On Stage: Wrapping Up the Dance

February 5, 2015

A NEW LABEL. It’s no longer Pennsylvania Dance Theatre, operating out of State College. Former Dance Alloy member became its artistic director in 2003 and the company gradually graduated to a home for his brand of dance theater. Just last year the name came to reflect that. Now called TanzTheater André Koslowski, he brought back A Cantankarous Wiegenlied (love the title!), which I’ve seen several times (minus the adjective) in different variations. Yes, André pumped up the volume on his surreal dreamscape of the past few years, so nocturnal, so fascinating with its collection of trees, garbage and, in particular, almost over-the-top, puzzling humans. In an odd way, it was easier to enjoy.

Liz Chang

Liz Chang

SPEAKING OF WRAP. Attack Theatre literally wrapped things up in their popular series, Holiday Unwrapped. They added a variation, though, called Holiday Hijinx and Revue, geared more for the adults, still chock full of dance, games and activities, plus a beer tasting and wine. And wrapping paper. It was good to see Liz Chang again, skating in for the weekend performances, between nursing studies. Also on hand was Matt Pardo, who is performing with Attack on its current projects. (He most recently toured with Lucinda Childs and the revival of DANCE and the world tour of the iconic Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass, Robert Wilson and Childs and is in Pittsburgh via partner and head of the dance department at Point Park University Ruben Graciani.) Noting Liz and Matt, who replaced Brittanie Brown and James Johnson after Are You Still There?, Attack Theatre is in a new, more flexible mode.

IN A SPIN. The Whirling Dervishes created their own aura at Carnegie Hall in Oakland, deliciously coming in on the heels of the Royal Ballet of Cambodia — so good to observe dance companies that symbolize their countries in such singular and important fashion. The Dervish program featured ethnic music before a quartet of dancers began their famously mesmerizing hypnotic turns. They continued the next night at The Westin Convention Center with an appearance during the 14th annual Friendship Dinner and Award Ceremony, co-sponsored by the Turkish Cultural Center Pennsylvania Pittsburgh (a gem of a local organization as it turned out — we’re lucky to have them) and Peace Islands Institute.

Jessica Marino

Jessica Marino

IN FLIGHT. Dancers are always seeking to escape the earth, but Shana Simmons Dance simply, well, soared with the company’s movement investigation of Passenger at Pittsburgh’s National Aviary. It was my first visit since the new entrance construction and well worth the trip on several levels, including the birds, of course, human connections and environmental extinction. The title referred to the passenger pigeon and, for those unfamiliar with the story of this avian’s plight, it was inspired by the demise of the iconic bird. Once numbering in the billions during the 1800’s, it became extinct by 1914, when Martha, the last survivor, died in captivity. Divided into four sections, the five dancers pecked and preened and fluttered at the start, but without being too literal. Behavior and relationships came next — a whimsical section on nesting (playfully punctuated by “eggs” that rolled out onto the floor) and a mating ritual, never one-dimensional. We knew how it would end and Shana delicately handled it with a “Martha” solo for Jamie Erin Murphy, a little long, but poignantly accompanied by Anna Singer performing Rachmaninoff’s Vocalise. Art then met nature on a more casual note as audience members circulated through the Aviary and interacted with Shana, her “flock” and some new-found feathered friends.

PEARL-ESSENCE. It’s a cozy arts space that is so welcoming that audiences, particularly intellectuals and a surprisingly young crowd who bypass other presenting organizations to support Staycee and Herman Pearl and PearlArts. The latest event, a Salon & Potluck, had a three-hour line-up of poets, singers and dancers (Jamie Erin Murphy/Renee Smith and Alexandra Bodnarchuk testing the waters). After 40 years in Spain, Gail Langstroth moved to Pittsburgh. At PearlArts she initiated me into eurythmy (not the same as eurhythmics), where gesture and movement are related to accompanying text or music. And “Crutchmaster” Bill Shannon made rare and very welcome appearance. He tuned into the effortless elegance of Fred Astaire, but with a political edge. Hope we see more of him…and soon.

