Sometimes big ideas come in small packages.
Such was the case with fireWALL’s latest dance offering, Admission, at the postage stamp-sized off the WALL Theater in Carnegie.
It was the fourth piece choreographed by 23-year old Point Park University graduate Elisa-Marie Alaio and her works have created a steep learning curve over the course of her first season. Admission was the apex of that growth.
Right now, whether by design or necessity, Admission was the second all-female work.
It was driven by a corporate glass ceiling concept — very smart. Instead of glass, though, there was a crosshatch of bungee cords attached at the midpoint of the tiny off the WALL theater and also at the foot of the audience risers.
Eight women started at the back, cast in silhouette behind panels. They were seated on stools, moving from one pose to another. Some were bunheads, but these were no ballerinas.
Hands shook. Anxiety? Maybe, but then there was a “power” fist. Something else was afoot.
When the women finally emerged — the section went on for a while — we got the answer to the cables.
Made of the thick kind used to jump off bridges, they produced their own soundscape in addition to Ryan McMasters’ equally tensile accompaniment, full of voices whispering, an underlying beat, water and opera.
It was the stress of the workplace. The release. The manipulation. The constraints of society. And it all became faster, more frustrating, even dangerous in this most compelling of the sections.
The dancers began to unhook the cables. Success, perhaps?
They took off their corporate-driven black jackets to reveal loose-fitting white blouses. Then the dance became more prop-driven — I’m not sure why — with the use of six white chairs.
It turned out that the choreography doled out a sense of equal opportunity among the women. But would there be a winner at the end?
There were group-supported lifts. They linked arms. They huddled like a corporate sisterhood. But the finale turned out to be a jazz group number, more entertainment than substance. So there was no apparent winner, except Alaio and her dancers, who could take pride in their growth.
Attack Theater turned schizophrenic this past spring. Co-founder Michele de la Reza was flitting from Pittsburgh Opera’s Daughter of the Regiment (see CrossCurrent’s April 22 post), where she served as assistant choreographer, to the Hillman Auditorium, where the company was collaborating with Chatham Baroque and Ping in Claudio Monteverdi’s The Battle of Tancredi and Clorinda.
You have to love collaborations like this, with two distinctive and vital Pittsburgh arts organizations like Attack and Chatham mentoring a talented start-up like Carnegie Mellon University’s Baroque early/new music vocal ensemble, Ping (which also provided an adventurous and entertaining selection of Monteverdi madrigals before the main event.) Then there was the cherry on top — renowned tenor Aaron Sheehan, playing the narrator with uncommon intelligence and musicality.
Nothing seems to be impossible for the Attackers, though, and it was particularly satisfying to see them helping to open up the Hillman in the Hill District to new audiences.
Perhaps the most satisfying, though, was a rare look/see/hear of Monteverdi’s work, which was far more contemporary than its age might indicate (377 years). More than heralding the transition from Renaissance to Baroque music, this piece surprised and resonated with today’s listeners, given the imaginative use of repeated notes (forerunner of the tremolo), dissonances and assorted musical rules that he broke in service to the text.
It sounded that fresh.
Speaking of which, the love story of Tancredi, a Christian knight, and Clorinda, a Saracen princess and a Muslim, gives an enduring political and religious backdrop that is still so relevant today.
Set against Sheehan and an expanded Chatham Baroque (six instruments, so full and satisfying on this occasion) on the Hillman stage, the artists decided to build another elevated stage in front to provide better sight lines for the audience and the stage action. Although it was connected by a small lower level, almost a miniature canyon that ran the width between the stages and was sometimes cumbersome for the performers to negotiate, it provided a way to highlight the action.
Much of that was provided by Dane Toney (Tancredi) and Kaitlin Dann (Clorinda), with some integration from singing doubles Chloe Holgate and Sean Salamon of Ping. Toney and Dann have never been more compelling, inspired by this tragic story of love and war, and literally transformed by the music that transported them to new emotional levels. They were joined by Ashley Williams in the final section, Regret, which used a trio of early madrigals to bring it all to a poignant conclusion.
3RIVERS NEGOTIATION. There was a satisfying conclusion to the Bill Shannon/3Rivers/CREATE2015/Wyndham Grand issue. (See yesterday’s post). Bill was able to complete his contract that evening at 6 p.m. during the cocktail party for CREATE, which looked to be a hit. He pushed his shopping cart, with minimally squeaky wheels, across the social area. Then he donned his “mask” for a walk-through, with considerable interest from attendees. Thank you, Veronica Corpuz, director of the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival!
