Dance Beat: Dirty Ball, Indian Festival, Dancing

April 16, 2015
Top Ten

Top Ten

Years. When The Dirty Ball first began, we didn’t know what to expect as we headed to one city apartment where the Attackers danced in the bathroom and a raw shell of another where we told our dirty secrets and drank dirty martinis. After a decade we know what to expect and Attack Theatre delivers. This time it was on the South Side in a warehouse of epic proportions. The Donor Party, where Queen of the Ball, Michele de la Reza, entered on a “throne” (two ladders, of course, transformed) and, with her “entourage,” presented an intimate thank you from the company. Everyone who had attended all ten took a group picture, whereupon the “curtains” were drawn to reveal what was probably the most breathtaking of all the locations over the years. The epic theme was carried out in Richard Parsakian’s must-see VIP Velvet Lounge, home of his collection of Elvis dolls (in original packaging) and the largest space he has expertly designed. Now for the trio of dances: it all began with a sherbet orange number that showed off the company’s seamless partnering style, with Ashley Williams looking utterly sun-kissed. That was followed by the Epic Production that traveled back and forward in time, which meant that King Peter Kope gathered just about anything — the Robot, Cleopatra, “Risky Business” (an over-the-top and very-welcome-return from Jeff Davis all evening long) and “Cher” (was that really Dane Toney?). And of course, there was the trademark finale from Dirty Dancing. Apparently everyone had the time of their lives…again.

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Tripping. We’ve been to Australia, Quebec, Netherlands and around the world three times (International Festival of Firsts) when the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is in a festival mode — often thrilling, always probing.  Now the Trust is taking the city to India. Two key dance performances will play a part. Nrityagram Dance Ensemble, last here in 2003, and Askash Odedra Company, making its premiere will also be a part of the Pittsburgh Dance Council season. Also on tap we’ll see a street party with DJ Rekha at the September Gallery Crawl, music of the highest order (Zakir Hussein with SF Jazz & Dave Holland), theater (Why Not Theatre, Tram Theatre and Indian Ink Theatre Company), exhibits (Hetain Patel, Nandini Valli Muthish, Plus One, Birth Series and Sarika Goulatia) and Mystic India, fusing dance, theater and spectacular special effects. Love the logo! (Click on India for more information.)

Time of My Life? The finale song for Dirty Dancing popped up everywhere this past week. Tuesday: The touring production of “Dirty Dancing.” Wednesday: “Dirty Dancing” leads teach Kristine Sorensen and Jon Burnett a few moves on KDKA’s Pittsburgh Today Live. Friday: Finale for Pitt Dance Ensemble. Saturday: Finale for the Dirty Ball. Everyday (it seemed): The commercial for UnitedHealthcare where the signature flying leap comes crashing onto a table.


On Stage: Baby and Johnny Dance Again

April 8, 2015

Dirty-Dancing

Now that Patrick Swayze is gone and Jennifer Grey’s career continues to be defined by it, Dirty Dancing has remained, for the past 28 years, frozen in time. Following the movie’s release in 1987, author Eleanor Bergstein chose to keep the story under wraps and only now has transmitted it to the stage, here a part of Pittsburgh’s Broadway Across America series.

Still frozen, in a way.

There are some things that people want to see virtually untouched by time, like Saturday Night Live reruns or a Tony Bennett concert or a ballet production of Swan Lake.

The musical theater version of Dirty Dancing has that kind of appeal, to recreate a movie that was a surprise hit in the ’80’s. It looked back to the ’60’s with a time capsule story about rebellious young lovers who get it on during the waning days of those family-friendly resorts in the Catskill Mountains, a sweet escape from city heat.

There were questions about the viability of a stage musical from the start. How would they recreate the lush green landscapes surrounding the lodge? Would they include the log balancing scene? How would they reconstruct The Lift?

Well, if that’s your bag, the producers have come up with snazzy sliding panels and projections to move quickly to each scene location. At the Benedum Center there are many greatest hits from the memorable score (I Had the Time of My Life, She’s Like the Wind, Do You Love Me?) and more to be added (Save the Last Dance For Me, Stubborn Kind of Fellow).

The musical playlist itself numbers 44 and the dialogue, which pretty much sticks to the original, just provides connecting links. If you have to put your thumb on it, this hybrid show should be called a dancical, although it doesn’t quite fall into a category that boasts Cats and Contact.  Besides, this Dirty Dancing could benefit by pumping up the cast and choreography (Michele Lynch after Kate Champion) for the kids’ dance numbers — it’s all a little too lean.

The cast, from a distance, looks and, more importantly, moves remarkably like the original cast. The details are almost an exact replica of the film, which may hamper the performers from letting loose.

Gillian Abbott (Baby) touches virtually all the bases — that deep little curve to her back when she dances, the signature moves up the steps.  Samuel Pergande (Johnny) even shares a Joffrey Ballet connection with Swayze, the first a company member, the latter studying at the school. But the technically proficient Pergande doesn’t have that prowling panther-like quality, the Swayze swagger that jumped off the screen.

