The Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s India in Focus festival continues tonight with Aakash Odedra. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
DANCE ON FILM. We know that the Bolshoi and Royal ballet companies have been putting out live performances aimed at mass market filmgoers for several years now. Click on Bolshoi. Click on Royal. But it appears that there is another facet, Lincoln Center at the Movies, that has joined in the fun and, at least for the near future, will present Ballet Hispanico (CARMEN.maquia and Club Havana), New York City Ballet’s The Nutcracker (having missed San Francisco Ballet and Alvin Ailey). We all know that dance looks best in three dimensional live performances. But this is a great opportunity — at last — to see some of America’s best, a treat in itself. As a bonus, Kelly Ripa and Michael Strahan will be hosting. Click on Lincoln Center. Many thanks to the local Cinemark Theaters, particularly Robinson, Monroeville and Pittsburgh Mills, for presenting dance. But it has a better chance of continuing in the future if there is a bigger turnout.
TWYLA THARP. Although it’s a shame that Pittsburgh is not participating in her 50th Anniversary Tour, she’s ba-a-ack, and bringing former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancers Eva Trapp and Nicholas Coppula with her. You can catch them at Kennedy Center in Washington D.C, Nov. 9-15 and in New York City Nov. 16-22. Click on Twyla for more details and check out a couple of Trapp/Coppula snippets on the Kennedy Center website. Twyla also has a knack for writing and has been keeping a journal with the New York Times. Eva and Nick have been featured in photos. http://www.nytimes.com/2015/08/31/arts/dance/monsters-unleashed.html?emc=edit_tnt_20150831&nlid=59926186&tntemail0=y&_r=0
THANK A DANCE TEACHER DAY! Probably if you’re reading this blog, you know a dance teacher or two. Local veteran Susan Gillis Kruman reminded me and I’m reminding you to mark your calendar for Dec. 1, when you can officially send them a thanks. Click on National Dance Education Organization.
Maybe they knew something. Above is the tribute that Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre assembled in honor of board founder Loti Falk Gaffney at the 45th Anniversary Gala last April at the Benedum Center. It was a wonderful occasion, with board members fully committed to send PBT to the next level. Her granddaughter accepted on behalf of Loti, who was too frail to travel from her home on East 66th Street in New York City.
She died there on Oct. 13 at the age of 94, surrounded by family and caretakers.
But she left behind an arts legacy that still resonates here in Pittsburgh. I watched her struggle to get PBT on its feet during the early years. And I talked with her prior to the company’s 35th anniversary for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where she spoke of those difficult, yet exhilarating times. You can read about it here.
With its unbridled passions and slow descent into madness, all set against the gradual decay of the Deep South, Tennesse Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire could be adapted into The Great American Ballet. As it turned out, two European companies, Hamburg Ballet and Scottish Ballet, have led the way, although, as it turns out, a pair ex-pat Americans, Hamburg’s artistic director John Neumeier and Scottish director Nancy Meckler, had a profound impact on their respective productions.
Of all the cities in world, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was the only one to have seen them both.
The productions came at varying points in their careers, however, with Neumeier in one of his first full-length ballets (1983) and Meckler commissioned by the Scottish Ballet towards the end of a long and distinguished theatrical career (2012).
Not surprisingly, Neumeier created a sumptuous, more traditional ballet dripping with projections, an extended stage and atmospheric lighting that worked in the expanse of the 2800-seat Benedum Center. Meckler went for an edgy contemporary look, packing the stage with crates that became a part of the choreography as the dancers constructed the various scenes in the ballet and acted as a Greek chorus. A bare bulb served as a centerpiece, the symbol of Blanche Dubois’ fading hopes and dreams.
The musical scores couldn’t have been further apart. Neumeier tapped Visions Fugitives by Sergei Prokofiev and, for the second act, the jarringly acute Alfred Schnittke, which carried the drama to excruciating heights for some. But Meckler chose both original music and a musical cyclorama of the age, familiar in a way, which perhaps made the Scottish Ballet production more dynamic and accessible. That production was placed on the smaller Byham Theater stage, which could have added to the intensity by compressing it, throwing the emotional intimacy into the audience with unabashed accuracy.
In the end, however, these were told from a masculine and feminine angle, giving them a different weight and perspective. Neumeier’s Blanche was, as I noted, a “wounded butterfly” from the start, with Stanley the manimal as expected. Meckler’s Blanche was drinking in the foreign world around her, but still retaining a certain dignity as she withdrew. Her Stella developed from a young sister to a woman comfortable in her own sensuality. With choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa on the Scottish artistic team, the women had more substance and complexity in their stage presence, particularly in the duets where their roles were heightened.
Both productions had their moments of ecstasy. Neumeier was to be lauded for his coordination of choreography, costumes and scenery as a young artist. However, it was the Scottish Ballet that truly captured the epic relationship between Blanche, Stella and Stanley, for a ballet that gave Tennessee Williams’ classic a new relevance more than 60 years after its debut.
It also made a strong case to incorporate more women in ballet.
It was reported in the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that Paul Organisak, vice president in charge of programming for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust, was stepping down from a position that he began in 2004. The truth is that he has been an important part of the dance community since 1988, when he became Director of Development for the Pittsburgh Dance Council under Carolelinda Dickey.
I can still recall his enthusiasm for dance and a passion that has never waned over these past 20-some years. Even though he never studied dance, it has been the art form that he held closest to his heart.
And that is the primary reason that we will miss him. Pittsburgh Dance Council is this city’s most adventurous series, bringing us the world in all of its diversity and excitement unlike any other. However, when Paul took over PDC and almost immediately folded it into the Trust, I had my doubts.
It proved to be a winning strategy as more arts organizations have come under the Trust umbrella, with the Dance Council maintaining a certain autonomy.
Now, in a time when dance organizations are fewer and far between, we still get the best here in Pittsburgh. I know, because I have gone to a number of dance critics conferences and found that I had interviewed almost all of the choreographers/panelists prior to their appearances in Pittsburgh.
It’s been that good and a great feeling to have Pittsburgh’s finger on the pulse of dance.
There was a tough spell when the U.S. government made it tough on foreign artists in granting visas and Paul played things a little safer. Then he admitted that subscriptions were down — PDC audiences wanted the unfamiliar, the surprising, the exotic. Since then, he has done that, with seasons that exceeded our expectations.
So now we’ve come to a crossroads. I feel that Paul has been a unwavering advocate for dance at the Trust, which is going on a national, even an international search to replace a Pittsburgh native who has logged more miles and more performances than he probably cares to admit.
It was all done with the purpose of bringing the finest in dance (he gradually added Broadway shows, the Cabaret series, the Trust presents, the International Festival of Firsts and assorted other international festivals that were some of the Trust’s finest efforts to his job description). That adds up to dozens of performances, always featuring new dance, something that I, for one, am grateful.
His gargantuan efforts have resulted in a robust arts atmosphere Downtown in the Cultural District, a real bonus to the quality of life in Pittsburgh.
Thank. You. Paul.