Dance Beat: An Exciting Dance Fall (Part I)

September 25, 2018

The fall has a special place in dance. Not the season upon us, but the purposeful way of quickly changing levels and embracing the floor. However, Fall 2018 may truly become a singularly memorable time in Pittsburgh dance. Various organizations in the dance community have put together fascinating prospects or, in one instance, have gone above and beyond in fashioning a season.

That would be…

Point Park University. The raves are already in for this knockout dance season, worthy of any professional company. The Conservatory of Dance will properly christen the new PNC Theatre in the Pittsburgh Playhouse Downtown Dec. 7-16 with a stellar line-up that includes international choreographic stars like Nacho Duato and Aszure Barton, plus Ballet Met artistic director and former New York City Ballet soloist Edwaard Liang and Tyce Diorio, known from Do You Think You Can Dance. The season will conclude Apr. 18-21, 2019 with established names like Pittsburgh native Kyle Abraham and ballet superstar Christopher Wheeldon, plus Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre favorite Dwight Rhoden of Complexions and Uri Sands, former principal dancer at Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater and now an artistic director of Minneapolis’ heralded TU Dance. The Contemporary Choreographers this year at the George Rowland White Performance Studio Oct. 11-Oct. 14 will include Christopher Huggins, Point Park professor Mark Burrell and rising talents Jae Man Too and Peter Chu. Home-grown talents take to the stage with plenty of new works from Faculty Dance Concert (GRWPS, Feb. 21-Feb. 24) and the Student Choreography Project I (GRWPS, Nov. 16-18) and Student Choreography Project II (GRWPS, Apr. 5-7). Tickets: Playhouse.

Yabin Wang Dance

Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts. One of my favorite events, a time when the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust assembles international, national and regional premieres. In fact, some of the bigger cities around will follow the ‘Burgh’s lead. Joan Didion’s THE WHITE ALBUM goes on to be part of Brooklyn Academy of Music’s (BAM) Next Wave Festival. And Deborah Colker Dance (Brazil) will appear at Kennedy Center in Washington D.C. following its performance here. It will reveal Downtown Pittsburgh as it’s never been seen before. Explore the inner recesses of Trinity Cathedral in Quantum Theatre’s Chatterton or the Cirque Éloize Hotel (Montreal). Political satire permeates In the Tunnel (Israel) and patriotic passion infuses Cri Des Nago (Haiti). There are family-friendly events like Androcles and the Lion (Denmark) with hammocks instead of seats and the interactive Gab Squad (U.S.). Visit 5 Downtown galleries like Wood Street’s Nonotak or the geeky whimsy of Machine Culture at SPACE, all free. Also take in the mapping of the Benedum Center in Manifold with an original score or let lights wash over you in Beyond, near the Benedum. Pittsburgh should feel like the center of the artistic universe. Check it all out by clicking on PIFOF!

Deborah Colker Dance

Pittsburgh Dance Council. Deborah Colker Dance, so in demand right now (Byham Theater, Oct. 13), and Yabin Wang Dance are part of both the PIFOF and PDC series. Wang, considered China’s own superstar choreographer, will present the North American premiere of Moon Dance (Byham, Nov. 2). Notice the prominence of women choreographers, which will continue with lyric beauty of Jessica Lange Dance (Byham, Jan. 26) and red-hot Camille A. Brown & Dancers (August Wilson Center, Mar. 9-10). The sentimental favorite might be Paul Taylor Dance Company, though, a Pittsburgh native who went on to make his mark on modern dance and recently passed away (Byham, Feb. 23). And the ever popular Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo promises to end on a high note (Byham, Apr. 13). Click on Pittsburgh Dance Council.


