On Stage: Head Over Heels for “Kinky Boots”

September 22, 2016


One famous quote about dancer Ginger Rogers smirked that she did everything Fred Astaire did, but backwards and in high heels.

Well, ladies, the shoe company/drag queen musical Kinky Boots is putting its own stamp on that, in fact, elevating it to a new level with platform shoes and six-inch heels.

kinky_boots_tour-lolaThis heartwarming look at diversity and mutual respect, now at the Benedum Center, goes above and beyond any chorus line musicals we’ve ever seen. It tells the tale of a young Brit named Charlie Price (Adam Kaplan) who inherits a failing men’s shoe company. He accidentally bumps into Lola (J. Harrison Ghee), star of a drag show, and thinks that he could save her from some ruffians.

But Lola doesn’t need help in a lot of ways. In fact, she could give Ginger and any other woman a run for her money. But not with a broken heel. As a result, the intrepid drag queen turns herself into a fashion consultant who knows a niche market when she sees one. And the men’s shoe company transforms itself into a custom boot corporation, making “a range of shoes for a range of men”  like Lola. Along the way, everyone involved, from the employees to Lola and Charlie themselves undergo personal transformations.

This musical was the perfect vehicle for hometown favorite Billy Porter, who won a Tony Award as Lola last year. But would it stand on its own without him? Kinky Boots is, in many ways, an old-fashioned, uplifting evening of musical theater. It sports a rousing score by Cyndi Lauper, a versatile industrial scenic design by David Rockwell.

But most of all, it is yet another working class British musical (Billy Elliot, The Full Monty) that is able to make the leap across the pond to America because it strikes a universal emotional chord.

In this production, sans Porter, I sensed a new-found danger, though. Kudos to the Angels, Lola’s back-up singers and dancers. Full of unquenchable energy, the six performer/athletes zipped up and down stairs in their eye-catching platforms, could high kick and split with the best, and, most daringly, danced along moving conveyor belts as well.


I don’t know ladies — I can’t imagine Ginger keeping up, even in her heyday.









Dance Beat: We’ll Miss You, Paul

September 6, 2015

PAUL ORGANISAKIt was reported in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that Paul Organisak, vice president in charge of programming for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, was stepping down from a position that he began in 2004. The truth is that he has been an important part of the dance community since 1988, when he became Director of Development for the Pittsburgh Dance Council under Carolelinda Dickey.

I can still recall his enthusiasm for dance and a passion that has never waned over these past 20-some years. Even though he never studied dance, it has been the art form that he held closest to his heart.

And that is the primary reason that we will miss him. Pittsburgh Dance Council is this city’s most adventurous series, bringing us the world in all of its diversity and excitement unlike any other. However, when Paul took over PDC and almost immediately folded it into the Trust, I had my doubts.

It proved to be a winning strategy as more arts organizations have come under the Trust umbrella, with the Dance Council maintaining a certain autonomy.

Now, in a time when dance organizations are fewer and far between, we still get the best here in Pittsburgh. I know, because I have gone to a number of dance critics conferences and found that I had interviewed almost all of the choreographers/panelists prior to their appearances in Pittsburgh.

It’s been that good and a great feeling to have Pittsburgh’s finger on the pulse of dance.

There was a tough spell when the U.S. government made it tough on foreign artists in granting visas and Paul played things a little safer. Then he admitted that subscriptions were down — PDC audiences wanted the unfamiliar, the surprising, the exotic. Since then, he has done that, with seasons that exceeded our expectations.

So now we’ve come to a crossroads. I feel that Paul has been a unwavering advocate for dance at the Trust, which is going on a national, even an international search to replace a Pittsburgh native who has logged more miles and more performances than he probably cares to admit.

It was all done with the purpose of bringing the finest in dance (he gradually added Broadway shows, the Cabaret series, the Trust presents, the International Festival of Firsts and assorted other international festivals that were some of the Trust’s finest efforts to his job description). That adds up to dozens of performances, always featuring new dance, something that I, for one, am grateful.

