PIFOF: Cirque Éloize Hotel

October 18, 2018

 

 

Pittsburgh has become a favorite stomping ground for Cirque du Soleil and I have to admit that I have seen virtually everything the venerable Montreal troupe has to offer.

So as I took my seat at the Benedum Center for the PIFOF world premiere of Hotel, I wondered what else this other Montreal circus troupe, Cirque Éloize, could do to impress.

There was much to tickle my fancy.

Montreal has become a hotbed of circus arts and fostered a number of artists and troupes that tour the globe. Soleil is the most famous through their immersive tent shows, Las Vegas productions and the arena performances.

But Hotel showed that the Montreal cirque community has a lot of depth and varying personalities, probably fed by Canada’s National Circus School located there. Hotel was a show that took place in a stylized, Art Deco-inspired lobby, where guests and staffers used the extra long reservation desk, a curvilinear sofa and a geometric backdrop (two triangles with a cube wedged between) as an entertainment playground.

We’ve also seen several stage performances, most notably with the Pittsburgh Symphony. Cirque Éloize doesn’t have razzle dazzle body-enhancing glittering painted costumes (save for a “celebrity” who came and went and surprisingly did not contribute much). Instead the focus was on timing — to the millisecond.

For this was a three ring circus condensed onto a proscenium stage. At times there were multiple acts and stunts overlapping each other — audience members had their pick of performers sliding behind the desk, a head popping out of the sofa or elevated performers peeking from behind the wings.

When the spotlight was on a single act, there were jaw-dropping routines that had a healthy, imaginative dose of choreographed connections. They literally provided twists and turns that kept my interest — the rope girl, almost a tomboy, who tied herself in knots, a juggling act full of invention, human stacks. And they created their own house band.

This Hotel lobby and its inhabitants became an oversized jungle gym, a fun house for all and someplace that I’d like to visit again.

 

 

 

 


PIFOF: Manifold

October 10, 2018

We see plenty of ballet onstage at the Benedum Center, mostly from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, but we’ve never seen a ballet (of sorts) projected onto the facade of the former movie palace.

Then came Manifold. There it was — an eight-minute example of projection mapping by Filip Roca and set to an original score by Chinese composer Wang Lu.

In a deft touch that only the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts can bring, an orchestra comprised of Pittsburgh musicians led by conductor David Nesta Curtis, brought it all to life.

This was updated Tchaikovsky in a way, packed with waltzes, adagios and sweeping symphonic sounds that closely inspired the ever-changing Benedum patterns as they crawled and swirled across the architecture in response to the music.

The next time we will hear Tchaikovsky will be at Christmas, of course, with the annual production of the Nutcracker.

 

 


PIFOF: Beyond

October 2, 2018

It’s the signature face of the Festival of Firsts, a tunnel-like structure that sits in a parking lot across Penn Avenue from the Benedum center. Unlike a tunnel, it’s rather transparent, but ringed with lights that have a computer masterminding their dazzling patterns and music.

This immersive experience is relatively short — 5-6 minutes — but you’ll find Beyond a combination of the space age vibe found in Close Encounters of the Third Kind and the funky aura of a disco ballroom, which might inspire you to move and groove. The above video is just a sampling — events like this are always better in person. And although the Downtown setting is rather bright at night, it’s still an impressive happening.

To avoid unnecessary waiting, the Cultural Trust wants you to reserve your time of entry (a free ticket) online. Click on Beyond!

 


PIFOF: Quantum Theatre

October 1, 2018

The Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts comes around once every five years and I’ve seen virtually everything that its sponsor, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, has had to offer. I feel like it’s taken me around the world and transformed the way I looked at dance in a cross-disciplinary, cross-distance way, with art and theater from an astonishing number of foreign countries.

I began my journey this year at home, with Pittsburgh’s own Quantum Theatre and its production of Chatterton, which actually turned out to be a mini-journey all its own at Trinity Cathedral Downtown (across from the Duquesne Club on Sixth Avenue).

