On Stage: Inside Women

July 9, 2016

ELISA MARIE FACESWe all know that women wear many faces while they perform many things — nurture children, run a home, hold down a job and create new and wonderful things. But it’s great to see younger women realizing this, as in Elisa-Marie Alaio’s feminist-inspired Eff.Ul.Gents. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

On Stage: Stephen Petronio Brings RainForest Home

May 7, 2016

The Pittsburgh Dance Council season comes to a close with a performance of Merce Cunningham’s historic work, RainForest. For those of you who think that there are a lot of silver clouds just floating around, the Petronio company has to apply formally to use the exhibit that is usually on display at the Andy Warhol Museum. Read more in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Dance Beat: Teena Marie

January 20, 2016

Custer1 2015

It’s not often that you see an acknowledged hip hop artist who has a foundation in contemporary dance. But it’s even rarer that the artist is a woman.

Teena Marie Custer, trained at Ohio State University, faculty member at Slippery Rock University and battle veteran of Pittsburgh-based Get Down Gang and the all-American, all-woman Venus Fly Trap, was all that at the New Hazlett Theater’s Community Supported Art (CSA) series that ended its season this past summer.

It is a series for artists defined as “seedlings.” Custer may have a longer resume than most, but she added a twist by taking a street savvy dance form and putting it on a concert stage.

That’s been done before you might say. However, Custer set out on a fresh path with My Good Side, using a dramatic thread that embraced the improvisatory nature of hip hop within a structure found in a more traditional contemporary dance. And along the way, she exposed her emotional vulnerability.

It was brave and it was bold.

Custer2 2015She’s calling it hip hop dance theater. Hip hop carries with it a certain bravado along with a disregard for rules in expressing its free style. But Custer set her “Good Side” apart by scratching underneath the surface. We saw an entourage and with it that signature attitude. But Custer also incorporated social media and its invasive nature, grounding the piece in meaningful emotions.

My favorite part was a solo where the choreography had its own taut toughness, along with corralling the hip hop vocabulary.

Moving from red top shoes to a chandelier overhead, Custer’s piece had a definite cool factor. We saw how to take it all in stride. How to take a good selfie. And how to find and hold on to your true self.

Life lessons for all.



On Stage: Pearlann Proliferates in Another Direction

December 6, 2015
Pearlann Porter with John Lambert and glasses.

Pearlann Porter with John Lambert and glasses.

I’ve enjoyed finding new ways of describing Pearlann Porter’s The Pillow Project. Alliteration was my “P” game some of the time, but pursuing (there it is again) her trajectory was always intriguing. She says she’s bringing the Pillow to a close and moving on with an encore performance of Paper Memory. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. (I always knew there was another underlying “P” connection!)

"Paper Memory" writer Taylor Knight with inspiration.

“Paper Memory” writer Taylor Knight with inspiration.


Dance Beat: Dance Films, Twyla, Dance Teachers

October 27, 2015

DANCE ON FILM. We know that the Bolshoi and Royal ballet companies have been putting out live performances aimed at mass market filmgoers for several years now. Click on Bolshoi.  Click on Royal. But it appears that there is another facet, Lincoln Center at the Movies, that has joined in the fun and, at least for the near future, will present Ballet Hispanico (CARMEN.maquia and Club Havana), New York City Ballet’s The Nutcracker (having missed San Francisco Ballet and Alvin Ailey). We all know that dance looks best  in three dimensional live performances. But this is a great opportunity — at last — to see some of America’s best, a treat in itself. As a bonus, Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan will be hosting. Click on Lincoln Center. Many thanks to the local Cinemark Theaters, particularly Robinson, Monroeville and Pittsburgh Mills, for presenting dance. But it has a better chance of continuing in the future if there is a bigger turnout.

