Dance Beat: KST, PBT, slowdanger

March 15, 2018

In the News. Yes, that’s been the case for the Kelly Strayhorn Theater. Two more deserved grants have come its way: The Pittsburgh Foundation will support the organizations Tenth Anniversary KST Presents programming, allowing for a year-long celebration of artists who challenge our perceptions, something that KST does so well. In addition, the Allegheny Regional Asset District has given KST $50,000 as a capital improvement grant to repair structural concerns in the over 100-year building. As executive director Janera Solomon puts it, “After a decade of living our mission of breaking down barriers, fostering inclusion and supporting diversity, we have discovered that there is an art to being unique, and we are extremely appreciative that some of the region’s foundations feel that we are distinct as well.” And speaking of janera, she has been named a 2018 Woman of Influence by the Pittsburgh Business Times. AND her organization will play host to the 2018 National Performance Visual Artists Network’s Annual Conference, a signal of KST’s increasing nation-wide importance.

Changes. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has announced promotions and exits, which will allow for more movement in the company than it has had in a long time. The big news is that 17-year principal dancer Julia Erickson, who could be considered the face of the company, will end her career in October following the season opener, where she will perform George Balanchine’s Divertimento No. 15, originally designed for Balanchine muse Suzanne Farrell. But soloist Alexandre Silva, who has been at PBT for 12 years and is considered a consummate actor and partner who will truly be missed, will also retire following the May performance. Newly-appointed soloists will be bounding phenom Masahiro Haneji, the long-awaited appointment of English stylist William Moore and the pert, detail-oriented JoAnna Schmidt. And corps dancers Olivia Kelly and Daniela Moya will also be leaving at season’s end, completing the group’s biggest changes in several years.

Fast Rising. Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight, also known as slowdanger, not only are Dance Magazine’s 2018 25 to Watch, but have been named emerging artists at Springboard Danse Montréal, a prestigious festival where they will spend three weeks choreographing and rubbing elbows with the likes of Ohad Naharin (Batsheva), Crystal Pite (Kidd Pivot), Maxine Doyle (Punchdrunk) and so much more.


On Stage: Kyle Comes Home

November 12, 2017

It was a real pleasure to see the magnificent Kyle Abraham and his dancers at the August Wilson Center, which was reviewed at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. But I have to underscore my last statement, that Pittsburgh should support him now, not years from now. He is a real arts ambassador for Pittsburgh, which has inspired much of his personal style and content. Perhaps the Pittsburgh dance community can join forces, filtered through the Heinz or Pittsburgh Foundation. Pittsburgh Dance Council, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, August Wilson Center, Point Park University, Kelly Strayhorn Theater can all offer performance, choreographic and grant opportunities, plus workshops and creative residencies. It’s a great collective opportunity for Pittsburgh, given our history with Martha Graham, Paul Taylor and August Wilson.


On Film: Bill Is Back

October 17, 2017

Performer Bill Shannon has been breaking new barriers in dance. Now the globe-trotting artist, based in Pittsburgh, is coming home with his latest work at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater. Here’s a preview of the preview coming up later this month (see Listings):

 


On Stage: LINES

October 9, 2017

Dance writers often think, “been there, done that.” And when Alonzo King LINES Ballet came to town to open the Pittsburgh Dance Council season (see Post-Gazette preview), I had seen his work on three previous occasions. But this performance was different.

It was one of the rare occasions where the performance just flew by, where the performance was mesmerizing, unfolding in a meaningful way. There were only two pieces, “Biophony,” with its environmental trills and roars in its dancescape/soundscape, and “The Propelled Heart,” set to an extended and emotional jazz riff by Lisa Fischer, a mostly unknown backup singer to stars, but a star in her own right.

In the end, the titles did, indeed, say it all. But what lay hidden in those titles was a King-ly universe, full of creativity and originality in the sinuous, organic movement that was given a magnificent voice by a group of dancers who felt every note, every nuance designed by their choreographer.