Kudos to the leggy Penny (Jenny Winton, also a Joffrey alumnus) and a versatile ensemble that actually gets some big vocal numbers.

And to the audience that seemed to patiently take it all in, reliving a time in their own lives, just waiting for “Nobody puts Baby in a corner.”

And, finally, roaring at The Lift.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


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, CLO Dance Seasons Plus, Jacob’s Pillow

March 30, 2015

PBT WESTERN SYMPHONY

PBT. As it nears the finish of its 45th season, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre seems to be casting its sights on the 50th. For the first time in recent memory it is presenting two mixed repertory nights. The first, with George Balanchine’s Western Symphony, William Forsythe’s in the middle somewhat elevated and Jiri Kylian’s Sinfonietta, opens the season (Benedum Center, Oct. 23-25) and has the potential to be the company’s best program…ever. There is no doubt that this is a great line-up. But more importantly, it has balance, perhaps beginning with the sweeping Sinfonietta, then with the meaty contemporary angles of the Forsythe and finishing with Balanchine’s version of the wild, wild West. The other (Byham Theater, Mar. 10-13) features what appears to be a popular and fairly recent (BalletMet premiere 2010) ballet, noted Canadian choreographer James Kudelka’s Man in Black, inspired by country legend Johnny Cash. It will be accompanied by another local premiere, Michael Smuin’s 1969 pas de deux, The Eternal Idol, and a return of the iconic Jardin aux Lilas (Lilac Garden) by Antony Tudor. The company will bring back Jorden Morris’ version of Peter Pan (Benedum, Feb. 12-14) and, of course, the annual Nutcracker (Benedum, Dec. 4-27). The season will then conclude with the company premiere of Le Corsaire (Benedum, Apr. 15-17), one of those epic ballet warhorses about a pirate who seeks to liberate the woman he loves from kidnappers. The orchestra will accompany the opening program and Le Corsaire. For more information, click on PBT.

CLO. Not falling into the season category (but it will in the future) is the exciting news about the new production of An American in Paris, choreographed by balletic superstar choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, who is also making his directorial debut. It got rave reviews in Paris for this reimagining of the classic Gene Kelly film and set to open on Broadway . The cast is to-die-for, led by New York City Ballet principal dancer Robert Fairchilds  and The Royal Ballet’s Leanne Cope, certain to be a dead ringer for Leslie Caron onstage. Check it out at American.

PITTSBURGH ON BROADWAY. Dance aficionados will want to catch Mathilda the Musical, with choreography and movement by Peter Darling, whose other credits include Billie Elliot: The Musical. The Sam Mende/Rob Marshall version of Cabaret returns to Pittsburgh via the 2015-16 Broadway across America season direct from Broadway and The Wizard of Oz gets a bit of a facelift from Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber with some new songs (choreographer is Brit Arlene Phillips). For those who are musical-ly driven, Beautiful — The Carole King Musical will be of interest plus some familiar favorites like Jersey Boys, The Sound of Music and Blue Man Group. For more information, click on Broadway.

JACOB’S PILLOW. Well, well, well. Pittsburgh beat the Pillow to the punch on a couple of appearances taking place on its 2015 season, including Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host  (the Ira Glass/Monica Bill Barnes collaboration presented by Pittsburgh Dance Council in February), Daniel Ulbricht & Stars of American Ballet (independently presented at the Byham Theater and Cuba’s Malpaso (presented by Kelly Strayhorn Theater with two North American premieres). Of course, Alonzo King LINES Company and Martha Graham Dance Company have touched base here along the way as well. (In a real departure, there will be only one Graham work on the program and a premiere by Mats Ek to celebrate the group’s 90th anniversary.) Keigwin + Company open the season and will include tap sensation Michelle Dorrance and L.A. Project, founded by Benjamin Millepied. Click on Pillow.

 

 


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: Beth’s Families

March 27, 2015
Beth Corning and John Gresh. Photo: Frank Walsh.

Beth Corning and John Gresh. Photo: Frank Walsh.

We have been watching Beth Corning slowly reveal her own family history during her years in Pittsburgh, show by show, step by step. But she has constructed a special dance family around her personal family via the Glue Factory Project, designed specifically for dancers over 40.

In celebration of Glue’s fifth anniversary, she is putting five performers, all with a local/regional connection, inside at ONCE there was a HOUSE, her fourth iteration of the piece. This time Corning rebuilt the work with Attack Theatre’s Michele de la Reza, Squonk Opera’s Jackie Dempsey, veteran Pittsburgh actor John Gresh, former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal Tamar Rachelle Tolentino and Yoav Kaddar, head of West Virginia University’s dance department and former dancer with Paul Taylor, Jose Limon and Pilobolus.

It’s also the perfect way to celebrate five years in a “huge economic crunch.” Corning will embrace a long stint in Sweden, “that really created my artistic voice and my aesthetics and made them concrete,” by bringing in two Swedish artists later this year.

Re-entering her House along with “grownups who actually knew Dick and Jane,” the educational reading series used from 1930 to 1970 in many schools, was inspired by Pittsburgh.

