On Stage: Staycee Pearl at Play

June 1, 2015

11Staycee Pearl Playground

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.

 

 


On Stage: Wrapping Up the Dance

February 5, 2015

A NEW LABEL. It’s no longer Pennsylvania Dance Theatre, operating out of State College. Former Dance Alloy member became its artistic director in 2003 and the company gradually graduated to a home for his brand of dance theater. Just last year the name came to reflect that. Now called TanzTheater André Koslowski, he brought back A Cantankarous Wiegenlied (love the title!), which I’ve seen several times (minus the adjective) in different variations. Yes, André pumped up the volume on his surreal dreamscape of the past few years, so nocturnal, so fascinating with its collection of trees, garbage and, in particular, almost over-the-top, puzzling humans. In an odd way, it was easier to enjoy.

Liz Chang

Liz Chang

SPEAKING OF WRAP. Attack Theatre literally wrapped things up in their popular series, Holiday Unwrapped. They added a variation, though, called Holiday Hijinx and Revue, geared more for the adults, still chock full of dance, games and activities, plus a beer tasting and wine. And wrapping paper. It was good to see Liz Chang again, skating in for the weekend performances, between nursing studies. Also on hand was Matt Pardo, who is performing with Attack on its current projects. (He most recently toured with Lucinda Childs and the revival of DANCE and the world tour of the iconic Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass, Robert Wilson and Childs and is in Pittsburgh via partner and head of the dance department at Point Park University Ruben Graciani.) Noting Liz and Matt, who replaced Brittanie Brown and James Johnson after Are You Still There?, Attack Theatre is in a new, more flexible mode.

IN A SPIN. The Whirling Dervishes created their own aura at Carnegie Hall in Oakland, deliciously coming in on the heels of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia — so good to observe dance companies that symbolize their countries in such singular and important fashion. The Dervish program featured ethnic music before a quartet of dancers began their famously mesmerizing hypnotic turns. They continued the next night at The Westin Convention Center with an appearance during the 14th annual Friendship Dinner and Award Ceremony, co-sponsored by the Turkish Cultural Center Pennsylvania Pittsburgh (a gem of a local organization as it turned out — we’re lucky to have them) and Peace Islands Institute.

Jessica Marino

Jessica Marino

IN FLIGHT. Dancers are always seeking to escape the earth, but Shana Simmons Dance simply, well, soared with the company’s movement investigation of Passenger at Pittsburgh’s National Aviary. It was my first visit since the new entrance construction and well worth the trip on several levels, including the birds, of course, human connections and environmental extinction. The title referred to the passenger pigeon and, for those unfamiliar with the story of this avian’s plight, it was inspired by the demise of the iconic bird. Once numbering in the billions during the 1800’s, it became extinct by 1914, when Martha, the last survivor, died in captivity. Divided into four sections, the five dancers pecked and preened and fluttered at the start, but without being too literal. Behavior and relationships came next — a whimsical section on nesting (playfully punctuated by “eggs” that rolled out onto the floor) and a mating ritual, never one-dimensional. We knew how it would end and Shana delicately handled it with a “Martha” solo for Jamie Erin Murphy, a little long, but poignantly accompanied by Anna Singer performing Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise. Art then met nature on a more casual note as audience members circulated through the Aviary and interacted with Shana, her “flock” and some new-found feathered friends.

PEARL-ESSENCE. It’s a cozy arts space that is so welcoming that audiences, particularly intellectuals and a surprisingly young crowd who bypass other presenting organizations to support Staycee and Herman Pearl and PearlArts. The latest event, a Salon & Potluck, had a three-hour line-up of poets, singers and dancers (Jamie Erin Murphy/Renee Smith and Alexandra Bodnarchuk testing the waters). After 40 years in Spain, Gail Langstroth moved to Pittsburgh. At PearlArts she initiated me into eurythmy (not the same as eurhythmics), where gesture and movement are related to accompanying text or music. And “Crutchmaster” Bill Shannon made rare and very welcome appearance. He tuned into the effortless elegance of Fred Astaire, but with a political edge. Hope we see more of him…and soon.