I would have to say that this performance immediately joined the list of my Dance Council favorites over the years. And the audience, bolstered by a number of dancers and other professionals in the local ballet community, responded with standing ovations for both works.

They also saw one of their own, Jason, a graduate of Point Park University’s dance department who performed with the company, making this meaningful performance ultimately personal.

 


On Stage: Follow the Bouncing Dancers`

August 18, 2017

These guys were here a while back at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater’s Dance Alloy Studios, but I never forgot them. This seemingly nonsensical piece seems particularly necessary in today’s social and political climate. Yes, that’s actually liquid refreshment with which they imbibe. Enjoy this tasty tidbit, along with an accompanying description…

The British/Hungarian pair walked out from behind three giant white scrims onto a white floor, certainly one of the most impressive restylings of the main studio at Dance Alloy. They stood out, in a way, even though they just wore tee shirts, jeans and tennis shoes.

Their eyes roamed. Slyly? I thought I caught a flicker of a smile.

Igor (Urzelai)and Moreno (Solinas) started to sing, maybe in Hungarian (actually Sardinian/Basque), was pleasant enough, but unfortunately had no translation.

Gradually they started “feeling” it, this Idiot-Syncracy, tapping their feet, moving in response to the music. Bouncing!?!  The music faded and that’s all we heard.

I think I had a flicker of a smile.

They unzipped their pants and took them off to reveal their underwear, daring us to react.

There was a leap and then shoes and socks came off. The bouncing became barefoot and quieter. We were left with one pile of clothes neatly folded and the other, well, sloppy. Which didn’t matter because the two piles soon disappeared behind a scrim.

So there the two men were, softly jumping, jumping, jumping, etc. And there they went, sometimes behind a scrim, always perfectly synchronized, gradually developing patterns, rarely taking a break.

One popped out waving a Terrible Towel…jumping.

Then they eventually brought out samples of Tennessee Whiskey for the audience to sample. Puzzled looks here.

A low bass ostinato emerge as we started to hear some heavy breathing. Complexity began to take over the seeming simplicity of the jumping vocabulary.

It became mesmerizing and never wavered. A brief thought — how do they do it? No matter — we all were smiling…

 


On Stage: Water Dance

August 16, 2017

Dance icon Lucinda Childs is flanked by Blanket founders Matt Pardo and Caitlin Scranton. Photo: Ben Viatori

The Monongahela. It was an impossibly perfect night on a Saturday night in Pittsburgh along the Monongahela River where viewers could take in the debut of the city’s newest dance company, The Blanket. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Friday night may have been rained out, but a healthy group of party goers gathered at the Society for Contemporary Craft in the Strip District to celebrate the inimitable choreographer herself, Lucinda Childs.

The Blanket: Georgia Bray, Matt Pardo, Sara Spizzichini, Eric Lobenberg, Lucinda Childs, John DeNeff, Caitlin Scranton, Jil Stifel, Sierra Barnett, Lindsay Fisher, Bianca Melidor. Photo: Ben Viatori

The Lake. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre returned to Chautauqua Institution in western New York State along the shores of the lake from which it got its name. From the time the bus pulled up to the brand new Amphitheater, the dancers were taken with the Victorian beauty of the gated community.

PBT alights from the bus at the back of the new Amphitheater.

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz

Emily Simpson and Jake Unger.

The atmosphere was enthralling, all the way through the performance that night. Still, the dancers got a few minutes to take in the vintage scenery.

Jason Zubovic, aka Thea Trix, welcomed one and all to Pittsburgh Luxury Cruises’ Fantasy.

The Allegheny. Attack Theatre has this fun idea called We’re on a Boat. It’s a great way to warp up the season, taking in the beauty of Pittsburgh from the three rivers, rain or shine. It happened to be a great night (my third time and probably my favorite). Michele de la Reza, Peter Kope and fellow Attackers mixed and mingled with

 

 

 


Dance Beat: It’s South Korea, Not North Korea

March 6, 2017

Here we go again!

