On Stage: Water Dance

August 16, 2017

Dance icon Lucinda Childs is flanked by Blanket founders Matt Pardo and Caitlin Scranton. Photo: Ben Viatori

The Monongahela. It was an impossibly perfect night on a Saturday night in Pittsburgh along the Monongahela River where viewers could take in the debut of the city’s newest dance company, The Blanket. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Friday night may have been rained out, but a healthy group of party goers gathered at the Society for Contemporary Craft in the Strip District to celebrate the inimitable choreographer herself, Lucinda Childs.

The Blanket: Georgia Bray, Matt Pardo, Sara Spizzichini, Eric Lobenberg, Lucinda Childs, John DeNeff, Caitlin Scranton, Jil Stifel, Sierra Barnett, Lindsay Fisher, Bianca Melidor. Photo: Ben Viatori

The Lake. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre returned to Chautauqua Institution in western New York State along the shores of the lake from which it got its name. From the time the bus pulled up to the brand new Amphitheater, the dancers were taken with the Victorian beauty of the gated community.

PBT alights from the bus at the back of the new Amphitheater.

Marisa Grywalski and Alejandro Diaz

Emily Simpson and Jake Unger.

The atmosphere was enthralling, all the way through the performance that night. Still, the dancers got a few minutes to take in the vintage scenery.

Jason Zubovic, aka Thea Trix, welcomed one and all to Pittsburgh Luxury Cruises’ Fantasy.

The Allegheny. Attack Theatre has this fun idea called We’re on a Boat. It’s a great way to warp up the season, taking in the beauty of Pittsburgh from the three rivers, rain or shine. It happened to be a great night (my third time and probably my favorite). Michele de la Reza, Peter Kope and fellow Attackers mixed and mingled with

 

 

 


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.

 


On Stage: Wondering About “Alice”

February 13, 2017

In that never-ending search for full-length ballets, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre decided to bring back Derek Deane’s “Alice in Wonderland” after almost ten years. A lot has happened since then, but there was a lot happening on the stage as well (click on PBT). In fact, PBT bought the colorful production hoping to rent it out to other companies. That remains to be seen. PBT had hoped to put together a national tour after the 2008 premiere, which never happened. Will “Alice” get a second chance?

Nonetheless, it is colorful as Rich Sofranko’s photos underscore…

Yoshiaki Nakano (White Rabbit) and Amanda Cochrane (Alice) interact in the Hallway of Doors.

Yoshiaki Nakano (White Rabbit) and Amanda Cochrane (Alice) interact in the Hallway of Doors.

Alice pouts as the Cooper Verona (Mad Hatter), Masahiro Haneji (March Hare) and Diana Yohe (Dormouse) cavort.

Alice pouts as the Cooper Verona (Mad Hatter), Masahiro Haneji (March Hare) and Diana Yohe (Dormouse) cavort.

The Tea Party continues...

The Tea Party continues…

Julia Erickson (Queen of Hearts) presides --

Julia Erickson (Queen of Hearts) presides —

 


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: Kinzua Dam, West Point Ballet, Benjamin Millipied

January 4, 2017

kinzua-dam-allegheny-river

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?

 

 

 

 

 


On Stage: 15 Years of “Nut”-iness

December 5, 2016
Alexandra Kochis with Christopher Budzynski in "The Nutcracker." Photo: Rich Sofranko

Alexandra Kochis with Christopher Budzynski in “The Nutcracker.” Photo: Rich Sofranko

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre celebrates 15 years of “Nutcracker” in the Terrence Orr production. Click on Nut for the review.


Dance Beat: Patricia, Matt, Brazzies, Charrette, Attack

August 30, 2016
Patricia Wilde with Savion Glover

Patricia Wilde with Savion Glover

A Wilde Award. Former Pittsburgh artistic director Patricia Wilde added yet another award to her treasure chest. She was honored by the National Museum of Dance in Saratoga, New York, along with famed tap dancer Gregory Hines, whose award was accepted by tapper extraordinaire Savion Glover, who was mentored by Hines. She was surrounded by her family, including children Anya Davis and Yuri Bardyguine, plus a sizable contingent who worked with her at PBT, including Terrence Orr, Harris Ferris, Janet Campbell with David and Roberto Munoz.

Fresh Addition. He has popped up in performances with Attack Theatre ever since he and husband Rubén Garcia, head of the dance department at Point Park University, moved to Pittsburgh two or so years ago. Dance Europe Magazine selected him as one of the “Top 100 Dancers in World” for 2010/2011 and he is a former dancer with Lucinda Childs. But he gave Pittsburgh a sweet surprise this spring at the Kelly Strayhorn Theater, simply titled Matt Pardo: An Evening of New Works. It was actually the culmination of a Master’s of Fine Arts Degree at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and showcased a subtle blend of jazz, which had a certain weight, and contemporary dance, which gave it a liquidity. That clarity and balance in Pardo’s choreography were easiest to see in Matt’s solo and another for Point Park dancer, the talented Justus Whitfield. There were two group dances for Point Park College dancers which further demonstrated a transparency in thought and execution to be found in Pardo’s style. Most exciting, though, was a trio he created with Childs dancers Caitlin Scranton and Sharon Milanese, beautifully interacting in various formations. It was a preview, though, because Pardo and  Scranton have designs on establishing a professional company in Pittsburgh.

BETH CORNING HEADSHOTThe Brazzies. The latest edition of the Brazzy Awards, named after former ballerina and inspirational teacher Leslie Anderson Braswell went to two veterans of the local dance scene. Congratulations to Beth Corning, who always offers deep, thoughtful performances for dancers over 50 (!), this time taking on avant-garde writer Samuel Beckett in Beckett and Beyond, and Christopher Budzynski, principal dancer with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, who has contributed so much to an array of leading roles, including Swan Lake,  Don Quixote and Le Corsaire.

