Giselle

DSC_3602-1In spirit of the season of the autumnal harvest, the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre has conjured up a spectacular production of the 19th century ballet, Giselle. An eerily beautiful way to burst into Halloweekend, PBT has once again succeeded in a full and vibrant ballet production.

Inspired by the Slavonic legend of the Wilis women, Giselle is a product of the post-Classical, Romantic period. Romanticism offered an artistic appreciation for emotion, individualism, and nature. As written about by Heinrich Heine in De l’Allemagne, the Wilis women were a group of deceased, affianced women; buried before they reached their wedding day. The Wilis women were said to have hearts unable to maintain their affinity for dance, thus they passed away of broken hearts as a result. In the afterlife, the Wilis women returned to the world at night in order to dance wandering men to death. Giselle, a young peasant girl from a nearby village with a heart of gold, and a love of dance, meets her fate as a Wilis woman. Driven to her death by the stress of two men fighting over her, finding out that her love was engaged to another woman, and her insistence on dancing the days away… Giselle returns in the second act from the grave… Spooky!!DSC_0871-1

The first act of Giselle depicts the sacred festivities of the harvest festival in medieval, rural Germany. Act I opened the stage with an autumnal warmth– the revitalizing sense of safety and togetherness that the fall weather often brings us– exuded across the stage as the dancers, the musicians, and the technicians invited us into a celebration of the harvest. PBT never fails to entice me with their masterpiece set designs, a definitely impressive factor in this production. Before getting to know the main character Giselle, we meet her admirer/ future fiance, Count Albrecht. Albrecht has come in disguise as a peasant to woo Giselle, a simple maiden girl. Immediately capturing my attention, the Count and his squire not only mastered an introductory allegro with energy and precision, but they did so while embracing their roles as actors as well. Throughout the whole production, something that I found to be most wonderful was the energy maintained through character interaction, which can be extremely difficult while also keeping up with that super fast petit allegro choreography!

Shortly after the ballet begins, Giselle makes her first appearance in a number which was executed with equal parts power and poise, exhibiting both the character’s love for dance, but also the dancer’s solid connection with her role. As the festival continues, Giselle is eventually crowned the new Harvest Queen, a section in which the climax of the first act comes to a peak. In all the excitement, Giselle unfortunately finds out that Albrecht is engaged to another woman… which segways us into a totally sappy, broken-hearted, classic, tear-jerking death scene, in which this production hit the nail on the head with. I loved it.  As act one comes to a close, Giselle melts to the ground in an utterly heart-wrenching romantic death. In a cohesive collaboration of performance and design, the first act of Giselle drew me in via aesthetic beauty, as well as the magnetizing energy that made me want to dance, myself– always the sign of a successful show!DSC_0911-1

Just as I thought it couldn’t get any better, I returned to my seat, glass of wine in hand, to a dark, haunting second act. In the second act, Giselle saves Albrecht from the harm of the Wilis women, but what this act is TRULY about is the after life of these beautiful, jaded women, forsaken by men and love! Adorned in ghost-like wedding gowns and veils over their faces, the dancers playing the Wilis women embodied a ghostly power in their movement, shifting eerily across the stage. It made me think of a vaguely emo Swan Lake… which, in my book, is brilliant. As the second act carried us through the night of the Wilis women, I found myself once again enticed not only by the impeccable skill I observed in the dancers, but the ways in which each aspect of the production tied together to tell the tale of Giselle extravagantly and also clearly. After the show, I felt mesmerized but also revitalized in the spirit of fall!

Giselle is all over for this season, but make sure to catch Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s upcoming seasonal treasure, their production of The Nutcracker!

Special thanks to the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre for complimentary press tickets. For tickets and more information about PBT, click here. 