Back around 2010, Pittsburgh Dance Council executive director Paul Organisak was complaining about visa problems for foreign artists from Spain and South America, forcing him to tailor several seasons around North American companies.

But that involved individual artists and was nothing compared to current surprise attacks, not only during the current travel ban, but resulting from the toxic atmosphere surrounding the Trump administration. The Dance Council, now under Randal Miller, almost didn’t get to present the Seoul-based Bereishit Dance Company this past weekend at the Byham Theater.

Apparently the group, despite having all of its papers in place and having submitted its visa requests last October, inexplicably was denied access to the United States. That forced the cancellation of the first performance of its first American tour at Northrup Auditorium in Minneapolis, scheduled for last Tuesday.

Miller enlisted Senator Bob Casey and some other heavy hitters to intervene because this group is from South Korea, not North Korea. The company arrived in Pittsburgh, actually its second stop and now its first, on Friday after a long flight (around 15 hours) from Seoul. With the help of the Byham’s stellar stage crew, they were able to attend to technical issues, but didn’t get to do a complete run-through.

The Pittsburgh audience didn’t notice, given the company’s disciplined training and seamless technique, mostly martial arts that transcended the divide into contemporary dance. The result was a fresh and invigorating performance, resulting in a standing ovation.

Of note were the two arrows that flew across the front of the stage in Bow, landing with a heavy thud on a wall located on the other side of the stage. They were pinpoint symbols of the clean lines and intense focus in the work, mostly a duet, but occasionally involving a third member. Congratulations to Miller and the Falcon Archers of Canonsburg, for making it work (the only time it will be seen in the U.S.).

Also on the program was Balance and Imbalance, for the five-member troupe, three men and two women. You had to love the contrast between sharp angles and movement “locks,” similar to hip hop, with a beautiful fluidity. Although the title referred to the movement itself, you could also see that in the choreography, which used great skill in folding difficult, acrobatic moves into a lyrical mindset.

 

 

 


Dance Beat: Helen, Marianna, YAGP

February 15, 2017
Enjoying the after-preview festivities are dancers Sarah Zielinski, Sonja Gable and Chelsea Neiss. At the table are choreographer Helen Simoneau and, standing behind, Attack co-founder Michele de la Reza.

Enjoying the after-preview festivities are dancers Sarah Zielinski, Sonja Gable and Chelsea Neiss. At the table are choreographer Helen Simoneau and, standing behind, Attack co-founder Michele de la Reza.

Attack-ing Helen. Attack Theatre was full of surprises for a preview of its new work by Quebec choreographer Helen Simoneau. Former board member Todd Owens was energetically bartending with some home-cooked concoctions — tequila-based — to match Moe’s deliciosa Mexican buffet. Attack members Dane Toney and Anthony Williams were taking a break, watching Helen’s all-female cast in the tantalizing snippets that they had prepared. There were the familiar, always-welcome Ashley Williams and Kaitlin Dann, plus newbie Sarah Zielinski. Also be prepared to get acquainted with project-based additions Sonja Gable and Chelsea Neiss when the piece makes its official premiere in May at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater. It was a nice stretch for the company, moving with a smooth weight and seamless connections as they explored new vocabulary and phrasing.

Photo: Kenn Duncan

Photo: Kenn Duncan

Marianna at the Museum. Wouldn’t we all like to be showcased in the Smithsonian along with Dorothy’s ruby slippers and Kermit the Frog? Well, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre ballet mistress Marianna Tcherkassky is now part of an ongoing exhibition at the Museum of American History. Only three ballerinas are featured — well, their costumes — in American Ballet. French ballerina Violette Verdy inspired George Balanchine at New York City Ballet (a costume from one of her performances at the White House can be seen) and Misty Copeland is defining new standards at American Ballet Theatre (her costume from On the Town, where she spun into a limited-run leading role, is on display). Marianna’s contribution is a costume from the first act of Giselle, for which she is noted and which she performed many times with Mikhail Baryshnikov. Check it out.

