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.
She’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.
The waters weren’t running smoothly this morning at Three Rivers Arts Festival/CREATE 2015. Resident Pittsburgh genius Bill Shannon showed up at the Wyndham Grand Hotel lobby at 8 a.m. to begin a scheduled pop-up performance in the lobby. Deliberately dressed in a clownish way — checked pants and top, bowler hat, black-rimmed glasses and canvas boots with hard yellow toe overlay, the Crutchmaster began attracting attention.
He blew an air horn while pushing a squeaky red shopping cart. Eventually a man dressed in a suit came up to tell him to stop. Thinking him a rude heckler, Bill engaged back. But it was the manager of the hotel and soon law enforcement officers were involved.
Little did they know that Bill had exhibited at the Tate Liverpool Museum and the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., had spoken at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had created for Cirque du Soleil and much, much more all over the world.
He was there to perform for CREATE 2015, a technology and arts festival that is a festival within a festival. Very forward-thinking — check it out. It’s a festival within a festival, that being the Three Rivers Arts Festival, also a must-see.
To keep the story short, Bill was escorted across the street from the Wyndham property by three officers, cart squeaking the whole time.
But his mates were still able to walk around the mezzanine with a companion piece, a collaborative art/tech creation. Australian Jack Hodges wore a “mask” of sorts, with duck-taped cell phones, maybe a battery (I’m no techie), and a half dozen or so hollow dot screens forming a fractured face around his head. Actually Bill’s face was being projected on the multiple screens, so he was still “in the building.” Monroeville native Cornelius Henke, the mapper for the project, followed with a cord and electronic box, the tail to this “dragon,” you might say.
Bill is also scheduled for a 6 p.m. performance. Where? Right now that is subject to negotiation. Stay tuned and turn out.
It was almost like a breath of fresh air when France’s Compagnie Käfig breezed into town with its own brand of hip-hop. See what all the excitement was about in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
The ever-lengthening arm of the Kelly Strayhorn Theater continues to operate at Dance Alloy studios, not only with dance classes, but an increasing number of performances that take advantage of the intimate performing space that is available.
The latest was HEAR/NOW, a periodic series devoted to experimental music and sometimes dance. It is raw, spare, sometimes confusing, but the creative side is juicy. The first one primarily centered around music, with movement included.
This time the series framed the dance, where the music was created by the dancers themselves. Maree DeMalia and David Bernabo, the only certifiable musician, per se, on the program, had some choice concepts in their piece.
Maree is a fresh new voice on the local dance scene. In slants revisited/take away the mountain, third in a series, she worked with Dave, who is knee deep in a current dance trend where musical artists don’t just adhere to a fixed position with their instruments, but instead venture into the movement as well.
So they played with bags and lights and shadow and the floor. They both also recorded their voices from writings in a notebook, although there was a technical glitch when the recorder itself fell to the floor and stopped at one point. No matter — it was engaging throughout.
They set up the theme for the evening, Experiments in Dance and Sound, in the ensuing works, all of which created a sound score through the dancers’ bodies. But each had an individual character.
In her work-in-progress, Mom, I’m so sweaty, New York City’s Jaime Boyle did it by the numbers. How do you feel? Five days ago? Five months ago? Five years ago? With a clock strapped to her waist, sometimes muffled when she lay on the floor. It was like being caught in a time warp continuum.
And Ohio State University instructor Abby Zbikowski brought two solos, look at my box for herself and jm, performed by Jennifer Meckley, which had a punk-ish feel to the hard-edged physicality. So you could see the hip hop aura, but stylishly invoking substantive modern dance.
Overall it was an informal shocker how the body and, in particular, the floor could be used in such individual ways…to be both visually and aurally satisfying in its own element.
They say you can’t go back, but the Pittsburgh Dance Council is ignoring that with its upcoming 2013-14 season. Executive director Paul Organisak, perhaps inspired by the Pittsburgh Festival of Firsts (exciting news in itself!) this fall and which he curated as well, has gone back to the adventuresome, experimental, what-the-hell-was-that programming that many of us knew and loved.
It appears that the PDC companies will include their own list of firsts: two North American premieres in partnership with the Festival, four new companies/projects out of six and seven new choreographers armed with local premieres.
Montreal’s Marie Chouinard will open both the Dance Council season and the Festival of Firsts. Gymnopedies, set to Eric Satie’s minimalist piano pieces, is the North American premiere, and will be paired with Michaux Mouvements, based on the poetry and drawings of Belgian Henri Michaux, which served as the literal jumping off point for the choreography. This will be the Quebec choreographer’s fourth visit to Pittsburgh, which has in the past produced The Rite of Spring and 24 Preludes by Chopin (a personal favorite of Organisak’s), among others (Sept. 28, Byham Theater).
Another sneak peak at the Festival line-up comes with Swiss artists Zimmermann & de Perrot, a physical theater duo, who will be literally thinking out of the box and inside it during Hans was Heiri. According to Organisak, Pittsburghers will see this event before it gets to New York’s Brooklyn Academy of Music (Oct. 18, Byham).
On to the debut of the Brazilian group Compagnie Käfig, an international sensation that takes hip hop and puts it to samba and bossa bova. A company guaranteed to raise the spirits, it has appeared at Jacob’s Pillow and the Spoleto Festival, among others. What more can you do with plastic cups? (Feb. 1, Byham).
One of the highlights of the season is sure to be Ballet du Grand Thèâtre de Genéve and the start of a balletic finish to the season, but showing us where ballet is headed. Yes, this is the only company where George Balanchine served as artistic advisor (1970-78), but it has worked with numerous artists, including Baryshnikov, Kylian and Forsythe. Founded in 1962, the 22-member company brings two emerging artists on the international scene — Andonis Foniadakis’s Gloria, which will create a stylish new symbiosis with music by Baroque composer George Frideric Handel, and Ken Ossola’s Sed Lux Permanet, with sculpted shadow play to Fauré’s Requiem. (Mar. 8, Byham)
Acclaimed New York City Ballet principal dancer Wendy Whelan will be bringing her Restless Creature project, set to debut at Jacob’s Pillow this summer. She will dance four duets with four emerging choreographers — Pittsburgh’s Kyle Abraham, Joshua Beamish, Brian Brooks and Alejandro Cerrudo, whose Lickety Split was a sensation recently at Point Park University’s annual Byham concert. This one is creating a lot of buzz in the dance community. (Mar. 22, Byham)
The final contemporary ballet event will mark the return of Wayne McGregor l Random Dance, (Apr. 26, Byham). He is the resident choreographer at The Royal Ballet in London and it is his company. He has a scientific bent on ballet — using film, music, visual art and technology — that is truly unique (Apr. 26, Byham).
For ticket information click on Pittsburgh Dance Council.