PIFOF: Manifold

October 10, 2018

We see plenty of ballet onstage at the Benedum Center, mostly from Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, but we’ve never seen a ballet (of sorts) projected onto the facade of the former movie palace.

Then came Manifold. There it was — an eight-minute example of projection mapping by Filip Roca and set to an original score by Chinese composer Wang Lu.

In a deft touch that only the Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts can bring, an orchestra comprised of Pittsburgh musicians led by conductor David Nesta Curtis, brought it all to life.

This was updated Tchaikovsky in a way, packed with waltzes, adagios and sweeping symphonic sounds that closely inspired the ever-changing Benedum patterns as they crawled and swirled across the architecture in response to the music.

The next time we will hear Tchaikovsky will be at Christmas, of course, with the annual production of the Nutcracker.

 

 


Dance Beat: New Security Regulations

October 1, 2018

FYI Arts Lovers: The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust will be instituting new security measures in the near future. Below are the details from the Trust:

 After a thorough benchmarking and vetting process against numerous performing arts venues across the country, the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is launching enhanced guest entry practices for the Byham Theater, the August Wilson Center, and Benedum Center for the Performing Arts. These practices are designed with the convenience of our guests in mind to ensure a safe environment in which outstanding performances in the arts can be enjoyed by all.

The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust always seeks to meet national best practices regarding the safety of our guests. These new protection measures will now require persons entering or reentering our largest performing arts venues to be screened by our onsite security personnel. Our staff will utilize equipment and practices similar to those in place at airports, concerts or sporting events. The new screening process will include a walk through metal detectors and bag inspections. Not only are more and more performing arts venues switching to similar practices, but venue third-party users and renters are also now requiring theater operators to implement these new security measures to better protect their audiences.

These practices will begin to roll out separately at each theater:

  • Byham Theater: October 13th, 2018 during Deborah Colker Dance: Cão sem Plumas
  • August Wilson Center: October 20th, 2018 during Soul Sessions Faith Evans
  • Benedum Center for the Performing Arts: November 16th, 2018 during Billy Gardell

“We’re always excited about providing amazing experiences and performances in the arts, while at the same time, increasing our ability to reassure our guests they are well protected while with us,” Kevin C. Wilkes, Chief Security Officer of the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust stated. “We’ve made sure our new systems utilize the most current and effective screening technology without interfering with the arts experience.”

While these new procedures were designed with audience convenience in mind, it is highly recommended that guests arrive to these venues up to 45 minutes earlier than they have in the past, to ensure a timely entry into the venue for the start of the performance. To entice guests to take advantage of this early entry into the theater, the affected venues will offer discounted drinks and concessions during a “Happy Half Hour” prior to each show.

 


Dance Beat: Attack Theatre, Benedum Center

December 2, 2017

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Gala. It’s called En Pointe, one of Pittsburgh’s top parties. This year’s theme at the Westin Hotel was West Side Story Suite, a salute to the upcoming Jerome Robbins triple bill later in the season. Gala goers saw excerpts from the real West Side Story Suite that will anchor the program, Scherzo and Somewhere. Before that, PBT principals offered duets, first Alexandra Kochis and Luca Sbrizzi in another Robbins’ piece, the lovely In the Night. (By the way, PBT has announced the third ballet on the May program, Fancy Free, about three soldiers on leave in New York that  later became a hit Broadway musical and a movie starring Gene Kelly.) Swan Lake was the other inspiration, featuring flowing lines from Hannah Carter and Alejandro Diaz in the White Swan Pas de Deux and the bravura elements of the Black Swan Pas de Deux from Amanda Cochrane and Yoshiaki Nakano.

Attack-ing Braddock. Attack Theater’s Some Assembly Required has been a true delight to watch over more than ten years. The company provides an interactive learning experience for new audiences and true insight into the improvisatory process for the many fans who follow them. After reviewing a performance at Contemporary Craft, I drove to Braddock, a historic steel mill city showing signs of regrowth along its vital Main Street, to see the company at the gallery, right next to the ‘s restaurant, with a view of the steel mill at work. The subject here was the material and cultural legacy depicted by artist Liz Ensz, most dynamically in sculpture that resembled strip mining. By the way, that was the last time we’ll see company member Anthony Williams for a while. He’s off to pursue his own projects in Europe, but will eventually swing back to the ‘Burgh.


Benedum Center. The venerable performing arts facility celebrated its 30th anniversary this fall, an achievement that was an important marker of the rise in Pittsburgh’s Cultural District out of the ashes of a red light district. During that time, it has played host to thousands of people, enhancing their lives with top-notch programming, and providing a venue to an ever-adventurous  group of local performing arts organizations. It was a group of performances that signaled its arrival and I was there for the world-renowned Pilobolus and a world premiere of Zoology with a score by Pittsburgh composer David Stock. Pittsburgh showed its support of dance here, a community that has continued to grow and prosper and something that I have been privileged to watch along the way. It is part of a quartet of theaters, three of them renovations (Heinz Hall and Byham Theater in addition, plus the contemporary Public Theater) that I think are the best in America. Thanks to the Cultural Trust!


