Dance Beat: Attack, SWAN, Wendy/Kyle, Kennedy, Aygul

March 30, 2013

MECLOCKET ME UNDER THE CLOCK. Yes, the final location for Attack Theater’s The Dirty Ball has been revealed. The Attackers and friends are headed for The Clock Building on the South Side (you can’t miss it). The official address is 2101 Mary Street in the vicinity of the Birmingham Bridge and UPMC Mercy South Side Outpatient Center. Sat., Apr. 27. Tickets: $50 (General Admission, 8-midnight), $125 Velvet Lounge, 8-midnight, Dirty Donor Reception, $250 6:30-midnight).


SWAN. The program at the New Hazlett Theater may have run SWAN-weba tad over three hours, but virtually all of the women presenting premieres in dance, theater, music and art rose to the occasion like the graceful bird that figures into the letters of the title. Actually it means Support Women in the Arts Now, a global initiative that plays out during March, and was curated in Pittsburgh by No Name Productions. There was a particularly strong theater contingent, including Tammy Ryan’s Forgiveness, and no less than four local dance companies took part. It was good to note that the disciplined professionalism and a wonderful growth from Bodiography’s Maria Caruso, Texture Contemporary Ballet’s Kelsey Bartman, August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble’s Kaylin Horgan and Continuum Dance Theater’s Sara Parker.

WENDY/KYLE? Jacob’s Pillow executive and artistic director Ella Baff will moderate a panel discussion as part of a Works & Process at a Guggenheim presentation featuring New York City Ballet star Wendy Whelan Apr. 14-15. The program will feature excerpts from Wendy’s new work, Restless Creature, to be premiered at Jacob’s Pillow Dance Festival Aug. 14-18. It will consist of four commissioned duets featuring the ballerina and each of her partners, young choreographers Kyle Abraham, Josh Beamish, Brian Brooks and Alejandro Cerrudo. While they are not disclosing which choreographers will perform and/or talk, it might be worthwhile to see it. The Guggenheim performances are currently sold out, but the presentation will be streamed live on Sunday, Apr. 14 at 3 p.m. EST at Check it out now — there are already some intriguing videos to be seen, including NYCB’s Justin Peck, American Ballet Theatre’s Alexei Ratmansky, the Royal Danish Ballet and How Judges Judge — Youth America Grand Prix.

KENNEDY CENTER. The Washington D.C. institution has released its 2013-14 season, which will include bigwigs NYCB, ABT, the Bolshoi, plus Boston and Pennsylvania ballet companies and, on the contemporary dance side, Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty–New Adventures and noted British choreographer Wayne McGregor’s Random Dance. See the full play list by clicking on Kennedy.

aygulAYGUL? Yes, Aygul Abougalieva was on hand for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Unspoken series at the August Wilson Center to see husband Nurlan Abougaliev perform. What was remarkable was that she had just given birth to their son five days earlier. What was even more remarkable was that she didn’t have an extra ounce on her trim figure and looked just like this photo.

On Stage: A Not-So-Bookish “Mormon”

March 29, 2013
The graduating class...

The graduating class…

Book of Mormon is the ultimate oxymoron. It poses questions about many of life’s seriously important issues, but couched in a potty-mouthed musical format. A frat party of a production, this Book takes on religion, female rape and genital mutilation, African warlords and homosexuality, all without artifice or malice. And it is this honesty, even earnestness, that makes it the funniest thing to hit the stage, well, maybe ever.

In the spirit of transparency, I never was compelled to watch television’s South Park, the wildly popular brainchild of Trey Parker (Co-Director, Book, Music, Lyrics) and Matt Stone (Book, Music, Lyrics). Just too obvious.

However, I loved the Muppet-inspired Avenue Q, a Broadway-sized Sesame Street for grown-ups. Obviously co-creator Robert Lopez added something to this mix (also credited for Book, Music and Lyrics). And Casey Nicholaw (Co-Director and Choreographer) brought something from his choreographic parody in The Drowsy Chaperone and Monty Python’s Spamalot.

First impressions..

First impressions..

I would have loved to be in on their meetings, probably an academic fraternity where ideas bounced around like ping pong balls.

But to get back on track, I also was never a real fan of Broadway icon Mel Brooks (although I enjoyed The Producers), who probably provided a springboard for the over-the-top style found in Book of Mormon. However, this musical takes the obvious and makes it outrageously sophisticated, arming it with mile-a-minute, jaw-dropping (for their audacity) gags.

That all fits in with the sass that New York City offers. But would it play in Pittsburgh? Apparently so, judging from the vociferous reaction from Wednesday night’s crowd at the Benedum Center. While it may have shocked some, it had a brazen attraction to most others, enough to make the man in front of me repeatedly shake his head…with a big grin on his face.

Elder Cunningham's dazzling new book interpretation...

Elder Cunningham’s dazzling new book interpretation…

Upon closer inspection, Book of Mormon is a deliciously farcical paean to traditional musicals, where the leading characters are sent off to a foreign land, setting off a myriad of problems, some culturally-biased production numbers and a happy ending.

