Dance Beat: Kinzua Dam, West Point Ballet, Benjamin Millipied

January 4, 2017


KINZUA DAM. Thanks to more media coverage, celebrity support and the support of organizations like veterans, people are learning about the Indian plight at Standing Rock. But what we don’t remember is how the United States government has exerted force over Indian nations for a large part of our history, taking land that rightfully belonged to them. Western Pennsylvania has an Indian area that was flooded by the Kinzua Dam. The Kelly Strayhorn Theater, a hotspot for minority art, brought in a moving, heartfelt performance by Minneapolis’ Rosy Simas Danse. Rosy went to visit the Kinzua site, where her ancestors were forced to evacuate. Click on Kinzua Dam for a complete history. And from the Seneca Indians’ perspective remembering 50 years ago...

west-point-nutWEST POINT BALLET. The West Point Ballet, located in Coraopolis,d served notice that it is joining the upper tier of local dance studios. Only in its third year, it presented its own “Nutcracker,” showcasing the Cuban ballet style, so poetic and lyrical, and filled with those signature pirouettes that seem so effortless. WPB fielded at least half a dozen young women who distinguished themselves and has a growing contingent of young men that would be the envy of other schools. Congratulations to owners Cynthia Castillo, formerly with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and a graduate of the National Ballet of Cuba, and Damien M. Coro, formerly with PBT and the National Ballet of Cuba. Damien performed with the group alongside his twin brother, David, a former principal with the National Ballet of Cuba who is teaching at the Laurel Ballet with his wife, Vanessa Haider, also a former member of the National Ballet. Certainly their combined expertise will enrich the ballet community for many years to come.

peter-farmerPETER FARMER. World famous costume and scenery designer Peter Farmer passed away a few days ago. He worked on a number of productions at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, including the recent Giselle production this past fall. You can read about the process and his career from Janet Groom Campbell, good friend and PBT costumier, here.

BENJAMIN MILLIPIED.  For those who like a juicy ballet backstory, there is an upcoming documentary about Benjamin Millipied (famously the husband of movie star Natalie Porter) and his dramatically short tenure at the Paris Opera Ballet. Called Reset, it should hit movie theaters sometime in January.

DANCE LISTINGS. There’s not a lot happening in January with Pittsburgh dance (see Listings). What is happening?






Dance Beat: Jessica, Jewels, James

December 5, 2016



DANCE JAM! Pittsburgh artist manager Jessica Marino (JAMpress management) is joining with Green Street Studios of Cambridge, Massachusetts to form Tracks to provide multiple showcase opportunities for dancers. Jessica and friends hope to “foster a creative environment where artists and presenters can meet, network and build meaningful relationships” with a goal of increasing performances, residencies, masterclasses and collaborations. Pittsburgh artists include Maree ReMalia & HyunJung Lee, Staycee Pearl Dance Project, Teena Marie Custer, Shana Simmons Dance, Brady Sanders and Jamie Erin Murphy. Already on tap are Gibney Dance Choreographic Studios in Cambridge, PearlArts Studios in Pittsburgh and Lehigh Valley Dance Exchange in Allentown, PA.

JEWELS. This looks like the ballet equivalent of Hamilton. Bolshoi Ballet! New York City Ballet! jewels_1421185cParis Opera Ballet! All together in one glorious run of George Balanchine’s Jewels. Wonder what the tickets will go for? Click on Jewels for more information.


JAMES. James Gilmer, formerly a student at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, now residing and dancing at Columbus Ballet (soloist!) went to Kennedy Center as part of the company’s Nutcracker production. In this video clip from the company, you can spot him in two places, the first one a pirouette about 10 seconds in.


On Stage: Getting a “Kick” From the Moulin Rouge

February 14, 2013

Eva Trapp in Moulin RougePittsburgh Ballet Theatre seems to have a certifiable hit on its hands with Moulin Rouge, having already scheduled four performances (a rarity these days) and adding a Saturday matinee due to popular demand.