But this House, which will double its length to an hour, “has changed a lot and the characters are completely different,” she promises. And with multidisciplinary artists around her, “it’s been pretty grand.”

“We acknowledge we’re all pushing our limits on this one — we’re all out of our comfort zone,” Corning says. ” It’s an incredibly vulnerable show; it’s incredibly vulnerable when you really know what you’re dancing about.”

The work she does is deeply personal, deeply engrained in the body and soul. For example, she would “sit and talk and analyze this thing” with Gresh “and find ways into it — it’s so much fun! These are people who are smart, who are there, who are present beyond present.”

So de la Reza might turn into a rehearsal director, helping some of the others. And Dempsey, an accordionist in her professional life, “picks up dance movement faster than most dancers.” Gresh keeps laughing — “he calls himself a baby rhino in a bunch of gazelles.”

They’ve all had to adjust, though. The movement might have to switch legs because of a leg or hip problem because “it’s all part of the Glue Factory.” But according to Corning, there is so much other movement available that the richness of the dance still takes hold.

And that made the process so much more satisfying.

For example, she was enamored with Rachelle Tolentino from her very beginning in Pittsburgh. The ballerina led the company audition for Corning at the Alloy, whereupon she asked her to join the company. “You’re exactly what I’m looking for.” But the knee problem that had curtailed Rachelle Tolentino’s career prevented that.

But a couple of years ago, she coached Corning in her one-woman show, REMAINS. “I had an ‘aha’ moment,” recalls Corning, “as I watched her walk. Seasoned artists can simply walk and say as much as a young dancer does in fifty pirouettes.”

De la Reza hasn’t been coached in 20 years while co-founder of Attack, leading Corning to remark that de la Reza’s experience here is like learning Greek and then immediately performing a theater piece using it.

Corning and Kaddar traded rehearsal time between Morgantown and Pittsburgh, about 90 minutes. She notes, admiringly, that he was “alway on time.” As for Gresh, well, “He’s a honey. That guy’s the real deal — he’s not up there doing lines.”

And Dempsey, an accordionist, she didn’t know that she would “really” be dancing. In fact, she wrote a note to Corning saying, in part, “In two decades of performing, I’ve never been quite so terrified.” But if she “could choose any artist with whom to take this lead, it wold be Beth.”

 

 


Dance Beat: Let’s Hear It For the Girls — Maria, Jasmine, Alexandra

March 23, 2015

MARIA CARUSO SCARF ARABESQUE

MARIA. Maria Caruso closed one door — performing with her company, Bodiography, here in Pittsburgh at the Byham Theater — and opened another, a solo career that will take her far afield. But before we get to that, she choreographed (and will continue in the future) a duet, Light By Love, quite lovely, yet controlled for Misa Pascarella and Dan Savage, with Theo Teris at the piano (a nice touch) and then moving on to Follow the Light, a ballet set to Cold Play, which showed how she has developed her rock roots with a larger sense of phrasing. Her solo, My Journey, relied on her own rock solid performing style. The piece was obviously heartfelt, detailed and much of it quite literal as Maria went through her life, following her own ups and downs through a scrapbook of memories, especially significant for those of us who have been there from the start.

JASMINE FLOWJASMINE. Jasmine Hearn’s inviting face tops an always curious body. But it also harbors a probing intellect that comes up with such intriguing concepts. Her latest at PearlArts Studio was a “response” (her favorite word lately) to the Bill T. Jones/Keith Haring collaboration called Long Distance at New York’s The Kitchen in 1982. There Bill created a dance  using the sound of Keith’s brushstrokes as he painted on the wall behind them. Jasmine paired with Chicago artist Ayanah Moore on this occasion for what they titled FLOW. Judging from a brief clip on YouTube, the women were more connected, both with each other and involving the audience. Ayanah’s large brown paper swatch had microphones attached to the perimeter so that her brushstrokes resonated more fully. Jasmine, in the meantime, worked the room — she has a real sense of personal theater, tempered with a naturalness that is always engaging. Beginning in a kneeling position, her back to most of the audience, she undulated, rising and arching her back to expose her breasts. Her sexuality was a part of it all — covered, uncovered, bared and recovered. But it was only a part of the response, where the movement could curl up and pop open, mingle with the audience around her, engaged in shadowing and playful repartee with Ayanah and jiggle with ecstasy. There were a few snatches of whispered songs, too. Oh, and Ayanah gradually uncovered the message: BOTH WANTING BOTH LOVING, written twice in raw, mirrored images. ALSO: Check out Jasmine’s gritty/elegant stop/start, always fascinating video with Paul at jasmine+Paul, also available for subscription:

https://www.patreon.com/creation?hid=1739587&rf=364407&ty=1

ALEXANDRA. Lastly, Alexandra Bodnarchuk just sent notice that her cross-disciplinary dance project (also with video) has been accepted for the 2015 Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival. It’s called Dance From the Inside Out, but hey, let Alexandra tell you about it in her message: click on  DFIO.

 

 


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