On Stage: Festival Round-up at 3Rivers and More…

June 26, 2013

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For once the weather behaved itself — sort of — during The Three Rivers Arts Festival and concurrent events like the Pittsburgh JazzLive International Festival, Americans for the Arts national conference and Pittsburgh Pride. Most of the rain fell overnight, except for Wednesday, and there were some threatening skies on the final Sunday…pretty good for the ‘Burgh.

In fact, the city never looked this beautiful! I hear visitors were suitably impressed and it’s no wonder why.

Veronica Corpuz, in her first outing as Festival director, set it all in a new, hip direction, without losing the populist flavor that attracts so many. Congrats to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust staff as well.

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The layout, especially the artists’ market, had an open-air “feng shui” feel that welcomed foot traffic. And the new location of the family-friendly Creativity Zone worked well, past the Point State Park bridge (and the floating Buddha) to the park central, and anchored by Vanessa German’s colorful Love House.

With new grass plantings, visitors were “forced” to walk along the river where the plantings offered a shady artistry all their own, to reach the newly-refurbished Point State Park fountain. Put it on your list for the summer.

My own list included five visits of varying lengths during the ten-day span. A brief overview with some suggestions to keep in mind for next year:

Saturday: I parked at Liberty & Smithfield, only to be engulfed by a crowd returning from the Civic Light Opera hit, 42nd Street. As I stepped onto Liberty Avenue, I saw a stage and heard some great jazz swirling around the buildings. I was early for Food Design (a look into how we see our food, with a “tasteful” combination of presentation and precision) at the Harris Theater (free under 3Rivers).

So I walked around the block. JazzLive had closed Penn Avenue and part of Ninth Street and erected three stages to keep the music flowing. Showcase Noir offered African American artistry. Put it on your calendar for next year.

After the film, I walked around 3Rivers and caught Dance Avenue, game brainchild from City of Play. Groups of ‘Burghers used cell phones and a semi-dance, mostly skipping ability to navigate an “obstacle” course along lower Penn Avenue, begging passersby to “dance” with them a la “Ellen.” (I briefly jumped into the fray.) Then it was onto the fountain and a glassware purchase.

Tuesday: I had tickets for CLO’s Seven Brides for Seven Brothers (see the review on CC), so my friend and I went in early, heading for the fountain, the artists’ market and something to eat. It was a good plan to beat the Pirates’ game crowd.

Thursday: Staycee Pearl dance project had a plum time and location. Set for 5-7 p.m. and located among the “eye” seats in Katz Plaza, the company alternated REPLACED with periods of improv for onlookers (loved the little girl from Ohio). Viola da gambist Chris McGlumphy and dj artist Herman Pearl layered an ethereal soundscape for the dancers. Afterwards I popped over to the Fairmont Hotel, which has the best bar food in town (organic chicken wings!) and a great jazz schedule. I caught the wonderful stylings of vocalist Tania Grubbs and pianist Daniel Mayo (a rotating schedule of artists Wed.-Sat. @ 7:30 p.m.). Check it out.

Friday: It was Pittsburgh at its finest. Great night. Perfect weather. Starting at the Fairmont, I walked across the Seventh Street Bridge (blocked for pedestrians) and eyeballed a full stadium(!) at PNC Park (Bucs and Giants). There The Warhol loomed with an opening reception out front, the street clogged with tents and a huge stage with a Big Band, actually  Sean Jones (trumpet) and Pittsburgh Jazz Orchestra, with guest Erik Lawrence (tenor sax). Sean and Erik then took a walk on the wild side with Herman Pearl, who also accompanied terrific performances by Staycee Pearl dance project and August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble. I had to bypass the next performance for a tour of the Warhol and then was led back across the bridge (with the remaining partygoers) by Timbeleza, a Brazilian style street band. Magical.

Saturday: I took in the juried art at the Cultural Trust Educational Center. Set against the exposed brick walls, the exhibition had a sophisticated feel. Then on to the Harris Theater once again for a documentary on Chinese dissident artist Ai Wei Wei — so informative. The life of any artist is not easy, but few deliberately use their clout and actually put themselves in danger. Then I took a walk to the New Hazlett Theater, where it was showcasing a tender shoot of its Community Supported Art (CFA) program to NSAL conference goers. The audience arrived a little late for the finale of a tour of Pittsburgh arts facilities. They quickly chucked down some light food and drink and despite a long day, they were enthusiastic about a quartet of performances: E.L.C.O. (Eclectic Laboratory Chamber Orchestra) playing Claude Vivier’s Pulau Dewata, Continuum Dance Theater in an excerpt from Objects of DESIRE, poet and oral historian Kelli Stevens Kane in with Big George and merrygogo’s excerpt from slants revisited/take away by choreographer Maree ReMalia in collaboration with David Bernabo. Terrific.

IMG_1113Sunday: All the while, Pittsburgh Pride had been going on. (Yes, the NSAL conference attendees from all over the country were surprised and suitably impressed with all the activity — and so were we native Pittsburghers.) I ping-ponged between the Sixth Street stage and its larger brother near the August Wilson Center. Rain kept me away until  a faraway glance of Maddi Landi’s (you couldn’t miss his signature dreads) proposal to Matt Bartko (see below) at the 10th St. location. Back at 6th St. I saw Hot Metal Muses, a fusion bellydance duo who performed Silk Road Musings. I wan’t paying much attention to the drag act that followed, until I noticed “Abby Lee Miller.” Yes, they were the Dance Moms. You know you’ve really made it when you get a female impersonator a la Cher, Madonna or Diana Ross. Texture Contemporary Ballet Company brought their one pointe shoe/one combat boot piece, Ice Ice, along with a couple of solos by Kelsey Bartman and Jessie Kaplan. And for my own personal finale, there was Pearlann Porter’s  Pillow Project back at the mainstage with a variation on an old piece, Combat Boots, Boxing Gloves & Prom Dresses. Only the quartet — two guys, two girls — were all dressed in vintage tulle creations from Richard Parsakian’s Eons. So appropriate to the occasion.

Snaps to all for a grand week. It looks like three of the festivals will be back (no AFTA next year). Make sure that you take it in, not necessarily for one long, tiring day, but to see a new emerging Pittsburgh through its ever-growing artistic lens. A great and free way to cross-pollinate the growth of local artists in every genre.

On to 2014…


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