Dance Beat: PBT News and Round-up

February 26, 2013
A student performance at the Amphitheater

A student performance at the Amphitheater

TO THE LAKEPittsburgh Ballet Theatre will make its debut at Chautauqua Institution this summer (Wed., Aug. 21 at 8:15 p.m.), a bit of a surprise since the historic Amphitheater, outdoor performing space, has been the turf of Jean-Pierre Bonnefoux, Patricia McBride and North Carolina Dance Theatre for over 25 years. It’s a company with a decided Balanchine look, a given since the two artistic directors once starred with George Balanchine’s officially “starless” New York City Ballet. So it should provide a tangible style comparison for residents there. If you’re interested in making the drive (a little over two hours from Pittsburgh) up to the picturesque Victorian community and surrounding attractions, check the website for more information.


Olivia Kelly, JoAnna Schmidt and Casey Taylor kick up their heels in the Can-can. Photos: Rich Sofranko

Olivia Kelly, JoAnna Schmidt and Casey Taylor kick up their heels in the Can-can. Photos: Rich Sofranko

BACK TO THE MOULIN ROUGE. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s production of Moulin Rouge translated well for all three casts over a weekend of performances (click on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette for an article on opening night). Because the movement phrases often were plucked from familiar classroom exercises, tombe pas de bouree glissade (and substitute your favorite jump) —  the dancers could relax and exchange choreographic pleasantries all night long.

That also meant that each audience could peruse different (although never bawdy) takes on the world’s most famous (and infamous) cabaret. Let’s take the Nathalie/Matthew combination first, where there were varying flavors, enough to keep things interesting.

Opening night cast Christine Schwaner and Luca Sbrizzi had an independent clarity and freshness, more in a classical vein, while Friday night’s Alexandra Kochis and Christopher Budzynski, always on top of the technical elements, also connected on an intimate level that helped to sustain the dramatic line.

The Saturday matinee featured a pair of corps members who jumped at the opportunity and did surprisingly well. Caitlin Peabody had plenty of spunk and determination in her first starring role. While hers was a cozy technique, it had a thoughtful, yet piquant quality that suited this role. Her partner, Nicholas Coppula, was detailed in drawing his character as both an art student and a fine romantic lead.

Christine Schwaner as Nathalie

Christine Schwaner as Nathalie

It was hard to pick a favorite between the two Zidlers, Robert Moore’s brooding owner  or Nurlan Abougaliev’s more flamboyant villain. Joseph Parr posed no such problem , however — he was cast as Toulouse-Lautrec for all five performances. In fact, choreographer Jorden Morris singled him out at a post-performance soiree downstairs at the Benedum Center, calling him one of the best among 14 casts that he has worked with on the ballet.

Among the women, La Goulue, the iconic redhead from the famed Toulouse-Lautrec poster, was a juicy role. Elysa Hotchkiss had the snap of a whiplash in her deep backbends, while Julia Erickson brought the requisite star quality to dominate the Can-can. Eva Trapp could use her sensuality at full force, something that also played exceptionally well as the tango lead dancer with Alexandre Silva. Elysa showed off her flickering footwork with partner Alejandro Diaz.

Historically speaking, Moulin Rouge was marvelously detailed, including the Top Hats, perhaps a reference to Valentin the Boneless (also partner of La Goulue), but here a chance to give the men a chance to show off their ballet technique.

I am still puzzled, though, by the woman in green, not to be confused with the Green Fairies, although they appeared all together in Matthew’s absinthe-driven hallucination scene. There was a woman who appeared in Toulouse-Lautrec’s art work, but she had only a green cast, most likely from the eerie lighting inside the club. In this production, she seemed to serve as some sort of muse, but the color coordination with Green Fairies, might have indicated something else. To confuse things more, she was played by the dancers (Amanda Cochrane and Garielle Thurlow) who also appeared as Mome Fromage, without any distinction in the program.

By the way, kudos to this increasingly versatile company, who sometimes played three roles or more.


On Stage: Getting a “Kick” From the Moulin Rouge

February 14, 2013

Eva Trapp in Moulin RougePittsburgh Ballet Theatre seems to have a certifiable hit on its hands with Moulin Rouge, having already scheduled four performances (a rarity these days) and adding a Saturday matinee due to popular demand.