Cynthia Oliver

Kelly Strayhorn Theater. KST celebrates its 10th anniversary this year, a real achievement for this vital community and visionary organization. It will unwind this signature season, supported by the prestigious Bloomberg Philanthropies, with resident company Phillippine-American Performing Arts in Halo-Halo (Sept. 22) and Cynthia Oliver’s evening-length dance theater work, Virago-Man Dem, which”navigates stereotypes, rumors and half-truths that surround black masculinities” (Sept. 28-29). Choreographer and dancer Trevor Miles joins with visual artist and VJ Julie Mallis for a FRESHWORKS RESIDENCY dealing with the opiod crisis Dec. 7 at KST’s Alloy Studios.  While hosting the Annual National Performance and Visual Arts Network Conference, KST will present Pittsburgh: Live on Stage (Dec. 14-15) with STAYCEE PEARL dance project, Bill Shannon, Angwenique Wingfield, Afro Yacqui Music Collective, slowdanger and Blak App M.A.D.U.S.A.  Particularly exciting, even in the face of all that came before, is the always thought-provoking  David Rousséve in the premiere of REALITY :: Halfway to Dawn (Feb. 1-2). Click on KST.

Mozart in Motion – Amanda Cochrane and Yoshiaki Nakano.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. PBT opens on an elegant note with Mozart in Motion, featuring works by ballet masters George Balanchine and Jiri Kylian (Benedum, Oct. 26-28). It brings back a new Jorden Morris production of The Great Gatsby (Benedum, Feb. 8-17), which the company presented twice, the original 1987 production and, keeping the Peter Farmer’s scenery and costumes, again in 2008. Could the third time be a charm? And then it’s another encore, this one with Dance Theatre of Harlem at the August Wilson Center (Mar. 15-24). The companies elevate the partnership by performing together in Stanton Welch’s Orange. Of course there is the annual Nutcracker (Benedum, Nov. 30-Dec. 27) and a season-ending Sleeping Beauty (Benedum, May 10-12). Click on PBT.

Attack Theatre. Once again, the Attackers are on the move with a It begins with the art of making dance in Some Assembly Required (Associated Artists of Pittsburgh, Sept. 22 and Braddock Public Library, Sept. 23). Nothing is ever done the same way twice, including The Down and Dirty Dance Party at the Hall at Spirit (Nov. 2) underneath an immersive light installation by Ian Brill and pop-up performances throughout the night. Well, maybe In Defense of Gravity, which the company revisits Nov. 29-Dec. 1 at the Pittsburgh Opera. But then comes the New Hazlett Theater for the premiere of The Rube Goldberg Variations (Apr. 25-27). For more, click on Attack.

More coming…

Dance Beat: Paul and Arthur, Arthur and Paul

September 20, 2018

How sad that two dance giants chose to make their exit in such a quick succession!

Paul Taylor is one of two modern dance choreographers born in the Pittsburgh area (the other being Martha Graham). He told me that he lived here in early childhood, but now his birthplace is being listed as Wilkinsburg. Much has been written about him, but I was fortunate enough to speak with him on several occasions. One was especially amusing. Years ago I went into the Pittsburgh Dance Council to participate in a conference call. But there the connection was disrupted at least 6 or 7 times. Through it all Paul was sincerely amused and patient. And, of course, he still gave a wonderful interview. So when his company comes to Pittsburgh, once again for the Dance Council on Feb. 23 next year, we’ll be viewing the performance with a special embrace.

We’ve also been lucky to host the Dance Theatre of Harlem on numerous occasions, again through the wonderful efforts of PDC. Then the company established a connection with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre in 2017 and will bring them back in March for a two-week encore. I was able to interview Arthur Mitchell at the Dance Theatre of Harlem and watch him direct a class. What a presence! What a force of nature! How he transformed ballet!

Put these upcoming performances on your must-see calendar. They will be even more meaningful to those who love dance.


On Stage: Kyle Comes Home

November 12, 2017

It was a real pleasure to see the magnificent Kyle Abraham and his dancers at the August Wilson Center, which was reviewed at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. But I have to underscore my last statement, that Pittsburgh should support him now, not years from now. He is a real arts ambassador for Pittsburgh, which has inspired much of his personal style and content. Perhaps the Pittsburgh dance community can join forces, filtered through the Heinz or Pittsburgh Foundation. Pittsburgh Dance Council, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre, August Wilson Center, Point Park University, Kelly Strayhorn Theater can all offer performance, choreographic and grant opportunities, plus workshops and creative residencies. It’s a great collective opportunity for Pittsburgh, given our history with Martha Graham, Paul Taylor and August Wilson.