The opening night audience gathered for a glass of hard cider (or water), free to meander among the graves in the churchyard, holding Native American, English, French and American leaders. It was ghostly in its own right, but we were about to have yet another eerie experience inside.

Then we collectively stepped into the historic space itself to get instructions from artistic director Karla Boos. We had received cards that would split us into three groups.

Following her talk, we assembled behind our guides and immediately began scurrying up and down stairs (there is an elevator as well) and in and out of back rooms where various scenes unfolded before our eyes.

It was yet another epically grand Quantum production — is there any other? — where a number of themes swirled though the recesses of the church. The story itself is an original work based on Peter Ackroyd’s book about Thomas Chatterton, an 18th century poet who committed suicide at age 17 and ultimately became a heroic figure in Romantic art.

It was a century later when his name was thrust into a second round of fame. Henry Wallis painted The Death of Chatterton, which was modeled by Victorian author George Meredith.

But it is a second painting, a portrait of an older Chatterton, that sparked a mystery with many questions to be answered, questions that we still have today. What is Truth? Or Reality? What is Fake?

It traverses time, from the present back to the 18th and 19th centuries, sometimes darkly Dickensian, sometimes comedic, always intriguing, mysterious at times. Don’t expect to understand or hear it all.

How they put it all together is anyone’s guess and it would take several viewings to satisfy my curiosity about it all. The cast of 11, led by people like theatrical icon Martin Giles, who also partnered in writing Chatterton with Karla Boos, and the inimitable Helena Ruoti, took on multiple roles with theatrical skill and flair.

Behind the scenes, so to speak, Stephanie Mayer-Staley created rooms with tons of atmosphere, Robert C.T. Steel made highly detailed costumes to delineate various eras, C. Todd Brown lit the church niches with grace and the astonishingly talented Joe Seamons created projections, from flying doves to a church facade to a fire that boggled the imagination.

There’s a bonus (as if it was needed) with Chatterton. A local chef provides a sit-down meal at intermission. Ours was Kate Romane of Black Radish Kitchen, featuring cucumber salad with creme fraiche, meatballs and hot sausage, polenta with fresh corn and basil and white beans with sage. Light, delicious fare with wonderful conversation as we sat around a communal table.

It gave us renewed energy as Chatterton switched gears and put us in new groups for the second act and that Seamons’ finale.

Like a giant jigsaw puzzle evolving before our ever-moving eyes, we gladly immersed ourselves in this mobile form of theatricality, simultaneously becoming a part of history and the current political climate as our own questions began to dance through our minds.

The ghost of Thomas Chatterton Jonathan D. Visser) hovering behind George Meredith (Tim McGeever).

Through Oct. 28.

 


Dance Beat: New Security Regulations

October 1, 2018

FYI Arts Lovers: The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust will be instituting new security measures in the near future. Below are the details from the Trust:

 After a thorough benchmarking and vetting process against numerous performing arts venues across the country, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is launching enhanced guest entry practices for the Byham Theater, the August Wilson Center, and Benedum Center for the Performing Arts. These practices are designed with the convenience of our guests in mind to ensure a safe environment in which outstanding performances in the arts can be enjoyed by all.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust always seeks to meet national best practices regarding the safety of our guests. These new protection measures will now require persons entering or reentering our largest performing arts venues to be screened by our onsite security personnel. Our staff will utilize equipment and practices similar to those in place at airports, concerts or sporting events. The new screening process will include a walk through metal detectors and bag inspections. Not only are more and more performing arts venues switching to similar practices, but venue third-party users and renters are also now requiring theater operators to implement these new security measures to better protect their audiences.

These practices will begin to roll out separately at each theater:

  • Byham Theater: October 13th, 2018 during Deborah Colker Dance: Cão sem Plumas
  • August Wilson Center: October 20th, 2018 during Soul Sessions Faith Evans
  • Benedum Center for the Performing Arts: November 16th, 2018 during Billy Gardell

“We’re always excited about providing amazing experiences and performances in the arts, while at the same time, increasing our ability to reassure our guests they are well protected while with us,” Kevin C. Wilkes, Chief Security Officer of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust stated. “We’ve made sure our new systems utilize the most current and effective screening technology without interfering with the arts experience.”