Budding Ballerinas. Then there are those young talents that participated in the Youth America Grand Prix Semi-Finals at Upper St. Clair High School. Veridy Treu, 15, of Pittsburgh Ballet House captured the Senior Age Division and will move on to the finals in New York City. Also placing in the Top 12 were Alexia Norris,16, and Francesca Siudela, 17, of West Point Ballet and Alexandra Topalova, 16, Pittsburgh Ballet House, who placed second in the Contemporary Dance Category. Alan Obuzor of Pittsburgh Youth Ballet Company and Kwang-Suk Choi of Pittsburgh Ballet House were given Outstanding Teacher awards. For more results, click on YAGP.

 


On Stage: Wondering About “Alice”

February 13, 2017

In that never-ending search for full-length ballets, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre decided to bring back Derek Deane’s “Alice in Wonderland” after almost ten years. A lot has happened since then, but there was a lot happening on the stage as well (click on PBT). In fact, PBT bought the colorful production hoping to rent it out to other companies. That remains to be seen. PBT had hoped to put together a national tour after the 2008 premiere, which never happened. Will “Alice” get a second chance?

Nonetheless, it is colorful as Rich Sofranko’s photos underscore…

Yoshiaki Nakano (White Rabbit) and Amanda Cochrane (Alice) interact in the Hallway of Doors.

Yoshiaki Nakano (White Rabbit) and Amanda Cochrane (Alice) interact in the Hallway of Doors.

Alice pouts as the Cooper Verona (Mad Hatter), Masahiro Haneji (March Hare) and Diana Yohe (Dormouse) cavort.

Alice pouts as the Cooper Verona (Mad Hatter), Masahiro Haneji (March Hare) and Diana Yohe (Dormouse) cavort.

The Tea Party continues...

The Tea Party continues…

Julia Erickson (Queen of Hearts) presides --

Julia Erickson (Queen of Hearts) presides —

 


Dance Beat: PBT/Chat, Dance Abroad

January 24, 2017
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Yoshiaki Nakano and Hannah Carter perform Sinfonietta. Photo: Martha Rial©

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Yoshiaki Nakano and Hannah Carter perform Sinfonietta. Photo: Martha Rial©

PBT at the Lake. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has announced that it will return to perform at Chautauqua Institution on Saturday, Aug. 12 at 8:15 p.m. This time, however, they will be paired with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra and we all know that Pittsburghers love live music. Better yet, they will be performing in the freshly rebuilt Amphitheater, regarded by many as the heart of this quaint Victorian community, featuring new dressing rooms, up-to-date lighting, an orchestra pit and better sight lines for the audience. On the program will be selections from Coppelia and the Jiri Kylian signature work, Sinfonietta, which got a roaring ovation from the crowd in the 2015 season at Benedum Center. CI is offering tickets at $43 and a Saturday “Symphony” package at the Athenaeum Hotel overlooking the scenic lake. It will be part of a CI season that will also feature Ailey II (June 26 and 28), longtime resident company Charlotte Ballet (July 6, 11, 19 and Aug. 2)  and Irene Rodriguez Compaña, a Cuban group with a flamenco flair (Aug. 23). But there is much more to feed the body, mind and soul. Click on Chautauqua.

Attack Theatre's Michele de la Reza teaching a class in Taipei/

Attack Theatre’s Michele de la Reza teaching a class in Taipei

American Dance Abroad. Artists may have come across this organization, but those based in Pittsburgh should know that one of the two co-directors is Carolelinda Dickey, former executive director of the Pittsburgh Dance Council for 12 years. Right now ADA wants submissions for Pitchbook: Volume III to “pitch” your new work to global presenters. Click on Pitch for more information.


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