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: PBT

April 25, 2014
Alexandra Kochis Photos: Rich Sofranko

Alexandra Kochis Photos: Rich Sofranko

ENDING AND BEGINNING. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre ended its season in various areas of sunny Spain. First there was a weekend of Don Quixote performances at the Benedum Center (read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette). And the Sunday matinee was followed by a reception at Larrimor’s (the latest cool place for Downtown organizations), where attendees could not only nosh on a great buffet and sip sangria and wine, but listen to the Spanish duende (or soul) of Alba Flamenca.

 

Alejandro Diaz

Alejandro Diaz

PBT also had a surprise announcement involving the annual mixed bill. Not only was it moved from the August Wilson Center and then the Byham Theater, but with the help of an anonymous donor, the program will be held at the Benedum Center with full orchestra to help celebrate the company’s 45th anniversary. The program will include a triple bill from three master choreographers: the wit of Mark Morris’ Sandpaper Ballet and Jerome Robbins’ The Concert flanking Jiri Kylian’s more dramatic Petite Mort. There is no doubt that this will be a rich program, with works that are already lauded in the classical ballet repertoire. And therein lies the rub. This will be part of a 45th season that will look back rather than send the company into the future — The Sleeping Beauty, The Nutcracker, Beauty and the Beast and La Bayadere. The “Premieres” program is supposed to be adventurous, but artistic director Terrence Orr has chosen to play it safe…and increasingly so in a ballet world that is continually pushing the envelope.

In the meantime, enjoy some snippets…

 


On Stage: “Once” Loved…

March 14, 2014

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The festivities began early at the Benedum Center as audience members gathered on stage prior to the opening performance of Once Tuesday night.

They could sully up to the bar, surrounded by framed mirrors, just to drink in the atmosphere and have a real glass of stout.

OnceMusicians, 11 of them, filtered into the crowd, who amiably began returning to their seats. But the connection had been made…

And it continued for this intimate chamber-sized musical, a 2012 Tony Award winner with a heart big enough to fill the 2,800 seat house. Suitably the story was about love — the kind lost and found, about friendship and family, embracing community and country.

For those expecting the razzamatazz of the typical Broadway show, full of big ensemble numbers and a rock ‘em, sock ‘em happy ending, this deceptively nuanced story of a Guy (the talented and tantalizingly confused Stuart Ward) and a Girl (the sweet sounding board, Dani de Waal) might not resonate.

But Once operates on so many levels if you are willing to listen. I can’t think of another musical that is so seamless about the performers’ delicate balancing act between  acting, singing, dancing and instrumental prowess.

It perfectly symbolizes the latest trend, surpassing the triple threat artist. Now aspiring actors are groomed for additional specialties that might land them a niche job.

It would be hard to say which aspect was most important, since this gifted cast could do virtually everything. They could play an instrument one minute — violin, mandolin, accordion, percussion — then play an integral supporting character at another point in the evening.

Once

Their voices handled the Celtic-tinged score in solos, all so appropriate, and heavenly choruses. But they could be earthy as well and that’s where the dance came in.

It was sometimes hard to know where John Tiffany’s direction ended and Steven Hoggett’s movement (don’t call him a choreographer) began. Mr. Hoggett came out of Great Britain’s renowned physical theater movement, where technique is not the prime choice, but a keen eye for the human need to express itself is.

So there was pattern and structure to the “dances,” if they could be called that, with actions that emanated from a deep emotional center. There was a lyrical passage or two. And sometimes a stomp could suffice, like an explanation point.

It all remained in that Dublin bar, with mostly a few tables or chairs to change the scenes. That allowed the audience to use their own imaginations, something that doesn’t always happen in a Broadway show.

Magical.


Dance Beat: PBT, Rockettes and River City Update

January 12, 2012

Photo by Rich Sofranko Taking a Break? Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is heading down to Hilton Head Island January 14 and 15 thanks to former board member Fred Beard and his wife, Dottie. But that doesn’t just mean two days of fun in the sun for 18 of the company members. Fred and Dottie are underwriting a pair of performances at the Arts Center of Coastal Carolina, with a program featuring Raymonda Variations, Sylvia Pas de Deux and Dwight Rhoden’s Step Touch and Ave Maria, That might mean a healthy glow for PBT’s upcoming Uncommon at the August Wilson Center in February.

Kickin’ It. Do you have big dance dreams? Well, they don’t get much bigger than Radio City Music Hall and the world-famous Rockettes. So if you hanker for precision and eye-high kicks, dance your way over to the Benedum Center on Sunday at 1 p.m. where they are holding auditions for the Rockettes Summer Intensive, scheduled for June 23-August 3 at the afore-mentioned Radio City in New York. “The Rockettes Summer Intensive is a pivotal program for serious dancers who want to gain the training and technique of the Rockettes precision dance style,” said Eileen Grand, Rockettes Director and Choreographer. “Our dance education programs are invaluable for dancers and one of the best training tools for these talented Rockette hopefuls who strive to become part of the legendary dance company. For more information and other cities, visit rockettes.com.

New York Update. It looks like River City Arts Management had a successful series of showcases at the APAP conference in the Big Apple, with groups like August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble. Linda Reznik posted an SRO on her Facebook page.

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