Photos courtesy of Rich Sofranko

PNWF Program D

One of Pittsburgh’s most treasured annual events, the Pittsburgh New Works Festival has successfully bestowed upon us another year of marvelous original work! I had the pleasure of viewing their fourth round of original one-acts at the lovely Carnegie Stage (home to Off the Wall Productions). Program D included Brotherhood by Garry Kluger, Influence by Jennifer Tromble, and Once Upon a Mattress Store by Stephen Engel.
Gary Kluger, a notable author of books, plays, and television contributed his play, Brotherhood to the festival, which was produced by The Theatre Factory. A piece rooted within the buried complexities of the past, Brotherhood revolves around the unusual reunion of two brothers. Due to a mutual business deal of sorts, the brothers are seeing each other for the first time in years, in rather unexpected (and unpleasant) circumstances. A conflict between the two that begins based on business dealings, branches into an expression of the family conflict they never confronted. Not only did the actors (Terry Westwood and Tom Kolos) convey a realistic and relatable struggle between brothers… but they lead us into a clear and thorough exploration of the characters’ inner conflicts.The collaboration in writing and acting very eloquently interwove elements of inner struggle, hardships in relationships, and the stress of life’s consequences. After seeing the show, I was impressed and surprised by how well I felt I was able to get to know each character, despite the short length of the piece. Brotherhood brought drama while still illustrating relatable struggles through a unique and well executed plot in which I felt fully intrigued and involved in. I loved this piece because it had a clear sense of closure, yet still left me wanting to find out more.
Influence by Jennifer Tromble, presented by the Heritage players, continued the thematic thread of the inner-workings of family. I absolutely loved Influence; a piece showing us a conflict between mother and son, but truly about the relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter. In the play, a son is confronting his mother, Marie, about his suspicions that she is a “bad influence” on his young daughter. Through discussing why this is not so, a very clear picture is drawn of the strong, positive relationship between the granddaughter and her grandmother… despite the blue-collar harshness of Marie’s attitude. It is suggested that perhaps this little girl’s father isn’t truly looking at the reality of what’s going on… pointing out the importance of accepting reality in order to progress. The part of Marie was executed so, so well by Linda Anschuetz– she reminded me in so many ways of some very strong, wonderful Pittsburgh ladies that I know and love. Shining light on the importance and necessity of deeply examining what is really going on with your loved ones, and with yourself, Influence was a heart-warming piece full of strong character and truth.
Lastly, we saw Once Upon a Mattress Store by Stephen Engel produced by Stage Right Pittsburgh. This was the perfect finale to the night- an incredibly hilarious piece with a majorly impressive twist at the end that I won’t give away here! The play takes place in an LA mattress store, during closing time. The presumed manager of the store, Larry, lets in one last customer for the night, who in fact ends up being a robber. Despite some initial weirdness, Larry and his late night robber get to talking, or rather the robber gets to listening to Larry’s odd perspective on life. George Saulnier (Larry) gave a performance to die for- hilarious beyond words; his character taking absolute control of a commonly negative situation in a quirky, off the wall fashion. Playing the role of the thief, Connor McNelis offered an extremely captivating performance, exuding some big energy. Together, Saulnier and McNelis created a character chemistry that carried an already glowing script into a very high level of comedic gold.
A truly enjoyable evening, I was very taken not only by the brilliant writing, direction, and acting of all that I saw, but also by the supportive, warm energy of the event as a whole. Not to mention the phenomenal venue, the Carnegie Stage, brought to our fair city by Off the Wall Productions. Make sure to check out the next New Works Festival!
Special thanks to the Pittsburgh New Works Festival for complimentary press tickets. Program D runs just one more time tomorrow, September 25th at 2pm.

Dancing into Fall 2016

As the wind and the leaves begin to carry us into Fall, the Pittsburgh dance world is leaping into this season with some truly intriguing and exciting work! To give everyone a little taste of what’s coming up, Pittsburgh in the Round spoke to a couple of local companies, CORNING WORKS, and Attack Theatre.

Beth Corning, Artistic Director of CORNING WORKS, and former Artistic 1470701694Director of Pittsburgh’s Dance Alloy, was kind enough to open up with me about her upcoming performance. “Remains- a one woman show,” is a repertoire performance of a piece that Corning informed me she had begun the process of creation with years ago. The piece will be a juxtaposition of movement, imaginative theater, and spoken word exploring not only what our present lives mean, but also what the remnants of past chapters, or people, in our life can teach us. “Remains- a one woman show” embraces many forms of art, which Corning says she “does very carefully.” Motivated by a thirst for more to chew on, “any medium that can help her explore,” she says is of interest to her.

In talking with Corning, she so eloquently shared with me a large part of where she was coming from in terms of her overall message…“Be aware of the weight that you’re leaving behind… even if it’s just pieces of soap left in the bathroom. Or, like, that one sock… when the other sock just isn’t there anymore.” Corning is concerned with putting an emphasis on life and what certain parts of our lives weigh. How do we process what has past? With the help of a friend of hers, a theater director who aided her in cultivating an original and personal exploration of life’s weights, Corning originally created the piece in response to the death of her Mother a number of years ago, who was a huge, beloved, and special part of her life and her work. “It was a tumultuous year.” she says “Putting it out was really raw stuff.” In revisiting the piece a number of years later, Corning says she has “seen tangibly how I’ve come along emotionally.” She says that in the revisiting of “Remains,” she has been able to work on the piece from a different perspective and that the show really offers something for everyone to take from it. In combining the seriousness’ of life’s struggles with a sense of humor and a drive for expression, Corning has in store for us what I see to be a wealth of wisdom. See “Remains- a one woman show” September 7th-11th at the New Hazlett Theater in the Northside! For tickets and more information, click here. Season22-WebReady copy_0Also coming up this season, Attack Theatre will be performing an original piece, Some Assembly Required. Based off of the architectural works of José Oubrerie, Artistic Directors Michele de la Reza and Peter Kope, have created a piece drawing lines between visual art and movement. Offering the audience an atmosphere in which they can observe and interact with the creative process will give viewers a new way in which to view visual art, live dance, and music. The piece was inspired shortly after Attack decided to seek a collaboration with the Miller Gallery at Carnegie Mellon University, which is where it will be performed. “It is a beautiful gallery showcasing innovative work.  The beauty of Some Assembly Required is that it connects with visual art of any medium. Architect, José Oubrerie, was being showcased during the dates we suggested, and this created an opportunity to explore this process with architecture as a medium. The language of architecture is rich with concepts about form and structure that I know will inspire the creation of movement and choreography for this performance,” Artistic Director, Michele de la Reza told me when I asked her how the project came about.

