Dance Beat: YAGF, Chloe

March 28, 2015
Tommie Kesten with Damien Martinez in Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh's "Nutcracker. Photo: Katie Ging.

Tommie Kesten with Damien Martinez in Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh’s “Nutcracker. Photo: Katie Ging.

YAGF. Youth America Grand Prix, the world’s largest international student dance competition, has expanded its network of competitions to Pittsburgh for a second year of semifinals (and moved to the larger Byham Theater), which says a great deal about Pittsburgh’s emerging dance footprint. Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh’s Tommie Kesten, 14, bourreed away with the Youth Grand Prix, the top award in the Junior Age Division. Verily Treu, 13, of Pittsburgh Ballet House, landed in third place and captured first place in the Contemporary Dance Category. In the Pre-competitive Age Division, Victoria Pete, 10, of Pittsburgh Youth Ballet and Sofia Williams, 11, of Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh, placed in the Top 12. Point Park University took third place in Ensembles for Idiosyncratic Rising. Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Youth Ballet were in the Top 12 for IV and Til the End. To top it all off, Point Park University staff member Kiesha Lalama received the Outstanding Choreographer Award.

CHLOE. Former Dance Moms teenager Chloe Lukasiak has partnered with Chicago singer-songwriter Jess Godwin in the music video, Fool Me Once.


On Stage: Kiesha Has Her Eyes On Dance

July 14, 2013


The good news is that Kiesha Lalama’s The Bench is moving forward. We first saw the production in 2009 as part of Point Park University’s dance series. it was a family affair from the start, with cousin and composer David Lalama and tenor saxophonist Ralph Lalama a part of the holiday package.

It told the story of a young man and woman who met, fell in love and married. What followed was the everyman story of an everyday family, where relationships cause both difficulty and great joy. It was something that virtually everyone in the audience could relate to in a different way as they reflected on their own lives, like “a family album come to life.”

So people warmly responded to scenes like the “crazy aunt” at the table scene and the wedding, where the daughter walked down the aisle with her dad.

But there is more good news. It evidently has legs, strong and sure, and has been renamed The Bench: A Journey Into Love. Subtitled “A New Musical Dance Spectacular.” The evening-long work falls into a family-friendly version of productions like “Movin’ Out” and “Contact,” where dance formed the thread.

There was much interest at the outset from Titus Theatricals LLC founder and CEO, Eric McCree to take it to Broadway. With his input, though, that meant that Kiesha had to reconstruct certain elements of the story.l

Now two narrators, both singers, will express the secret thoughts of the main characters in song. Scotland’s Joel Mason, lyricist, joined the team to add another dimension to David’s score.

They were going to do a staged reading, but they bypassed it in favor of a full-blown workshop, according to Kiesha. This has enabled her and David to stay “true to the values” of their work. They added about 20 minutes and got deeper into the characters. While the mother’s stage-dominating dress will remain, the dinner table, a pivotal scene in the original production, will be lengthened and will rotate on a platform to increase its visual impact.

This past week Kiesha and her team, including Point Park staffer Jason McDole and James Washington, who played the son in the original cast, traveled to Boise, Idaho. “Idaho,” you say? Sometimes called the Potato State, it also grows dance companies in the state’s largest city — the critically-acclaimed Trey MacIntyre Project and Ballet Idaho, which made a brief appearance on the reality ballet series “Breaking Pointe” when one of the dancers got dumped from Ballet West and picked up a job there.

So some of those local dancers populated the production and Broadway veteran Tituss Burgess (Jersey Boys, The Little Mermaid, Guys and Dolls) and Angela Birchett (Hairspray, national tour) joined the 15-member cast.

Kiesha met Tituss a while ago and he never left her thoughts. “You know, you meet someone along they way and you don’t know the impact they will have on your life,” explains Kiesha.

But there is more good news. A Pittsburgh group, including traveled there and several Broadway backers, who shall remain nameless for now, as well.

“In some ways, it’s been bigger than I anticipated,” says Kiesha, who is looking to go straight to New York’s Musical Theatre Festival next year.

It’s a difficult process, most likely filled with the kind of obstacles that Dorothy faced in Oz. But Kiesha appears to be determined, noting that  “I am secure with kind of artist that I am.”


On Stage: Sowing the Seeds of “Ruthless”

February 10, 2012

Photo by Matt Polk

Kiesha Lalama is adding one more hat to her head these days. Already mom to Jake, 13, and Jax, 11, Kiesha is an associate professor at Point Park University, education director for the Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera, choreographer for such groups as Gus Giordano Dance Chicago, August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble and TedxPittsburgh. She also is rewriting her full-length jazz dance piece about family affairs, The Bench.

But when CLO executive director and Ruthless director Van Kaplan asked her to choreograph the latest Backstage Cabaret Show, Ruthless, she just couldn’t say no. “I’m having the time of my life,” she exults in that familiar rasp of hers, sort of like actress Kathleen Turner or, for the younger set, Miley Cyrus. It probably helps that four of the cast members are former students at Point Park, leading Kiesha to say, “I walked in and I said I was home.”

But Ruthless is also “the most challenging thing I have done so far,” adds Kiesha. She calls this musical comedy take-off on “The Bad Seed,” the story of a a little girl whose ambitions go awry (or maybe it’s more than that), “highly stylized. It’s just that everything is so intricate and the timing has to be perfect and precise or it’s just not funny.”

What with the intimacy of the Backstage Cabaret and the postage stamp stage, it means reining in the broad-based choreographic heart that generally permeates Kiesha’s movement. “I’m so used to dancing big — you know, get your legs up as high as they can go, give it everything you’ve got.”

Not here. “For me it’s finding the little details and intricate moments to make it work,” she admits. “So it’s the complete opposite of what I’m normally doing. It made me step out of my comfort zone and I love that because I’ve grown so much from this. It will enhance my choreography for the concert stage.”

She credits Van for much of it, a perfectionist of a director with a  “meticulous process” that she promises will produce a big comic payoff. “A magic is happening with this cast with Van at the helm and the information that the young actors are getting from him,“ she says. “It’s priceless!”

So look for tidbits like Marlana Dunn’s transformation from “baking cookies to Broadway stage,” a theater critic who hates musicals, 8-year old Allison Joyce, a vocal powerhouse who is about as big as Jonathan Visser’s (Sylvia St. Croix) right leg and more.

Then, too, the cast just has a great chemistry all on its own and that must account for something as well.

Evidently it does for Kiesha, who spouts, “I haven’t laughed this hard in any show!”

Ruthless will run through May 6 at the CLO Cabaret in Theater Square, Downtown. Tickets: $34.75-44.75; or 412-456-6666.