On Stage: The Innermost Corps of Ballet

August 7, 2014
Accompanied by wife and son, Steven Hadala takes his final bow after a performance as Gamache in "Don Quixote." Photo: Aimee Waeltz

Accompanied by wife and son, Steven Hadala takes his final bow after a performance as Gamache in “Don Quixote.” Photo: Aimee Waeltz

It was a classy finish to Steven Hadala’s career as a corps de ballet member of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, where the whole company gathered around him after his final performance. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. But former PBT corps dancer Desiree Mastriano Arredondo, who knew Hadala briefly during her career with PBT, wrote to me following the article. “I just wanted to point out that PBT honors all of its members, in my opinion,” she said in her email. “When I retired four months pregnant in 1998 to move to Houston with my husband and soon-to-be child, [artistic director Patricia] Wilde gave me a performance of the Scotch Lass in [George Balanchine’s] “Scotch Symphony” and presented me with flowers after my performance. It was a beautiful send off, and one I will never forget!”

Steven Hadala (Drosselmeyer) asks for a kiss from Alexandra Kochis (Marie) in "The Nutcracker." Photo: Rich Sofranko

Steven Hadala (Drosselmeyer) asks for a kiss from Alexandra Kochis (Marie) in “The Nutcracker.” Photo: Rich Sofranko



On Stage: Pittsburgh Ballet — Holding on to Tradition

March 6, 2014
Julia Erickson Photos: Rich Sofranko

Julia Erickson Photos: Rich Sofranko

Under artistic director Terrence Orr, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has developed a theatrical path reminiscent of his alma mater, American Ballet Theatre, one of a few American companies to do so. Most others have built some variation on the speed and contemporary flair of George Balanchine’s New York City Ballet.

Alexandra Kochis

Alexandra Kochis

Mr. Orr mounted four separate casts for the company’s latest encore of Swan Lake, which produced backstage drama all its own when it was reduced to three. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Gabrielle Thurlow and Nurlan Abougaliev in The Sleeping Beauty Photos: Duane Rieder

Gabrielle Thurlow and Nurlan Abougaliev in The Sleeping Beauty Photos: Duane Rieder

His balletic philosophy will apparently continue as PBT celebrates its 45th anniversary season next year, where four of the productions will be large and classically oriented. Given classical ballet’s limited full-length repertoire, we will again see The Sleeping Beauty, always a challenge for the company due to its pristine technique, and the annual Nutcracker.

Alexandra Kochis in La Bayadere

Alexandra Kochis in La Bayadere

Amanda Cochrane and Robert Moore in Beauty and the Beast

Amanda Cochrane and Robert Moore in Beauty and the Beast

Mr. Orr has also chosen La Bayadere, another Russian masterpiece, full of exotic aromas. He has subsequently reached into his own past for Lew Christensen’s Beauty and the Beast, a marketable title and apparently garnering good reviews, but choreographed in 1958.

That leaves the singular repertory night, next year moving from the August Wilson Center, currently an arts question mark due to financial difficulties, back to the Byham Theater.

PBT only announced Dwight Rhoden’s 7th Heaven, created for the larger Benedum Center stage and panned when it was condensed for the smaller Joyce Theater in New York. It will need trimmed for the Byham.

The other two ballets on the program were not announced. They will celebrate “innovations from its 45-year collection.” I would like to suggest Ohad Naharin’s Tabula Rasa (1986), by far the best commission that PBT has produced (I can still see it), a ballet that has been performed all over the world with PBT’s name attached.

And then there is the obvious — a brand new commission for Pittsburgh native Kyle Abraham and a harbinger for a bright future as PBT nears its 50th. He recently received the MacArthur “Genius” Award and was tapped by Wendy Whelan, principal with New York City Ballet and one of the premier ballerinas dancing today, for a duet commission in Restless Creature. Why not give him a chance?

But then, you might have some other suggestions. Email me at jvranish1@comcast.net.

Dance Studio: He Says, She Says at Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh

July 22, 2012

Photos by Katie Ging

It almost seems like a chapter out of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, except that it’s the contemporary version (sorry, West Side Story) where two teenagers fall in love at a ballet school, have a career, open their own school and settle down to raise a family.

And unlike the Verona tale, this one has a happy ending.

The couple in question is Lindsay and Steven Piper, owners of Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh. Steven studied at School of Washington Ballet, Mary Day’s well-respected school that boasts alumnae like American Ballet Theatre’s Kevin McKenzie and Amanda McKerrow, actress Shirley Maclaine and Chelsea Clinton, and Maryland Youth Ballet, Cynthia Fonseca’s well-known school that spawned ABT’s Susan Jaffe, Julie Kent and son Peter Fonseca, among others.