On Stage: LINES

October 9, 2017

Dance writers often think, “been there, done that.” And when Alonzo King LINES Ballet came to town to open the Pittsburgh Dance Council season (see Post-Gazette preview), I had seen his work on three previous occasions. But this performance was different.

It was one of the rare occasions where the performance just flew by, where the performance was mesmerizing, unfolding in a meaningful way. There were only two pieces, “Biophony,” with its environmental trills and roars in its dancescape/soundscape, and “The Propelled Heart,” set to an extended and emotional jazz riff by Lisa Fischer, a mostly unknown backup singer to stars, but a star in her own right.

In the end, the titles did, indeed, say it all. But what lay hidden in those titles was a King-ly universe, full of creativity and originality in the sinuous, organic movement that was given a magnificent voice by a group of dancers who felt every note, every nuance designed by their choreographer.

I would have to say that this performance immediately joined the list of my Dance Council favorites over the years. And the audience, bolstered by a number of dancers and other professionals in the local ballet community, responded with standing ovations for both works.

They also saw one of their own, Jason, a graduate of Point Park University’s dance department who performed with the company, making this meaningful performance ultimately personal.


Dance Beat: It’s South Korea, Not North Korea

March 6, 2017

Here we go again!

Back around 2010, Pittsburgh Dance Council executive director Paul Organisak was complaining about visa problems for foreign artists from Spain and South America, forcing him to tailor several seasons around North American companies.

But that involved individual artists and was nothing compared to current surprise attacks, not only during the current travel ban, but resulting from the toxic atmosphere surrounding the Trump administration. The Dance Council, now under Randal Miller, almost didn’t get to present the Seoul-based Bereishit Dance Company this past weekend at the Byham Theater.

Apparently the group, despite having all of its papers in place and having submitted its visa requests last October, inexplicably was denied access to the United States. That forced the cancellation of the first performance of its first American tour at Northrup Auditorium in Minneapolis, scheduled for last Tuesday.

Miller enlisted Senator Bob Casey and some other heavy hitters to intervene because this group is from South Korea, not North Korea. The company arrived in Pittsburgh, actually its second stop and now its first, on Friday after a long flight (around 15 hours) from Seoul. With the help of the Byham’s stellar stage crew, they were able to attend to technical issues, but didn’t get to do a complete run-through.

The Pittsburgh audience didn’t notice, given the company’s disciplined training and seamless technique, mostly martial arts that transcended the divide into contemporary dance. The result was a fresh and invigorating performance, resulting in a standing ovation.

Of note were the two arrows that flew across the front of the stage in Bow, landing with a heavy thud on a wall located on the other side of the stage. They were pinpoint symbols of the clean lines and intense focus in the work, mostly a duet, but occasionally involving a third member. Congratulations to Miller and the Falcon Archers of Canonsburg, for making it work (the only time it will be seen in the U.S.).

Also on the program was Balance and Imbalance, for the five-member troupe, three men and two women. You had to love the contrast between sharp angles and movement “locks,” similar to hip hop, with a beautiful fluidity. Although the title referred to the movement itself, you could also see that in the choreography, which used great skill in folding difficult, acrobatic moves into a lyrical mindset.




On Stage: A Millennial Response to “Dora” and World War II

November 29, 2016



This critique was written by Annette Elphinstone, a senior dance major at Point Park University from Freedom, Pennsylvania. It was given as an assignment in the newly-created course, “Dance Aesthetics and Criticism” 

We have all read and discussed the tragic and forever changing event we call World War II. When brought up in history class, we do not realize the anguish and complexity of the war through the ink that describes the happenings of the past. Even through film, we cannot begin to understand how the humanity of each individual was stripped away each moment during the war. However, when this event is explained to you in person through physical and oral representation and conversation, the observers feel an impact and connection to the events that occurred decades ago. It is through human to human connection that people can begin to empathize all of the experiences the survivors and victims have endured. By watching Bill T. Jone’s “Analogy/Dora: Tramontane,” I better understand the complexities of human beings and the influences of war.

Starting off, I noticed that the show itself was visually minimal. When initially thinking about historical themed performances, I tend to believe that all of the details – costumes, sets, décor, etc. – have to be time appropriate. Otherwise, the depiction of the happenings could be incorrect. However, due to the simplicity of the set, costumes, and even makeup, observers were able to create the scene for themselves and live in the moment being described as they heard it to be. Another interesting factor is that the characters of the overall story switched between performers. On one hand, it was confusing as to who was playing who in each section. On another, it allowed for observers to understand that the experiences Dora (a survivor of WW II and the central voice of the show’s concept ) could have, and most likely did, happen to other people. While the visual display of the show was at times confusing or too modern for the subject, the simplicity and fluidity of the performance invited creativity and human connection on the historical events orated by Dora.

Another aspect I want to focus on is the structure of the performance. While it focused on a historical plot, the sections did not follow sequentially to the time period. It is interesting that the artistic choice was made to seem like each new memory was discovered in conversation. In fact, the order of events was probably in the same order as spoken by Dora with her one-on-one with Jones. In following this choice, the audience became like Jones and saw how the questions that were asked stirred up specific memories and experiences. Also, for how dark the theme of the concept was, I highly enjoyed and appreciated the lighter moments. In dark times, humans tend to create lighter situations to remember to celebrate life as they can and to strive to find that life again after the darkness ends. With the shifting dynamics of mood from serious to playful to tragic to loving, the conversation orated was highly human and kept interest.

Overall, “Analogy/Dora: Tramontane” was an impactful representation of one person’s experience during a time of suppression and desolation. While there may have been many struggles and much of humanity lost, such stories provide listeners the courage to strive for a better and more loving future. With the events happening today, this work greatly encourages the audience to find that positivity and remember to not allow the mistakes of the past to circle about again. It is works like this that educate the general public and aim to better humanity. Hopefully one day text books are replaced by art like “Analogy/Dora: Tramontane” so our community can begin to better understand that history is more than just the past – it is a part of the now.

05_analogy_dora_photobypaulbgoode 16_analogy_dora_photobypaulbgoode 15_analogy_dora_photobypaulbgoode 10_analogy_dora_photobypaulbgoode 01_analogy_dora_photobypaulbgoode

On Stage: The Tale of Two Streetcars

September 7, 2015
Eve Mutso as Blanche. Photo: Andy Ross

Eve Mutso as Blanche. Photo: Andy Ross

With its unbridled passions and slow descent into madness, all set against the gradual decay of the Deep South, Tennesse Williams’ A Streetcar Named Desire could be adapted into The Great American Ballet. As it turned out, two European companies, Hamburg Ballet and Scottish Ballet, have led the way, although, as it turns out, a pair ex-pat Americans, Hamburg’s artistic director John Neumeier and Scottish director Nancy Meckler, had a profound impact on their respective productions.

Of all the cities in world, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania was the only one to have seen them both.

The productions came at varying points in their careers, however, with Neumeier in one of his first full-length ballets (1983) and Meckler commissioned by the Scottish Ballet towards the end of a long and distinguished theatrical career (2012).

Erik Cavallari (Stanley) and Sophie Laplane (Stella). Photo: Andrew Ross

Erik Cavallari (Stanley) and Sophie Laplane (Stella). Photo: Andrew Ross

Not surprisingly, Neumeier created a sumptuous, more traditional ballet dripping with projections, an extended stage and atmospheric lighting that worked in the expanse of the 2800-seat Benedum Center.  Meckler went for an edgy contemporary look, packing the stage with crates that became a part of the choreography as the dancers constructed the various scenes in the ballet and acted as a Greek chorus. A bare bulb served as a centerpiece, the symbol of Blanche Dubois’ fading hopes and dreams.

The musical scores couldn’t have been further apart. Neumeier tapped Visions Fugitives by Sergei Prokofiev and, for the second act, the jarringly acute Alfred Schnittke, which carried the drama to excruciating heights for some. But Meckler chose both original music and a musical cyclorama of the age, familiar in a way, which perhaps made the Scottish Ballet production more dynamic and accessible. That production was placed on the smaller Byham Theater stage, which could have added to the intensity by compressing it, throwing the emotional intimacy into the audience with unabashed accuracy.

In the end, however, these were told from a masculine and feminine angle, giving them a different weight and perspective. Neumeier’s Blanche was, as I noted, a “wounded butterfly” from the start, with Stanley the manimal as expected. Meckler’s Blanche was drinking in the foreign world around her, but still retaining a certain dignity as she withdrew. Her Stella developed from a young sister to a woman comfortable in her own sensuality. With choreographer Annabelle Lopez Ochoa on the Scottish artistic team, the women had more substance and complexity in their stage presence, particularly in the duets where their roles were heightened.

Blanche's (Eve Mutso) world is falling apart. Photo: Andy Ross

Blanche’s (Eve Mutso) world is falling apart. Photo: Andy Ross

Both productions had their moments of ecstasy. Neumeier was to be lauded for his coordination of choreography, costumes and scenery as a young artist. However, it was the Scottish Ballet that truly captured the epic relationship between Blanche, Stella and Stanley, for a ballet that gave Tennessee Williams’ classic a new relevance more than 60 years after its debut.

It also made a strong case to incorporate more women in ballet.





On Stage: Dancing All Night…Tango Style

April 6, 2015

Most of us have identified with an enthralled Eliza Doolittle, that “Fair Lady,” as she sang I Could Have Danced All Night. But have you? Really?

In Buenos Aires, tango enthusiasts have every night available to them, waiting to fill it with dance and greet the dawn. (See my article in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, an interview with tango professional Esteban Moreno.) But that is something that hasn’t been seen in Pittsburgh, where shows like Tango Argentina, while entertaining showpieces, were mostly a string of duets.

Now there is something else afoot in Buenos Aires that we hadn’t seen in Pittsburgh until the Pittsburgh Dance Council brought in Unión Tanguera.

The company is representative of an emerging style in Argentina, a way of blending tango with contemporary dance and setting it in a dramatic context.

The result was Nuit Blanche (Sleepless Night), created in 2010.

Founders and artistic directors Claudia Codega and Moreno studied with maestros of the Argentine tango and Codego had extensive experience in contemporary dance and ballet. Thus a hybrid art form was born.

When they founded Unión Tanguera, the world travelers chose to base it in France as well as Argentina and have been instrumental in spreading the word, mightily contributing to the rise in popularity of a “new” tango.

That was on display in Nuit Blanche. It all began with the beat, no, the heartbeat of the tango. A minimalist drop suggested a couple of entrances and an alcove for a live quartet.  Everything was atmospherically lit in blues and other hues.

As for the dance itself, it spanned both the history and the future of tango. Seven performers, four men and three women in a delicious imbalance,  drifted into this nameless tango cafe, ready to dance the night away.

The inspiration came from Argentina reality. Well, maybe not the giant red bean bags, sometimes used like purses on the women and evocative of a ’70’s vibe. Or the wine glasses that sometimes were used as props during the routines.

But, in a way, they broke the tango mold, so that the men or women could dance as independent groups. Even in a more traditional tango, one with featherlight steps, the man caressed the woman’s feet. And there was a comedic song accompanying the women (something about boobs and buns according to a friend). They formed trios, like the double decker comic piece — one man sat on another’s shoulders and both danced with a woman. It made for a fascinating journey, much like the tango, not knowing where it would go.

But the real meat of the program came during some of the pure dance pieces. The sweet intensity of the Codego/Moreno partnership. Floor work, still in a tango hold, inserted into the choreography. A barefoot contessa picking her way through a flickering duo.

There was no doubt that the night would melt away as the performers left to greet another day. But this should have been a poetic ending and it just felt ordinary, a hiccup, yes, but still a mesmerizing evening of dance.






Dance Beat: A New Season at the Dance Council

May 4, 2014

More and more people are declaring the Pittsburgh Dance Council series the best in Pittsburgh, both for its challenging and entertaining repertoire, gleaned from around the world. But that just puts more responsibility on Paul Organisak’s shoulders…and he feels the weight, especially after this year’s terrific line-up. So when we met for our annual talk about the state of dance here and abroad — always a treat — he was anxious about unveiling the 2014-15 season.

With the PDC comes a certain element of trust, because many of the companies are new to Pittsburgh. Organisak travels the world in search of the best, immersing himself in everything that comes to the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. But the Dance Council occupies a special place in his heart. “This is my one-and-only first-born,” he says. (Aren’t we lucky?)

Two of the companies have already set foot in the city. Aspen/Santa Fe Ballet came here in 2010 with a program featuring ballet icon William Forsythe and Nicolo Fonte and Jorma Elo, who have since carved out important international careers. This time they bring back Fonte, who will unveil his newest work, Heart(s)pace. The new names include Norbert De La Cruz III, who has worked with Hubbard Street Dance Chicago and Alvin Ailey, and Cayetano Soto, who has Ballet Hispanico, Stuttgart Ballet and Les Ballets Jazz de Montreal on his resume. Both are already in demand. As Organisak puts it, “I love how they are committed to working with emerging choreographers.”

The other company is somewhat of a favorite here, Ronald K Brown/Evidence. This time though, there is a twist. Brown will have a week-long residency in Pittsburgh, where he will select a group of multi-generational dancers from the community to participate in On Earth Together, set to music by Stevie Wonder. The company will also perform The Subtle One, with music by jazz musicians Jason Moran and Tarus Mateen.


Company debuts will come from France, England, Sweden and Scotland, but will stretch the ways we think of those European countries. “Union Tanguera is not your mother’s tango show,” Organisak says. “It pushes boundaries, is highly theatricalized and has a live quartet.” He calls it a French mash-up with Argentina.


From England comes Michael Clark. “I don’t know why we haven’t brought him here before,” Organizak admits. “He has been the bad boy of modern dance.” But it was on a different path from witty raconteur Mark Morris or attitude-rich Rasta Thomas, who have tagged with that same label. The Royal Ballet-trained Clark descended into a widely-publicized hell of drugs and hedonism, but did not self-destruct. He emerged better than ever…with an undeniable dark edge. During his 30-year career, Clark has collaborated with numerous artists in the arts world. His signature work, which will come here, has a Pittsburgh connection…sort of. Called come, been and gone and set to the music of David Bowie, among others, it also touches on some of his influences, including Andy Warhol’s house band, the Velvet Underground. In fact, the individuality of his works have been compared to a Warhol print. We also get Swamp, bathed in the experimental punk music of the Wire and Bruce Gilbert and lighting by Charles Atlas, which completes the program. Be prepared to rock on.

Pontus Lidberg is a “new discovery,” as evidenced by this poetic clip on Vimeo. The Swedish artist has transferred his talents to New York City and will bring Snow, a new version of Rite of Spring. (Think about it — snow in spring.) “It doesn’t follow the score verbatim,” says Organisak. He calls Lidberg’s style “exquisite.” Four dancers, including Lidberg himself, will take the stage in a never-ending snowfall along with a Bunraku puppet.


The season ends with what might be termed an exclamation point when the Scottish Ballet brings its own version of A Streetcar Named Desire by Annabelle Lopez Ochoa in conjunction with award-winning theater/film director Nancy Meckler. We’ve seen Ochoa’s work before with Ballets Jazz de Montreal (Zip Zap Zoom) and Ballet Hispanico (Mad-moiselle). Organisak has “high expectations” for its impact.

The production comes virtually on the heels of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s version by John Neumeier in 2012. It will be interesting to gauge audience comparisons…hm-m-m.

All performances are at the Byham Theater. The full schedule is: Aspen/Santa Fe Ballet (Oct. 11); Michael Clark Company (Nov. 1); Ronald K Brown/Evidence (Feb. 7); Union Tanguera (Mar. 28); Pontus Lidberg Dance (Apr. 18); Scottish Ballet Presents A Streetcar Named Desire (May 19).  Click on Trust.

On Stage: Swiss-made Ballet

March 21, 2014


Recent Dance Magazine award winner Patricia Wilde still looked regal as she stood in the audience for the Ballet de Grand Théâtre de Genève. The former Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre artistic director was there as an alumnus of the company, where she helped George Balanchine establish a school. The group has since changed its style to another contemporary niche, but she looked radiant as she watched the work of two rising choreographers, a rare treat for Pittsburgh viewers. Read about the performance in the Pittsburgh  Post-Gazette.Geneve red dress-Gregory-Batardon_50A1622

"Requiem" Photos: Gregory Bartardon.

“Requiem” Photos: Gregory Bartardon.

%d bloggers like this: