On Stage: Baby’s Back!

May 25, 2017

It’s almost like a perfect storm. Dirty Dancing is on its second national tour. But ABC unveiled its own version starring Abigail Breslin and Debra Messing, which revealed a post-Kellerman life for Baby and Johnny. And if you bought the original on DVD, you could have the time of your life this week.

But that’s neither nor there. Dirty Dancing opened at Heinz Hall Tuesday evening in true encore form, taking the audience back to the ’60’s, mostly via a musical score filled with magic moments.

Good news, folks. Fo those of you who are Dirty Dancing buffs, this particular tour has changed since the original musical version hit Pittsburgh in 2015…for the better.

Of course, it is fiercely loyal to the original script, except perhaps for fleshing out a troubled relationship between Baby’s parents. Oh, and there’s not a Mrs. Schumacher and a few other bits and pieces.

Actually this hybrid version strikes a nice balance between what you expect to see and the abstract theatricality of a stage production.

It moves along with the speed of today’s lifestyle, particularly in a well-staged opening that used rapid-fire dramatic threads as it depicted the start of the Kellerman mountain resort season. The set design kept the window shutters and scenic projections from the last production, but with more sophistication to accommodate the various settings, from a golf course to Johnny’s studio.

The band, very small, with only humans on trumpet, guitar and sax in addition to keyboards and a mostly electronic score, sat above all the action — sometimes a good notion, sometimes not.

So you have to be willing to forgive a few things along the way — the cast is also smallish and, for the most part, very young and exceptionally good dancers who wouldn’t need any lessons from Johnny and Penny. (Choreographer Michele Lynch, however, took full advantage of their abilities.) They are also very talented, with supporting players who have terrific vocal chops of their own. Chante Carmel (Elizabeth) and Jordan Edwin André (Billy Kostecki) wove in and out of their characters to take a deserved center spotlight on some of the most familiar songs.

And Max and Neil Kellerman (Gary Lynch and Matt Surges) didn’t resemble their movie counterparts, but had a great rhythm to their delivery. Could it be that we are slowly becoming willing to accept others in those iconic roles? In this case, the leggy Penny (Jennifer Mealani Jones) gets a “yes,” but the equally leggy and beautiful Marjorie Houseman (Hannah Jane McMurray) gets a “no.”

Which brings us to Baby and Johnny. This couple (Rachel Boone and Christopher Tierney) came the closest of any I’ve seen. Sporting the curly Baby wig, Boone really resembled Jennifer Grey, with Tierney less so, although he had a great, thick, tossable head of hair. What really set them apart, though, was their physicality. She had Grey’s tiny body and awkwardly endearing style down pat, while he had Swayze’s muscularity and deep vocal resonance. It was uncanny how they so closely resembled the film’s dance moves (even the log scene and the practice lifts in the lake), but left room for their own interpretation.

From The Watermelons to The Lift to The Dance that took Baby out of The Corner, they helped to breathe a new vitality to a treasured story and allow the audience to revisit a treasured time in their own lives…

 

 

 

 


On Stage: Missing?

March 30, 2017

 

Beth Corning’s latest piece for The Glue Factory, What’s Missing?, was a puzzlement. Performed with noted choreographer and writer Donald Byrd, Missing (as the title indicates) asked more questions than it answered, leaving it up to the viewer to provide a personal solution.

Here Corning still seems to be basking in the dramatic shadows of her 2015 foray into the writings of playwright Samuel Beckett (Act Without Words II and ROCKABY ) and his absurdist world. She found a willing partner in Byrd, who it seems was living in a parallel universe.

Missing was filled with things that were not present. The set was minimal, relying on the New Hazlett Theater’s handsome barebones setting, a single, movable white bench and Iain Court’s lighting, where he once again proved that he can masterfully enhance a performance with subtle underpinnings of emotion and not overwhelm it.

Byrd provided the text, presumably culled from his former theatrical meditations on things like the Israel/Palestinian conflict and the Iraqi war. The textural phrases themselves were minimal and returned often, sometimes in variation. “You are right. You are wrong.” “Nothing will be resolved.”

“This piece is about nothing.” Shades of “Seinfeld?”

Then — “this piece is about everything.” No, Beckett.

Given Corning’s opinionated history, however, the two artists became a tasty combination, as she added her own humanistic touch. It all began with “I am flawed. My body isn’t perfect. The concept of the piece is flawed.”