She, then Lindsay LaFrankie, was a homegrown Pittsburgh dancer. Dancing along separate paths, they both decided to try the newly-formed Kirov Academy in Maryland. Steven says it was virtually love at first sight and soon they both found themselves in Pittsburgh. Says Lindsay, “There was something about him…I always knew.”

She wound up at PBT, he at PBT and Nashville Ballet. And when their careers had finished, they both turned to teaching…and school. The couple both completed their degrees in 2002.

Steven satisfied a long-time interest in history with a B.A. in History and Philosophy from the University of Pittsburgh (and is now nearing completion of a masters degree in historical preservation from West Virginia University). Lindsay, as it turned out, had a head for numbers and received a B.A. in Management from Chatham College.

Typical of dancers, they balance each other in life. “It would have been difficult to do this alone,” says Steven. “We have each other to talk about problems.”

And to run the Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh, which they founded in 2006 in Bethel Park. So she teaches ballet and pointe, of course, and he ballet, variations and male technique. Steven particularly cites Mansur Kamaledinov, a fixture on the local ballet scene for years, and a great influence.

Formerly of the Bolshoi Ballet, Mansur settled in Pittsburgh. Steven took many classes, some private with the ballet master. “He was a direct link to Vaganova,” he explains. “We would always do variations after class and the students could all turn like tops.”

It shows in their annual recital, which this year featured selections from “Swan Lake,” which obviously drew from their classical experiences as professionals.

The couple have applied all of their knowledge to teaching the students there and delight in watching their progression. Lindsay handles the bookkeeping and Steven the studio management — scheduling, working with people and the like.

But they sometimes cross reference their roles. They would have to as parents to  Kyra, Ava, Stella and Griffin, ranging from age 10 to several months. Just coordinating the family scheduling — Kyra and Ava do swimming and Girl Scouts, but “just want to do ballet” — involves Lindsay’s parents, who only live a mile away. Somehow the Pipers managed to create a calendar where the couple both teach only one day a week. They’re able to have shifts the rest of the time.

But they’re more than parents. Steven says Lindsay “has a way about her — it just keeps on an even keel. She keeps me going.” His wife adds, “He’s the best dad — loving, caring, patient. And it’s a good thing he has three daughters.” (He knows how to work with a predominantly female clientele at BAP.)

It’s a great story, but it seems to run in the family — Lindsay’s parents were high school sweethearts as well. And together these “best friends” are ready to watch BAP grow, to “keep challenging the kids” and “just be happy.”

Maybe Romeo and Juliet could have benefitted from this approach.



On Stage: Dance Bundle — PBT, MAC, CMU

April 24, 2012

ON THE SHADY SIDE OF BALLET. I caught Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in one of its community performances at Shady Side Academy in Fox Chapel. It had been a couple of years and it was good to see that there was a buzz about the company at the pre-performance reception and a much larger audience than the last time I caught the company here. The repertory program, last seen at Hartwood Acres, was what could be termed accessible, with Derek Deane’s Hungry Heart…we all have one!!, sporting a mini-jukebox that played only Bruce Springsteen songs in a ’50’s setting, and Viktor Plotnikov’s Gershwin-inspired Shall We Dance, which had a better focus in the shortened format (gone were the Penguin players/penguin suits bit, barefoot ballerinas doing the worm and the mobile sofa sequence). With Christopher Budzynski still out due to a sore knee, the men’s roles moved around a bit, so Robert Moore successfully connected with his inner mojo to perform the biker dude in Hungry Heart and Joseph Parr tackled Shall We Dance. Upon viewing that ballet once again, it now seems that Mr. Plotnikov is out to poke fun at the arts, to get rid of the stuffiness. The problem still remains with his overly-active proliferation of ideas, which can turn things into a circus — just using a few threads will tie it all together and probably be funnier. Julia Erickson and Alexandre Silva were smoothly in control in George Balanchine’s Sylvia Pas de Deux, though, the gem of the evening. And there was a welcome bonus. When can you talk to someone like Richard Rauh, who commissioned Shall We Dance, while in the Richard Rauh Theater?  It was almost surreal.

NEW PARTNERS.  The always amicable Gerard Holt found some new friends in Anime’ BOP! and it may be a good partnership to pursue. Their program at the Father Ryan Arts Center in McKees Rocks was called Now See Hear: A Collaboration of Sight and Sound and served as a casual introduction to the arts, using often humorous quotes about music and dance that were projected on a screen and a full-fledged Wile E. Coyote/The Road Runner cartoon for a hilarious ending.  But that didn’t mean there wasn’t an air of sophistication. Made up of musicians from Pittsburgh’s fine professional pool (bassoonist Linda Morton Fisher, oboist Robin Driscoll and pianist Robert Frankenberry), Anime’ BOP! accompanied the cartoon characters’ antics with a Jean Francaix trio, but also delved into some fresh pieces by Andre Previn and Francis Poulenc. Usually historically-minded, Gerard provided Last of the Trojan Women, which had a lovely flow, and his co-founder Miriam Scigliano created a skillful premiere, Tryst. While the dancers, all of who studied at La Roche College under the two directors had less stage space with the trio visibly tucked into a corner, the choreographers made good use of what they had. And the dancers themselves showed a burgeoning emotional maturity as they moved.

