News Column

Pittsburgh Dance Council books world-class acts

April 27, 2014

By Sara Bauknecht, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette



April 27--From sports to scenic views, Pittsburgh has many draws.

Add world-class dance to the list. In a time when funds for companies to tour are tight -- and opportunities for local presenters to book them at times even slimmer -- it's a feat for a city to attract on-the-pulse performers from across the country and the world.

The Pittsburgh Dance Council's 2014-15 season defies this trend with a lineup of established favorites and emerging choreographers that will bring their talents to Byham Theater from October through May 2015. In addition to the season's six offerings, there will be two other special dance attractions: the Royal Ballet of Cambodia in November and a collaboration between "This American Life" host Ira Glass and dancers Monica Bill Barnes and Anna Bass in February.

"We are incredibly fortunate to have the support to make a season like this possible," Pittsburgh Dance Council executive director Paul Organisak said. "It's really truly unique for us to be in that position."

Many of next season's offerings are highly theatrical, he said, with props, loose narratives and stylized aesthetics that take them beyond pure dance on a bare stage. The season will open in October with the return of Aspen Santa Fe Ballet in "Square None" by Norbert De La Cruz III, "Beautiful Mistake" by Cayetano Soto and "Heart(s)pace" from Nicolo Fonte.

"Every Aspen performance is so unique because most of the time it is new work, and that is what really makes them stand out for me, the vitality of working with new choreographers and commissioning work," Mr. Organisak said. "That's a very strong commitment of that company."

The iconic British troupe Michael Clark Company will make its Pittsburgh debut in November with "Swamp" and "come, been and gone," set to 1970s music from David Bowie and Iggy Pop. Mr. Clark's style fuses strong technique with experimentation and extremes of punk and classicism.

"I'm thrilled that he's finally getting to be seen in Pittsburgh because it's long overdue," Mr. Organisak said, calling Mr. Clark a leading voice of contemporary choreography in England. "He really encapsulates the whole contemporary art world," including references to fashion design and visual arts.

The first Dance Council performance for 2015 will get the community involved when Ron K. Brown Evidence of Brooklyn presents "On Earth Together." Local dancers ranging from children to seniors will have a chance to audition for the show and will rehearse with the company in the days leading up to the performance, staged to Stevie Wonder music.

"The Dance Council hasn't done a project like this in quite a while," Mr. Organisak said.

Evidence also will share with Pittsburgh audiences "The Subtle One" with jazz music from Jason Moran and Tarus Mateen. Mr. Brown's work is known for threading various movement styles, including African, modern, ballet and social dancing, to convey elements of the human experience.

French Argentinean ensemble Union Tanguera will showcase in March a fresh twist on the tango in the sensual, artistically charged "Nuit Blanche." It takes place in a nightclub at the end of a tango show and follows dancers' fears and desires through seductive performances. A live quartet of Buenos Aires musicians will accompany dancers. The next month's performance will spotlight rising Swedish choreographer and filmmaker Pontus Lidberg and his new work "Snow," set in a ceaseless snowstorm and including a Japanese-style Bunraku puppet. Pittsburgh is one of just a handful of cities Mr. Lidberg will be stopping in during the U.S. tour, Mr. Organisak said.

The season will end in May with a rarity for the Dance Council -- a story ballet. Scottish Ballet will present Annabelle Lopez Ochoa's "A Streetcar Named Desire." The choreographer worked with theater and film director Nancy Meckler to tell the Tennessee Williams classic in a contemporary, choreographic way. For those who saw Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre present Wisconsin-born choreographer John Neumeier's balletic adaptation in 2012, this Tuesday night show will be a chance to view another take on the tale.

Weekday performances are atypical for the Dance Council, but in this case it was warranted, Mr. Organisak said.

"When a company and a performance of this quality presents itself, I have to sort of say I'll take it when it's available, and if that's a Tuesday night so be it. It's a brilliant production."

Two extra productions will feed audiences' appetites in between these Dance Council performances. "Three Acts, Two Dancers, One Radio Host" is an unexpected union of radio and dance in which Mr. Glass puts forth his discovery of contemporary dance through stories and radio interviews reinterpreted as dance. There will be a meet and greet with Mr. Glass before the show.

"I think people will be really surprised, caught off guard and will laugh a lot," Mr. Organisak said.

Cohen & Grigsby Trust will present the Royal Ballet of Cambodia, celebrated for its graceful gestures, striking costumes and hundreds of years of history. Pittsburgh is one of the limited stops the large group will make while on tour.

Together, these performances will give Pittsburgh a taste of what choreographers and companies are commanding attention across the world.

"The Dance Council audience is like, 'Show us what's new, what's next,'?" Mr. Organisak said.

Sara Bauknecht: sbauknecht@post-gazette.com or on Twitter @SaraB_PG.

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Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)