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

On Stage: Going Solo With Aakash

November 6, 2015
Photo by Chris Nash

Photo by Chris Nash

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s India in Focus festival continues tonight with Aakash Odedra. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

On Stage: Beautiful Carole King

October 29, 2015
Abby Mueller as Carole King

Abby Mueller as Carole King

I feel the earth move under my feet…

I’ve felt that way for lo so many years when I listen to Carole King’s songs, which I thought were mostly limited to her solo album, Tapestry, released in 1971. But the Tony Award-winning musical inspired by her career, Beautiful, now playing at the Benedum Center and starring a dynamic Abby Muller, proves that there was much more to this pop icon.

This is a glossy rendering of her life from a smart, talented teenager who skipped two grades and left college to become a songwriter to the self-assured artist who produced Tapestry. Along the way she married Gerry Goffin (Liam Tobin), her first love, husband and lyricist. It gives the musical a dramatic edge, alluding to his affairs and drug use.

It also follows the influential New York music publishing house run by Don Kirshner (Curt Bouril), along with another successful partnership there in the entertaining duo of Cynthia Weil and Barry Mann.

The Don Kirshner studio.

The Don Kirshner studio.


But this is jukebox musical, similar to The Jersey Boys. It produces a back story around the surprising number of hits as it educates the public about King’s importance. She was ahead of her time, able to be an understanding wife, a mother to two children and a successful, but in some ways humble artist who follows her dream.

While some of the facts might have been surprising to the public at large, so were the tunes. Who knew that she and Goffin wrote their first big hit, Some Kind of Wonderful, for The Drifters? And Will You Love Me Tomorrow took The Shirelles to the top of the pop charts, the first black female singing group to do so?

The Drifters.

The Drifters.

It didn’t end there, with The Locomotion (Little Eva) and One Fine Day (Janelle Woods) adding to their mix of hits. The chirping Weil (Gulsvig) and and hypochondriac Mann (Ben Fankhauser) were able to mount challenges like You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling (The Righteous Brothers) to give balance and comedy to the production.

And that was just the first act.

Kudos to the entire cast, 24 in all, that loomed larger with its versatility, similar in the that respect to another Tony-winning musical, Once. Not only did they execute great covers of so many familiar songs in the style of the time, but they danced and played a number of extra instruments. It’s all in the current trend of the quadruple-threat (and maybe more) performer.

The production saves some surprises for the end, including (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman, the Aretha Franklin anthem that King and Goffen wrote for her. All along I felt the earth was moving and grooving, but there is a shortened version of “Earth” to add an exclamation point to it all.

This is a juicy musical chunk of rock and roll history, one to be savored. Some audience members will have lived and cherished it, others were probably just being introduced. But there is no doubt that Carole King’s legacy is both timeless and “beautiful.”





Dance Beat: Dance Films, Twyla, Dance Teachers

October 27, 2015

DANCE ON FILM. We know that the Bolshoi and Royal ballet companies have been putting out live performances aimed at mass market filmgoers for several years now. Click on Bolshoi.  Click on Royal. But it appears that there is another facet, Lincoln Center at the Movies, that has joined in the fun and, at least for the near future, will present Ballet Hispanico (CARMEN.maquia and Club Havana), New York City Ballet’s The Nutcracker (having missed San Francisco Ballet and Alvin Ailey). We all know that dance looks best  in three dimensional live performances. But this is a great opportunity — at last — to see some of America’s best, a treat in itself. As a bonus, Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan will be hosting. Click on Lincoln Center. Many thanks to the local Cinemark Theaters, particularly Robinson, Monroeville and Pittsburgh Mills, for presenting dance. But it has a better chance of continuing in the future if there is a bigger turnout.

THARP NICK AND EVATWYLA THARP. Although it’s a shame that Pittsburgh is not participating in her 50th Anniversary Tour, she’s ba-a-ack, and bringing former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancers Eva Trapp and Nicholas Coppula with her. You can catch them at Kennedy Center in Washington D.C, Nov. 9-15 and in New York City Nov. 16-22. Click on Twyla for more details and check out a couple of Trapp/Coppula snippets on the Kennedy Center website. Twyla also has a knack for writing and has been keeping a journal with the New York Times. Eva and Nick have been featured in photos. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/31/arts/dance/monsters-unleashed.html?emc=edit_tnt_20150831&nlid=59926186&tntemail0=y&_r=0

THANK A DANCE TEACHER DAY! Probably if you’re reading this blog, you know a dance teacher or two. Local veteran Susan Gillis Kruman reminded me and I’m reminding you to mark your calendar for Dec. 1, when you can officially send them a thanks. Click on National Dance Education Organization.

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.

Film: Bolshoi Ballet Series

October 9, 2015

The Bolshoi Ballet is full of drama, seen onstage in its performances and offstage in the acid thrown in the face of artistic director Sergei Filin, almost blinding him (yes, he’s still there). There is more, though, to be seen in the current Bolshoi Ballet in Cinema series. So it’s Giselle, but the leads are ballerina superstar Svetlana Zakharova and, hold on, Sergei Polunin, the current “bad boy of ballet.” (Trained at The Royal Ballet, taken into the company, fast-tracked to principal status, surprisingly dropped out, much like GOP House speaker John Boehner and speaker-to-be Kevin McCarthy.) But here he is, live and on film Sunday, Oct. 11 at Cinemark Robinson Township, Monroeville Mall 12 and Cinemark 17 Pittsburgh Mills at 12:55 p.m.(click on Bolshoi). He is not listed on the company’s website, however (come to your own conclusions). Here is also the original on Vimeo (check others on YouTube). While the solo is debatable, the style is not. The tattoos are something else.

Dance Beat: Freshly Washed Ballerinas

October 4, 2015



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