On Stage: Swedish “Snow”

May 4, 2015

It was our second confrontation with Pittsburgh Dance Council snow. Not the kind you shovel, but the kind you watch in wonder. The first came during the autumn of 2008, when the Inbal Pinto, ironically from Israel, introduced us to Shaker, a piece inspired by a snow globe where dancers slid on Styrofoam beads. This past April brought Swedish choreographer Pontus Lidberg (perhaps more appropriate given his history with snow) and his own Snow, which used white socks and flooring to give that slippery impression. They were very different and so much more than snow, though.


On Stage: “(a) Long Here”

April 29, 2015
Taylor Knight.

Taylor Knight.

More than any of her other Projects for the Pillow, Pearlann Porter convincingly is saying “Welcome to my world” with her latest, now on view at The Space Upstairs.

She has always changed the relationship of The Space, converting it to the subject at hand. But this “Time” you may get a healthier glimpse into the workings of her mind.

I arrived at 8 p.m. on a Wednesday, perfectly midway through the installation’s 16-day run.

Yes, installation. That is what the director, dancer and artist is calling it. I found her hard at work drawing parallel lines on a large piece of paper with a crayon.

The rest of the rectangular papers lined the black chalk wall. Pearlann had calculated how long it would take her to work through a full box of 64 crayons and still finish on April 30. (It looks like she’ll save white for last.)

Most of the installation lay along the fringes of her own great, Great Room atop Construction Junction..

There were some nifty large multiple image photos by Aaron Jackendoff in keeping with the dance concept. Some collectibles were placed in still life arrangements — a couple of dusty manual typewriters, keys askew, a slide projector (one of Pearlann’s favorite anti-technology gadgets.)

A large sign saying “Pittsburg.”

You could see some former productions on old T.V.s (like Beth Ratas strikingly striped in Fripp Out/The Book).

I particularly loved the juxtaposition of Eighty Hours — a large black canvas, partially covered with grains of white rice. It was next to One Second, with one grain of rice.

Aaron Jackendoff with dance portraits.

Aaron Jackendoff with dance portraits.

Pearlann wore down a pencil in One Hour and Forty-four Minutes (the same time Apple earns $14,246,575 and there are 64 gun deaths in the U.S.).

There are more facts, some fun, some not.

By now you get the idea — time in so many configurations. Everyone can add to the mix during some integrated activities.

But take time to peruse the installations of this artistic hoarder (and aren’t we glad?). Yes, she saved the pile of clocks, so artfully arranged among the trunks that they once occupied.

As I see it, Pearlann has also become the latest variation on modern art master master Jackson Pollock (think splatter paintings). Why? Because movement, mostly repetitive, is a major part of her art work, which dominates The Space.

But there is more. Can we say obsessive?

Not so much with Accumulation of Nows, performed by mover Taylor Knight and music-maker Anna Thompson. When I saw it, there were 8 Taylors, one live and the rest recorded. They all entered through a door and used a chair and the floor. Fascinating — as he were dancing with shadows of his former self — well-planned and mesmerizing.

Pearlann had one more interation, as performer in Un/Re. A duet where she held a large tree branch and Bekah Kuczma was wrapped in a diaphanous cocoa of tulle, the two performers created a sweet tension as they gradually switched places…in a way.

Although there was no need for it, the evening concluded with improvisation as suggested by the audience. “Half way done.” “Slack.” “Godzilla.”

And, as Pearlann put it, we’re “all out of time.”

 

 


Dance Beat: PBT — Bourree-ing Confidently into the Black (and Gold)

April 29, 2015

 

The house curtain comes down for a slide presentation of Loti Falk Gaffney.

The house curtain comes down for a slide presentation of Loti Falk Gaffney.

In the final weekend of its 45th season, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre had plenty to celebrate…and did it in style!

GALA. It began Thursday with the dress rehearsal of La Bayadere. Guests arrived for the 45th Anniversary Season Finale Gala at the Benedum Center, where the lobby was filled with high top tables and champagne was being served. They could then head for the mezzanine, where the company was rehearsing the final act of Bayadere, the Kingdom of the Shades. (Great to see the choreographic patterns from that angle!) Then it was back to the lobby for more champagne and appetizers from the Duquesne Club.