FLESH AND BONE. For those of you who have Starz, there will be a new reality show this fall based on a balled company. Titled Flesh and Bone, it will feature honest-to-goodness ballet dancers. Sarah Hayes, former American Ballet Theatre soloist who did many of the technical shots in Natalie Portman’s Black Swan and current member of Semperoper Ballet in Germany, has won the leading role. Also in the cast are former ABT principal dancer Irina Dvoravendo and soloist Sasha Radetsky, plus Ballet Arizona’s Raychel Diane Weiner to lend reality to the show’s ballet world. As if that weren’t enough, former ABT principal and current artistic director of the New Zealand Ballet Ethan Stiefel (Center Stage) will serve as consultant and choreographer. Moira Walley-Beckett, writer on Breaking Bad, will head a production team including executive producers Lawrence Bender (Inglorious Basterds, Good Will Hunting), Kevin Brown (Rosewell), John Melfi (Sex and the city, House of Cards). Bender and Walley-Beckett are former dancers and Brown’s family served as a basis for the Oscar-nominated feature The Turning Point. Although Bunheads and Breaking Pointe were juicy dance dramas, Flesh and Bone, has the potential to be a truly adult, perhaps award-winning ballet drama. Stay tuned.
BOLSHOI NEWS. The Bolshoi Ballet is set for a new season to be shown in movie theaters, although the Pittsburgh area audiences have been rather sparse. Hopefully that will change. On tap for 2015-16 are Giselle (Oct. 11), George Balanchine’s Jewels, featuring prodigy Olga Smirnova in Diamonds (Nov. 15), John Neumeier’s The Lady of the Camellias (Dec. 6), The Nutcracker (Dec. 20), Jean-Christophe Maillot’s The Taming of the Shrew (Jan. 24), Spartacus (Mar. 13) and b(Apr. 10). Dates listed are opening nights, but may vary. There is also sad news to report. Maya Plisetskaya, one of the all-time stars of the Bolshoi and a famous Kitri in Don Quixote, passed away. Read about her history and enjoy her perform some of her greatest successes.
The waters weren’t running smoothly this morning at Three Rivers Arts Festival/CREATE 2015. Resident Pittsburgh genius Bill Shannon showed up at the Wyndham Grand Hotel lobby at 8 a.m. to begin a scheduled pop-up performance in the lobby. Deliberately dressed in a clownish way — checked pants and top, bowler hat, black-rimmed glasses and canvas boots with hard yellow toe overlay, the Crutchmaster began attracting attention.
He blew an air horn while pushing a squeaky red shopping cart. Eventually a man dressed in a suit came up to tell him to stop. Thinking him a rude heckler, Bill engaged back. But it was the manager of the hotel and soon law enforcement officers were involved.
Little did they know that Bill had exhibited at the Tate Liverpool Museum and the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, D.C., had spoken at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, had created for Cirque du Soleil and much, much more all over the world.
He was there to perform for CREATE 2015, a technology and arts festival that is a festival within a festival. Very forward-thinking — check it out. It’s a festival within a festival, that being the Three Rivers Arts Festival, also a must-see.
To keep the story short, Bill was escorted across the street from the Wyndham property by three officers, cart squeaking the whole time.
But his mates were still able to walk around the mezzanine with a companion piece, a collaborative art/tech creation. Australian Jack Hodges wore a “mask” of sorts, with duck-taped cell phones, maybe a battery (I’m no techie), and a half dozen or so hollow dot screens forming a fractured face around his head. Actually Bill’s face was being projected on the multiple screens, so he was still “in the building.” Monroeville native Cornelius Henke, the mapper for the project, followed with a cord and electronic box, the tail to this “dragon,” you might say.
Bill is also scheduled for a 6 p.m. performance. Where? Right now that is subject to negotiation. Stay tuned and turn out.
It seemed like a perfect summer evening as Staycee Pearl dance project seemingly set off the summer season with Playground.
The parking lot setting outside the SPdp studio was festive with poster boards, like large pages from coloring books with connecting strings of lights to define the dance area.
Before things started, audience members were instructed to carry their folding chairs to the opposite side of the area — no problem. Herman Pearl (DJ Soy Sos that night), set up his equipment in a corner of the 201 North Braddock Avenue location and a couple of vendors filled out the periphery.
The message was loud and clear — be informal and enjoy even though this particular project had been in the works for two years.
The dancers wore deliberately child-friendly attire, but sophisticated, too, with flirty baby doll dresses — black — for the women and denim shorts and black tees for the men.
As the title indicates, Playground was built on childhood, beginning with “play” of all sorts. That twirly, arms spread, face-to-the-sky position was probably something that everyone has done at one point in their lives.
Staycee neatly transferred that joy and freedom to the dancers and the dance.
Set to Soy Sos’ always impeccable sound landscape, they were still able to express their own individuality, which allowed the interactive games, including hide and seek (of course) and child-like movements to lend a welcome spirit to the more adult-like vocabulary.
Best of all was Staycee’s use of multiple fronts, movement that “plays” at different angles at the same time and is hard to conceive, and some of the best I’ve seen in a long time.