Dance Beat: PBT, CLO Dance Seasons Plus, Jacob’s Pillow

March 30, 2015


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.



On Stage: A New “Group” Pas de Deux

November 12, 2012

Photos: Aimee Waeltz

It’s important for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and other companies like it to expand their sphere of artistic influence without taking on the financial risks of major touring. It also offers artistic benefits, either to give all members of the company additional performing experience, which is so important, or to showcase some of the younger dancers in a setting that holds less pressure.

In the past few years, PBT has pirouetted to regional destinations like West Virginia University, Shady Side Academy in Fox Chapel and Penn State Fayette’s Eberly Campus just outside of Uniontown. But perhaps the most fertile relationship has developed in Greensburg, where the most recent performance produced a tantalizing program, much better than the recent crop of pop-oriented programs.

It was most intriguing because it included the first viewing of Antony Tudor’s Lilac Garden, which Pittsburgh won’t see until March, George Balanchine’s Serenade with live music(!) from the Westmoreland Symphony and a debut for corps member Yoshiaki Nakano, along with the bright-eyed Amanda Cochrane, in the Peasant Pas de Deux from Giselle.

Mr. Nakano has been a dancer to watch. As a graduate student in the PBT school program, he had trouble controlling his tall thin frame. But his raw technique included a soaring jump, an appetite for conquering space and an undeniable connection with audience, which is something you can’t teach.

At the Palace Theater Mr. Nakano had a better handle on that elusive control, although he held back a little in order to concentrate. But his promise bodes well for the future. As for Ms. Cochrane, she had an unflagging energy and delightful personality in a showpiece that relies on its buoyancy for impact.

Serenade has been rather popular with advanced ballet programs in the area (which is alright with me, because it has always been one of my favorite ballets). But PBT has not performed it since 2004.

While there were eight graduate students in the corps, the women had a silky-smooth, cohesive flow throughout the windswept patterns. Julia Erickson always possessed that leggy Balanchine look and her role here, where she filled the romantic expanse of the music, suited her superbly. Elysa Hotchkiss’ remarkable jump produced an added dimension to her performance, but did not totally define it, because she now enhances the dance with a complimentary phrasing in the porte bras. Alexandra Kochis completed the trio of featured ballerinas with a delicate style.

Daniel Meyer showed a natural flair for dance conducting and set precise tempi for the romantic Tchaikovsky score, allowing the dancers to literally ride the music. After only a few moments of hesitation, the Westmoreland Symphony strings dug in to provide a lush accompaniment. If this is any indication of the full orchestra, the Westmoreland area has a real arts asset in this group.

But Lilac Garden (Jardin aux Lilas) held the real allure for me. It’s a rarity to see Tudor ballets these days. I had seen several at American Ballet Theatre back in the ’60’s and I wondered if the distinctive psycho-drama of the British choreographer would hold up.

The ballet takes place in the Victorian Era, where Caroline (Ms. Kochis), is attending a party prior to her nuptials with The Man She Must Marry (Robert Moore). Also in attendance are Caroline’s lover (Luca Sbrizzi) and the fiancée’s former lover (Julia Erickson).

It’s a rather short ballet, but uncommonly complex as the relationships unfold. The dancers have to have a certain stoicism reminiscent of the Victorian Era so that the underlying emotions dart to the surface, but without becoming melodramatic. At the same time, they also have to convey the overall escalating passions indicated in the score.

Then there’s the idea of the lilacs — a garden filled with that wafting scent — so that entrances and exits have an aromatic feel, drifting in and out.

It’s a lot to think about and the dancers were still making their way in their roles, although Mr. Moore had a wonderful weight to the simplest of gestures, like the turn of his head or the placement of his hand. But it was a good beginning.

For now it looks like Greensburg dance fans are intent on continuing the partnership. Hopefully that will extend to the symphony as well and wonderfully-balanced programs like this.






On Stage: PBT Brings on 2012-13

February 4, 2012

You have to give Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre artistic director Terrence Orr credit. Both he and the marketing department feel that PBT audiences fill the houses for full-length ballets, so he is always in the hunt for contemporary works to fill out the thin glossary of productions that are available.

For the 2012-13 season, just announced, he will give Royal Winnipeg Ballet’s Jorden Morris an encore follow-up to his 2009 reworking of Peter Pan. It’s Moulin Rouge — The Ballet (think of the movie by Baz Luhrmann), which has been wowing audiences in Canada and at Atlanta Ballet, where it made its U.S. premiere last season. The company also got permission from the famed Moulin Rouge itself to use the official trademark.

PBT will also bring back Giselle, and not seen here in over a decade. The company ballerinas can look forward to working with ballet master Marianna Tcherkassky, who was regarded as one of the world’s great Giselles during the course of her career at American Ballet Theatre.

The other slots will be filled with the annual Nutcracker and Septime Webre’s Cinderella, last seen here in 2009 and ending the season.

But the real excitement comes from the triple bill in Unspoken (instead of Uncommon) and once again at the August Wilson Center (a good thing). PBT will bring in another Mark Morris ballet, Joyride, which Morris repetiteur Tina Fehlandt assured me is “totally different” from this year initial (and successful) effort, Maelstrom.

Also on the program is Antony Tudor’s Lilac Garden (1936), which hasn’t been seen at PBT since 1987 (thank you, Patricia Wilde). A gem of a piece by a seminal choreographer in psychological ballet, it is set at a garden party where Caroline, ensconced in a marriage of convenience, must say goodbye to the man she really loves. The program will be completed by a work from the PBT repertory, George Balanchine’s Valse Fantaisie.

The complete schedule is: Giselle (with orchestra), Benedum Center, Oct. 26-28;  The Nutcracker, Benedum, Dec. 7-30; Moulin Rouge — The Ballet, Benedum, Feb. 14-17; Unspoken, August Wilson Center, Mar. 8-17; Cinderella (with orchestra), Benedum, Apr. 19-21. Subscriptions: $60-478.75; 412-454-9107 or (Note that the photos are by iconic New York City dance photographer ©Lois Greenfeld.)

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