THARP NICK AND EVATWYLA THARP. Although it’s a shame that Pittsburgh is not participating in her 50th Anniversary Tour, she’s ba-a-ack, and bringing former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancers Eva Trapp and Nicholas Coppula with her. You can catch them at Kennedy Center in Washington D.C, Nov. 9-15 and in New York City Nov. 16-22. Click on Twyla for more details and check out a couple of Trapp/Coppula snippets on the Kennedy Center website. Twyla also has a knack for writing and has been keeping a journal with the New York Times. Eva and Nick have been featured in photos. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/31/arts/dance/monsters-unleashed.html?emc=edit_tnt_20150831&nlid=59926186&tntemail0=y&_r=0

THANK A DANCE TEACHER DAY! Probably if you’re reading this blog, you know a dance teacher or two. Local veteran Susan Gillis Kruman reminded me and I’m reminding you to mark your calendar for Dec. 1, when you can officially send them a thanks. Click on National Dance Education Organization.

On Stage: Womens’ “Admission”

July 16, 2015



Sometimes big ideas come in small packages.

Such was the case with fireWALL’s latest dance offering, Admission, at the postage stamp-sized off the WALL Theater in Carnegie.

It was the fourth piece choreographed by 23-year old Point Park University graduate Elisa-Marie Alaio and her works have created a steep learning curve over the course of her first season. Admission was the apex of that growth.

Right now, whether by design or necessity, Admission was the second all-female work.

It was driven by a corporate glass ceiling concept — very smart. Instead of glass, though, there was a crosshatch of bungee cords attached at the midpoint of the tiny off the WALL theater and also at the foot of the audience risers.

Eight women started at the back, cast in silhouette behind panels. They were seated on stools, moving from one pose to another. Some were bunheads, but these were no ballerinas.

Hands shook. Anxiety? Maybe, but then there was a “power” fist. Something else was afoot.

When the women finally emerged — the section went on for a while — we got the answer to the cables.


Made of the thick kind used to jump off bridges, they produced their own soundscape in addition to Ryan McMasters’ equally tensile accompaniment, full of voices whispering, an underlying beat, water and opera.

It was the stress of the workplace. The release. The manipulation. The constraints of society. And it all became faster, more frustrating, even dangerous in this most compelling of the sections.

The dancers began to unhook the cables. Success, perhaps?

They took off their corporate-driven black jackets to reveal loose-fitting white blouses. Then the dance became more prop-driven — I’m not sure why — with the use of six white chairs.

It turned out that the choreography doled out a sense of equal opportunity among the women. But would there be a winner at the end?

There were group-supported lifts. They linked arms. They huddled like a corporate sisterhood. But the finale turned out to be a jazz group number, more entertainment than substance. So there was no apparent winner, except Alaio and her dancers, who could take pride in their growth.

On Stage: Staycee Pearl at Play

June 1, 2015

11Staycee Pearl Playground

It seemed like a perfect summer evening as Staycee Pearl dance project seemingly set off the summer season with Playground.

The parking lot setting outside the SPdp studio was festive with poster boards, like large pages from coloring books with connecting strings of lights to define the dance area.

Before things started, audience members were instructed to carry their folding chairs to the opposite side of the area — no problem. Herman Pearl (DJ Soy Sos that night), set up his equipment in a corner of the 201 North Braddock Avenue location and a couple of vendors filled out the periphery.

The message was loud and clear — be informal and enjoy even though this particular project had been in the works for two years.

The dancers wore deliberately child-friendly attire, but sophisticated, too, with flirty baby doll dresses — black — for the women and denim shorts and black tees for the men.

As the title indicates, Playground was built on childhood, beginning with “play” of all sorts. That twirly, arms spread, face-to-the-sky position was probably something that everyone has done at one point in their lives.

Staycee neatly transferred that joy and freedom to the dancers and the dance.

Set to Soy Sos’ always impeccable sound landscape,  they were still able to express their own individuality, which allowed the interactive games, including hide and seek (of course) and child-like movements to lend a welcome spirit to the more adult-like vocabulary.

Best of all was Staycee’s use of multiple fronts, movement that “plays” at different angles at the same time and is hard to conceive, and some of the best I’ve seen in a long time.