Dance Beat: Kyle, Attack, Tammies, PearlArts

September 16, 2014

KYLE SMILE

Another Kyle Success. It’s becoming more and more apparent that Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre is passing up on a golden opportunity to hire Pittsburgh native Kyle Abraham for a commissioned work. The MacArthur “Genius” Award-winner has turned many knowledgable heads with work on his company, Abraham.In.Motion. and recently produced a duet for New York City Ballet principal and international star Wendy Whelan, which is still touring. Now he garnered a rave review in the Chicago Tribune for a premiere he created for Hubbard Street Dance Chicago. Hopefully it isn’t too late for PBT artistic director Terrence Orr to jump on the Kyle bandwagon…

New Attack. Attack Theatre founders Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope did an entertaining tag team announcement of AT’s upcoming season in their home studio at the Pittsburgh Opera recently. Click on AT for more info. Also on tap — there will be two new dancers for the opening series, Are You Still There? (opening Oct. 3). Both are Juilliard School alumnae (as is de la Reza) — James Jude Johnson, who gave us a sample of his fluid movement at the announcement even, and Brittanie Brown, who hadn’t arrived yet, but has also danced with Kyle Abraham.

Tamburitzans_B

Tammies Go Solo. The Duquesne University Tamburitzans, long a staple under the wing of Duquesne University will become an independent, nonprofit organization over the next two to three years. That will enable them to audition students from other universities, as well as Duquesne, which will make up for the 40 percent drop in applicants over the years. DU will still provide scholarships for the Duquesne students and will donate $2 million in buildings, land, costumes, instruments, vehicles and equipment. The school will also provide transitional support while the group establishes itself and hires an executive director with a volunteer board. In the meantime, the Tamburitzans Executive Council will provide additional support.

A Day to Celebrate. The Pittsburgh City Council is declaring September 23 Mary Miller Dance Company Day for 30 years of excellence in dance performance and education. Congratulations!

 

Nurturing at PearlArts. With their welcoming studio on North Braddock, Staycee and Herman Pearl have become an indelible part of the community. Recently they sponsored a night for young urban artists, many from the Alumni Theater Company. Led by Len Starr and Cherish Morgan, this was a night of dance, song and just hangin’ out.


Dance Beat: PearlArts, Attack, Charles

July 21, 2012

A PEARL OF A STUDIO. It’s amazing what the arts can do for a neighborhood. We saw what the Kelly-Strayhorn Theater, Dance Alloy and artist lofts did for the East Liberty/Friendship area. Well another neighborhood is being reborn, bordering on Wilkinsburg and Point Breeze. Recently I went to the Grand Opening of PearlArts Studio, located at 201 North Braddock Avenue, near the intersection with Penn Avenue, although the entrance for the studio is actually around the corner on Thomas Boulevard. Armed with a freight elevator, which was cranky, a group of us decided to walk up to the penthouse level. On the way, we passed a facility (storage?) for Carnegie Mellon University’s drama department and it turned out that the top floor had an intriguing montage of visual artists — a dozen or so, some of which were open for perusal. But the main action was at PearlArts, professional home for Staycee Pearl dance project, with major input from husband Herman. We saw some snippets from Staycee’s company and Jil Stifel’s environmental dance inside a plastic environment sculpted by her husband Blaine Siegel, who happens to have a studio around the corner. Good luck to all!

RIVERBOAT DANCE. We’ve seen Attack Theatre in a variety of locations. But their most recent dance platform was the deck of a boat. The fund-raising event attracted, as always, some interesting ship mates on board, not only for the good company of Attack, but the fact that $30 got you the trip, some snacks and a cash bar. It was a great little cocktail hour cruise on Pittsburgh Cruise Lines’ Fantasy from the Strip District, down the Allegheny to the Point and back. Yeah, I’d do it again.

HE’S BA-ACK. One thing Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has done consistently right. It has hired experienced and talented conductors over the years, including Akira Endo (who hasn’t been doing well health-wise, I hear) and David Briskin (now music director of the National Ballet of Canada). Well, Pittsburgh Ballet renewed music director and conductor Charles Barker’s contract for another three years. PBT is in good company — he is also the conductor at American Ballet Theatre.


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