During that time the stage was set with dining tables for over 200 guests. Following the salad, PBT honored artistic founder Nicolas Petrov with a film presentation projected on the house curtain, which was lowered for a few minutes. Curtain up for the entree! Then board founder Loti Falk Gaffney received the same treatment, accepted by her granddaughter. (Mrs. Falk Gaffney, who resides in New York City, is now too frail to travel.)

After PBT honored its past, it set up a bright future for dessert (literally). The board has committed to a $20 million dollar campaign that will grow the endowment at 50 percent, grow the Strip District-Lawrenceville campus with a new annex building and grow artistic priorities with the establishment of an Innovation Fund. Board leadership came from campaign co-chairs Carolyn and Bill Byham (helped achieve 67 percent of the goal during the silent phase and the new building will be named for them) and campaign co-chairs Dawn and Chris Fleischner (provided early significant leadership gifts to the new annex building). Richard E. Rauh endowed the Principal Dancers’ Fund and PBT Trustee James Hardie and his wife Frances endowed a repertory fund. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania  contributed two Economic Growth Initiative Grants — a total of $2.25 million — since the plan’s inception in 2009.

As all of the above unfolds, it should enable PBT to keep up with a national trend, where the best of the ballet companies are receiving both financial and artistic support. It something that needed to be done. Both the Boston and Pennsylvania celebrated their 50th anniversaries with new construction and repertory. Here’s to Pittsburgh accomplishing the same.

 

Yoshiaki Nakano soaring as Solor (Photo: Rich Sofranko)

Yoshiaki Nakano soaring as Solor (Photo: Rich Sofranko)

 

BRUNCH. Costumier Janet Groom-Campbell (maker of those fabulous PBT tutus and so much more) and her husband David Campbell (CEO and president of West Penn Testing Group and antique car aficionado) hosted a tasty Saturday brunch at their home in Staunton Heights, with great vistas of the Allegheny River. Artistic directors Nicolas Petrov and Patricia Wilde were there enjoying the view, along with longtime supporters Melanie and Jim Crockard and former company members Susan Stone, Dr. Justin Glodowski, Roberto Munoz and Nola Nolen among others.

Gabrielle Thurlow as Gamzatti. Photo: Rich Sofranko.

Gabrielle Thurlow as Gamzatti. Photo: Rich Sofranko.

PERFORMANCE. Of course, the weekend was built around four performances of La Bayadere. Read about the first in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Corps member Hannah Carter made her debut as Nikiya, a role well-suited to her beautiful legato flow, at the Sunday matinee. She was paired with soloist Luca Sbrizzi, a pinpoint technician with an unbridled confidence, as Solor. There was nary a principal to be seen, except for a chameleon-like Amanda Cochran as a Temple Dancer (with an equally unrecognizable corps member Joseph Parr). Soloist Alexandra Silva (The Rajah) had an unparalleled authority, corps members Caitlin Peabody (Gamzatti) a conniving energy and Masahiro  Haneji (The Golden Idol) a crisp vertical jump. And you would have to mention another corps member, Ruslan Mukhambetkaliyev, performing all performances as the unmistakably sinuous fakir, Magedaveya, Could there be promotions in the future?

Luca Sbrizzi as The Golden  Idol. Photo: Rich Sofranko.

Luca Sbrizzi as The Golden Idol. Photo: Rich Sofranko.

THE AFTERPARTY. Following a weekend of exotic classical ballet, PBT dancers, alumnae and staff gathered at the company studios to mingle — former principals Kwang-Suk Choi and Steven Annegarn (now ballet master), former soloists Point Park staff member Susan Stowe and financial analyst Holly Baroway and corps members Charon Battles (Program Director for Dance, Local Arts and the Preserving Diverse Cultures Division of the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts!!) and Karen Strassom Gross added to the pool — and to celebrate the end of the 45th season with an enthusiasm that will carry into the future.


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.

india_landingpage_normal

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.

 

 


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