Dressed all in black, perhaps in mourning, she sat on a bench and tried to link arms with Byrd, lean on him, connect, then move to the floor and spoon as if in bed. Dressed in neutrals (a figment of her imagination?), he was distant and then simply walked away.

Was there a death, or was he simply missing in life?

They performed the bench “ritual” multiple times for the audience, which was seated on three sides, and then with their backs to the people, a hard task for any artist. He learned common card tricks.

She performed a solo with the bench, trying to balance. He did “whirlygigs” and “waterfalls,” faster at her command, then returned to the stringent vocabulary in a speech to conclude it all.

There were many definitions of Missing to be seen and heard, some of which will only come to the surface in the hours and days after this confusing, yet compelling performance.

The contradictory words, written so long ago by Byrd, oddly presage the current political world in Washington, D.C., where the truth switches direction like quicksilver. Fears. Doubt. Rampant contradiction.

As Byrd put it, “A resolution exists only in my imagination.”

Missing continues through Apr. 2. See Listings.


Dance Beat: It’s South Korea, Not North Korea

March 6, 2017

Here we go again!

Back around 2010, Pittsburgh Dance Council executive director Paul Organisak was complaining about visa problems for foreign artists from Spain and South America, forcing him to tailor several seasons around North American companies.

But that involved individual artists and was nothing compared to current surprise attacks, not only during the current travel ban, but resulting from the toxic atmosphere surrounding the Trump administration. The Dance Council, now under Randal Miller, almost didn’t get to present the Seoul-based Bereishit Dance Company this past weekend at the Byham Theater.

Apparently the group, despite having all of its papers in place and having submitted its visa requests last October, inexplicably was denied access to the United States. That forced the cancellation of the first performance of its first American tour at Northrup Auditorium in Minneapolis, scheduled for last Tuesday.

Miller enlisted Senator Bob Casey and some other heavy hitters to intervene because this group is from South Korea, not North Korea. The company arrived in Pittsburgh, actually its second stop and now its first, on Friday after a long flight (around 15 hours) from Seoul. With the help of the Byham’s stellar stage crew, they were able to attend to technical issues, but didn’t get to do a complete run-through.

The Pittsburgh audience didn’t notice, given the company’s disciplined training and seamless technique, mostly martial arts that transcended the divide into contemporary dance. The result was a fresh and invigorating performance, resulting in a standing ovation.

Of note were the two arrows that flew across the front of the stage in Bow, landing with a heavy thud on a wall located on the other side of the stage. They were pinpoint symbols of the clean lines and intense focus in the work, mostly a duet, but occasionally involving a third member. Congratulations to Miller and the Falcon Archers of Canonsburg, for making it work (the only time it will be seen in the U.S.).

Also on the program was Balance and Imbalance, for the five-member troupe, three men and two women. You had to love the contrast between sharp angles and movement “locks,” similar to hip hop, with a beautiful fluidity. Although the title referred to the movement itself, you could also see that in the choreography, which used great skill in folding difficult, acrobatic moves into a lyrical mindset.

 

 

 


Dance Beat: Helen, Marianna, YAGP

February 15, 2017
Enjoying the after-preview festivities are dancers Sarah Zielinski, Sonja Gable and Chelsea Neiss. At the table are choreographer Helen Simoneau and, standing behind, Attack co-founder Michele de la Reza.

Enjoying the after-preview festivities are dancers Sarah Zielinski, Sonja Gable and Chelsea Neiss. At the table are choreographer Helen Simoneau and, standing behind, Attack co-founder Michele de la Reza.

Attack-ing Helen. Attack Theatre was full of surprises for a preview of its new work by Quebec choreographer Helen Simoneau. Former board member Todd Owens was energetically bartending with some home-cooked concoctions — tequila-based — to match Moe’s deliciosa Mexican buffet. Attack members Dane Toney and Anthony Williams were taking a break, watching Helen’s all-female cast in the tantalizing snippets that they had prepared. There were the familiar, always-welcome Ashley Williams and Kaitlin Dann, plus newbie Sarah Zielinski. Also be prepared to get acquainted with project-based additions Sonja Gable and Chelsea Neiss when the piece makes its official premiere in May at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater. It was a nice stretch for the company, moving with a smooth weight and seamless connections as they explored new vocabulary and phrasing.

