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.


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.

Dance Beat: Dirty Ball, Indian Festival, Dancing

April 16, 2015
Top Ten

Top Ten

Years. When The Dirty Ball first began, we didn’t know what to expect as we headed to one city apartment where the Attackers danced in the bathroom and a raw shell of another where we told our dirty secrets and drank dirty martinis. After a decade we know what to expect and Attack Theatre delivers. This time it was on the South Side in a warehouse of epic proportions. The Donor Party, where Queen of the Ball, Michele de la Reza, entered on a “throne” (two ladders, of course, transformed) and, with her “entourage,” presented an intimate thank you from the company. Everyone who had attended all ten took a group picture, whereupon the “curtains” were drawn to reveal what was probably the most breathtaking of all the locations over the years. The epic theme was carried out in Richard Parsakian’s must-see VIP Velvet Lounge, home of his collection of Elvis dolls (in original packaging) and the largest space he has expertly designed. Now for the trio of dances: it all began with a sherbet orange number that showed off the company’s seamless partnering style, with Ashley Williams looking utterly sun-kissed. That was followed by the Epic Production that traveled back and forward in time, which meant that King Peter Kope gathered just about anything — the Robot, Cleopatra, “Risky Business” (an over-the-top and very-welcome-return from Jeff Davis all evening long) and “Cher” (was that really Dane Toney?). And of course, there was the trademark finale from Dirty Dancing. Apparently everyone had the time of their lives…again.


Tripping. We’ve been to Australia, Quebec, Netherlands and around the world three times (International Festival of Firsts) when the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust is in a festival mode — often thrilling, always probing.  Now the Trust is taking the city to India. Two key dance performances will play a part. Nrityagram Dance Ensemble, last here in 2003, and Askash Odedra Company, making its premiere will also be a part of the Pittsburgh Dance Council season. Also on tap we’ll see a street party with DJ Rekha at the September Gallery Crawl, music of the highest order (Zakir Hussein with SF Jazz & Dave Holland), theater (Why Not Theatre, Tram Theatre and Indian Ink Theatre Company), exhibits (Hetain Patel, Nandini Valli Muthish, Plus One, Birth Series and Sarika Goulatia) and Mystic India, fusing dance, theater and spectacular special effects. Love the logo! (Click on India for more information.)

Time of My Life? The finale song for Dirty Dancing popped up everywhere this past week. Tuesday: The touring production of “Dirty Dancing.” Wednesday: “Dirty Dancing” leads teach Kristine Sorensen and Jon Burnett a few moves on KDKA’s Pittsburgh Today Live. Friday: Finale for Pitt Dance Ensemble. Saturday: Finale for the Dirty Ball. Everyday (it seemed): The commercial for UnitedHealthcare where the signature flying leap comes crashing onto a table.

On Stage: Beth’s Families

March 27, 2015
Beth Corning and John Gresh. Photo: Frank Walsh.

Beth Corning and John Gresh. Photo: Frank Walsh.

We have been watching Beth Corning slowly reveal her own family history during her years in Pittsburgh, show by show, step by step. But she has constructed a special dance family around her personal family via the Glue Factory Project, designed specifically for dancers over 40.

In celebration of Glue’s fifth anniversary, she is putting five performers, all with a local/regional connection, inside at ONCE there was a HOUSE, her fourth iteration of the piece. This time Corning rebuilt the work with Attack Theatre’s Michele de la Reza, Squonk Opera’s Jackie Dempsey, veteran Pittsburgh actor John Gresh, former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal Tamar Rachelle Tolentino and Yoav Kaddar, head of West Virginia University’s dance department and former dancer with Paul Taylor, Jose Limon and Pilobolus.

It’s also the perfect way to celebrate five years in a “huge economic crunch.” Corning will embrace a long stint in Sweden, “that really created my artistic voice and my aesthetics and made them concrete,” by bringing in two Swedish artists later this year.

Re-entering her House along with “grownups who actually knew Dick and Jane,” the educational reading series used from 1930 to 1970 in many schools, was inspired by Pittsburgh.

But this House, which will double its length to an hour, “has changed a lot and the characters are completely different,” she promises. And with multidisciplinary artists around her, “it’s been pretty grand.”

“We acknowledge we’re all pushing our limits on this one — we’re all out of our comfort zone,” Corning says. ” It’s an incredibly vulnerable show; it’s incredibly vulnerable when you really know what you’re dancing about.”

The work she does is deeply personal, deeply engrained in the body and soul. For example, she would “sit and talk and analyze this thing” with Gresh “and find ways into it — it’s so much fun! These are people who are smart, who are there, who are present beyond present.”

So de la Reza might turn into a rehearsal director, helping some of the others. And Dempsey, an accordionist in her professional life, “picks up dance movement faster than most dancers.” Gresh keeps laughing — “he calls himself a baby rhino in a bunch of gazelles.”

They’ve all had to adjust, though. The movement might have to switch legs because of a leg or hip problem because “it’s all part of the Glue Factory.” But according to Corning, there is so much other movement available that the richness of the dance still takes hold.

And that made the process so much more satisfying.

For example, she was enamored with Rachelle Tolentino from her very beginning in Pittsburgh. The ballerina led the company audition for Corning at the Alloy, whereupon she asked her to join the company. “You’re exactly what I’m looking for.” But the knee problem that had curtailed Rachelle Tolentino’s career prevented that.

But a couple of years ago, she coached Corning in her one-woman show, REMAINS. “I had an ‘aha’ moment,” recalls Corning, “as I watched her walk. Seasoned artists can simply walk and say as much as a young dancer does in fifty pirouettes.”

De la Reza hasn’t been coached in 20 years while co-founder of Attack, leading Corning to remark that de la Reza’s experience here is like learning Greek and then immediately performing a theater piece using it.

Corning and Kaddar traded rehearsal time between Morgantown and Pittsburgh, about 90 minutes. She notes, admiringly, that he was “alway on time.” As for Gresh, well, “He’s a honey. That guy’s the real deal — he’s not up there doing lines.”

And Dempsey, an accordionist, she didn’t know that she would “really” be dancing. In fact, she wrote a note to Corning saying, in part, “In two decades of performing, I’ve never been quite so terrified.” But if she “could choose any artist with whom to take this lead, it wold be Beth.”



On Stage: Attack-ing 20

March 2, 2015
Peter Kope and Michele de la Reza.

Peter Kope and Michele de la Reza.

Attack Theatre has been known for balancing a palpable congeniality with a devil-may-care generosity of movement lo these last 20 years. For the most part, the company’s brand of dance has been, as its name implies, on the “attack,” and we revealed in its vivid physicality.

But for its 20th anniversary celebration, the company surprisingly turned inward for Between, diving into the softer side of their dance, those private moments that they, again, generously shared.

That doesn’t mean that Between didn’t carry a certain amount of risk — any new work is the equivalent of another leap off a tall building. Founders Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope said it centered around a duality, pictured in the duets that formed and unformed, and the creative process, so important in an ensemble that strives for artistic equality among its collaborators. (See Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.)

It all took place in Pittsburgh Opera’s George R. White Studio, running concurrently with its own production of Sumeida’s Song. The Attack production also shared Julia Noulin-Mérat’s dominating scenic design, a raw, towering crosshatch of wooden pallets. Set in one corner of the box theater, it was surrounded by stadium seating on two sides.

Along with Tom Nunn’s exotic lighting, it was remarkable that this intimate design for an Egyptian opera, replete with sand, would transfer so well to an abstract dance work.

Attack’s major addition was a pint-sized antechamber with tables and seating around a sandbox, their way of thinking outside the box and creating yet another dual layer. The audience was split — half started in the antechamber. They then switched at intermission and joined together for an “epilogue.”

ATTACK DAVEIn a very welcome return, musical director Dave Eggar took center stage, playing his cello on an oriental rug. He served as the focal point, a man in search of a song, which led him over to a grand piano. But then, everyone was searching — for an artistic or personal relationship or that creative nugget. Intensely. Passionately.

The connections were there to be made — sand dribbled and drifted between the performing spaces. There also was a blue ball, perhaps the creative impulse that never really leaves? Wads of paper — false starts — developed into a snowball fight (the fun side of this company). And key movements — some spooning, floor work, and hands to lips —  made the transition to both areas as well.

Of course, the music, an original score with a Chopin foundation, swirled between the spaces. Despite the fact that Eggar and percussionist Chuck Palmer (so versatile!) essentially played the same score twice, each side had its own alluring tonal (and sometimes atonal) power. The pair seemed like a handful of musicians with the use of looping effects — one where the music continued in the antechamber while Palmer left and Eggar’s use of ostinato and repetition to construct his own duets. Brilliant.

Best of all, this new work was bound together by uncharacteristic Attack elements. De la Reza and Kope have never looked better and he, in particular, revealed a vulnerability that we have not seen. Along with Dane Toney and Kaitlinn Dann, the four came and went between the two spaces with the precision of a Swiss watch. Of course, dance duets filled in Between. You had to love, especially, the male duet with Attack’s trademark leveraging — so effortless —  and The Embrace, one of Kope and de la Reza’s early works. Performed on a turntable, mesmerizing as it spun like a live Rodin sculpture, the duet had a lightness, a tenderness that had taken on its own patina through the years.

 Between was all so complex and compelling that some people, including me, went back, for there was yet another element, a physical and aural balance that was, simply put, breathtaking.


On Stage: The Attack Theatre Reunion

February 26, 2015
Attack founders Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope.

Attack founders Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope.

Attack Theater is in the midst of a 20th anniversary season and it’s time for a reunion. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

But also read what their dancers have to say, always a mark of a top-notch company —

Dane Toney: This is my 7th season with Attack Theatre and it has been extremely rewarding and fulfilling. Attack Theatre is about collaboration and there is a tremendous amount of respect that flows between artist, performer, administration, audience and community. Each day is different and continues to present new challenges. Those challenges range from transforming an abandoned building into a performance space full of life and energy to creating and then implementing a lesson plan centered on movement about the solar system for a 3rd grade class. There is always something new to learn or discover and explore.

Ashley Williams:

1. Working with Attack Theatre is like drinking from a fire hydrant: the constant creative, physical and emotional challenges involved in keeping up with the rehearsing/performing/teaching/inventing is drenching, mostly in a very good way.

2. Everyday we come to work, the job is different.

3. As a dancer, I’d expect my body to matter to my job. As an Attack Theatre dancer, my mind also really, really matters to my job. That’s cool.

4. I like being asked (by children after an in-school performance): ‘How do you do all them tricks?’

5. I love performing to live music.

Kaitlin Dann: The  reason why I keep coming back to Attack Theatre is because the company truly is anything but stationary. Over the past few years, I have had the privilege to continue evolving as a teaching artist, performer, and collaborator. We build our shows from the ground up giving us accountability in all aspects, from the construction of a stage to the final bow. The cherry on top is simply the astounding way Attack Theatre makes sure to take care of its dancers and administrative staff with salaried contracts and health benefits. I’d be hard pressed for find a more fulfilling company to work for.

Peter and Michele at their signature table.

Peter and Michele at their signature table.


Dance Beat: PPU, LightLab, Mary, Michele

October 16, 2013

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DANCE ON THE UPSWING. There’s something happening in the fast-moving developments to be found in Point Park University’s Student Choreography Project and we can only hope that this a global trend. Last year’s group had good structure, but many of this year’s group took that structure and developed imaginative and individual choreography to heighten it.

Oscar Carrillo shared top honors last year on Detached, which was chosen to represent PPU at the American College Dance Festival Association at the regional conference. This year he has upped the ante, scoring with a work for Texture Contemporary Ballet this summer and his latest at SCP, Rem Abstracto, a smart sojourn through sleep with a high degree of awareness in its dance patterns and slip-and-slide vocabulary (and owing a debt to Texture’s Alan Obuzor and Kelsey Bartman). He’s already on a roll, demonstrating a widerange in his trio of works and the best young talent I’ve encountered at PPU.

Then there was an already established partnership between Jennifer Florentino and John Michael O’Neill, who looked like professional ringers in Til the End, an organic shapeshifting number with extraordinary lifts. The students in attendance rewarded them with a standing ovation, a first that I’ve seen in the middle of the program.

They were only two of a dozen works, each of which made their own mark on the program. Among them were Isabella Jessen’s ▲ (shades of the Artist Formerly Known As Prince) and full of alien beings, angles and extreme dancing versus the swirling glamazons in Brittney McCarthy’s more traditional, but sweeping Beauty Bovine.

Congrats to mentors Doug Benz, Kiesha Lalama, Kellie Hodges, Judith Leifer-Benz Jason McDole, Danielle Pavlik and Ron Tassone who helped provide a professional  polish.

A NEW LIGHT. Wood Street Galleries often graciously shares its installations with performances pressed against vivacious contemporary backdrops in the intimate space. But LightLab, progressive collections of independent artists co-curated by David Bernabo and Taylor Knight, put most of the focus on experimental movement recently. Maree ReMalia has been reworking her slants series and this version’s “slant” had a delicate, but deliberate touch with its miniature projection. Jasmine Hearn, so ethereally connected with musician TIm Vernon, and Riva Strauss’ gritty film choreography tended to meander, though. Pittsburgh veteran artist Mark C. Thompson’s excerpts from flight from himself, a retrospective of a man, was, surprisingly, classic mime that nevertheless still touched the emotions. Overall this is a new and welcome avenue for artists to stretch their muscle, a benefit for the Pittsburgh scene.

MARY,MARY. Mary Miller Dance Company is gearing up for the group’s 30th anniversary season. Besides reconstructing some of her favorite works (and hiring dancers), Mary has a new producing director, David Maslow., a local veteran who comes via the Open Stage Theatre.

IMG_0066_2KOREA, KOREA. Attack Theatre’s Michele de la Reza is off to Korea and Taipei as she builds her global connections through former Pittsburgh Dance Council artistic director Carolelinda Dickey’s American Dance Abroad.

On Stage: 2011 Dance MVP’s

January 4, 2012

Man of Steel. He may be the toast of New York and other places (Jacob’s Pillow and international performances), but Kyle Abraham hasn’t forgotten his roots. Those indelible Pittsburgh connections gave rise to his immensely successful The Radio Show, which he brought back in an extended, more sophisticated version in the spring. (Kyle also lost his father this summer, whose Alzheimer’s and aphasia provided some of the most poignant moments in The Radio Show.) And then he unveiled the Pinocchio-inspired, largely autobiographical Live! The Realest Emcee at his home-away-from-home, the Kelly Strayhorn, in the fall. An embarrassment of choreographic riches.

Photo by Rich Sofranko

Woman of Steel. She wasn’t on view as much as we would have liked this year. But when Erin Halloran announced her retirement just prior to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s The Nutcracker due to serious hip problems, we realized how much she had given us over the years despite that. Now it will be almost like watching a variation of The Red Shoes as we continue to watch some of the ballets she danced in the future, with only a mental spotlight sufficing for the radiance and technical purity of this quintessential Pittsburgh ballerina.

Another Final Bow. Another sad and sudden exit as the Dance Alloy Theater board did not renew any administrative or company contracts in August, then failed to inform the community. The Kelly Strayhorn has picked up the ball that the Alloy board so unceremoniously dropped. While there won’t be a company as of yet, there is still a school…and a building. The Alloy certainly will take another form, probably a pick-up group, when it resurfaces. That will likely be in May, when hope generally springs eternal.

Yet Another Final Bow. But then, how DO you take a bow in bellydance? Gracefully, as Zafira did at the Kelly Strayhorn in October. Still, Olivia Kissel, Christine Andrews and Maria Hamer will be undulating their way along new paths, some of which will still carve a sinuous direction around Pittsburgh.

Best Ensemble. After 15 years, Attack Theatre is like a well-oiled machine. But that doesn’t mean that it’s getting creaky. Liz Chang, Michele de la Reza, Peter Kope, Simon Thomas-Train, Dane Toney and Ashley Williams are not only smooth and seamless, but they collectively bring it, my friends, to every performance. A joy to watch. 

Dance Party. I love it when dancers take charge, which was what happened at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Dancers Trust benefit. It’s always been a showcase by the dancers for company members to do something different and benefit their inevitable career transitions. This year, though, they had a genuine sense of showmanship, comedy and sheer fun — a ballet hat trick that is a rarity.

Discovery Channel. Staycee Pearl has struck the mother lode in her exploration  of award-winning writer Octavia Butler. Some call it sci-fi, but Staycee calls it Afrofuturism (or Magical Realism), which suits Staycee to a “T.” ( Look it up.) We met for a long-overdue conversation in the delightful Kazandra’s Cafe, conveniently located right next to the Kelly Strayhorn where Staycee is a resident artist.

Turnaround. I always say a good dancer should be able to hold an audience with his or her back. Zach Kapeluck took that idea to another dimension at Point Park University’s performing in September’s Student Choreography Project. As the opening lights shined down on him, they picked up a well-defined musculature that doubly impressed when he turned around. As I noted on CrossCurrents, he went from a budding classical dance poet the year before to something akin to a dancing Navy Seal. His artistic range should serve him well in the future.

Prix-ty Terrific. In 2011 Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School sent its first contestant to compete in the prestigious Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland…and its second. They were the lovely Anwen David and Aviana Adams, who represented the city with grace and aplomb.

Late Bloomer. Gia Cacalano has been improvising for years in Pittsburgh, but she was a cult figure and well-kept secret that flew under the radar. So it seems as if she has just truly burst onto the scene, with cutting edge performances at the Space Upstairs, SPACE and the Wood Street Galleries. That means both music and dance unfold in the moment in these juicy, shifting collaborations.

Fresh Bouquet. For the second year in a row, Pittsburgh dance is expanding. Pittsburgh fave Alan Obuzor debuted Texture Contemporary Ballet, while EVOLVE Productions, well, evolved by adding Continuum Dance Theater. Phinehas Hodges has a New Hazlett Theater series, “Speaking of…,” that relies heavily on young poets, of course, and dance companies and, speaking of young, Jaime Murphy and Renee Smith started the Murphy/Smith Dance Collective. Dance on!

At the Movies. I know this is technically a production company, but Emerging Pictures has expanded its coverage of international ballet and that means seeing some of the world’s greatest dancers, like Natalia Osipova and David Hallberg. Okay, maybe they’re on film, but they still pack a great artistic wallop. Catch upcoming events at The Oaks in Oakmont, but also Carmike theaters in Bethel Park, Altoona and Greensburg. I mean, really, when will the Bolshoi ever bourree into our immediate vicinity? Even the New York City Ballet, which is a heckuva lot closer, leaped into the pool with a simulcast (and an all-star cast) of its “Nutcracker” at Lincoln Center. Yes, digital is the way to go. Besides, it saves on touring costs.

Off Stage: Attack Theatre’s Ashley Williams

April 12, 2010

There are faces that become familiar as artists perform on stage. But often they have an intriguing backstory to bring to the table, something that we ordinarily do not do not encounter. See what Attack Theatre’s Ashley Williams has to offer.

On Stage: Attack Theatre, Bared in the Strip

November 13, 2009

Preparing for "incident[s]"It’s controlled chaos at Attack Theatre’s new digs, only a week before the company bares its latest production, “Incident(s) in the Strip.” Without much ado, co-founder Peter Kope introduces Angel Streitman, a “swing dancer” who takes turns standing in for Kope himself, wife and co-founder Michele de la Reza and percussionist/skate boardist Charlie Palmer, along with being stage manager and electrician.

But then, I like to think that all the Attackers are cloned.

Although “Incident[s]” contains “40 minutes of balls-out dancing” in the first act, according to de la Reza, they are working on the second half, where “life is continuing with a series of intense movements that continually alters it.”

They are rehearsing on an array of platforms that will play a part in “Incident[s],” not only for the performers, but, yes, for you, the audience. Atop the platforms are four carved wooden screens that represent the interior, the home, a personal space.

This is the last rehearsal before the Attackers fly off to North Carolina Arts Market, a prestigious adjudicated festival that only occurs every two years. They will fly down as a team, since the Attack musicians are here rehearsing a wild blend of “La Traviata,” “The Muppet Show Theme” and a sassy samba.

All in the same spacious room. Whew! No walls, but tremendous concentration skills.

The Attack team will perform on Monday, fly back Tuesday and go into tech rehearsal for “Incident[s]” that very day for the opening night Friday.  “That’s nothing new,” says de la Reza in an off-handed way. “We rechoreographed a dance on the plane to Indonesia once. We’re used to totally multi-tasking.”

The show originally was called “Strip.” Think Pittsburgh’s Strip District. Think the current economic downfall, stripping funds from the arts organizations. Although the “incidents” idea subsequently became the meat of the production, they didn’t want to lose the “Strip” idea.

So they do.

Protected by the wooden dividers, where the dancers do interior space tasks simulating shower andAttack Theatre's Charlie Palmertoilet routines, and some strategically-placed newspapers (Post-Gazette, of course), they begin to experiment.

“Hm-m-m,” I think, “This may be the most exciting rehearsal I’ve ever attended.”

Attack dancer Dane Toney blithely walks across the platforms with a piece of toilet paper trailing from his right shoe. But he quickly concedes that he won’t be wearing shoes. It’s all part of the creative process where Attack draws from a myriad of resources, all of which at some point tumble onto the dance floor.

In other words, abstract dancerly rebounds from the first half turn into people running into each other in the street…in the Strip, of course.

Here’s some of the sections to look for: “Mail,” “Jacket,” “Stupid Human Tricks,” “Hairpull,” “Praying.” Quite a range, you might say. But there’s more. While the dancers have a playful argument over eating eggs, music director Dave Eggar takes a break from his Latino mode to talk about the music, always such an important part of Attack Theatre’s appeal.

The first act, he explains, is “full and transcendent and atmospheric. In other words, the band rocks out. The second act, with its huge shift, finds the band going acoustic, which means cello, water bottles, bicycle wheel and other accoutrements.

Eggar invokes the name of 20th century composer Morton Feldman. According to Eggar, Feldman says that when musical pieces transcend an hour, “structure gives way to proportion and proportion is impacted by groups of material invading the space.”

Think about it.

In the meantime, Eggar moves on. He likens “Incident[s]” to a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book, where the Attack artists make a number of decisions during the creative process that determine any number of outcomes.

Pittsburgh Opera studio is being prepared for Attack TheatreThe musicians like that because they have a part in the artistic plan. Take Palmer, ordinarily a percussionist. When he was 11, “Back to the Future” inspired him to take up skateboarding. He can do tricks like a 360 degree kick flip. That will affect the performance.Tom Pirozzi, ordinarily holding forth on electric bass, will lose it in the second act, becoming, according to Eggar, a “hovering existential existence” or an overseer with Seinfeldian observations.

Eggar also calls it “harrowing because we’re creating in the studio in the moment. So right now we don’t know how act two ends. Anything can happen, like my doing a dance solo on a pile of people while I’m playing the cello. All bets are off.”

So the band might write the best or most popular or the hookiest music the member can write, if it’s for themselves. In the Attack show, the goal will be to dissolve a little and re-emerge with something that both serves the music and heightens the overall artistic vision of the piece. “It’s that marriage of the art forms at Attack Theatre that makes things fun and vital and alive,” says Eggar.

Not only for the dancers and the band, but for the audience.

Photos by Rebecca Himberger.

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