Does this mean that audiences are thirsty for new full-length ballets that have a contemporary relevance? After all, a whole new generation saw the Baz Luhrmann movie with Nicole Kidman and Ewan MacGregor, released in 2001.

Or is it a reaction to the name Moulin Rouge, the famous French nightclub that still carries its own mystique? This is, after all, the only officially sanctioned ballet bearing the name.

Many have tried, but Jorden Morris, choreographer at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Canada, is the only one who was chosen. He won over the MR administrators with his knowledge of French music (he happened to study early French choreography with Claude Bessy and Serge Golovine from Paris Opera Ballet). And not only that, but Veronique Allaire-Spitzer, vice president of brand development attended the world premiere in 2009, where she put the final stamp of approval on the production.

Mr. Morris has spent an extraordinarily long time — six weeks — to mount the production at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. It’s for a good reason — Royal Winnipeg is going to film the production in high definition and he is using the time to make a few adjustments.

Be forewarned — the plot will be different from the Luhrman movie, which had traces of La Boheme, with Paris’s Bohemian atmosphere and a heroine dying of consumption. This version tells a story of two lovers who meet at the nightclub —  Natalie, a rising young star under the watchful eye of manager Charles Zidler and Matthew, a painter newly-arrived in Paris. It develops into a classic love triangle that, along the way, involves painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who immortalized the Moulin Rouge in his work, stars La Goulue and Mome Fromage and, of course, the French Cancan, packed full of high kicks and ruffled skirts, that originated at the heralded nightclub.

Mr. Morris likes to think that his direct connections with the Moulin Rouge have infused his ballet, giving off the aura and even the smell of the historic club. Although the public spaces have been renovated many times, he admittedly became enamored with the backstage, still sporting original wooden staircases and costumes that are still hung high in the rafters, when he visited the site.

Home of Mistinguett in the early years, later visited  by the likes of Maurice Chevalier, Frank Sinatra, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Liza Minnelli, this birthplace of the divine “unruly girls” continues to draw audiences to its spectacular shows.


On Stage: PBT Brings on 2012-13

February 4, 2012

You have to give Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre artistic director Terrence Orr credit. Both he and the marketing department feel that PBT audiences fill the houses for full-length ballets, so he is always in the hunt for contemporary works to fill out the thin glossary of productions that are available.

For the 2012-13 season, just announced, he will give Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Jorden Morris an encore follow-up to his 2009 reworking of Peter Pan. It’s Moulin Rouge — The Ballet (think of the movie by Baz Luhrmann), which has been wowing audiences in Canada and at Atlanta Ballet, where it made its U.S. premiere last season. The company also got permission from the famed Moulin Rouge itself to use the official trademark.

PBT will also bring back Giselle, and not seen here in over a decade. The company ballerinas can look forward to working with ballet master Marianna Tcherkassky, who was regarded as one of the world’s great Giselles during the course of her career at American Ballet Theatre.

The other slots will be filled with the annual Nutcracker and Septime Webre’s Cinderella, last seen here in 2009 and ending the season.

But the real excitement comes from the triple bill in Unspoken (instead of Uncommon) and once again at the August Wilson Center (a good thing). PBT will bring in another Mark Morris ballet, Joyride, which Morris repetiteur Tina Fehlandt assured me is “totally different” from this year initial (and successful) effort, Maelstrom.

Also on the program is Antony Tudor’s Lilac Garden (1936), which hasn’t been seen at PBT since 1987 (thank you, Patricia Wilde). A gem of a piece by a seminal choreographer in psychological ballet, it is set at a garden party where Caroline, ensconced in a marriage of convenience, must say goodbye to the man she really loves. The program will be completed by a work from the PBT repertory, George Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie.

The complete schedule is: Giselle (with orchestra), Benedum Center, Oct. 26-28;  The Nutcracker, Benedum, Dec. 7-30; Moulin Rouge — The Ballet, Benedum, Feb. 14-17; Unspoken, August Wilson Center, Mar. 8-17; Cinderella (with orchestra), Benedum, Apr. 19-21. Subscriptions: $60-478.75; 412-454-9107 or (Note that the photos are by iconic New York City dance photographer ©Lois Greenfeld.)