Does this mean that audiences are thirsty for new full-length ballets that have a contemporary relevance? After all, a whole new generation saw the Baz Luhrmann movie with Nicole Kidman and Ewan MacGregor, released in 2001.

Or is it a reaction to the name Moulin Rouge, the famous French nightclub that still carries its own mystique? This is, after all, the only officially sanctioned ballet bearing the name.

Many have tried, but Jorden Morris, choreographer at the Royal Winnipeg Ballet in Canada, is the only one who was chosen. He won over the MR administrators with his knowledge of French music (he happened to study early French choreography with Claude Bessy and Serge Golovine from Paris Opera Ballet). And not only that, but Veronique Allaire-Spitzer, vice president of brand development attended the world premiere in 2009, where she put the final stamp of approval on the production.

Mr. Morris has spent an extraordinarily long time — six weeks — to mount the production at Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. It’s for a good reason — Royal Winnipeg is going to film the production in high definition and he is using the time to make a few adjustments.

Be forewarned — the plot will be different from the Luhrman movie, which had traces of La Boheme, with Paris’s Bohemian atmosphere and a heroine dying of consumption. This version tells a story of two lovers who meet at the nightclub —  Natalie, a rising young star under the watchful eye of manager Charles Zidler and Matthew, a painter newly-arrived in Paris. It develops into a classic love triangle that, along the way, involves painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, who immortalized the Moulin Rouge in his work, stars La Goulue and Mome Fromage and, of course, the French Cancan, packed full of high kicks and ruffled skirts, that originated at the heralded nightclub.

Mr. Morris likes to think that his direct connections with the Moulin Rouge have infused his ballet, giving off the aura and even the smell of the historic club. Although the public spaces have been renovated many times, he admittedly became enamored with the backstage, still sporting original wooden staircases and costumes that are still hung high in the rafters, when he visited the site.

Home of Mistinguett in the early years, later visited  by the likes of Maurice Chevalier, Frank Sinatra, Mikhail Baryshnikov and Liza Minnelli, this birthplace of the divine “unruly girls” continues to draw audiences to its spectacular shows.


Dance Beat: Tim, Andre, PBT, PPU

March 10, 2012

FAN-TASTIC. He may be ballet’s ultimate fan. Tim Evans looks positively rapturous whenever he’s around it, whether the studio or the concert hall, it’s all the same. Or Paris, San Francisco and who knows where else. Anyhow, Tim contacted me about Tennessee Williams and Streetcar Named Desire and John Neumeier. Evidently Tim is in his own stratosphere of ecstasy at the prospect of the North American premiere of this ballet this weekend. Although he’s been an admirer of Williams since high school, it all began, as many terrific stories do, in Paris. He went to see Paris Opera Ballet’s La Bayadere, but stayed to see Midsummer Night’s Dream, by a young Neumeier. I never heard of him,” Tim says. “But it knocked me out of my seat.” He’ll tell you the date, too — Tuesday, July 10, 2001. Inspired, he returned two years later for Neumeier’s Nijinsky, which he gave a standing ovation at intermission. Time has been so impressed that he is putting his money on Neumeier and Matthew Bourne as the future of ballet. And he was so impressed that he negotiated a lunch with Neumeier, gleaning details on the symbolism within Streetcar. He’ll be heading to the Benedum Center twice this weekend and says “I’m tickled to death that he’s here.”

ANDRE AT THE ALLOY. The Pittsburgh Dance Council had a terrific choreographic interaction in conjunction with Dance Works Rotterdam/Andre Gingras. Apparently the artistic director/choreographer loves to teach young artists and he had a quartet — Alan Obuzor, Staycee Pearl, Gwen Hunter Ritchie and Mita Ghosal, a newcomer to the city who combines modern and Indian dance forms. Each artist showed a short video of his/her work. What followed was nothing short of masterful manipulation by Andre — they each offered observations about each other and got feedback from Paul Organisak, presenter and Laura Colby, arts management. If you missed this one, there will be another, a free class for dance professionals, with improvisationalist extraordinaire Michael Schumacher on Sat. afternoon Apr. 7, in conjunction with the Dance Council’s Last Touch First in collaboration with choreographic icon, Jiri Kylian. Check the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust website.This is great for Pittsburgh dance, folks.

SHALOM. It’s leaking out that Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will be going to Israel in August. Stay tuned.

MORE MARTHA. The Martha Graham company will present an Inner Landscape program at the Joyce Theater in New York City on March 14 at 7:30 p.m. Point Park University students will be the modern dance pioneer’s Heretic from 1929, something that will also be performed at the University’s Byham program Apr. 19-21. Also featured on the Joyce program will be students from Graham II, University of Arizona, Hartt School (CT), Skidmore University (NY), New World School of the Arts (FL) and Interlochen Arts Academy (MI).

Dance Beat: KST/Alloy, Pillow, NYCB, Maribeth and Aimee

January 3, 2012

It’s time to catch up on a few things that popped up over the holidays —

KST Alloy. It’s official. Pennsylvania’s Attorney General approved the merger between the Kelly Strayhorn Theater and Dance Alloy Theater in mid-December. KST executive director Janera Solomon and staff are “pleased to have pass this final step in completing the merger with Dance Alloy Theater (DAT). Since the Kelly Strayhorn assumed responsibility for DAT operations, we have been able to support contemporary dance performers and choreographers in Pittsburgh with additional Master Classes, residencies for choreographers that enable them to develop and showcase their new works and we continue to offer popular community classes for students of all ages.” KST will continue to strengthen its commitments to the Pittsburgh dance community, a real plus. As for the three decade-old Alloy company itself, I’m sure its resurrection will be a continuing story throughout 2012.

The Pillow. Not our local Pillow Project, but the national historic landmark, Jacob’s Pillow, which is celebrating its 80th anniversary. What’s not to celebrate? History-making contributions to dance. Opportunities to discover new things about dance. Companies from nine countries and continents (The Joffrey Ballet, Royal Winnipeg Ballet, Hong Kong Ballet, Morphoses, Vertigo Dance Company). Once-in-a-lifetime engagements (week-long homage to founder Ted Shawn with an all-star, all-male cast). “Back by Popular Demand” (Tero Saarinen’s “Borrowed Light,” seen here at the Dance Council, Crystal Pite (seen at PDC, but not her “Dark Matters”) Doug Elkins (not seen in a long time at PDC, but a hit at the Pillow with “Fräulein Maria,” yes, his own take on “Sound of Music”). For more information, click on Jacob’s Pillow.

New York City Ballet “Nutcracker”

Sometimes You Feel Like a Nut. New York City Ballet joined the simulcast dance wave. The Metropolitan Opera started it all with its popular film series, beamed into select movie theaters. International opera houses followed. The first to pick up the ball in dance were international ballet companies – Bolshoi Ballet, Paris Opera Ballet, The Royal Ballet, as well as other European companies. Apparently NYCB had the facilities and equipment in place to do the same. It finally worked out all the kinks and shared its opening night cast of George Balanchine’s “Nutcracker.” (I hear Pittsburgh Youth Ballet dismissed its dancers early from rehearsal to catch it.) More, please. Click on Carmike Cinemas, The Oaks and Ballet in Cinema, although — warning! —  the websites can be a little confusing.

On a Personal Note. Adding to the Pittsburgh dance community’s growing family, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s director of marketing and communications, Aimee DiAndrea, recently promoted, had to miss some “Nutcracker” performances because of her previously scheduled marriage and honeymoon. And former Alloy dancer Maribeth Maxa is looking radiant after her autumn marriage to Randy Fukas and making future plans. (Think costume design for one.)

On Film: Delving into Madness

March 16, 2011

The Roman emperor Caligula had a beastly reputation, with incest, murder and madness dotting his history. So it was surprising to see that the Paris Opera Ballet was producing a filmed full-length production on the topic. More surprising was the fact that it was created by star dancer Nicolas Le Riche in only his second choreographic attempt.