While these new procedures were designed with audience convenience in mind, it is highly recommended that guests arrive to these venues up to 45 minutes earlier than they have in the past, to ensure a timely entry into the venue for the start of the performance. To entice guests to take advantage of this early entry into the theater, the affected venues will offer discounted drinks and concessions during a “Happy Half Hour” prior to each show.

 


Dance Beat: An Exciting Dance Fall (Part 2)

September 26, 2018

Last time, the dance roster included what might be termed the major players, given budget and presence. But it is the small arts initiatives, driven by individual passion and imagination, that give Pittsburgh its richness, its true essence. Try to take in a performance during the coming year:

Bodiography.

Bodiography. After a summer that took her to Israel’s Karmiel Festival, Maria Caruso is on a hyper-energetic track this fall. She and her company head for Butler Community College’s Succop Theater Sept. 29. Only a month or so later, they head for the Frick Museum and An Evening with Ballets Russes and Bodiography (Nov. 10), inspired by Isabelle de Borchgrave’s costumes, then head to the Byham Nov. 16-17 for La Roche College Presents Multiplicity, a collection of new works by company members and guest company, BCB Charlotte. After the holidays, the company introduces The Spring Gala (Byham, Mar. 1), a prelude before a European tour to the United Kingdom, Germany and France (Mar. 6-20). They return for an evening dedicated to Martha Graham, Horizons, with the Graham 2 company (Byham, Apr. 26-27). Click on Bodiography.

Corningworks. Beth Corning began her 10th anniversary season of The Glue Factory Project, for dancers over 40, with in the waiting room, a surreal and mystical dance theater piece about death. Come Mar.27-31 at the New Hazlett Theater, though, she turns to IN THE MIDST, “an immersive, sensory exploration, extravaganza.” Click on Glue.

fireWALL dance theater. With yet another premiere, Elisa-Marie Alaio will explore Past Lives, where “we experience many aspects of ourselves playing different roles throughout, reincarnating in different bodies or beings,” before taking her artistic wares to The Royal Family Theater in New York. Carnegie Stage, Nov. 7-9, 11. Wall.

Maree ReMalia. This gentle, yet meticulous choreographer will reveal the culmination of her latest collaboration, A Letter Compiled From All Letters, with multi-media artist Gigi Gatewood and performer Lillian Cho, along with a coterie of local dancers. (New Hazlett, June 14-15).

Jessie Factor.

Slippery Rock University. Another of our wonderful dance universities, SRU, begins with 60×60, 60 second dances to 60 musical compositions (Sept. 27, McKay Dance Studio, SRU). Next the students will tackle Bill T. Jones’ D-Man in the Waters (Part 1) and Jacques Heim’s Bench at the SRU Faculty and Guest Artist Concert (Oct. 21, The Succop Theater at Butler County Community College). The SRU Department of Dance Fall Concert will be a showcase of diverse works by faculty and emerging student choreographers (SRU, Swope Recital Hall), followed by the Winter Concert, with choreography by SRU dance majors, faculty and guest artists (Feb. 2 Succop Theater). Contact Melanie Martin, 724-738-2036.

Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight.

slowdanger. Our first real glimpse of Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight following their recent residency at the prestigious Springboard Danse Montreal this summer. See them at Oct. 6 at 937 Gallery Downtown (2nd floor above Bricolage). Click on slowdanger.

STAYCEE PEARL dance project. The name is enough to pique the interest: There’s a Pink Poodle in My Arcadia. It’s the Pittsburgh Center for the Arts Artist of the Year event. SPdp and Soy Sos collaborate with artist Atticus Adams (Pittsburgh Center for the Arts, Sept. 28). Next is the National Perfomance Network at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater (Dec. 14-15), with …on being…, which will help to broaden “the conversation about race and blackness.”  It’s a return to Octavia Butler, based on her final novel, Fledgling, during the Kelly Strayhorn’s  10th anniversary celebration (Apr. 12-13). And the company will venture into an impressive effort for Pearl PRESENTS — three days featuring both local and national artists like Sidra Bell Dance New York, slowdanger, Island Moving Company and Keerati Jinakunwhiphat (New Hazlett Theater, June 6-9). Click on Pearl.

