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: A New Space Downtown

September 18, 2018

Point Park University has done it right. It has finished a substantial expansion to its Downtown campus — the new Pittsburgh Playhouse, a theater complex just across from the Tower at PNC Plaza that will add to Pittsburgh’s already vibrant growth.

The costume shop.

A dress form in the window of the office.

Through the new Playhouse, PPU is embracing the future while it pays homage to the past. The new building features three facades from the buildings that it replaced. Sections of palladium windows from the Stock Exchange peek into the prop shop. The tops extend into the costume shop, while department heads share an office that once belonged to the president, separated by a rich wood partition. There are marble staircases to discover, stained glass ceilings and a quirky elevator to ponder, all of it making for an intriguing, yet seamless construction.

Stained glass ceilings.

Three theaters dominate the premises. The crown jewel is the PNC Theatre, seating 500 with golden curtain and seats and warm wooden tones that undoubtedly will impress visitors. I was likewise impressed by the sight lines and the fact that dancers will be visible from head to toe, even from the front row.

The Highmark Theatre is just across the lobby, which features the  box office and a bar. A black box theater that holds 200, the Highmark has flexible seating and a hangar door that connects with the lobby. Another heavy folding door opens the theater into the street, allowing for more flexibility.

The grand staircase.

The Rauh Theatre is the third, a black box with 99 seats in its flexible plan. It has mesh catwalks, allowing stagehands to hang the lighting. Using new technology, the mesh doesn’t interfere with the lighting design. It will also be the first to house a production, Cabaret, beginning Oct. 26.

During the course of the year the Playhouse will have a “soft” opening, so to speak. The Cabaret production will be followed by the Highmark (Coram Boy, Nov. 16, another relevant Tomé Cousin production), then the PNC Theater (Winter Dance, an all-star line-up on Dec. 7) to allow staff time to acquaint themselves with their new environment.

Transparency will be key in the new building. Presumably taking a cue from the windows of the George Rowland White Performance Center  that open onto the street and the world beyond, the scenery department will offer a similar experience for Pittsburgh pedestrians. But there will also be internal windows that allow visitors to view the theaters and studios when there are no performances in progress. The old box office in the Oakland facility felt cramped, but the new lobby/box office is spacious and also has its own window to the street.

View from the top of the stairs.

There is a cafe on the second floor. While the hours have yet to be decided, one of numerous details that still must be settled, it will eventually open onto its own patio. And the students/performers have a lounge, complete with wireless connections and televisions that enable them to keep track of the rehearsal process.

A real plus will be the addition of a sound stage, the only one Downtown, that extends off the indoor loading dock, big enough for a car.

But locals will have to hold their horses, so to speak, if they want to use the facilities. PPU already has an extremely busy schedule and the powers-that-be will have to see how this 90,000 square foot expansion will respond to its growing reputation.


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: Stringing Steps Together, Bit By Bit

October 19, 2017

Ethan Steinberg lifts Faith Kazmierczak in “Eye of the Beholder.”

Point Park University always opens its season with Student Choreography. Not only choreography by students, but lighting designers and stage managers as well. And the results are quite remarkable.

PPU used to pick the students who submitted the best proposals in their Dance Composition class, amounting to approximately eight works performed repeatedly on a weekend program. But within the past several years, they have made it mandatory for all composition students to participate, resulting in nearly 40 works divided among those four performances.

Jordan Jones

The students are paired with a mentor who teaches the class and oversees the artistic process. When this change first took place, the students demonstrated structure and technique in a mostly academic setting.

In other words, it was good, but it was hard to stand out.

This year there was a change. Again, almost all of the 38 pieces had merit. But now there was substance of concept, with nuance in execution and a real maturity unfolding before our eyes. Kudos to Jason McDole Kiesha Lalama, Mark Burrell, Judith Leifer-Benz and Jay Kirk for their efforts in guiding the young artists.

Diversity was key. This year there was a healthy representation of Latino-inspired works.  I would like to see Michael Ocampo develop Sonidos, Se Mueven Y Tocan, which had a fresh, scintillating combination of flamenco filtered through tap (!) and contemporary (!) dance. And the swirling red skirts in Angelica Luma’s Mujer de Maíz immediately filled the stage and the eyes.

Floyd McLean and Cecilia Benitez in “We the People.”