Photo: Kenn Duncan

Photo: Kenn Duncan

Marianna at the Museum. Wouldn’t we all like to be showcased in the Smithsonian along with Dorothy’s ruby slippers and Kermit the Frog? Well, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre ballet mistress Marianna Tcherkassky is now part of an ongoing exhibition at the Museum of American History. Only three ballerinas are featured — well, their costumes — in American Ballet. French ballerina Violette Verdy inspired George Balanchine at New York City Ballet (a costume from one of her performances at the White House can be seen) and Misty Copeland is defining new standards at American Ballet Theatre (her costume from On the Town, where she spun into a limited-run leading role, is on display). Marianna’s contribution is a costume from the first act of Giselle, for which she is noted and which she performed many times with Mikhail Baryshnikov. Check it out.

Budding Ballerinas. Then there are those young talents that participated in the Youth America Grand Prix Semi-Finals at Upper St. Clair High School. Veridy Treu, 15, of Pittsburgh Ballet House captured the Senior Age Division and will move on to the finals in New York City. Also placing in the Top 12 were Alexia Norris,16, and Francesca Siudela, 17, of West Point Ballet and Alexandra Topalova, 16, Pittsburgh Ballet House, who placed second in the Contemporary Dance Category. Alan Obuzor of Pittsburgh Youth Ballet Company and Kwang-Suk Choi of Pittsburgh Ballet House were given Outstanding Teacher awards. For more results, click on YAGP.

 


On Stage: Wondering About “Alice”

February 13, 2017

In that never-ending search for full-length ballets, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre decided to bring back Derek Deane’s “Alice in Wonderland” after almost ten years. A lot has happened since then, but there was a lot happening on the stage as well (click on PBT). In fact, PBT bought the colorful production hoping to rent it out to other companies. That remains to be seen. PBT had hoped to put together a national tour after the 2008 premiere, which never happened. Will “Alice” get a second chance?

Nonetheless, it is colorful as Rich Sofranko’s photos underscore…

Yoshiaki Nakano (White Rabbit) and Amanda Cochrane (Alice) interact in the Hallway of Doors.

Yoshiaki Nakano (White Rabbit) and Amanda Cochrane (Alice) interact in the Hallway of Doors.

Alice pouts as the Cooper Verona (Mad Hatter), Masahiro Haneji (March Hare) and Diana Yohe (Dormouse) cavort.

Alice pouts as the Cooper Verona (Mad Hatter), Masahiro Haneji (March Hare) and Diana Yohe (Dormouse) cavort.

The Tea Party continues...

The Tea Party continues…

Julia Erickson (Queen of Hearts) presides --

Julia Erickson (Queen of Hearts) presides —

 


Video: Subway Ballet…With Tap

February 8, 2017

Justin Peck, a name on the tip of everyone’s tongue in New York takes to the subway with some of friends from New York City Ballet. The next generation is breaking ballet barriers…


Dance Beat: PBT/Chat, Dance Abroad

January 24, 2017
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Yoshiaki Nakano and Hannah Carter perform Sinfonietta. Photo: Martha Rial©

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Yoshiaki Nakano and Hannah Carter perform Sinfonietta. Photo: Martha Rial©

PBT at the Lake. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has announced that it will return to perform at Chautauqua Institution on Saturday, Aug. 12 at 8:15 p.m. This time, however, they will be paired with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and we all know that Pittsburghers love live music. Better yet, they will be performing in the freshly rebuilt Amphitheater, regarded by many as the heart of this quaint Victorian community, featuring new dressing rooms, up-to-date lighting, an orchestra pit and better sight lines for the audience. On the program will be selections from Coppelia and the Jiri Kylian signature work, Sinfonietta, which got a roaring ovation from the crowd in the 2015 season at Benedum Center. CI is offering tickets at $43 and a Saturday “Symphony” package at the Athenaeum Hotel overlooking the scenic lake. It will be part of a CI season that will also feature Ailey II (June 26 and 28), longtime resident company Charlotte Ballet (July 6, 11, 19 and Aug. 2)  and Irene Rodriguez Compaña, a Cuban group with a flamenco flair (Aug. 23). But there is much more to feed the body, mind and soul. Click on Chautauqua.