 

Kelsey Bartman.

 

Texture Contemporary Ballet. Texture is ready to hit the ground running, with The Speed of Sound (New Hazlett, Sept. 28-30). Known for its prolific turnout, it’s the 11th installment of the WIP Choreography Project (Carnegie Stage, Nov. 10). Then head to more Uncharted waters to end the season (New Hazlett, Mar. 22-24). Click on Texture.

 

 

 

Christopher Williams

The Blanket. This group debuted last year with a bang, featuring works by Lucinda Childs. Now there is a mouthwatering follow-up with two companion pieces by New York choreographer, dancer, puppeteer and Bessie Award winner Christopher Williams, inspired by medieval tales, Ursula and the 11,000 Virgins and The Golden Legend. (New Hazlett, Oct. 26-28). Click on Blanket. 

Photo: Katie Ging

The Pillow Projects/Ellipses Condition. Whether one title or the other, there’s always plenty food for thought from Pearlann Porter and John Lambert. Catch The Sessions Upstairs, where musicians and dancers workshop ideas and reveal the creative process (Oct. 13), The Invisible Jazz Labs, where artists and scientist improvise together (Nov. 9) and the return of (A) Second Saturday (note the shift in title) where drummer Dave Throckmorton joins the Pillow gang for a night of revelry (Dec. 8). Click on Pillow.

 


Dance Beat: An Exciting Dance Fall (Part I)

September 25, 2018

The fall has a special place in dance. Not the season upon us, but the purposeful way of quickly changing levels and embracing the floor. However, Fall 2018 may truly become a singularly memorable time in Pittsburgh dance. Various organizations in the dance community have put together fascinating prospects or, in one instance, have gone above and beyond in fashioning a season.

That would be…

Point Park University. The raves are already in for this knockout dance season, worthy of any professional company. The Conservatory of Dance will properly christen the new PNC Theatre in the Pittsburgh Playhouse Downtown Dec. 7-16 with a stellar line-up that includes international choreographic stars like Nacho Duato and Aszure Barton, plus Ballet Met artistic director and former New York City Ballet soloist Edwaard Liang and Tyce Diorio, known from Do You Think You Can Dance. The season will conclude Apr. 18-21, 2019 with established names like Pittsburgh native Kyle Abraham and ballet superstar Christopher Wheeldon, plus Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre favorite Dwight Rhoden of Complexions and Uri Sands, former principal dancer at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and now an artistic director of Minneapolis’ heralded TU Dance. The Contemporary Choreographers this year at the George Rowland White Performance Studio Oct. 11-Oct. 14 will include Christopher Huggins, Point Park professor Mark Burrell and rising talents Jae Man Too and Peter Chu. Home-grown talents take to the stage with plenty of new works from Faculty Dance Concert (GRWPS, Feb. 21-Feb. 24) and the Student Choreography Project I (GRWPS, Nov. 16-18) and Student Choreography Project II (GRWPS, Apr. 5-7). Tickets: Playhouse.

Yabin Wang Dance

Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts. One of my favorite events, a time when the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust assembles international, national and regional premieres. In fact, some of the bigger cities around will follow the ‘Burgh’s lead. Joan Didion’s THE WHITE ALBUM goes on to be part of Brooklyn Academy of Music’s (BAM) Next Wave Festival. And Deborah Colker Dance (Brazil) will appear at Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. following its performance here. It will reveal Downtown Pittsburgh as it’s never been seen before. Explore the inner recesses of Trinity Cathedral in Quantum Theatre’s Chatterton or the Cirque Éloize Hotel (Montreal). Political satire permeates In the Tunnel (Israel) and patriotic passion infuses Cri Des Nago (Haiti). There are family-friendly events like Androcles and the Lion (Denmark) with hammocks instead of seats and the interactive Gab Squad (U.S.). Visit 5 Downtown galleries like Wood Street’s Nonotak or the geeky whimsy of Machine Culture at SPACE, all free. Also take in the mapping of the Benedum Center in Manifold with an original score or let lights wash over you in Beyond, near the Benedum. Pittsburgh should feel like the center of the artistic universe. Check it all out by clicking on PIFOF!