ULTRA NEW PARTNERS. With my interest fully piqued, I headed to Carnegie Mellon University to view choreography by a science graduate in collaboration with a student composer called Darkness and Light. Physicist Dara Krute unveiled her first choreographic quintet at the Kresge Theater with original music by Adam Field. Adam showed some intriguing concepts (an out-of-tune guitar and a 60-second long duo for piano and live electronics) and a real talent for string quartets. Dara had an array of inspirations — existentialism, the emotions, abstract musicality and a fistful of dance influences — but should trim back a bit to sharpen the focus. She was at her best with a solo for Iona Newell, formerly of Louisville Ballet and Ballet Quad Cities (some might remember her Swan Queen at Pittsburgh Youth Ballet), although the ending faded. Hopefully this will set the stage, though, for more dance at CMU.

Dance Beat: M33, Shana, Martha, Linda, Speaking Of…, MAC

February 11, 2012

M33. Point Park University has recently launched a mini-site in conjunction with the world premiere of Marathon 33 (M33), which will enable the public to peek inside the development of the production with cast video blogs, interviews with the directors (longtime Pittsburgh choreographer, now of New York, Tome’ Cousin and Peter Gregus and the creative team, rehearsal videos and photos, a live Twitter feed, original music samples (by Pittsburgh composer Douglas Levine) and information about the cast and tickets. The site will be updated several times a week. M33 tells the tale of dance marathons that were all the rage during the Great Depression of the 1930’s, where people were pushed to their limits, competing for thousands of hours and sometimes just for food. The story came from June Havoc, sister to Gypsy Rose Lee, who was the subject of the great American musical, Gypsy. To keep up on developments prior to the world premiere Feb. 23, click on Point Park University’s Pittsburgh Playhouse on Facebook or go directly to the production’s wix site.

MARTHA TIDBITS. Richard Parsakian sent me some information about an auction regarded Martha Graham’s estate. It’s interesting to see the things the iconic choreographer surrounded herself with besides dancers. Click on Martha for a sampling.

SHANA. Look for Shana Simmons, a recent participant in the Kelly Strayhorn’s Next Stage Residency Program, will unveil the fruits of those labors in Relative Position, “a multi-disciplinary performance installation set in a large building,” in June. Check out Shana’s website and stay tuned.

PINA 3D. While we anxiously await the arrival of this Oscar-nominated documentary about the legendary Pina Bausch (real dance in artful 3D!), it might be worthy to note that Linda Reznik, founder of River City Artists Management, served as tour manager for the company when it brought Nelken to the U.S. in 1999. Linda saw the film in Los Angeles and gives it her highest recommendation. Of course, she knew everyone who virtually danced before her eyes.

Photo by Elizabeth Stella Hodges

SPEAKING OF…Phinehas Hodges assembled another group of young artists at the New Hazlett Theater. They ranged from spoken word artists Jim Daniels, Tameka Cage Conley and my personal favorite, Nikki Allen, to the rock inclinations of Cello Fury. Dance provided the bookends, with Bodiography’s Maria Caruso starting with Intimate Liaisons, a comforting company repertory piece that will be part of the company’s upcoming 10th anniversary at the Byham Theater Feb. 24 and 25 and featuring Kelly Basil and Chelsea Zimmer. Textures Alan Obuzor and Kelsey Bartman unveiled a lovely sculptural duet called Lacrimosa, Preisner to conclude the evening.

MAC NEWS. Mid-Atlantic Contemporary Ballet’s Gerard Holt has announced that the company has received 501(c)(3) status. Congrats!

Dance Beat: January, AWCDE on 25, APAP/Focus, MAC

January 5, 2012

New Year, New Month. January 2012 dance is up and running. See Listings.

“Watch”-ing AWCDE. The August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble has made an impact in Pittsburgh already, primarily through its unquenchable thirst for performing and some smart choreographic choices by artistic director Greer Reed. As a result, the company made my Top Ten list for 2011. Now the group’s scope is widening. Dance Magazine has placed AWCDE on its national list of 25 to Watch, certainly a terrific achievement for the fledgling group. Congrats!