His gargantuan efforts have resulted in a robust arts atmosphere Downtown in the Cultural District, a real bonus to the quality of life in Pittsburgh.

Thank. You. Paul.



Dance Beat: Dirty Ball, Indian Festival, Dancing

April 16, 2015
Top Ten

Top Ten

Years. When The Dirty Ball first began, we didn’t know what to expect as we headed to one city apartment where the Attackers danced in the bathroom and a raw shell of another where we told our dirty secrets and drank dirty martinis. After a decade we know what to expect and Attack Theatre delivers. This time it was on the South Side in a warehouse of epic proportions. The Donor Party, where Queen of the Ball, Michele de la Reza, entered on a “throne” (two ladders, of course, transformed) and, with her “entourage,” presented an intimate thank you from the company. Everyone who had attended all ten took a group picture, whereupon the “curtains” were drawn to reveal what was probably the most breathtaking of all the locations over the years. The epic theme was carried out in Richard Parsakian’s must-see VIP Velvet Lounge, home of his collection of Elvis dolls (in original packaging) and the largest space he has expertly designed. Now for the trio of dances: it all began with a sherbet orange number that showed off the company’s seamless partnering style, with Ashley Williams looking utterly sun-kissed. That was followed by the Epic Production that traveled back and forward in time, which meant that King Peter Kope gathered just about anything — the Robot, Cleopatra, “Risky Business” (an over-the-top and very-welcome-return from Jeff Davis all evening long) and “Cher” (was that really Dane Toney?). And of course, there was the trademark finale from Dirty Dancing. Apparently everyone had the time of their lives…again.


Tripping. We’ve been to Australia, Quebec, Netherlands and around the world three times (International Festival of Firsts) when the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is in a festival mode — often thrilling, always probing.  Now the Trust is taking the city to India. Two key dance performances will play a part. Nrityagram Dance Ensemble, last here in 2003, and Askash Odedra Company, making its premiere will also be a part of the Pittsburgh Dance Council season. Also on tap we’ll see a street party with DJ Rekha at the September Gallery Crawl, music of the highest order (Zakir Hussein with SF Jazz & Dave Holland), theater (Why Not Theatre, Tram Theatre and Indian Ink Theatre Company), exhibits (Hetain Patel, Nandini Valli Muthish, Plus One, Birth Series and Sarika Goulatia) and Mystic India, fusing dance, theater and spectacular special effects. Love the logo! (Click on India for more information.)

Time of My Life? The finale song for Dirty Dancing popped up everywhere this past week. Tuesday: The touring production of “Dirty Dancing.” Wednesday: “Dirty Dancing” leads teach Kristine Sorensen and Jon Burnett a few moves on KDKA’s Pittsburgh Today Live. Friday: Finale for Pitt Dance Ensemble. Saturday: Finale for the Dirty Ball. Everyday (it seemed): The commercial for UnitedHealthcare where the signature flying leap comes crashing onto a table.

On Stage: Patricia’s New Complexions

April 1, 2010

Complexions, perhaps the most visible contemporary ballet company right now, is in town this weekend. Click on my Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article for further details. It boasts the trendiest choreographer around (Dwight Rhoden), a must-see male dancer (Desmond Richardson) and some of the best movers to be found.

But there is an added bonus for Pittsburgh dance fans. Former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre corps member Patricia Hachey can be spotted among the swirling landscape of dancers (and smack in the middle of the photo above). The Montreal-born dancer gravitated to the PBT school for three years and graduated to the company for seven years. I caught up with her last year in Washington D.C. when Complexions was appearing at George Mason University.

The lithe, sophisticated dancer with a vibrantly red pixie haircut (it’s a little longer now) was a total surprise to me, given the quiet brunette that danced at PBT. Although Patricia always had a soft spot for contemporary dance while in Pittsburgh, she has clamped onto Dwight’s choreography with a new-found fierceness.

It was quite a transition moving from the more classically-oriented PBT philosophy to bending classic dance at Complexions, something she talked about openly.