The whole idea was too juicy to pass up. So I headed to the Carmike 10 at South Hills Village on Fort Couch Road, where I was regrettably one of a handful of people in attendance.

Caligula began his reign in 37 and was at first was popular with his subjects. But during the next year, he fell ill and the reversal of his mental fortunes quickly became apparent. During the rest of his four-year reign, he committed incest with his three sisters, exhibited rampant sadism, made his horse, Incitatus, his own personal consul and terrorized his subjects.

Mr. Le Riche, however, didn’t capitalize on the sensationalism. He instead formed his own vision from an assemblage of resources. The most prominent choice was the selection of Vivaldi’s “The Four Seasons,” a jarringly glistening score for a horrific subject.

He apparently selected the collection to symbolize Caligula’s four years as emperor. At first it didn’t appear that Vivaldi’s music had either the weight or the drama to support the subject matter. But then, as the ballet settled in, it served as a place of serenity and structure amid what might have been total mental chaos.

With the Vivaldi score in hand, the choreographer chose a non-narrative approach, electing instead to feature defining aspects of Caligula’s (Stephane Bullion) life, such as his fascination with the Moon, played by Clairemarie Osta en pointe, and an oddly lovely pas de deux with his horse, danced with a prancing esteem by Mathias Heymann. Famed actor and mime of the time, Mnester (Nicolas Paul), was primarily relegated to minimalist intervals, composed by Louis Dandrel, between the Vivaldi sections.

There was a bare primitive set to house primal emotions, with pillars along the sides and a set of stairs at the back often covered a movable screen. But the choreography seemed restrained, although Mr. Le Riche showed a talent for combining classical ballet vocabulary with a contemporary accent.

Still, with the magnificent Paris Opera Ballet dancers, there was an overriding beauty in this strangely delicate ballet about an indelicate subject.

You can catch them next in “Coppelia” Mar. 28 at 1:30 p.m. and Apr. 6 at 7:30 p.m.

Dance Beat: Calendar, Recitals, Movies

February 27, 2011

RECITAL TIME. It’s about that time of year again when dance recitals start to bloom. I’ll be assembling a list for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, which stays on the website virtually all year — a little advertising never hurts. Include date, name of school, location of recital and contact info (person or persons, telephone number(s) and website information). If you have any special news — a choreographer, a theme, student awards, an anniversary, etc. — include that for the introduction. Email:  Deadline: April 5.

RAINING BALLET. It’s an embarrassment of riches for ballet fans. We know about the Oaks Theater and its Emerging Pictures offerings of the best in international ballet companies, but the Carmike10 in South Hills Village has its own ballet and opera series. So if you can’t travel to France and Russia to see these companies live, enjoy them on digital screen. The remaining performances: Bolshoi Ballet’s “Don Quixote” Sun. Mar. 6 at 11 a.m. and Wed. Mar. 16 at 7:30 p.m.; Paris Opera Ballet’s “Coppelia” Mon. Mar. 28 at 1:30 p.m. and Wed. Apr. 6 at 7:30 p.m.; Bolshoi Ballet’s “Coppelia” Sun. May 29 at 11 a.m. and Wed. June 8 at 7:30 p.m. and Paris Opera Ballet’s “Children of Paradise” Sat. July 9 at 1:30 p.m. and Wed. July 20 at 7:30 p.m.

MARCH MADNESS. Well, the March dance calendar is up on Listings. Enjoy!

Off Stage: Post-Prix

February 22, 2011

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre School students Aviana Adams and Anwen David no doubt have learned scads about grace on the stage. But they had a terrific lesson about grace under pressure when they headed for the Prix de Lausanne in Switzerland a few weeks ago to compete among the best students in the world and having had time to reflect and rest, shared their experience.

Avi and Anwen set out for Europe with different perspectives. Anwen, who has family near London, had crossed the Atlantic before. It was Avi’s first trip out of the United States and she barely slept, opting instead to watch the sun rise from the plane and Tweeting about it to friends.