Perhaps the biggest push for individuality came from Jordan Jones, who left the title of  his piece blank, maybe following in the footsteps of Prince, who also refused to be defined for a period of time. Even though choreographers are not a part of the performance, he got around it with a video that took up the whole back wall, where his giant facial portraits  dominated. The music was driving, the dance hard-hitting commercial. We know where he is going, most likely L.A., but his larger-than-life vision and versatility should carry him far.

The students also took jazz and updated this traditional dance form. Jocelyn Burns’ Body Language cracked the whip with accents. And John DeNeff put Bob Fosse on a contemporary track in Eye of the Beholder, without losing the Fosse focus (and those jazz hands).

There were social issues. Jennifer Romano’s Impetus, which appeared to deal with abuse, this time, though, with petite Madison Scherrer determinedly controlling the much larger and limber frame of Tyler Kerbel. Emily Bordley’s More Than A Statistic made an unnamed crisis, perhaps opioid, the center of attention in a trio that made what is usually a newspaper item personal. Here two friends were split apart when one was drawn into the dark side and the remaining friend was left to deal with the consequences, as if the story would be continued…

Tyler Kerbel and Madison Scherrer in “Impetus.”

And there were wonderful surprises, like the great transition from French cabaret icon Edith Piaf to Impressionistic waves in Cassidy McDermott Smith’s No Regrets, Yet and the use of harnesses to float the dancers in Robert Clores’ Limited Civility. Laura Berne’s Tragedy plus Time reminded me of Paul Taylor’s Le Sacre du Printemps (The Rehearsal). Yes, rehearsals are rich territory to be mined (see also George Balanchine’s Serenade) and Berne added her own observations.

I see a benefit for dance at large in the future. Lynn Dally, head of the Jazz Tap Ensemble, once said that they needed a critical mass for tap to regain a real prominence. She got her wish with the likes of Gregory Hines and Savion Glover.

The same goes for choreography. With programs like this, it won’t be long before we have breakthrough talent that will carry it all to new heights.

Dance on…


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: Inside Women

July 9, 2016

ELISA MARIE FACESWe all know that women wear many faces while they perform many things — nurture children, run a home, hold down a job and create new and wonderful things. But it’s great to see younger women realizing this, as in Elisa-Marie Alaio’s feminist-inspired Eff.Ul.Gents. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

On Stage: Womens’ “Admission”

July 16, 2015



Sometimes big ideas come in small packages.

Such was the case with fireWALL’s latest dance offering, Admission, at the postage stamp-sized off the WALL Theater in Carnegie.

It was the fourth piece choreographed by 23-year old Point Park University graduate Elisa-Marie Alaio and her works have created a steep learning curve over the course of her first season. Admission was the apex of that growth.

Right now, whether by design or necessity, Admission was the second all-female work.

It was driven by a corporate glass ceiling concept — very smart. Instead of glass, though, there was a crosshatch of bungee cords attached at the midpoint of the tiny off the WALL theater and also at the foot of the audience risers.

Eight women started at the back, cast in silhouette behind panels. They were seated on stools, moving from one pose to another. Some were bunheads, but these were no ballerinas.

Hands shook. Anxiety? Maybe, but then there was a “power” fist. Something else was afoot.

When the women finally emerged — the section went on for a while — we got the answer to the cables.


Made of the thick kind used to jump off bridges, they produced their own soundscape in addition to Ryan McMasters’ equally tensile accompaniment, full of voices whispering, an underlying beat, water and opera.

It was the stress of the workplace. The release. The manipulation. The constraints of society. And it all became faster, more frustrating, even dangerous in this most compelling of the sections.

The dancers began to unhook the cables. Success, perhaps?

They took off their corporate-driven black jackets to reveal loose-fitting white blouses. Then the dance became more prop-driven — I’m not sure why — with the use of six white chairs.

It turned out that the choreography doled out a sense of equal opportunity among the women. But would there be a winner at the end?

There were group-supported lifts. They linked arms. They huddled like a corporate sisterhood. But the finale turned out to be a jazz group number, more entertainment than substance. So there was no apparent winner, except Alaio and her dancers, who could take pride in their growth.

Dance Beat: YAGF, Chloe

March 28, 2015
Tommie Kesten with Damien Martinez in Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh's "Nutcracker. Photo: Katie Ging.

Tommie Kesten with Damien Martinez in Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh’s “Nutcracker. Photo: Katie Ging.

YAGF. Youth America Grand Prix, the world’s largest international student dance competition, has expanded its network of competitions to Pittsburgh for a second year of semifinals (and moved to the larger Byham Theater), which says a great deal about Pittsburgh’s emerging dance footprint. Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh’s Tommie Kesten, 14, bourreed away with the Youth Grand Prix, the top award in the Junior Age Division. Verily Treu, 13, of Pittsburgh Ballet House, landed in third place and captured first place in the Contemporary Dance Category. In the Pre-competitive Age Division, Victoria Pete, 10, of Pittsburgh Youth Ballet and Sofia Williams, 11, of Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh, placed in the Top 12. Point Park University took third place in Ensembles for Idiosyncratic Rising. Ballet Academy of Pittsburgh and Pittsburgh Youth Ballet were in the Top 12 for IV and Til the End. To top it all off, Point Park University staff member Kiesha Lalama received the Outstanding Choreographer Award.

CHLOE. Former Dance Moms teenager Chloe Lukasiak has partnered with Chicago singer-songwriter Jess Godwin in the music video, Fool Me Once.


Dance Beat: Remembering Mary and Ron

February 25, 2015

Point Park University’s dance department was dealt a double blow with the recent deaths of Marion Petrov and Ron Tassone.

Marion PetrovMary, the wife of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre founder Nicolas Petrov, was remembered by Mackenzie Carpenter in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. I remember Mary performing as a soloist in the early days of PBT, particularly her Russian dance in Swan Lake, so full of a heartfelt nuance. I also took classes with her at Point Park after her retirement. They were challenging, built on a Russian technique, but so musical that 90 minutes seem to fly by. Most of all, though, I remembered her flashing dark eyes and quick wit. To be missed…

Jazz teacher Ron Tassone began the dance program at Point Park following a rich performing career that included seven Broadway shows, plus films and television. After he joined the staff at Point Park in 1974, he choreographed for the Civic Light Opera and numerous regional groups. Read about it in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Prolific and with a purported photographic memory, he seemed to be everywhere. On stage his students and performers captured his signature Broadway brio that fostered many professional dancers.

Always kind and generous, Ron most recently became a father figure to students and colleagues, a jazz treasure to everyone around him. To be missed…

Dance Beat: Attack, Spilling Ink, Point Park

October 3, 2014
Michele de la Reza walks on water with the help of Attack company members. Copyright  © 2014 Attack Theatre. All rights reserved.

Michele de la Reza walks on water with the help of Attack company members. Copyright © 2014 Attack Theatre. All rights reserved.

Swimmingly. Attack Theatre zipped up to Mt. Washington for a Season 20 Kickoff and the wonderfully layered home of Anna Singer and Don Kortlandt. After negotiating 20-some steps to the main floor, guests could head up to the roof for a spectacular view of Pittsburgh (with the help of an in-house elevator if needed). Or they could head outside, replete with pool, and a site-specific number that started on the wide concrete lip surrounding it. Yes, the five dancers eventually plunged and dove into the water for more. Then founding co-directors Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope began a sculptural duet before Peter jumped in to join the fun (shirt, vest, pants and all). Michele began to pick her way across the surface of the water, buoyed by Attack hands (we always knew she could walk on water!). But we know the ending, as we know Peter — after all the pool was heated. Even board member Jamie Todd took to the waters, all in the name of raising money for her favorite company and Pittsburgh celebrated with a fireworks display (actually courtesy of the Pirates).


Spilling Ink. It was so appropriate, in a way, that Spilling Ink unfolded its Indian dance wares in The Carnegie’s Hall of Sculpture because the ancient dance form was originally connected to temple statues.  Vijay Palaparty (formerly of Carnegie Mellon University) was in fine form — forceful, yet flowing.  Using her highly expressive face, Nalini Prakash explored the binaries that exist in all human beings during a lovely demonstration of the half man, half woman form of Shiva. The duo then capitalized on those themes in a more developed work that was thoroughly satisfying. Finishing with two stories of Krishna, the two dancers demonstrated a wide-ranging skill in an all-too-rare performance of the Bharatanatyam style.

PPU Student-Choreography-Project-2014PPU On TV. Can’t get to the Point Park University Student Choreography Project this weekend? Well, the local university will go global by streaming both the 2 and 8 p.m. performances (two different programs) on Saturday. The Conservatory of Performing Arts is teaming up with C360 Technologies of Wexford, Pa., to offer a unique interactive viewing experience that will not only give viewers at home a 360-degree view, but also allow them to independently control the camera to their liking. In 2011, C360 was the first company to successfully transmit real-time interactive 360-degree video stream to fans during NASCAR Sprint Cup races.  We’ll see how the dance version turns out — click on

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