Dance Beat: Kinzua Dam, West Point Ballet, Benjamin Millipied

January 4, 2017

kinzua-dam-allegheny-river

KINZUA DAM. Thanks to more media coverage, celebrity support and the support of organizations like veterans, people are learning about the Indian plight at Standing Rock. But what we don’t remember is how the United States government has exerted force over Indian nations for a large part of our history, taking land that rightfully belonged to them. Western Pennsylvania has an Indian area that was flooded by the Kinzua Dam. The Kelly Strayhorn Theater, a hotspot for minority art, brought in a moving, heartfelt performance by Minneapolis’ Rosy Simas Danse. Rosy went to visit the Kinzua site, where her ancestors were forced to evacuate. Click on Kinzua Dam for a complete history. And from the Seneca Indians’ perspective remembering 50 years ago...

west-point-nutWEST POINT BALLET. The West Point Ballet, located in Coraopolis,d served notice that it is joining the upper tier of local dance studios. Only in its third year, it presented its own “Nutcracker,” showcasing the Cuban ballet style, so poetic and lyrical, and filled with those signature pirouettes that seem so effortless. WPB fielded at least half a dozen young women who distinguished themselves and has a growing contingent of young men that would be the envy of other schools. Congratulations to owners Cynthia Castillo, formerly with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and a graduate of the National Ballet of Cuba, and Damien M. Coro, formerly with PBT and the National Ballet of Cuba. Damien performed with the group alongside his twin brother, David, a former principal with the National Ballet of Cuba who is teaching at the Laurel Ballet with his wife, Vanessa Haider, also a former member of the National Ballet. Certainly their combined expertise will enrich the ballet community for many years to come.

peter-farmerPETER FARMER. World famous costume and scenery designer Peter Farmer passed away a few days ago. He worked on a number of productions at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, including the recent Giselle production this past fall. You can read about the process and his career from Janet Groom Campbell, good friend and PBT costumier, here.

BENJAMIN MILLIPIED.  For those who like a juicy ballet backstory, there is an upcoming documentary about Benjamin Millipied (famously the husband of movie star Natalie Porter) and his dramatically short tenure at the Paris Opera Ballet. Called Reset, it should hit movie theaters sometime in January.

DANCE LISTINGS. There’s not a lot happening in January with Pittsburgh dance (see Listings). What is happening?

 

 

 

 

 


On Stage: 15 Years of “Nut”-iness

December 5, 2016
Alexandra Kochis with Christopher Budzynski in "The Nutcracker." Photo: Rich Sofranko

Alexandra Kochis with Christopher Budzynski in “The Nutcracker.” Photo: Rich Sofranko

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre celebrates 15 years of “Nutcracker” in the Terrence Orr production. Click on Nut for the review.


Dance Beat: Patricia, Matt, Brazzies, Charrette, Attack

August 30, 2016
Patricia Wilde with Savion Glover

Patricia Wilde with Savion Glover

A Wilde Award. Former Pittsburgh artistic director Patricia Wilde added yet another award to her treasure chest. She was honored by the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga, New York, along with famed tap dancer Gregory Hines, whose award was accepted by tapper extraordinaire Savion Glover, who was mentored by Hines. She was surrounded by her family, including children Anya Davis and Yuri Bardyguine, plus a sizable contingent who worked with her at PBT, including Terrence Orr, Harris Ferris, Janet Campbell with David and Roberto Munoz.

Fresh Addition. He has popped up in performances with Attack Theatre ever since he and husband Rubén Garcia, head of the dance department at Point Park University, moved to Pittsburgh two or so years ago. Dance Europe Magazine selected him as one of the “Top 100 Dancers in World” for 2010/2011 and he is a former dancer with Lucinda Childs. But he gave Pittsburgh a sweet surprise this spring at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, simply titled Matt Pardo: An Evening of New Works. It was actually the culmination of a Master’s of Fine Arts Degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and showcased a subtle blend of jazz, which had a certain weight, and contemporary dance, which gave it a liquidity. That clarity and balance in Pardo’s choreography were easiest to see in Matt’s solo and another for Point Park dancer, the talented Justus Whitfield. There were two group dances for Point Park College dancers which further demonstrated a transparency in thought and execution to be found in Pardo’s style. Most exciting, though, was a trio he created with Childs dancers Caitlin Scranton and Sharon Milanese, beautifully interacting in various formations. It was a preview, though, because Pardo and  Scranton have designs on establishing a professional company in Pittsburgh.

BETH CORNING HEADSHOTThe Brazzies. The latest edition of the Brazzy Awards, named after former ballerina and inspirational teacher Leslie Anderson Braswell went to two veterans of the local dance scene. Congratulations to Beth Corning, who always offers deep, thoughtful performances for dancers over 50 (!), this time taking on avant-garde writer Samuel Beckett in Beckett and Beyond, and Christopher Budzynski, principal dancer with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, who has contributed so much to an array of leading roles, including Swan Lake,  Don Quixote and Le Corsaire.

Christopher Budzynski with wife Alexandra Kochis in "Cinderella."

Christopher Budzynski with wife Alexandra Kochis in “Cinderella.”

Fresh Choreography. This is the must-see project developed at PearlArts Studios. Take a choreographer, give him or her the opportunity to develop work and present it in a  atmosphere, complete with expert feedback (in this instance dance artists Mark Taylor — who seamlessly coordinates things — Michele de la Reza, Jasmine Hearn and visual artist Maritza Mosquera). Do yourself a favor and take in the soft glow of changing light at the Studios, complete with intelligent, nurturing conversation and support for the likes of Jean Paul Weaver, Ella Moriah Mason and Slowdanger duo Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight.

Real Attack. One of my favorite activities, rain or shine. No real dance, just connecting with real dancers (and friends) who proclaim “We’re On a Boat.” The Attackers had a real presence this year, with co-founders Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope, of course, the inimitable executive director Rebecca Himberger, Dane Toney, Ashley Williams, all at Lock Wall One Marina at 23rd Street in the Strip District

 

 


On Stage: Another “Nut”-ty Holiday at PBT

December 6, 2015
Hannah Carter as Marie. Photo: Rich Sofranko

Hannah Carter as Marie. Photo: Rich Sofranko

How do I love thee? Let me count the times I’ve seen the “Nutcracker.” Over the course of 40 years, that means a lot. But I can’t say I have the same pressure as those dance professionals who have participated in countless performances. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has the best buy in the city ($30 for a multi-million dollar production). Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Diana Yohe and Corey Bourbonniere in the Snow Scene. Photo: Rich Sofranko.

Diana Yohe and Corey Bourbonniere in the Snow Scene. Photo: Rich Sofranko.


On Stage: A Ballet Trifecta

November 8, 2015

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre just concluded its opening performance series in grand style with Balanchine, Forsythe and Kylian. Read about it at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

This was as perfectly balanced a repertory program as PBT has ever presented. Something to note — while the audiences were smaller than the more marketable full-length ballets like Swan Lake, they were more enthusiastic, responding to the masterful choreography. So Pittsburgh dance fans know something good when they see it and, with similar programs, I believe Pittsburgh audiences will warm up to the concept of repertory, with a variety that will undoubtably appeal, at some point, to virtually everyone.

George Balanchine knew that, given his famous quote of having an appetizer, an entree and dessert on the program and he understood the concept of a dance “dessert” better than anyone, whipping up a batch of terrific finales like Western Symphony, Stars and Stripes and the Gershwin-inspired Who Cares?. Gradually audiences (and dancers) will graduate to the more dramatic, full-company likes of his Symphony in Three Movements and Symphony in C.

From this program, it seems, too, that Pittsburgh responds to the physicality of the dance — the array of leaps in Sinfonietta, the breathless slicing kicks of In the Middle, the seemingly unlimited dance landscape of Western Symphony.

Behind the scenes, and speaking of breath, corps member Caitlin Peabody, as fiery in Middle as her hair, said that there was a part in this deceptively difficult  ballet where she literally felt that she couldn’t catch her breath. As it turned out, choreographer Forsythe sent a message to “breathe.” And repetiteur Agnes Noltenius, one of the three top-notch artists who set the trio of ballets, reminded the dancers at the dress rehearsal. It worked, resulting in a satisfying breadth of movement as well as a breathable flow of movement, confident and articulate, something that is not always present with this company.

Once again, repetiteurs have transformed PBT, the last one being Shelly Washington in the Twyla Tharp program of Nine Sinatra Songs and In the Upper Room in 2013. And it would be hard to improve on this program. If anything, there could have been a newer work, maybe a commission or a ballet conceived within the past five years. Newer works build a company’s reputation — it’s more difficult to measure up to the international standard seen on YouTube and assorted films created in the classical tradition.