With a bit of time to kill, Avi (with mom Janet Popeleski) and Anwen (with mom Caroline) hooked up to walk around and get to know their surroundings, full of picturesque houses and, of course, the majestic Alps. Then they went to register (where Avi pulled out some “rusty” French) and warm-up.

Surprise! The studio floor was raked, just the same as the performance stage. As it so happens, the Byham Theater has a raked stage, but the ones at Lausanne were three times the angle, making it decidedly more precipitous to execute pirouettes and, in particular, a menage or series of turns in a circle where pique turns could push upwards then swoop downwards. (FYI: Raked stages, found primarily in Europe, were set at an angle or “rake” so that the audience could see better. In other words, upstage definitely meant that the performer went upwards. And downstage? Obviously a ballet could take on some aspects of a roller coaster.)

Everyone reacted differently. Anwen confessed that, at first, she felt like she was going to fall off the front section, “but that got better as the week went on.” Avi called it “surprisingly lovely” and better than the Byham, which can be tricky because the dancer could forget the slight rake. She noted, “I think I liked it because it was drastically different. With the Lausanne studio you didn’t overthrow your balance. It was a lot easier to turn in my opinion.”

The pair immediately began to make friends, particularly those girls in the 15-16 age group who shared their dressing room. They came from Norway, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia and, yes, America. “Everyone was so friendly,” said Anwen. “I was worried that they might be competitive and pushy, but they were all really nice and happy to meet people.” Avi agreed. She became “fast friends” with New Zealander Alex Cambie. It’s a world where Facebook rules.

The girls had both classical and contemporary classes before they hit the stage, time enough to get used to the spotlight, according to Anwen, with “nine judges and directors from all around the world, cameras and video cameras, all these people watching every little thing you do.” Avi noted that “we were like deer caught in the headlights.”

Things started to settle down, although Avi got tangled with another dancer while feeding into a combination during a contemporary class. She went down and hurt her wrist, forcing her to withdraw from the competition. (A fast healer, she was hoping to have the cast removed today.)

So Avi turned her considerable energy to observing all the girls’ individual coaching sessions with mom. She saw  much attention paid to the pirouettes, where the coach was looking for the dancers to “pull up more right before you land.” She also found some “trigger words” that helped her understand corrections. One was “to take the light with your chest” when the dancer finishes a step or uses a porte bras.

Anwen, in the meantime, got six minutes to take in those corrections, twice with former Paris Opera Ballet principal dancer Monique Lourdieres and once with contemporary choreographer Cathy Marston. She didn’t get through the whole piece with Cathy, although that was true of most of the contestants. Monique helped her with her Italian fouettes and menage, which were difficult on the raked stage, and encouraged her to use “more personality.”

But evidently the judges and dance notables were impressed by her, because even though she didn’t make the finals, Anwen came home with four scholarship offers from Hamburg Ballet School (Hamburg Ballet, whose artistic director, John Neumeier will be presented at PBT in his production of “Streetcar Named Desire” next year), Mannheim Academy of Ballet (Mannheim Ballet, whose artistic director, Kevin O’Day, choreographed several ballets for PBT), Basel Dance Academy and the National Academy of Dance, which is affiliated with the Dutch National Ballet (and whose artistic director, Christopher Powney, sat on the judges’ panel).

Avi came back strengthened by the whole experience, but recalled “how everyone takes the bus and there’s very little pollution. You can fill your water bottle from any tap and it’s okay to drink it — I definitely miss that!” She’s already planning for next year.

As far as advice for those who might consider the competition option?

Anwen said “not to worry about the competition part of it. Try to really enjoy it and learn as much as you can and just have a good time.” Avi added that future competitors should be present about “every single detail and every single correction. But more importantly, dance. Don’t think about what you’re doing, just dance and relax. RELAX.”

It sounds like they both listened to their own advice. But they apparently learned one more thing — how to show grace in an interview as well.

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