Just call this one fine mess of a story, where two young Mormon “elders” are sent off to Uganda, finding themselves most certainly at risk in a remote village where the inhabitants lead a fearful and gloomy life.

There Elder Price (Mark Evans, the straight man in the vein of a partially subdued Jim Carrey) and Elder Cunningham (Christopher John O’Neill, a comic sidekick much like Jack Black et. al.) meet their gaggle of veteran elders and break into a bona fide tap number a la Anything Goes.

That’s when you got it — that everything would be on the table, er, stage.

Elder Price tells the General how "I Believe"...

Elder Price tells the General how “I Believe”…

Most of the other staging/choreography came from a mixture of moves culled from groups like the Pips, with an updated locking and popping flavuh. Then there was the Susan Stroman-esque production number that included Disneyland and Jeffrey Dahmer, Star Wars and Starbucks…and baton twirling.

And, shades of Jerome Robbins’ pristine The Small House of Uncle Thomas,  from The King and I, the villagers presented their chaotic version of the real Book of Mormon, as interpreted to them by Elder Cunningham.

The ending itself came in several waves, much like the tidal force of the jokes that had gone before it. By then, after a record number of personal belly laughs, I, too, believed that audiences could see a musical about religion (with Radio City Musical Hall lighting and design) and walk away with their own beliefs intact.



On Stage: Translating Polish “Historia”

March 27, 2013

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

You would think that theatrical versions of ethnic dance (Polish, Croatian, Italian, Indian, et. al.) have been around forever. Not so. Russian arts entrepreneur Igor Moiseyev was the first (1936) to tap the rich resources of folk culture for the stage.

But the Poles were not far behind with Mazowsze (1948) and Śląsk (1953). Considering the fact that ethnic songs and dances were a strong part and parcel of the Polish heritage, we might wonder why it took so long.

In addition to the resident Duquesne University Tamburtizans, a mostly Eastern European song and dance ensemble that predates the Polish groups and actually was loosely organized as a tamburitza orchestra back in the early ’30’s, Pittsburgh attracted the above companies plus great groups from Bulgaria, Hungary and Georgia at the height of folk dance’s popularity.

So when Śląsk recently returned to the Byham Theater, after an absence of more than 30 years, it was with great anticipation. The Byham Theater was virtually filled, although it was with times like this that I missed the Syria Mosque in Oakland, which packed its house for ensembles like Śląsk and Moiseyev. And with its extended stage, 80-plus performers could really capture a choreographic sweep and excitement.

That made me wonder, too, how Poland itself still finds appropriate talent for Śląsk, with the invasion of popular culture through social media and a widening gap between younger generations and their heritage.

Despite being somewhat confined on the Byham stage, Śląsk, with yes, 80 performers, including a very welcome live orchestra, was still the disciplined group we remembered after all these years.

The Polish culture has a wonderful binary feel to it, with not only folk dances, like the mountain suite, the highlight of the evening where the men brandished axes, but more aristocratic, classically-oriented numbers, where the women wore ball gowns and elegantly covered the stage.

This was echoed in the orchestra, where the sophisticated arrangements easily made similar transitions and a chorus that could project a pleasant operatic sound, along with full-throated, earthy renditions from the women.

There was an extra air of excitement because the Pittsburgh performance was the first leg of the group’s 60th anniversary tour. So when they sang “America” in English, the program took on a special meaning, that the performing arts are the foundation of communication between countries.

Dance Beat: KST, PBT, CPAC

March 20, 2013

Morocco market-square-600x450KST FOREIGN AFFAIRS. Kelly Strayhorn Theater executive director janera solomon is taking Center Stage, not literally, but a cultural diplomacy program organized by the U.S. Department of State. janera and three other arts leaders from the United States and Pakistan are on a 10-day trip to Morocco, where they will select between six and eight ensembles from three countries to tour the United States from June to December, 2014. solomon reports, “It’s exciting to be here. We are meeting with artists and independent producers. I’ve learned that as producers, we face many of the same challenges such as funding and audience development and we share a passion for connecting people with great artists. The possibility of bringing Moroccan artists to Pittsburgh or sending our local talent there is exciting.”

PIROUETTING INTO THE COMMUNITY. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre celebrated National Women’s History Month at Carnegie Library in Oakland with a trio of PBT “stars” — principal Alexandra Kochis, ballet master Marianna Tcherkassky and marketing director Aimee Waltz. They explored the role of the ballerina over the years and connected gender and relationships as they were depicted in the Victorian-inspired Jardin Aux Lilas (Lilac Garden) ballet by Antony Tudor.

Spring Performance

GRAND RESULTS. PBT student Sophie Silnicki has achieved high honors at the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP) semifinals in Indianapolis, enough to earn her a place at the finals at the Jack H. Skirball Center for the Performing Arts in New York City Apr. 12-17. Her winning combination consists of Gone, a contemporary solo by Adrienne Canterna (1st place) and the classical variation from Raymonda Act II (3rd place), Congratulations, Sophie!

Gabrielle Prevade

Gabrielle Prevade

SNOW WHITE. Monica Ryan’s latest childrens’ ballet will use 60 children from surrounding communities this weekend for the Carnegie Performing Arts Center. They will play Russian Dolls, Carnival Dancers and Jewels in the production at Andrew Carnegie Music Hall in Carnegie. For more information, call 412-279-8887 or visit

On Stage: Point Park

March 19, 2013


This slideshow requires JavaScript.

FACULTY STREAM. While university faculty most often publish written work, dance staff members have a much more attractive option with choreography (although it can be a bit testy to switch from well-structured, but educational movement phrases designed to improve students’ technique, to the true emotional power of extending that to performance choreography.

They called this program Conservatory Dance Company at Point Park University and it featured a list of veteran instructors. Sometimes the quality has varied — after all, these artist/teachers spend a lot of time in the studio. But this was different, one of the best in years.

That was mainly due to senior staffers Nicolas Petrov, former artistic director of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, and Ron Tassone, noted jazz instructor with a photographic memory.

They both contributed their best efforts in years, Mr. Petrov with selections from his heavily Bolshoi-inspired Prince of the Pagodas, and Mr. Tassone’s Swing It, a primer of Broadway jazz, laden with tricks and treats, all the while letting the students show off their best angles with a generous dose of light-hearted spirit.

Kiesha Lalama and Garfield Lemonius elicited a real commitment from their young artists. Ms. Lalama brought Sneak Peek, a clean cut piece of jazz choreography in the traditional style, while Garfield Lemonius had a real unisex solidarity in the contemporary energy of Memoirs. Peter Merz pulled The Togethercoloured Instant, inspired by poet e.e. cummings. While the choreography was interesting in its own way, Mr. cummings’ words, projected on screens, detracted from the movement.

On Stage: Ailey On Tour in Naples

March 19, 2013


Probably the most popular company in the world, the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater has periodically visited Pittsburgh since 1969, always to great audience and critical acclaim. So I guess I can claim to be an Ailey-an.

Recently I was down in Naples, Florida for an all-too-brief winter respite. The Ailey company was appearing at the Philharmonic Center for the Arts and I decided to pay a visit. It had been all too long since I had last seen Revelations.


I was most interested in the changeover from artistic director Judith Jamison, a direct link to Ailey, to Robert Battle, who was brought on for his choreographic verve and strong work ethic, two assets of which I am well aware, but only the start, I’m sure, to what got him this job.

There had been another changeover since we last met. Renee Robinson, the last dancer to have worked with Ailey, retired last November and names like Dudley Williams (yes, it’s been that long!) and Clifton Brown were gone from the company list. And a trio of stars — Alicia Graf Mack, Glen Allen Sims and Linda Celeste Sims — did not make the trip.

Mr. Battle took the helm about a year and a half ago with an interesting agenda, designed to bring in master choreographers to stretch the artistic capabilities of the vaunted Ailey dancers.

The first piece was a case in point — Paul Taylor’s Arden Court, a pastoral-flavored work for six men and three women and one of his best.  It was easy to see why Mr. Battle chose it — Mr. Taylor is known as well for his strong, muscular men.

Arden Court showed the six males off to great advantage in several sections. Although the Ailey company is known for its audience communication skills, its bold physicality was showcased in a casual sense (swinging runs) and a sense of whimsy (a line of men with one upside down).

Was it a good fit? Not yet. The men seemed unstable, with a rare control problems — some wobbles here and there — and a lack of flow. But the airy and ultimately delightful choreographic sense still engaged the audience.

Battles’ own solo, Takademe, followed. Based on the rhythmic maze found in Indian music, the solo was almost always a literal translation of the oral rhythms, which, in some ways resembled a frenetic type of rap. It appeared that Takademe would always be a great showcase for the performer, and Michael Francis McBride suitably hit all of his marks.

The Ailey company next embraced Rennie Harris’ Home, a loose-knit, gaggle of a number where dancers came and went, yes, just like family and friends. It was obvious that Harris has evolved as a choreographer.

While he used, as usual, thick slabs of unison movement, there was more complexity to this crowd of participants. Eventually though, it didn’t develop the mesmerizing quality that it needed.

Which brings us to Revelations. Having seen some of the early performers (the first Pittsburgh performance had the audience dancing in the aisles), there is a certain standard of spirit that they set that remains ingrained in the memory.

Let’s just say that the extra effort, so much a part and parcel of the Ailey company, wasn’t there, although the discipline remained. So it was up to the choreography to hold firm. The opening segments from Pilgrim of Sorrow, beginning with that iconic wedge in I Been ‘Buked, did that with a simplicity of form, execution and innate spirit.

Dance Beat: En Pointe For the First Time

March 8, 2013


Most often I am faced with the professional polish exhibited by ballet dancers on stage (above, courtesy of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre). But sometimes it’s good to delve into the everyday activities of dance, often so special in their own way. Recently I accompanied a gaggle of fresh-faced budding ballerinas for that Very-First-Pointe-Shoe-Experience. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. And photojournalist Rebecca Droke contributed the accompanying photos in the article and the video (below).

But in the end, the professional ballerina will do almost anything to change a hand-made shoe conform to her foot: