PIFOF: Mrs. Krishnan, Gab Squad, Blind Cinema

October 23, 2018

Previous editions of Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts provided a mystical maze that delved into the latest developments in global performance — all decidedly adult. This year there was a deliberate effort to include children’s and family entertainment, perhaps to lure a wider audience to some of the best artists In the world. Like:

Mrs. Krishnan’s Party (New Zealand). Perhaps the title was misleading. And James, who escorted us to our seats had an undeniable New Zealand accent. Mrs. Krishnan herself was pure Indian, sometimes over-the-top, but a New Zealander as well. No matter. This was an Indian story at its big heart, filled with traditions, history and, yes, food. In fact actors Kalyani Nagarajan and Justin Rogers really cook up a meal, ostensibly for the partygoers (us), but members of the audience frequently did the cooking, set the table and more. And the children — too delightful, you couldn’t have asked for better — passed out balloons and laughed contagiously. This was about as immersive as you can get with a live performance. In fact, when James asked an audience member to reveal a secret, she hesitated because she had become so involved. It doesn’t get any better than that.

Gab Squad. Gab Bonesso, local comedien and, as it turned out, bullying expert, came up with this program, an extension of her school talk. So Gab was a veteran, capable of dealing with middle/high school, such a tricky age for the arts. She began with a monologue, her audience mostly neutral or, in some cases, resistant. And when she started interacting — there’s that trending word — she settled on one girl who had an interest in Harry Potter. The connection was made. But when Gab began to encourage the students to dance, there was some awkward hesitation. Suddenly the Harry Potter fan jumped up, face bright, the awkwardness disappearing as she began dancing. One by one the students joined in, moving and grooving on the drums as well. It was heart-warming and, I’m sure, transformative. And that’s what the arts are all about.

Blind Cinema. I went to the movies. Just don’t ask me the title. Because I went to the Blind Cinema. Yes, I was blindfolded. Just suffice it to say that it was a magical experience, children whispering what they were seeing in little megaphones, like fairy dust on the ear. It’s funny how your other senses take up the slack, a way of brief understanding about some people who do that every day.

On Stage: Musing on the Dance Council’s Dance Muses

May 22, 2012

Photo: Tom Caravaglia

When I first received the Pittsburgh Dance Council’s latest season announcement, my first reaction responded to the personality-plus to be seen on the roster. After all, we were getting companies from British Bangladesh and New Zealand, the mosh pit known as Elizabeth Streb, street dance, men in tights and the indescribable Mark Morris, who is simply his own man.

You can’t get much more different than that.

Photo: Laurent Zieglert

Yet executive director Paul Organisak saw nothing but connections. “These are artists who use real fundamentals of different dance forms in their work,” he said. And with that he proceeded to tick off the reasons why:

Elizabeth Streb (Sept. 28-29): “She strips down dance to energy movement through time and space.”

Akram Khan Company (Oct. 20): “His foundation is traditional ethnic dance.”

Kyle Abraham/Abraham.In.Motion (Feb. 16): “Kyle is informed by club dance/street dance. He takes that as motivation and superimposes contemporary choreography.”

Black Grace (Mar. 2): “They show traditional Maori [a native New Zealand culture], then add contemporary dance.”

Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (Apr. 5): “Classical ballet!”

Mark Morris Dance Group (May 4): “He takes musicality to new levels.”

(All performances at the Byham Theater.)

Photo: Ian Douglas

But I see a season that will continue the adventurous path that PDC returned to this past season. And for the very reasons they are connected, these companies will still demonstrate the enormous diversity of dance.

I suppose that I am most excited by Akram Khan, a British-born Bangladeshi choreographer, not only because his name is currently on everyone’s lips, but because the brief clip I saw during the PDC announcement was an ever-changing cloud of dance. Pittsburgh will be able to see what all the talk is about.

Phoro: Duncan Cole

But then, the remarkable individuality of the rest of the season will come into heavy play. Kyle Abraham is a darling of the New York City dance scene.. He heads for the American Dance Festival this year, but still maintains his Pittsburgh roots and was just in town for the Kelly-Strayhorn’s newMoves Festival. Paul will bring in a new work sight-unseen, “Boyz n the Hood: Pavement,” that won’t have its premiere until just before the Pittsburgh appearance. That’s trust.

Mark Morris hasn’t been seen here in over a decade. One of the world’s most prominent choreographers, that is far too long. Although he once was called “the bad boy of modern dance,” he was always an artist who had principles. This performance will have live(!) music, always a great support system for his singularly musical approach.

Photo: Sascha Vaughn

Streb will bring another brand of excitement as her dancer/gymnasts/athletes flaunt their control in seemingly dangerous situations. Although they have thrown themselves against walls and taken large leaps of faith here in the past (1994-95 and 2003), Forces will present a new environment on steroids. But Elizabeth, who won the MacArthur “Genius” Award would explain it all in quantum mechanics terminology. You’ll have to see for yourself.

Lastly we’ll get two all-male, decidedly different groups — a rare treat. Black Grace brings the Maori culture of New Zealand and has inspired enthusiastic notices around the world for its unique blend of masculinity and spirituality.

And the Trocks? Evidently they have stepped up their game since their last visit to Pittsburgh, with upgraded technique and artistry that lends more comic nuance to the balletic repertoire. Bring on your Dying Swan, Larissa Dumbchenko!

Photo: Brian Snyder






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