Pittsburgh streets in a freewheeling ode to the urban environment. But Vie Boheme coaxed him into one of her performance stews thissummer. With gleaming white suit, fedora and crutches, he was nothing less than a star presence.

VIE BOHEME. Yes, the same person as mentioned above. She’s the alter ego of August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble member Kendra Dennard. The long-legged lovely also happens to have a terrific singing voice and a charismatic personality, bringing all sorts of Pittsburgh artists into the fray for her multidisciplinary events (that can also include food trucks). They’re all different, all scintillating, all encompassing. And they show that the arts are indeed alive in Pittsburgh.

PANEL DISCUSSION. I love it when arts organizations go above and beyond. The Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s newMoves Contemporary Dance Festival has become a much-anticipated event. This year’s May event included a series of panel discussions on residencies, community and touring with an A-list of speakers that included Kyle Abraham, Sidra Bell, Reggie Wilson and representatives of New England Foundation for the Arts, New York Live Arts and Philly Fringe Festival, among others. It was a great way to infuse the community, with KST staffers heading the list.

THE NTH DEGREE. Dancers go through a number of obstacle course to create art. But no one anticipated that July weekend when Shana Simmons’ Relative Positions at the Union Project went off successfully despite temperatures that flirted around 100 degrees. And the next night Texture Contemporary Ballet held a fundraiser at The Space Upstairs that was hot enough to melt the icing on the cake. Anything for dance…

Attack Theatre on the North Shore.

Attack Theatre on the North Shore.

BEST ENSEMBLE. Yes, it’s Attack Theater again. This tightknit group spent two weeks this fall improvising and interacting with some of Pittsburgh’s outdoor art during Some Assembly Required: Public. You know, the imposing murals and sculpture that have been there forever, but you probably never noticed. (I do now.) Braving some threatening weather and rain, the Attackers (including live musicians) never wavered, turning in immensely varied, good-natured (sometimes sly) and always entertaining performances. But the main thing was, there was always a finely-tuned artistic foundation to it all. If we could all only make it look that simple.

CO-OP. The Pittsburgh dance community has always extended its borders, but this year the combos were unusually satisfactory. In addition to Relative Positions, Shana joined Eclectic Laboratory Chamber Orchestra in a multidisciplinary performance at Future Tenant and Texture joined OvreArts (composers Blake Raggianti and Luke Mayernik, plus full orchestra!) for an evening of two original ballets at CAPA. Those were great examples of a vibrant new energy in the Pittsburgh arts scene. But the veteran Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre also joined the Westmoreland Symphony in Greensburg for a great arts community workout in George Balanchine’s Serenade.

A WELCOME DOSE OF JGJ. A sentimental favorite here. As young as she is, Jasmine Hearn has a probing intellect far beyond her years. And that led her to invite Pittsburgh dance icons Jennifer Keller and Gwen Hunter Ritchie to PearlArts Studio to lead an evening of very cool improvisation as part of The Citrus Series.

MISSING YOU. A posthumous nod to Mansur Kamaletdinov, who died this past spring. Formerly of the Bolshoi Ballet, he settled in Pittsburgh and could easily be called a Godfather of Ballet here. So many terrific teachers are carrying on the traditions of Russian ballet that they found in his classes, including Pittsburgh Youth Ballet’s Jean Gedeon, who first remarked about his skills so long ago; Wexford Dance Academy’s Liz Mackin, who noted his knowledge of the classical variations, a direct link to Petipa through the Bolshoi Ballet; and Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh’s Stephen Piper, who considered him a great influence, uses the techniques that he learned even now. So in a way, Mansur will still be here…

Dance Beat: CC, 25, Maddy, Wexford, Guiding Star

January 12, 2013

THANK YOU! CrossCurrents runs on WordPress, which just released an annual report to its bloggers. CrossCurrents logged 100,000 visits this past year and has passed the quarter of a million mark since it first began mid-2010. Again, thanks for your support!

2013_01_0FOUR OF 25. I have often said that Pittsburgh is a treasure trove of dance talent, but was still surprised that Dance Magazine had not less than four Pittsburgh area talents, both born and current, on its 2013 list of 25 to Watch. McKeesport native Frances Chiaverini has been scoring some good press at her latest gig with Benjamin Millipied’s L.A. Dance Project, which led to her selection as cover girl on this edition (along with successful turns at Morphoses and Karol Armitage). But inside you will find Emily Kikta, alumnus of Thomas Studio for the Performing Arts in Bridgeville and now at New York City Ballet.  And if you don’t want to travel, it will be easy to see Texture Contemporary Ballet’s Alan Obuzor and recently-appointed Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre soloist Amanda Cochrane. Congratulations!

HIGH ON PILS. kNOTDance’s Maddy Landi bid auf wiedersehen to Pittsburgh when he joined Pilobolus. Now he is in the midst of a German tour performing in the group’s Shadowland for the next few months.

Wexford Dance Academy

Wexford Dance Academy

JINGLES. Wexford Dance Academy’s Elizabeth Mackin Karas once again unfolded her annual holiday treat at Shady Side Academy in December. It included a tap variation on the Rockettes’ soldier dance, Liz’ own brand of Nutcracker divertissements and the loveliest of finales, where the complete cast, all dressed in the purest white and carrying candles, lifted the spirits.

INDIAN JOURNEY. Guiding Star Dance Foundation’s Varun Mahajan is looking for male and female dancers to perform in an all-English production of Arranged Marriage at the Charity Randall Theater in Oakland in April. Practices will be held at the Guiding Star facility in Carnegie every Thursday, beginning this month where selected dancers will be trained in semi-classical, Bollywood and folk. Final rehearsals and performances will run from Apr. 22-28, 2013. For more information, go to www.gsdfonline.org, call 412-877-7502 or emiail info@gsdfonline.org.