“I was used to moving around and starting over,” she says over the phone. “but I was a bit nervous because this transition meant a new job, a new city, making new friends. Pittsburgh had become very comfortable and safe for me and I’d grown quite fond of it.”

Now she lives in Brooklyn and heads to company class every day with ballet master Jae Man Joo, or assistant ballet mistress Sabra Perry, or even once in a while with Dwight. “I was fortune that I had worked with him at PBT,” she notes. “I knew what to expect in term of style.”

She knew that he used the strengths that dancers have, hence his reputation as a “dancer’s choreographer.” But he also wants a dancer that takes more chances and doesn’t hold back. “It helped me to grow a lot.”

But Patricia is still glad that she had the classical background and the roles that PBT artistic director Terrence Orr gave her. She recalls that, even while in the PBT school, she was able to work with choreographer Kristopher Storey’s more agressive contemporary style. “Right away it worked for me,” she says. “I could express myself more. But I wanted to do tutus and pink tights.”

That being done, she was ready to immerse herself in the Complexions philosophy to “take chances, take risks, make it your own. We have more freedom to explore and it’s kind of fun to be able to play that more.” That being said, Patricia admits that it “puts more responsibility on the dancers in a way — it’s a real challenge.”

But she admits that the high energy and off-center sparks found in Dwight’s choreography means that she has to take care of her body. She found it in Bikram yoga, also known as “hot yoga” and performed in a room with extreme temperatures. “It’s very regimented and uses twenty-six positions,” Patricia explains. “But it realigns my body after absorbing Dwight’s style all day.”

She also trusts herself more, “because both Dwight and Desmond are very good at bringing that out in a dancer — they see the potential.” They also “push” and are “intimately invested in every single dancer. It puts more pressure on you. If you want to coast, this isn’t the company for you.”

Doing Complexions’ repertoire goes a long way to keep her in shape, Patricia confesses. And the hefty travel schedule is demanding. “It may be a bit extreme, but this is the time to do it.”

Patricia (red hair) can be found in the center of the top photo. The Complexions promotional video features her with pixie haircut and she dances in second video with Desmond Richardson on So You Think You Can Dance.

On Stage: Stepping Out!!!

January 20, 2010

There seems to be a plethora of exclamation points associated with step dance. Like tap, it’s all about the sound — both use shoes that have metal cleats attached. But unlike tap, step dance doesn’t yet have the range of dynamics that would make it a more pertinent art form. It only operates at full throttle.

Yet Step Afrika!, in its second performance here in Pittsburgh, showed that it can engage an audience. Certainly the  packed house at the Byham Theater thoroughly responded to the unbounded energy put forth by this Washington D.C. company of ten dancers.

Essentially it was the same program that this group offered in its local premiere in the August Wilson Center’s “First Voice,” its initial presentation of a black arts festival in 2007. (There will be a second festival this spring May 21-23 — click on August Wilson Center for details.) It took the format of a lecture-demo introducing the audience to the history and various angles of step dancing.

With the inspiration of a couple of movies (“Stomp the Yard,” “How She Move” and, of course,”StepUp”) and a current groundswell of interest, things at the Byham Theater Sunday nightcommenced  with an onslaught demo of step dancing, downlit and dramatic. The troupe didn’t waste any time bringing on the rhythms in the hands and the feet. And the audience didn’t waste any time participating with rhythmic clapping.

This step dance show made the most of its engaging core rhythms. The first section took its cue from the streets, moving from unison patterns to a challenge dance between the guys and the ladies, where attitude was a must. One of the ladies clearly channeled Pam Grier, while the guys responded with a pose resembling Rodin’s “The Thinker.”

As might be anticipated, the challenge ended in a tie, setting the stage for a series of historical related styles, which included a re-enactment of a  fraternity/sorority initiation, American takes on African rites of passage with dance and drumming, South African gumboot and my favorite, a tap solo of considerable skill (that employed the use of a variety of dynamics).

Some things for consideration: a romantic duet or a lyrical take on step dancing. At any rate, that would add an additional layer to what is undeniably an emerging and exciting art form.