On Stage: Dancing All Night…Tango Style

April 6, 2015

Most of us have identified with an enthralled Eliza Doolittle, that “Fair Lady,” as she sang I Could Have Danced All Night. But have you? Really?

In Buenos Aires, tango enthusiasts have every night available to them, waiting to fill it with dance and greet the dawn. (See my article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, an interview with tango professional Esteban Moreno.) But that is something that hasn’t been seen in Pittsburgh, where shows like Tango Argentina, while entertaining showpieces, were mostly a string of duets.

Now there is something else afoot in Buenos Aires that we hadn’t seen in Pittsburgh until the Pittsburgh Dance Council brought in Unión Tanguera.

The company is representative of an emerging style in Argentina, a way of blending tango with contemporary dance and setting it in a dramatic context.

The result was Nuit Blanche (Sleepless Night), created in 2010.

Founders and artistic directors Claudia Codega and Moreno studied with maestros of the Argentine tango and Codego had extensive experience in contemporary dance and ballet. Thus a hybrid art form was born.

When they founded Unión Tanguera, the world travelers chose to base it in France as well as Argentina and have been instrumental in spreading the word, mightily contributing to the rise in popularity of a “new” tango.

That was on display in Nuit Blanche. It all began with the beat, no, the heartbeat of the tango. A minimalist drop suggested a couple of entrances and an alcove for a live quartet.  Everything was atmospherically lit in blues and other hues.

As for the dance itself, it spanned both the history and the future of tango. Seven performers, four men and three women in a delicious imbalance,  drifted into this nameless tango cafe, ready to dance the night away.

The inspiration came from Argentina reality. Well, maybe not the giant red bean bags, sometimes used like purses on the women and evocative of a ’70’s vibe. Or the wine glasses that sometimes were used as props during the routines.

But, in a way, they broke the tango mold, so that the men or women could dance as independent groups. Even in a more traditional tango, one with featherlight steps, the man caressed the woman’s feet. And there was a comedic song accompanying the women (something about boobs and buns according to a friend). They formed trios, like the double decker comic piece — one man sat on another’s shoulders and both danced with a woman. It made for a fascinating journey, much like the tango, not knowing where it would go.

But the real meat of the program came during some of the pure dance pieces. The sweet intensity of the Codego/Moreno partnership. Floor work, still in a tango hold, inserted into the choreography. A barefoot contessa picking her way through a flickering duo.

There was no doubt that the night would melt away as the performers left to greet another day. But this should have been a poetic ending and it just felt ordinary, a hiccup, yes, but still a mesmerizing evening of dance.






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: Maria Reborn

April 7, 2011

She entered our collective consciousness, this “Maria de Buenos Aires,” up through the gymnasium, onto the stairs and into a rebuilt tango cafe at East Liberty’s old YMCA.

In the future the YMCA will house luxurious condos. But for now, it’s the setting for Quantum Theatre’s “Maria,” certainly one of its most evocative productions and that’s saying something for this adventurous Pittsburgh theater collective.

It’s a real live jigsaw puzzle of artistic pieces, seen mostly in pairs — two singers, two dancers, two actors, plus Joe Seamans’ plush video sequences that sometimes take us beyond the four walls and Tony Ferrieri’s snaking playground of ramps, costumes by Richard Parsakian and Jen Sturm that enhance the characters and a spirited tango orchestra led by Andres Cladera.

Oh, and the sangria is delicious.

Audience members are scattered throughout the room around those ramps, making for an intimate tango experience that doesn’t necessarily need a complete translation, a handy thing to know since the original is in Spanish.

But the music, the primary force behind this “tango operita” needs no translation. The score by composer Astor Piazzolla — is there anyone else that captures the tango as he does? — is seductive throughout.

The participants willingly latch onto the curl of the rhythm in this surreal journey where Maria is seduced by the tango, then dies, a ghostly reminder of the music itself. The two vocalists have a beautiful control of both tone and inflection — Carlos Feliciano (Payador) for his clarity, Raquel Winnica Young for her spirituality, although she could add more emotional depth to her pervasive anthem, “I Am Maria.”

Attack Theater’s Michele de la Reza and Dane Toney toy with tango-istic elements without ever gettingMichele de la Reza and Dane Toney downright specific. Yet it is the dance that serves as the glue behind Mr. Piazzolla’s music, in a production where it is shared by all.

Carolina Loyola-Garcia and Karla Boos carry the deeply poetic phrases sculpted by Horacio Ferrer. As an aging madam, Ms. Boos serves to translate and enlighten some of the story as Ms. Loyola-Garcia prowls the premises like a sensual, mysterious beast.

It took a little while to get the “Maria” gears in motion at an early performance, but it should become more seamless with time as the performers transform the death and rebirth of the tango from so many perspectives.

Sometimes it was a vaporous mist, other times so pungent you could almost taste it. A singular experience not to be missed.

(See Listings for more info.)


On Stage: Attack-ing the Tango

March 29, 2011

Catch a promising new view of the tango from East Liberty. Attack Theatre’s Michele de la Reza and Dane Toney will play a prominent part in Quantum Theatre’s “Maria de Buenos Aires,” set to begin its run on Friday at the YMCA. Music, video, the dance — read how it all will come together in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

On Stage: Dance Ablaze

February 15, 2011

It was a tricky weekend for dance, where Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s “Dracula” had ghostly endings that seemed to abruptly fade and Tango Fire drove theirs home with a piston-like energy. Read about the Argentinian heat wave in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.