On Stage: Point Park’s New Byham Collection

Point Park UniversityThere was something old, something new and, yes, something a little blue as Point Park University’s Conservatory Dance Company took to the Byham Theater for its annual formal showcase. And, of course, Point Park borrowed four distinctly different works from around the country to construct an evening that had a balanced zest about it.

For example, it’s important that CDC taps the historical side of dance to expose the students to some of the greats. Certainly some of those have been highly successful, like works from George Balanchine (Valse Fantaisie) and Martha Graham (Heretic).

This time the choice was selections from José Limón’s Choreographic Offering (1964), another seminal piece in the modern dance lexicon. I had my doubts going in — the last time the Limón company came to Pittsburgh, the style looked stodgy. But not so with this production, set by former company member Ryoko Kudo and assisted by dance faculty member Jason McDole.

The beautiful architectural details — it was easy to think of his relationship to former student Paul Taylor (another great choice for CDC’s future) — had sculptural authenticity and weight.

At the Saturday matinee, it was immediately apparent that Kyoko and Jason had worked exceptionally well together, transmitting the dance to the students with a real immediacy so that there was both life and breadth.

They made it so satisfying to watch the dance elements unfold with clarity, like the lovely pinwheel that slowly morphed into a series of turns, arms held high and the dancers’ spirits right along with them.

Point Park UniversityBen Stevenson’s End of Time was one of a series of award-winning pas de deux that he created for various ballet competitions around the world. This particular duet, inspired by a man and a woman who are the last two people on earth, didn’t have the urgency found in the Rachmaninoff score. That only comes with time.

But Veronica Goldberg and Robert Hutchinson wove their way through the seamless series of tricky lifts with an aplomb far beyond their years. 

Raphael Xavier’s A Movement and Front Street Walk were both apparently works-in-progress. Raphael himself has walked with Philadelphia hip hop guru Rennie Harris. While CDC was supposed to present a Harris’ piece, it ultimately evolved into Xavier’s own work.

There were were some engaging elements in this two-part movement study, with no apparent connection to them as of yet. A Movement featured a solo by Elisa Alaio, with an intriguing dichotomy between a front and back bending of the body.

But there was better material to be had in Front Street Walk. Surrounded by sounds of traffic (apparently from Pittsburgh, a nice touch), the dancers were clad in red, black and white and plenty of attitude. I loved the use of a two-dimensional walk, as if flattening the human form a la television.

There were other elements — a slapping of the floor accompanied by giggles and moon walks in new dimensions — that were fresh ideas as well, but lacked a connectivity. The best things about Street Walk was its use of female dominance in what is usually a male-dominated hip hop world. It has the potential to be downright street-sophisticated work, but needs further development.

The highlight of the program came from Alejandro Cerrudo’s “sock hop,” Lickety-Split, created for the dynamic Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. (Well, maybe we can call it “sock slide,” since the performers’ footwear determined some of the dance vocabulary.)

A Pittsburgh Dance Council audience saw the work in 2006, when HSDC took this Indie film of a dance and literally popped the inventive choreography. As it turned out, Lickety was a real find for CDC. Alejandro has been tapped by veteran New York City Ballet ballerina Wendy Whelan to participate in a commission this summer at Jacob’s Pillow that has the dance world buzzing. I’m sure his career will be taking off.

The work itself was sensational — a passionate whisper of a dance that threaded its way through a quirky trio of duos. Filled with life’s uncertainty during the periodic sock slides, it still had a Neverland aspect that floated in the imagination.

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