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

January 4, 2017


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?






Dance Beat: chelfitsch, AWCDE, Nora, Mara, Frances

October 3, 2012

CHELFITSCH THEATER COMPANY. It may not sound like it, but chelfitsch is a movement theater company, internationally-renowned, from Japan. The group had some trouble assembling in Pittsburgh — a cancelled flight for director, a delayed cab ride for the others. But they were able to turn in two performances of Hot Pepper, Air Conditioner, & the Farewell Speech, at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater. All of the performers were listed as actors, speaking in their native tongue, but with amusing translations projected onto the wall of the set. Drenched in absurdist theater, the script by director Toshiki Okada focused on the artifice of life by the use of repetition in the movement and speech as filtered through a Japanese lens. Well done, particularly the archly dry/cute humor and taut minimalism, but it occasionally struggled with itself because the subject matter — choosing a restaurant, the air conditioner temperature in the office and the farewell speech of a co-worker so closely mirrored and heightened the boredom of an everyday office existence.

HEADING SOUTH. Members of August Wilson Center Dance Ensemble are headed for the company’s first international sojourn, a trip to Suriname, which lies just above Brazil on the northern coast of South America, sandwiched in between Guyana and French Guiana. The Deputy Chief of Mission for the U.S. Embassy spotted the group at the Three Rivers Arts Festival last June and arranged the trip where Andrea Young, James Washington, Kaylin Horgan, Annalee Traylor and Kendra Dennard will teach and perform in an outreach program Oct. 14-20.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        NORA. It was a summer of previews from the Kelly-Strayhorn, the last being the luminous Nora Chipaumire, who spoke about her upcoming project, Miriam, set to unfold next April. She talked about the mesmerizing South African singer and advocate and how “she was so bigger than life.” How she “wandered 30 years in exile,” yet retained her her stature as an artist.”  About the way “grace with which she held herself.” Nora wanted to find a way both to mourn her loss and celebrate her. But Miriam was “a deeply complicated woman, an alcoholic who hated white people,” although Nora still described her as an “unattainable idyllic beauty.” She said that “the scope of ‘Miriam’ is her most ambitious yet.” Can’t wait.

FILLING IN. Mara Mandradjieff may be gone (Atlanta, Georgia, where she is an adjunct professor at Emory University) but not forgotten. Nor has she forgotten Pittsburgh. Mara instigated a Facebook page called Pittsburgh-area Dance Substitute Teachers/Dance Community. It seems to be an efficient way to get a substitute if you need one. Hope a large community starts to use it…

FRANCES IN L.A. When McKeesport native Frances Chiaverini surfaces in the news, it’s always with a bang. Beginning with Nederlans Dans Theater II, she headed to New York for Karole Armitage and Morphoses, plus some independent choreographers and now is entrenched in Benjamin Millipied’s (New York City Ballet, Black Swan choreographer, recent uncomfortable guest judge on So You Think You Can Dance) newly-formed L.A. Dance Project (also seen on SYTYCD), where she received a great mention in the Los Angeles Times. “Star ballerina,” indeed! High praise from Lewis Segal, although I consider her strengths to be contemporary. Francis has always had a real allure in her approach to movement.

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