Deborah Colker Dance

Pittsburgh Dance Council. Deborah Colker Dance, so in demand right now (Byham Theater, Oct. 13), and Yabin Wang Dance are part of both the PIFOF and PDC series. Wang, considered China’s own superstar choreographer, will present the North American premiere of Moon Dance (Byham, Nov. 2). Notice the prominence of women choreographers, which will continue with lyric beauty of Jessica Lange Dance (Byham, Jan. 26) and red-hot Camille A. Brown & Dancers (August Wilson Center, Mar. 9-10). The sentimental favorite might be Paul Taylor Dance Company, though, a Pittsburgh native who went on to make his mark on modern dance and recently passed away (Byham, Feb. 23). And the ever popular Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo promises to end on a high note (Byham, Apr. 13). Click on Pittsburgh Dance Council.

 

Cynthia Oliver

Kelly Strayhorn Theater. KST celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, a real achievement for this vital community and visionary organization. It will unwind this signature season, supported by the prestigious Bloomberg Philanthropies, with resident company Phillippine-American Performing Arts in Halo-Halo (Sept. 22) and Cynthia Oliver’s evening-length dance theater work, Virago-Man Dem, which”navigates stereotypes, rumors and half-truths that surround black masculinities” (Sept. 28-29). Choreographer and dancer Trevor Miles joins with visual artist and VJ Julie Mallis for a FRESHWORKS RESIDENCY dealing with the opiod crisis Dec. 7 at KST’s Alloy Studios.  While hosting the Annual National Performance and Visual Arts Network Conference, KST will present Pittsburgh: Live on Stage (Dec. 14-15) with STAYCEE PEARL dance project, Bill Shannon, Angwenique Wingfield, Afro Yacqui Music Collective, slowdanger and Blak App M.A.D.U.S.A.  Particularly exciting, even in the face of all that came before, is the always thought-provoking  David Rousséve in the premiere of REALITY :: Halfway to Dawn (Feb. 1-2). Click on KST.

Mozart in Motion – Amanda Cochrane and Yoshiaki Nakano.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. PBT opens on an elegant note with Mozart in Motion, featuring works by ballet masters George Balanchine and Jiri Kylian (Benedum, Oct. 26-28). It brings back a new Jorden Morris production of The Great Gatsby (Benedum, Feb. 8-17), which the company presented twice, the original 1987 production and, keeping the Peter Farmer’s scenery and costumes, again in 2008. Could the third time be a charm? And then it’s another encore, this one with Dance Theatre of Harlem at the August Wilson Center (Mar. 15-24). The companies elevate the partnership by performing together in Stanton Welch’s Orange. Of course there is the annual Nutcracker (Benedum, Nov. 30-Dec. 27) and a season-ending Sleeping Beauty (Benedum, May 10-12). Click on PBT.

Attack Theatre. Once again, the Attackers are on the move with a It begins with the art of making dance in Some Assembly Required (Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, Sept. 22 and Braddock Public Library, Sept. 23). Nothing is ever done the same way twice, including The Down and Dirty Dance Party at the Hall at Spirit (Nov. 2) underneath an immersive light installation by Ian Brill and pop-up performances throughout the night. Well, maybe In Defense of Gravity, which the company revisits Nov. 29-Dec. 1 at the Pittsburgh Opera. But then comes the New Hazlett Theater for the premiere of The Rube Goldberg Variations (Apr. 25-27). For more, click on Attack.

More coming…


Dance Beat: Paul and Arthur, Arthur and Paul

September 20, 2018

How sad that two dance giants chose to make their exit in such a quick succession!