Christopher Budzynski with wife Alexandra Kochis in "Cinderella."

Christopher Budzynski with wife Alexandra Kochis in “Cinderella.”

Fresh Choreography. This is the must-see project developed at PearlArts Studios. Take a choreographer, give him or her the opportunity to develop work and present it in a  atmosphere, complete with expert feedback (in this instance dance artists Mark Taylor — who seamlessly coordinates things — Michele de la Reza, Jasmine Hearn and visual artist Maritza Mosquera). Do yourself a favor and take in the soft glow of changing light at the Studios, complete with intelligent, nurturing conversation and support for the likes of Jean Paul Weaver, Ella Moriah Mason and Slowdanger duo Anna Thompson and Taylor Knight.

Real Attack. One of my favorite activities, rain or shine. No real dance, just connecting with real dancers (and friends) who proclaim “We’re On a Boat.” The Attackers had a real presence this year, with co-founders Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope, of course, the inimitable executive director Rebecca Himberger, Dane Toney, Ashley Williams, all at Lock Wall One Marina at 23rd Street in the Strip District

 

 


On Stage: Another “Nut”-ty Holiday at PBT

December 6, 2015
Hannah Carter as Marie. Photo: Rich Sofranko

Hannah Carter as Marie. Photo: Rich Sofranko

How do I love thee? Let me count the times I’ve seen the “Nutcracker.” Over the course of 40 years, that means a lot. But I can’t say I have the same pressure as those dance professionals who have participated in countless performances. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has the best buy in the city ($30 for a multi-million dollar production). Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Diana Yohe and Corey Bourbonniere in the Snow Scene. Photo: Rich Sofranko.

Diana Yohe and Corey Bourbonniere in the Snow Scene. Photo: Rich Sofranko.


On Stage: A Ballet Trifecta

November 8, 2015

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre just concluded its opening performance series in grand style with Balanchine, Forsythe and Kylian. Read about it at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

This was as perfectly balanced a repertory program as PBT has ever presented. Something to note — while the audiences were smaller than the more marketable full-length ballets like Swan Lake, they were more enthusiastic, responding to the masterful choreography. So Pittsburgh dance fans know something good when they see it and, with similar programs, I believe Pittsburgh audiences will warm up to the concept of repertory, with a variety that will undoubtably appeal, at some point, to virtually everyone.

George Balanchine knew that, given his famous quote of having an appetizer, an entree and dessert on the program and he understood the concept of a dance “dessert” better than anyone, whipping up a batch of terrific finales like Western Symphony, Stars and Stripes and the Gershwin-inspired Who Cares?. Gradually audiences (and dancers) will graduate to the more dramatic, full-company likes of his Symphony in Three Movements and Symphony in C.

From this program, it seems, too, that Pittsburgh responds to the physicality of the dance — the array of leaps in Sinfonietta, the breathless slicing kicks of In the Middle, the seemingly unlimited dance landscape of Western Symphony.

Behind the scenes, and speaking of breath, corps member Caitlin Peabody, as fiery in Middle as her hair, said that there was a part in this deceptively difficult  ballet where she literally felt that she couldn’t catch her breath. As it turned out, choreographer Forsythe sent a message to “breathe.” And repetiteur Agnes Noltenius, one of the three top-notch artists who set the trio of ballets, reminded the dancers at the dress rehearsal. It worked, resulting in a satisfying breadth of movement as well as a breathable flow of movement, confident and articulate, something that is not always present with this company.

Once again, repetiteurs have transformed PBT, the last one being Shelly Washington in the Twyla Tharp program of Nine Sinatra Songs and In the Upper Room in 2013. And it would be hard to improve on this program. If anything, there could have been a newer work, maybe a commission or a ballet conceived within the past five years. Newer works build a company’s reputation — it’s more difficult to measure up to the international standard seen on YouTube and assorted films created in the classical tradition.

As a bonus, photographer Martha Rial had a free time slot and captured some of the memorable movements of Sinfonietta with her lens. If anyone would like a copy, contact her at martha@martharial.com.

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©

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Luca Sbrizzi and Jessica McCann perform Sinfonietta. Photo: Martha Rial©

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Luca Sbrizzi and Jessica McCann perform Sinfonietta. Photo: Martha Rial©

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Jessica McCann and Joanna Schmidt perform Sinfonietta. Photo: Martha Rial©

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Jessica McCann and Joanna Schmidt perform Sinfonietta. Photo: Martha Rial©

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's Corey Bourbonniere, Alexandre Silve and Gabrielle Thrulow perform Sinfonietta. Photo: Martha Rial©

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Corey Bourbonniere, Alexandre Silve and Gabrielle Thrulow perform Sinfonietta. Photo: Martha Rial©

The final, highly emotional image of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's production of Sinfonietta. Photo: Martha Rial©

The final, highly emotional image of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s production of Sinfonietta. Photo: Martha Rial


Dance Beat: Loti Falk Gaffney

October 20, 2015

Maybe they knew something. Above is the tribute that Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre assembled in honor of board founder Loti Falk Gaffney at the 45th Anniversary Gala last April at the Benedum Center. It was a wonderful occasion, with board members fully committed to send PBT to the next level. Her granddaughter accepted on behalf of Loti, who was too frail to travel from her home on East 66th Street in New York City.

She died there on Oct. 13 at the age of 94, surrounded by family and caretakers.

But she left behind an arts legacy that still resonates here in Pittsburgh. I watched her struggle to get PBT on its feet during the early years. And I talked with her prior to the company’s 35th anniversary for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, where she spoke of those difficult, yet exhilarating  times. You can read about it here.


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