On Stage: Adventures in Art

February 17, 2012

What goes up, must come down. Now, what was out, must come in. Parkour and Freerunning, once the territory of Neanderthals, soldiers and Jackie Chan, who all employed similar survival skills, is taking to the concert stage.

Perhaps Dance Works Rotterdam was the first to embrace that concept, mostly due to artistic director Andre Gingras, who has been something of an artistic adventurer for most of his adult life. As a student of theater, English literature and contemporary dance in Toronto, he wanted to expand himself, primarily as a dancer. And that meant New York City, the ultimate mecca for the young Canadian.

Almost immediately he landed a scholarship at the Paul Taylor studio, where principal dancer, Christopher Gillis, became a mentor.  Andre eventually moved on to the Doris Humphrey and Doug Varone companies. But it was on a European vacation five years later that he auditioned for theatrical wizard Robert Wilson, who was creating a major work for the Weimar Festival in Berlin.

It was an immediate click with his work,” Andre recalls. And thus started a four year period where he became a regular contributor to Wilson productions. “Bob is very collaborative. He’s very, very curious about what young artists have to say. He has a huge love and respect for dancers and is really open to your input.”

Andre admits that the experience transformed him as an artist. Since it didn’t matter where Wilson artists lived, Andre slept on the couch in some friends’ apartment in Rotterdam.

Slowly he began dancing with small Rotterdam companies, then making his own work. It started to “take over his life” and Dance Works soon followed.

But he never stopped searching, with forays to India, North Africa and the Middle East. “My goal was to ‘hybridize’ and expand the art form, to really look at what other things could be integrated,” Andre explains.

That included martial arts, especially Brazilian capoeira. Or medical subjects, where he used the “beautiful, interesting vocabulary” of Terret’s Syndrome for his first solo piece, P17.

And the Netherlands sponsors Dancing on the Edge, a special festival in Amsterdam that focuses almost entirely on dance in the Middle East and then sends them through a network of cities.

Through the festival, Andre was connected with a group, El Funoun, in Palistine. He did workshops on contemporary dance technique. But the company was based in folk lore and had young dancers who were trying to look at “what would be the most authentic contemporary manifestation of their indigenous dance.” So they delved into choreography, with great success.

By now it was obvious to Andre that he saw dance everywhere he turned. Freerunning had become a hot commodity in parts of Europe. It’s an offshoot of Parkour, a new movement form that came out of the French army and became an art form of “getting from A to B with the least amount of flourishes, but the most effective way.”

Freerunning “embraced the flourishes and fun things.” It’s almost the same vocabulary, but it’s “a bit more spectacular.” In 2006, Andre was already asking, “Wow — why can’t we put this in a theater? Why does it have to be on the street? It’s such a beautiful language.”

So he hired a guy “to teach these insane things” to his dancers. Although he called the dancers “amazing” in absorbing the information, he realized that he had to put limits on the technique.

“You don’t do it once for a video — you have to do it every night.”

But it worked. Now it’s part of the repertory and his new dancers have to embrace those skills. But he’s careful, noting that “we’re a European dance company and we have workman’s comp people looking over my shoulder. I can’t have them jump four meters down onto concrete. And you can’t do another show like that the next day.”

Pittsburgh audiences can see for themselves this weekend (see CrossCurrents Listings for more information) when Dance Works Rotterdam brings Anatomica to the Byham Theater.

Well, part of it. Andre originally envisioned a three-part series about “the body on display. Why do we display the body? How do we display the body?” He thought it should be three pieces, but only had a good idea for the third one, so he decided to work on that first.

“The body is that magnificent instrument that can do all these extraordinary, remarkable, virtuosic things that fly through the air,” Andre explains of #3. “So it’s very acrobatic.” Next came #1, a beginning segment that shows “why do we show the body. Well, very often that’s tied to sexual drive, the desire to find a mate, to procreate. So we look at courtship rituals, mating dances and online chat room experiences — every that makes us put ourselves out there.”

And what about #2? Andre thinks that he’ll make it in 2014. He quips, “I’m in no rush.”

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