Paul Taylor is one of two modern dance choreographers born in the Pittsburgh area (the other being Martha Graham). He told me that he lived here in early childhood, but now his birthplace is being listed as Wilkinsburg. Much has been written about him, but I was fortunate enough to speak with him on several occasions. One was especially amusing. Years ago I went into the Pittsburgh Dance Council to participate in a conference call. But there the connection was disrupted at least 6 or 7 times. Through it all Paul was sincerely amused and patient. And, of course, he still gave a wonderful interview. So when his company comes to Pittsburgh, once again for the Dance Council on Feb. 23 next year, we’ll be viewing the performance with a special embrace.

We’ve also been lucky to host the Dance Theatre of Harlem on numerous occasions, again through the wonderful efforts of PDC. Then the company established a connection with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 2017 and will bring them back in March for a two-week encore. I was able to interview Arthur Mitchell at the Dance Theatre of Harlem and watch him direct a class. What a presence! What a force of nature! How he transformed ballet!

Put these upcoming performances on your must-see calendar. They will be even more meaningful to those who love dance.

 


Dance Beat: A New Space Downtown

September 18, 2018

Point Park University has done it right. It has finished a substantial expansion to its Downtown campus — the new Pittsburgh Playhouse, a theater complex just across from the Tower at PNC Plaza that will add to Pittsburgh’s already vibrant growth.

The costume shop.

A dress form in the window of the office.

Through the new Playhouse, PPU is embracing the future while it pays homage to the past. The new building features three facades from the buildings that it replaced. Sections of palladium windows from the Stock Exchange peek into the prop shop. The tops extend into the costume shop, while department heads share an office that once belonged to the president, separated by a rich wood partition. There are marble staircases to discover, stained glass ceilings and a quirky elevator to ponder, all of it making for an intriguing, yet seamless construction.

Stained glass ceilings.

Three theaters dominate the premises. The crown jewel is the PNC Theatre, seating 500 with golden curtain and seats and warm wooden tones that undoubtedly will impress visitors. I was likewise impressed by the sight lines and the fact that dancers will be visible from head to toe, even from the front row.

The Highmark Theatre is just across the lobby, which features the  box office and a bar. A black box theater that holds 200, the Highmark has flexible seating and a hangar door that connects with the lobby. Another heavy folding door opens the theater into the street, allowing for more flexibility.

The grand staircase.

The Rauh Theatre is the third, a black box with 99 seats in its flexible plan. It has mesh catwalks, allowing stagehands to hang the lighting. Using new technology, the mesh doesn’t interfere with the lighting design. It will also be the first to house a production, Cabaret, beginning Oct. 26.

During the course of the year the Playhouse will have a “soft” opening, so to speak. The Cabaret production will be followed by the Highmark (Coram Boy, Nov. 16, another relevant Tomé Cousin production), then the PNC Theater (Winter Dance, an all-star line-up on Dec. 7) to allow staff time to acquaint themselves with their new environment.

Transparency will be key in the new building. Presumably taking a cue from the windows of the George Rowland White Performance Center  that open onto the street and the world beyond, the scenery department will offer a similar experience for Pittsburgh pedestrians. But there will also be internal windows that allow visitors to view the theaters and studios when there are no performances in progress. The old box office in the Oakland facility felt cramped, but the new lobby/box office is spacious and also has its own window to the street.

View from the top of the stairs.

There is a cafe on the second floor. While the hours have yet to be decided, one of numerous details that still must be settled, it will eventually open onto its own patio. And the students/performers have a lounge, complete with wireless connections and televisions that enable them to keep track of the rehearsal process.

A real plus will be the addition of a sound stage, the only one Downtown, that extends off the indoor loading dock, big enough for a car.

But locals will have to hold their horses, so to speak, if they want to use the facilities. PPU already has an extremely busy schedule and the powers-that-be will have to see how this 90,000 square foot expansion will respond to its growing reputation.

 


On Stage: Summer at the CLO

September 11, 2018

By now, most readers know that CrossCurrents focuses on all things dance, especially when the local scene tapers off, as it did this summer.

