Pittsburgh International Festival of Firsts has been a great megaphone for political/social causes, certainly the best way to express sentiments in today’s politically combustible society. Three recent examples:
Deborah Colker Dance Company (Brazil). The first thing that comes to mind about Brazil is the environment, the Amazon River. This was Dance With a Vision. A giant black-and-white screen projected a dry lake bed, the burning of the forests, trees reduced to bare limbs. The dancers, some of them in the film, appeared to gather the vocabulary from those surroundings, be inspired by them. The dance began with creatures, seemingly caked in mud and moving with a heavy, low-slung weight. Gender wasn’t always apparent. Nor was race. What kind of dance was it? Then three women appeared en pointe, exotic birds of a feather. The dancers went on to manipulate giant cages reminiscent of river shanties, giving it more of a sculptural quality, and ended with the face of an indigenous tribesman, his own face caked with mud, but this perhaps by his own choice. Colker is currently in great demand as a choreographer (she was director and choreographer for Cirque du Soleil’s insect-inspired Ovo) — it was easy to see why). After the performance, the dancers showed up for a Latino dance party at the Cabaret. They were all tiny, not the muscular performers that commanded the stage. But they did a mean, smoothly mesmerizing samba, seemingly capable of transforming themselves into anything dance.
In the Tunnel/Gesher Theater /(Israel). The August Wilson Center was host, so appropriately, to political protest in many forms for the premiere of In the Tunnel. This Israeli production spawned a Palestinian demonstration at the front entrance. (When the cast emerged to offer them seats to the performance, they declined.) Inside were art exhibits addressing Familiar Boundaries, Infinite Possibilities. The centerpiece was Flying Girls, which filled a room of its own with an emotional homage to Nigerian girls and birds and butterflies. It hit you in the guts as it inspired you. So did In the Tunnel. The Israelis left nothing to the imagination. Four soldiers — two Israeli, two Pakestinian — were trapped in a tunnel in the midst of their never-ending conflict. Above them, on a two-tiered set, were a morning television show and the above-ground political developments. It was an important way to view the way the U.S. pop culture was viewed by others and a lens into the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, certainly a method to underscore PIFOF’s cultural and social importance.
What’s That? (Ukraine). This was a Ukrainian interpretation of punk rock, with saxophone, cello, accordion and percussion. It was reminiscent of Lena Dunham’s television series, Girls, an exponential view of the considerable angst found in our ’20’s. The energy was palpable and appreciated, but the musical expertise was not, with out-of-tune instruments played by theatrical actors who assumed that any semblance of technique could be denied in a production. Loved the graffiti-like projections, although the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s Education Center was not the ideal forum for the bold design, breaking it into shards that rendered them less important.