Attack Theatre's Michele de la Reza teaching a class in Taipei/

Attack Theatre’s Michele de la Reza teaching a class in Taipei

American Dance Abroad. Artists may have come across this organization, but those based in Pittsburgh should know that one of the two co-directors is Carolelinda Dickey, former executive director of the Pittsburgh Dance Council for 12 years. Right now ADA wants submissions for Pitchbook: Volume III to “pitch” your new work to global presenters. Click on Pitch for more information.


Dance Beat: Kinzua Dam, West Point Ballet, Benjamin Millipied

January 4, 2017

kinzua-dam-allegheny-river

KINZUA DAM. Thanks to more media coverage, celebrity support and the support of organizations like veterans, people are learning about the Indian plight at Standing Rock. But what we don’t remember is how the United States government has exerted force over Indian nations for a large part of our history, taking land that rightfully belonged to them. Western Pennsylvania has an Indian area that was flooded by the Kinzua Dam. The Kelly Strayhorn Theater, a hotspot for minority art, brought in a moving, heartfelt performance by Minneapolis’ Rosy Simas Danse. Rosy went to visit the Kinzua site, where her ancestors were forced to evacuate. Click on Kinzua Dam for a complete history. And from the Seneca Indians’ perspective remembering 50 years ago...

west-point-nutWEST POINT BALLET. The West Point Ballet, located in Coraopolis,d served notice that it is joining the upper tier of local dance studios. Only in its third year, it presented its own “Nutcracker,” showcasing the Cuban ballet style, so poetic and lyrical, and filled with those signature pirouettes that seem so effortless. WPB fielded at least half a dozen young women who distinguished themselves and has a growing contingent of young men that would be the envy of other schools. Congratulations to owners Cynthia Castillo, formerly with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and a graduate of the National Ballet of Cuba, and Damien M. Coro, formerly with PBT and the National Ballet of Cuba. Damien performed with the group alongside his twin brother, David, a former principal with the National Ballet of Cuba who is teaching at the Laurel Ballet with his wife, Vanessa Haider, also a former member of the National Ballet. Certainly their combined expertise will enrich the ballet community for many years to come.

peter-farmerPETER FARMER. World famous costume and scenery designer Peter Farmer passed away a few days ago. He worked on a number of productions at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, including the recent Giselle production this past fall. You can read about the process and his career from Janet Groom Campbell, good friend and PBT costumier, here.

BENJAMIN MILLIPIED.  For those who like a juicy ballet backstory, there is an upcoming documentary about Benjamin Millipied (famously the husband of movie star Natalie Porter) and his dramatically short tenure at the Paris Opera Ballet. Called Reset, it should hit movie theaters sometime in January.

DANCE LISTINGS. There’s not a lot happening in January with Pittsburgh dance (see Listings). What is happening?

 

 

 

 

 


On Stage: 15 Years of “Nut”-iness

December 5, 2016
Alexandra Kochis with Christopher Budzynski in "The Nutcracker." Photo: Rich Sofranko

Alexandra Kochis with Christopher Budzynski in “The Nutcracker.” Photo: Rich Sofranko

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre celebrates 15 years of “Nutcracker” in the Terrence Orr production. Click on Nut for the review.


Dance Beat: Jessica, Jewels, James

December 5, 2016

teenamarie

 

DANCE JAM! Pittsburgh artist manager Jessica Marino (JAMpress management) is joining with Green Street Studios of Cambridge, Massachusetts to form Tracks to provide multiple showcase opportunities for dancers. Jessica and friends hope to “foster a creative environment where artists and presenters can meet, network and build meaningful relationships” with a goal of increasing performances, residencies, masterclasses and collaborations. Pittsburgh artists include Maree ReMalia & HyunJung Lee, Staycee Pearl Dance Project, Teena Marie Custer, Shana Simmons Dance, Brady Sanders and Jamie Erin Murphy. Already on tap are Gibney Dance Choreographic Studios in Cambridge, PearlArts Studios in Pittsburgh and Lehigh Valley Dance Exchange in Allentown, PA.

JEWELS. This looks like the ballet equivalent of Hamilton. Bolshoi Ballet! New York City Ballet! jewels_1421185cParis Opera Ballet! All together in one glorious run of George Balanchine’s Jewels. Wonder what the tickets will go for? Click on Jewels for more information.

james-gilmore

JAMES. James Gilmer, formerly a student at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, now residing and dancing at Columbus Ballet (soloist!) went to Kennedy Center as part of the company’s Nutcracker production. In this video clip from the company, you can spot him in two places, the first one a pirouette about 10 seconds in.

 


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