However, Pittsburgh’s Civic Light Opera took up the slack, with a series of musicals that had plenty to offer in differing choreographic styles. In a thumbnail, there was:

“On Your Feet!” cast.

 

On Your Feet! A musical deserving of the exclamation point. Once again it was great to hear the surging Latin music with a heavy-duty rock beat pioneered by Gloria Estefan and the Miami Sound Machine and to delve into their back story. Who knew how they had to forge their own success? With bright colors so reminiscent of Miami beaches and Serge Trujillo’s equally vivacious choreography, audiences left the Benedum Center on a wave of rhythm.

“Titanic” cast.

Titanic. By comparison, this musical was a study in stillness. With the operatic underpinnings in the score, there was a rightful emphasis on vocal excellence in the cast, who delivered the score with great authority. Director David Bell choreographed the one folk dance, quite lovely and lively, but the stately presence of the stories of the doomed ship (FYI: different from the movie). Unfortunately the much-anticipated climax of it all — the sinking — didn’t live up to expectations.

“Brigadoon”

Brigadoon. We may have Chautauqua Institution a couple of hours away, where the picturesque town blooms every summer like a colorful arts bouquet. But closer to home, Pittsburgh Civic Light Opera had Brigadoon, romantic fantasy of a village that comes to life once every hundred years.

Like the three-dimensional New York hamlet, the Pittsburgh musical proved to be the choreographic highlight of the season. So what follows is more than a thumbnail.  Local dance professionals turned out for opening night, including Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal Julia Erickson and her husband, former company member Aaron Ingley, former corps member Caitlin Peabody and director of marketing and communications Aimee DiAndrea.

Aimee turned out to be the reason for their attendance. Garen Scribner (Harry Beaton) was a classmate of hers at the North Carolina School of the Arts. He went on to become a soloist at San Francisco Ballet and a member of Nederlans Dans Theater.

The role of a spurned lover is generally regarded as the catalyst for much of the drama. It has been portrayed by some of the finest male dancers, including American Ballet Theatre’s Harold Laing (1954 movie with Gene Kelly), New York City Ballet principal Edward Villella (1963), Olympic ice skating champion with extensive ballet training John Curry (1980) and NYCB principal Robert Fairchild in the 2017 staging at Lincoln Center by choreographer Christopher Wheeldon. Scribner held his own in that illustrious company during the Pittsburgh production’s Sword Dance and the ensuing chase scene.

Brigadoon is a dance musical with original choreography — looking so Grahamesque these days — by the inimitable Agnes DeMille. The CLO’s Mark Esposito paid homage to her interpretation of Scottish Highland dances, marked by a proud carriage, beautiful footwork and sweeping patterns.

But he updated some of it in intriguingly sophisticated and contemporary ways, particularly the funeral dance where Maggie mourned her unrequited love for Harry. Erica Wong captured the gravity of the moment — solemnly walking around him, yet with a heavenly poetic beauty to the phrasing — one of the real highlights of the show.

Where the dances left off, Lerner and Loewe’s panoramic melodies took hold, played with a real finesse and clarity by the orchestra. Although the scenery was stilted, with urban stairs and flat, although beautiful projections of the Irish countryside, director Dontee Kiehn staged the production with a sure touch and gave the chase scene the drama that it deserves.

With a cast/village capable of hitting all the high notes and moving powerfully through the gloaming, this production had the magic the Brigadoon is capable of delivering.

“Millie” cast.

Thoroughly Modern Millie. Ah, the Charleston, that flapper dance from the ’20’s. Millie was over the top (primarily due to Pittsburgh musical legends Lenora Nemetz and Leslie Uggams), but laced with Alex Sanchez’ oh-so-clever musical numbers: typing tappers, a Nuttycracker Suite, a Nelson Eddy operetta binge and, of course, the title song. This production was like the Bee’s Knees, a tasty drink with an undeniable kick, a zingy summer treat and the perfect conclusion to the CLO season.

Leslie Uggams and Lenora Nemetz.


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