Dance Beat: PBT, CLO Dance Seasons Plus, Jacob’s Pillow

March 30, 2015


PBT. As it nears the finish of its 45th season, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre seems to be casting its sights on the 50th. For the first time in recent memory it is presenting two mixed repertory nights. The first, with George Balanchine’s Western Symphony, William Forsythe’s in the middle somewhat elevated and Jiri Kylian’s Sinfonietta, opens the season (Benedum Center, Oct. 23-25) and has the potential to be the company’s best program…ever. There is no doubt that this is a great line-up. But more importantly, it has balance, perhaps beginning with the sweeping Sinfonietta, then with the meaty contemporary angles of the Forsythe and finishing with Balanchine’s version of the wild, wild West. The other (Byham Theater, Mar. 10-13) features what appears to be a popular and fairly recent (BalletMet premiere 2010) ballet, noted Canadian choreographer James Kudelka’s Man in Black, inspired by country legend Johnny Cash. It will be accompanied by another local premiere, Michael Smuin’s 1969 pas de deux, The Eternal Idol, and a return of the iconic Jardin aux Lilas (Lilac Garden) by Antony Tudor. The company will bring back Jorden Morris’ version of Peter Pan (Benedum, Feb. 12-14) and, of course, the annual Nutcracker (Benedum, Dec. 4-27). The season will then conclude with the company premiere of Le Corsaire (Benedum, Apr. 15-17), one of those epic ballet warhorses about a pirate who seeks to liberate the woman he loves from kidnappers. The orchestra will accompany the opening program and Le Corsaire. For more information, click on PBT.

CLO. Not falling into the season category (but it will in the future) is the exciting news about the new production of An American in Paris, choreographed by balletic superstar choreographer Christopher Wheeldon, who is also making his directorial debut. It got rave reviews in Paris for this reimagining of the classic Gene Kelly film and set to open on Broadway . The cast is to-die-for, led by New York City Ballet principal dancer Robert Fairchilds  and The Royal Ballet’s Leanne Cope, certain to be a dead ringer for Leslie Caron onstage. Check it out at American.

PITTSBURGH ON BROADWAY. Dance aficionados will want to catch Mathilda the Musical, with choreography and movement by Peter Darling, whose other credits include Billie Elliot: The Musical. The Sam Mende/Rob Marshall version of Cabaret returns to Pittsburgh via the 2015-16 Broadway across America season direct from Broadway and The Wizard of Oz gets a bit of a facelift from Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber with some new songs (choreographer is Brit Arlene Phillips). For those who are musical-ly driven, Beautiful — The Carole King Musical will be of interest plus some familiar favorites like Jersey Boys, The Sound of Music and Blue Man Group. For more information, click on Broadway.

JACOB’S PILLOW. Well, well, well. Pittsburgh beat the Pillow to the punch on a couple of appearances taking place on its 2015 season, including Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host  (the Ira Glass/Monica Bill Barnes collaboration presented by Pittsburgh Dance Council in February), Daniel Ulbricht & Stars of American Ballet (independently presented at the Byham Theater and Cuba’s Malpaso (presented by Kelly Strayhorn Theater with two North American premieres). Of course, Alonzo King LINES Company and Martha Graham Dance Company have touched base here along the way as well. (In a real departure, there will be only one Graham work on the program and a premiere by Mats Ek to celebrate the group’s 90th anniversary.) Keigwin + Company open the season and will include tap sensation Michelle Dorrance and L.A. Project, founded by Benjamin Millepied. Click on Pillow.



On Stage: The History of “Beauty”

February 3, 2015
Jocelyn Vollmar and Richard Carter in the original production of "Beauty and the Beast."

Jocelyn Vollmar and Richard Carter in the original production of “Beauty and the Beast.”

It was fun to delve into the history of American ballet while researching Lew Christensen’s Beauty and the Beast, set to have its local premiere at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. (Click on Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.) After all he was considered the first American premiere danseur, was George Balanchine’s first Apollo and choreographed a memorable piece, Filling Station, based on a durable American theme. And he was an important building block in developing San Francisco Ballet, now the third largest company in the United States.

While nosing around the internet, I came upon another little piece of history. There are a number of PBT connections to San Francisco, including this little photographic nugget of Robert Vickrey with one of America’s greatest ballerinas, Cynthia Gregory, who went on to star at American Ballet Theatre. Yes, they are atop the Golden Gate Bridge! Bob said they took an elevator most of the way but had to climb a ladder to reach the top. Obviously the daring duo wasn’t afraid of heights (nor the photographer). Cynthia’s mother, however, was most angry that her daughter skipped school…


On Stage: The Innermost Corps of Ballet

August 7, 2014
Accompanied by wife and son, Steven Hadala takes his final bow after a performance as Gamache in "Don Quixote." Photo: Aimee Waeltz

Accompanied by wife and son, Steven Hadala takes his final bow after a performance as Gamache in “Don Quixote.” Photo: Aimee Waeltz

It was a classy finish to Steven Hadala’s career as a corps de ballet member of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, where the whole company gathered around him after his final performance. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. But former PBT corps dancer Desiree Mastriano Arredondo, who knew Hadala briefly during her career with PBT, wrote to me following the article. “I just wanted to point out that PBT honors all of its members, in my opinion,” she said in her email. “When I retired four months pregnant in 1998 to move to Houston with my husband and soon-to-be child, [artistic director Patricia] Wilde gave me a performance of the Scotch Lass in [George Balanchine’s] “Scotch Symphony” and presented me with flowers after my performance. It was a beautiful send off, and one I will never forget!”

Steven Hadala (Drosselmeyer) asks for a kiss from Alexandra Kochis (Marie) in "The Nutcracker." Photo: Rich Sofranko

Steven Hadala (Drosselmeyer) asks for a kiss from Alexandra Kochis (Marie) in “The Nutcracker.” Photo: Rich Sofranko



On Stage: PPU’s Dance Explosion

May 17, 2014
Nick Fearon and Vanessa Guinto in "Wolfgang." Photo: Jeff Swensen

Nick Fearon and Vanessa Guinto in “Wolfgang.” Photo: Jeff Swensen

Conservatory Dance Company literally filled the Byham Theater stage with dance during its annual visit, but in four vastly different ways.

The first was George Balanchine’s Serenade (1934) one of the most memorable ballets in the classical repertory and full of ever-changing tidal patterns that never fail to entice, even after multiple viewings.It was a remarkably cohesive performance, especially give that the student cast was probably not schooled exclusively in the Balanchine technique.

Still, they were confidently led by Kathryn Van Yahres, Cassidy Burk and Alyssa Blad, surprisingly so when partnered by Alex Hathaway and Justus Whitfield. The two young men, in particular, exemplified the wonderful attention to detail used by stager Joysanne Sidimis — how to walk like the Elegy Boy or how to place the arms with authority.

Martha Graham’s Steps in the Street (from CHRONICLE) came from the same time period (1936). The two works couldn’t be more different, one an abstract romantic ballet, the other evoking images of war. Both, however, were connected by the genius of their creators and remained timeless.

They also set a high standard for the rest of the program.

David Parsons has contributed several worthy pieces to the Point Park University dance department (The Envelope, Nuevo). He is an offshoot of Paul Taylor’s athleticism, but without the intellectual purpose behind it.

So the beginning of Wolfgang was unfocused and heavy-handed. Part of that had to do with the sophisticated delicacy of Mozart’s music, a labarinthian task for any choreographer. By the third movement, however, he had settled on a wry humor and lightly etched dance that was more suitable.The students, notwithstanding, gave it their all throughout.

Dwight Rhoden put the exclamation point on the evening with Mercy. There are two ways that a Rhoden piece can come across, given his penchant for a form of choreographic multi-tasking — multiple moves per beat — as either relentless or mesmerizing. With the passion of PPU’s Mercy cast, it was the latter on opening night, despite the fact that the overall intent wasn’t particularly clear, what with a disparate accompaniment from Bach and The Hallelujah Chorus to Indian music driving the dance.

Even so, Will Geoghegan had the solo role of his years of Point Park and the cast certainly followed suit.

On Stage: Swiss-made Ballet

March 21, 2014


Recent Dance Magazine award winner Patricia Wilde still looked regal as she stood in the audience for the Ballet de Grand Théâtre de Genève. The former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre artistic director was there as an alumnus of the company, where she helped George Balanchine establish a school. The group has since changed its style to another contemporary niche, but she looked radiant as she watched the work of two rising choreographers, a rare treat for Pittsburgh viewers. Read about the performance in the Pittsburgh  Post-Gazette.Geneve red dress-Gregory-Batardon_50A1622

"Requiem" Photos: Gregory Bartardon.

“Requiem” Photos: Gregory Bartardon.

On Screen: Balanchine in America Part 1

March 4, 2013

They are hidden in what looks like Russian, but this is the Dance in America series with choreography by Balanchine. This segment has Tzigane, Divertimento No. 15 and The Four Temperaments with stellar casts.

Dance Beat: From Florida — Sun, Dance and a Food Fight

February 28, 2013
Naples beach

Naples beach

NAPLES, FLORIDA — So many snowbirds, young and old alike, head for the southern borders of the United States during the winter to grab some vitamin D. I recently headed to Naples, Florida, just above the Everglades on the Gulf Coast, primarily to visit friends Bonnie and Steve Crosby.

I had not been there since 2006, when I wrote a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article about the impressive growth of the arts scene under Myra Janco Daniels in only 25 years and the large Pittsburgh community that had collected there, including the still-active Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra tympanist and now composer/lecturer Stanley Leonard.

While it was relaxing to take a boat ride around the harbor and learn that the largest property belonged to Federated CEO J. Christopher Donahue of Pittsburgh or to saunter atop a camel and feed a giraffe at the tropical zoo, my friends also took me for an update at the Naples Museum of Art, attached at the hip to the all-inclusive Philharmonic Center for the Arts and primarily known for its glass collection by Dale Chihuly (some us may still remember the fascinating Phipps Conservatory exhibit in 2007). It offered the meaningful Painting Women, a scintillating wordplay on an exhibit by and about women, including Mary Cassatt, Georgia O’Keefe and balletic art master Edward Degas.

Admiring Chihuly's Persian Ceiling

Admiring Chihuly’s Persian Ceiling

I also was surprised to find Visual Connection: Painting, Sculpture & Photography Inspired by Dance. Artists included Rose Eichenbaum, photojournalist and contributor to Dance Magazine, Mark Haegman, photographer of the Bolshoi Ballet and sculptor Richard MacDonald, best known for his neo-realism, which captures perfect lines and proportions (down to prominent veins and muscular tissue), movements that are unattainable for most dancers and even the flow of a chiffon skirt. His subjects featured Rudolph Nureyev, artists from London’s Royal Ballet (including current star Sergei Polunin) and a new series on Cirque du Soleil. Perhaps inspired by that, his most recent sculptures capture amazing feats of balance. Click on his website for photos.

Richard MacDonald's "Romeo and Juliet"

Richard MacDonald’s “Romeo and Juliet”

At The Phil I was able to attend a performance by Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater, but more on that in another post.

Steve has also become quite the connoisseur of dance, a direct result of Bonnie’s career and continuing passion. He brings something else to his talks, though, through his Julliard music training and understanding and is able to formulate a wonderful connection that you can rarely find — seeing the dance through music.

The first talk took place at Naples United Church of Christ and was part of a six-week video lecture series. He had already touched on such delectable pairings as Bach/Neumeier and Stravinsky/Kylian.

I attended a session on contemporary Christian songs, interpreted through Mississippi’s Ballet Magnificat, subject of an extensive article by the Washington Post’s Sarah Kaufman. We all know how dance can inspire and uplift, but this focused on it in a whole new way.

The next day Steve moved to The Phil  for the first of a two-session talk on “choreographers that have a keen sense of the music,” which, he admitted, meant “no Merce Cunningham” in this instance. (By the way, he is in good company — The Phil’s Life Long Learning program also includes talks by Merrill Ashley, former principal with the New York City Ballet, and Peggy Lyman Hayes, former principal with Martha Graham.)

Steve covered his own personal choices (and astute they were) — ranging from Tchaikovsky/Petipa’s The Sleeping Beauty (with a particularly eloquent Viviana Durante of the Royal Ballet, who got the loudest round of applause) to Alvin Ailey’s Sinner Man (from Revelations), Brazil’s sleek Grupo Corpo and a tasty Balanchine tidbit, of course (a poignant Mikhail Baryshnikov and Patricia McBride in The Steadfast Tin Soldier). Ah, Mr. b. lived and breathed music, but with his own artistic signature.

Finally we got to lick our lips over a Chaplinesque “food fight” from Jiri Kylian and his wife, Sabine Kupferberg, which has a presence on YouTube. Enjoy…


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