Off Stage: Attack Theatre’s Ashley Williams

April 12, 2010

There are faces that become familiar as artists perform on stage. But often they have an intriguing backstory to bring to the table, something that we ordinarily do not do not encounter. See what Attack Theatre’s Ashley Williams has to offer.

On Stage: Corning is Back

March 24, 2010

Former Dance Alloy artistic director Beth Corning makes her return to the Pittsburgh dance scene. If you missed the article, click on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

On Stage: Western Ballet

March 1, 2010

For my review of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet this past weekend, click on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

On Stage: Attack-ing the Children’s Museum

February 22, 2010

Well, folks, I heartily channeled my inner munchkin (a feat in itself because I’m nearly 5’11”) and headed to the Children’s Museum of Pittsburgh on the North Side/Shore near the Hazlett Theater. Attack Theatre was there for a special, family-friendly edition of “Assemble This.”

While the program was geared toward the kids, probably age 3 to 8 or so, I saw that Sara Radelet, executive director of the adjacent New Hazlett Theater, had snuck in for her Attack fix. The other adults were occasionally encouraged to participate — and they did.

Cookies, coffee and Kool-Aid were available for the taking as everyone “assembled” in the lower level theater. Although I have never been to the Children’s Museum, I had been to Buhl Planetarium as a child — many times. So it was a fresh experience mixed with a few memories, including the Science Fair and that electrical field contraption that, when touched, made your hair stand on end.

The approach for this program was a little different, with Michele de la Reza putting on her best friendly teaching face as she coordinated the program. But it was none the less artful, challenging the kids with big words sprinkled among the small ones. Never talking down and always upbeat. The group, nearly 40 strong and attentive, saw the Blank Canvas in that lower level. She said that we were going on “a scavenger hunt.”

We went to the Garage Workshop where the benches were “nice and weight-bearing” for the adults to stand on or sit upon. There we analyzed some sort of electrical box with wires and tiny lights. Peter Kope chose a few of the suggestions for further dance exploration, like the spinning fan, dots (which translated to pointing and pecking from de la Reza and Dane Toney, who also weren’t allowed to move their feet) and musical switches from cellist Dave Eggar and percussionist Charlie Palmer. Those produced a hoe down and a bit of “Swan Lake.”

I particularly liked “messy and wild” for an exuberant de la Reza and Palmer, who combed his hair with a rattle versus “quite organized” from the angular Kope and Eggar, who responded with musical scales.

Although I wasn’t ready to leave, we moved on to “The Spinning Thing” which was actually titled “Avalanche” with its cascading garnet sand and glass beads. Without knowing the name, the audience saw “the tide coming in” and “spilled chocolate milk” and “a meteorite” and “soft rain.”Eggar and Liz Chang picked up on the last one with a quiet interlude. Then Toney and Palmer expounded on the meteorite, as Toney jumped and spun through the audience, much to their delight.

The last place for inspiration featured three large shadow boxes, with a raccoon singing, a mummy, an “angry” vampire and a skull among the objects. Kope trapped the mummy, played by Toney, while Eggar went Middle Eastern modal. Then they used the four objects to create a slow motion, end-of-the-world movie flick.

The Wild Card, one of Attack’s favorite devices, produced a Hidden Monster, which could erupt at any moment and did…just in time for a scarey fun ending in the final run-through in the theater.

I wish I could have been a kid again at this Attack Theater performance. Instead I felt like one — Attack Theatre can have that kind of effect on you.

On to the Society for Contemporary Craft. See you at the dance!

On Stage: Attack-ing the Center for the Arts

February 17, 2010

I joined Attack Theatre on the second leg of Assemble This, a series of improvisational performances at eight galleries, spaces and museums around the city. I would like to say I braved Pittsburgh’s snowy elements to attend, but the roads weren’t that bad. Traffic through Regent Square was, however, and, as a result, there were no parking places left in Pittsburgh Center for the Arts’ parking lots. (Actually it looked as if neighborhood residents took advantage of the plowed spaces.) I wound up at Ellis School and walked, whereupon I discovered that the PCA sidewalk hadn’t been shoveled.

As a result of all that, I was really late, but quickly warmed up to cellist Dave Eggar’s performance downstairs, full of spontaneity and good will, with percussionist Charles Palmer. Is there anything Big (as in talent) Dave can’t do? He took full advantage of the cello landscape — pizzicato (both guitar and upright styles), classical musings, pop, folk, soft rock, Latino. I loved the story about the airports and his question: Why does the cello, with its spear-like endpin, make it through security, when his rosin does not? Palmer sat on a box, which doubled as a drum, and had a few accessories to vary the accompaniment. The duo set the stage for what was to come.

I am probably one of the few to have seen Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope in their museum piece almost ten years ago. Some things remained the same — use three art works and have an audience to respond to a piece of art and determine where the performance will go.

At 30 or so participants, that made Attack bigger than Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre for the evening. And it made me realize that de la Reza and Kope have come so far since those Frick Museum days (although I’ll be able to make more of a comparison when they revisit the Frick on Friday).

Things were far more sophisticated and complicated, enough to frazzle my brain, let alone those of the performers, who, for the record, doubled the fun with Ashley Williams and Dane Toney. They began with an opening phrase and efficiently used a sandwich board to note changes. The audience was enthusiastic in its response  to Will Giannotti’s untitled canon-like piece and the dancers and musicans layered several improvisation onto the existing format, including one where Williams would “rise” whenever Palmer played the triangle.

They went upstairs to a Google Earth piece, Connie Cantor’s “Mystery as the Seed of Liberation.” Eggar and Palmer had a fun time with some new musical elements. I don’t know if it was the electricity of the partnership, but the room got decidedly warm.

Last was the pristine picket fence/sky/water of Jason Lee’s “Studies in Modern Euthenics,” where the ensemble toyed with some new elements, including that cello endpin. Back downstairs, the viewers got to see the fruits of their labor. Maybe the phrases weren’t quite the same, but the spirit of it all was there. This was dance in the moment — moments of brilliance, moments of whimsy,moments of danger (de la Reza and Williams were climbing chairs and tables to “rise”),  a couple of moments that had to backtrack, but all intelligently rendered to our delight. I was delighted to get a ride back to my car with the help of Attack’s general director, Donna Goyak. Attack always aims to please…

Well, onto the August Wilson Center tonight. If you’re coming, plan double the time to arrive at 7:30 and grab one of those hard-to-find parking spots. See you at the dance!

On Stage: Assemble This

February 12, 2010

In case you missed it, there’s an article on Attack Theatre’s “Assemble This” in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I’m able to make six of the eight “premieres” and will provide a running commentary on CrossCurrents. See you at the dance!

On Stage: On the Radio

February 5, 2010

In case you missed it, here’s my review of Kyle Abraham’s tribute to family and home on the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website.