Focus on Focus. The Association of Performing Arts Presenters takes over New York City’s performing arts spaces every January. The dance wing is called Focus Dance and comes in several tiers, with events at The Joyce Theater, Dance Gotham (New York University’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts on Washington Square South) and Studio 4 (New York City Center) Jan. 6-8. There will be a strong Pittsburgh presence this year. Kyle Abraham will perform at The Joyce on a program with Kate Weare, in whose group Point Park grad Luke Murphy will dance. But River City Artists Management’s Linda Reznik will showcase a good portion of her complete dance roster at Studio Four, including the above-mentioned August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble (see Facebook) and Duquesne University Tamburitzans. (Others will include LehrerDance, Chicago Tap Theatre, Kun-Yang Lin/Dancers, Las Vegas Contemporary Dance Theater and Dance Now! Miami.) And surprise(!), Braddock mayor John Fetterman will be a featured speaker at APAP. A Harvard Kennedy School graduate and leader of “Allegheny County’s poorest community,” he will talk about his rebuilding efforts, which have garnered national attention. Check out Pop City’s video on John, which is the opening segment on the APAP website.


Have a MAC. Mid-Atlantic Contemporary Ballet (MAC) artistic director Gerard Holt, former member of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, will start up a new ballet class, geared to dancers 14 years or older who wanted to start ballet again or have a basic knowledge of the vocabulary. He promises “a fun and light approach,” with “ability-appropriate positions, exercises and combinations for the barre and center floor.” Gerard joins the dance faculty at the Father Ryan Arts Center in McKees Rocks. Click on schedule for more information.


On Stage: Welcoming a new MAC

January 21, 2011

Gerard Holt is following his dream and, as a result, Pittsburgh has a new ballet company. Called Mid-Atlantic Contemporary Ballet Company (MAC Ballet for short), it’s making its debut Saturday night at the Father Ryan Performing Arts Center in McKees Rocks.

Gerard is best known as a former corps member of the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and remained in the Pittsburgh area to teach, primarily at La Roche College’s dance program. There he and Miriam Scigliano, co-founder of MAC Ballet, talked about starting a new company.

“I pretty much ran the department at La Roche that way,” says Gerard. “But it was hard to do both, to keep the academic setting and still prepare the dancers for a professional environment.”

“I had known for some time that I was going to have to make a major change,” he admits. So with Miriam’s help, the two started the non-profit paper work in the spring of 2008. But Gerard knew that he would have to make a major change to take things to the next level, so he resigned from La Roche last year.

The two founders have designed a program around their own choreography for the company’s initial performance. Miriam will contribute “Now We Rise,” a “haunting,” but inspirational piece set to music by Nick and Molly Drake, and a duet to Rachminoff that was “well-received” when it was performed  in New York City by La Roche dancers. Gerard has created “A Tribute to Vivaldi” and is collaborating with local pianist Erica Lynn on a Schubert work.

Now Gerard is happily facing a different kind of challenge, teaching at Sandra Lynn’s School of Dance to pay the bills and moving around his dancers’ work schedules. It’s obviously worth it all to him because Gerard’s passion comes through as he talks about bringing another professional outlet to Pittsburgh dancers.

“You get to the higher levels and there’s nowhere to go for people who really want to stay here,” he explains. “Not everyone can dance with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, Dance Alloy or Attack Theatre. I want to be able to contribute. Being able to support yourself as an artist is very important to me.”

See Listings for more information.

Dance Beat: PBT Ball, Bill T., Laurel Ballet

November 29, 2010

RHAPSODY IN BLUE. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre moved over to the Westin Convention Center for its latest ball, Pointe in Time. Richard Parsakian spun his magic in the entrance with a great display of Gershwin Era memorabilia and clothing. As usual the performances separated this from the usual benefit fare, with snippets from the upcoming season, including George Balanchine’s “Valse Fantaisie,” Ben Stevenson’s “Dracula,” Viktor Plotnikov’s new Gershwin ballet and the grand pas de deux from “The Nutcracker.” Attendees enthusiastically got into the act with their own dancing to Gary Racan and the studio e band.

A THING GOING ON. Bard College scored big in a package deal with Bill T. Jones, part of an ongoing partnership. On Dec. 1, only days before the two-time Tony Award winner and MacArthur “Genius” is scheduled to be a recipient of the Kennedy Center Honors, the choreographer will visit the college campus for a pair of attractions. The first, “Making and Doing” invites the audience to “view, critique and discuss” three student compositional projects with both the students and Mr. Jones. It will be followed by “Thought and Action,” including a solo improvisation called “Floating the Tongue.” For more information, go to www.billtjones.org.

GIVING BACK. Laurel Ballet is participating in Westmoreland Gives Day of Giving on Dec. 1. From 6 a.m. to 9 p.m., the company will receive all donations plus a portion of the $100,000 pool. For more info, click on Westmoreland Gives.

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…

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. 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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