As a bonus, photographer Martha Rial had a free time slot and captured some of the memorable movements of Sinfonietta with her lens. If anyone would like a copy, contact her at martha@martharial.com.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Yoshiaki Nakano and Hannah Carter perform Sinfonietta. Photo: Martha Rial©

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Yoshiaki Nakano and Hannah Carter perform Sinfonietta. Photo: Martha Rial©

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Luca Sbrizzi and Jessica McCann perform Sinfonietta. Photo: Martha Rial©

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Luca Sbrizzi and Jessica McCann perform Sinfonietta. Photo: Martha Rial©

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Jessica McCann and Joanna Schmidt perform Sinfonietta. Photo: Martha Rial©

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Jessica McCann and Joanna Schmidt perform Sinfonietta. Photo: Martha Rial©

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Corey Bourbonniere, Alexandre Silve and Gabrielle Thrulow perform Sinfonietta. Photo: Martha Rial©

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Corey Bourbonniere, Alexandre Silve and Gabrielle Thrulow perform Sinfonietta. Photo: Martha Rial©

The final, highly emotional image of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's production of Sinfonietta. Photo: Martha Rial©

The final, highly emotional image of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s production of Sinfonietta. Photo: Martha Rial


Dance Beat: Loti Falk Gaffney

October 20, 2015

Maybe they knew something. Above is the tribute that Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre assembled in honor of board founder Loti Falk Gaffney at the 45th Anniversary Gala last April at the Benedum Center. It was a wonderful occasion, with board members fully committed to send PBT to the next level. Her granddaughter accepted on behalf of Loti, who was too frail to travel from her home on East 66th Street in New York City.

She died there on Oct. 13 at the age of 94, surrounded by family and caretakers.

But she left behind an arts legacy that still resonates here in Pittsburgh. I watched her struggle to get PBT on its feet during the early years. And I talked with her prior to the company’s 35th anniversary for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where she spoke of those difficult, yet exhilarating  times. You can read about it here.


On Stage: The Tale of Two Streetcars

September 7, 2015
Eve Mutso as Blanche. Photo: Andy Ross

Eve Mutso as Blanche. Photo: Andy Ross

With its unbridled passions and slow descent into madness, all set against the gradual decay of the Deep South, Tennesse Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire could be adapted into The Great American Ballet. As it turned out, two European companies, Hamburg Ballet and Scottish Ballet, have led the way, although, as it turns out, a pair ex-pat Americans, Hamburg’s artistic director John Neumeier and Scottish director Nancy Meckler, had a profound impact on their respective productions.

Of all the cities in world, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was the only one to have seen them both.

The productions came at varying points in their careers, however, with Neumeier in one of his first full-length ballets (1983) and Meckler commissioned by the Scottish Ballet towards the end of a long and distinguished theatrical career (2012).

Erik Cavallari (Stanley) and Sophie Laplane (Stella). Photo: Andrew Ross

Erik Cavallari (Stanley) and Sophie Laplane (Stella). Photo: Andrew Ross

Not surprisingly, Neumeier created a sumptuous, more traditional ballet dripping with projections, an extended stage and atmospheric lighting that worked in the expanse of the 2800-seat Benedum Center.  Meckler went for an edgy contemporary look, packing the stage with crates that became a part of the choreography as the dancers constructed the various scenes in the ballet and acted as a Greek chorus. A bare bulb served as a centerpiece, the symbol of Blanche Dubois’ fading hopes and dreams.

The musical scores couldn’t have been further apart. Neumeier tapped Visions Fugitives by Sergei Prokofiev and, for the second act, the jarringly acute Alfred Schnittke, which carried the drama to excruciating heights for some. But Meckler chose both original music and a musical cyclorama of the age, familiar in a way, which perhaps made the Scottish Ballet production more dynamic and accessible. That production was placed on the smaller Byham Theater stage, which could have added to the intensity by compressing it, throwing the emotional intimacy into the audience with unabashed accuracy.

In the end, however, these were told from a masculine and feminine angle, giving them a different weight and perspective. Neumeier’s Blanche was, as I noted, a “wounded butterfly” from the start, with Stanley the manimal as expected. Meckler’s Blanche was drinking in the foreign world around her, but still retaining a certain dignity as she withdrew. Her Stella developed from a young sister to a woman comfortable in her own sensuality. With choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa on the Scottish artistic team, the women had more substance and complexity in their stage presence, particularly in the duets where their roles were heightened.

Blanche's (Eve Mutso) world is falling apart. Photo: Andy Ross

Blanche’s (Eve Mutso) world is falling apart. Photo: Andy Ross

Both productions had their moments of ecstasy. Neumeier was to be lauded for his coordination of choreography, costumes and scenery as a young artist. However, it was the Scottish Ballet that truly captured the epic relationship between Blanche, Stella and Stanley, for a ballet that gave Tennessee Williams’ classic a new relevance more than 60 years after its debut.

It also made a strong case to incorporate more women in ballet.