Based off of visual art, the company will create interactive, guided discussions, which the performers will use as inspiration for improvisational dance and music. In creating a flow of art and interaction, Attack is finding new ways to open up our perspectives surrounding expression and perceived boundaries. “This piece is not necessarily about portraying architecture through dance, but rather interpreting the audience experience with the art in this space,” says de la Reza. “The greater the audience participation, the more options we have to explore through music and movement!,” she added. The goal of this show is to engage the audience and the artists in a new creative process. This piece, like “Remains- a one woman show” is a revisiting of a past show. De la Reza informed me that Attack has performed this in many locations, however since it is so interactive and dependent on surroundings, the performance is different every time! “With any performance, we consider the creativity and influence of previous works, but because Some Assembly Required depends largely on the moment, the art and the audience; it becomes a new and exciting performance each time.” Don’t miss this exciting chance to twist your perspective and open up your mind with Attack Theatre on October 7th-9th at the Miller Gallery at CMU! For tickets and more information about Some Assembly Required, click here.

In this upcoming season both of these companies are bringing to life and movement the ideas that aren’t too simple to work through on your own. Come out and let these wonderful artists assist you in expanding your mind!

Check out the rest of our 2016 Fall Preview here! Follow along with our autumn adventures with the hashtag #FallwithPITR on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

off the WALL’s Season of Pittsburgh Premieres

11745550_947829535255395_4562062415907225023_nThere is much to be excited about for off the WALL’s upcoming 2016-2017 season and Pittsburgh in the Round was lucky enough to speak with Artistic Director of the company, Virginia Wall Gruenert. Part of off the WALL’s goal is to open minds, spread thought, and create awareness about gender equality. Gruenert says that they “are growing in a number of ways this upcoming season, with new staff members, new directors, designers, collaborators, and a new Board of Directors- while maintaining our commitment to support the grossly under-represented female artist.” In the choosing of shows for the 2016/2017 season, the commitment to this message is apparent. Each individual show sounds interesting and different from the last, but it also seems to me that there is a culminating message intertwined within that variety. Not to mention, they are all Pittsburgh premieres!

Mother Lode, a show in repertoire created by Pittsburgh actor Linda Haston, is a piece based around the life of her mother, Ruth. In exploring the struggles and acceptances of strong female bonds, the show will not only be a memorialization to Haston’s mother, but also an illustration of female influence. In speaking with Gruenert I learned that she has had many women to influence her life, “my first acting teacher in college, who saw something in me I didn’t realize I had; Stella Adler, who assured me that acting was my calling; my older sister, who always moves forward regardless of what life throws at her; and my sister-in-law, who has struggled with Multiple Sclerosis for over 20 years without complaint or self-pity.” Supporting the company’s commitment to female representation, Mother Lode will delve into one’s personal experience and they’re confrontation of what that means to one’s life. Gruenert also adds, “Since this ‘in repertory’ show is its second go-round, it’s amazing to see how much it has grown since the first production. Finding new things to implement is always a dream come true for actors and directors (and playwrights!).” So, even if you saw it once, check it out again June 2-5 or Aug 11-14!

An Accident by Lydia Stryk tells the story of a woman who is critically injured getting hit by a car and what happens when the driver appears at her bed-side. Gruenert seemed especially excited about this because it’s a type of scenario she has never explored on stage before- “We never see the accident— it happens before the play starts. The play fascinates me, as it deals with process of recovery. There is something in that process that is compelling on its own terms, and never-ending. It’s a fictionalized account of playwright Lydia Styrk’s own experience after a hit-and-run accident in 2003, but it’s equally the drama of something Stryk was denied— the opportunity to come to terms with the man who hit her. The evolving relationship between victim and perpetrator is something I have not seen on stage before.” Another very personally based play, I find this to be extra intriguing as it is not only a piece of art, but also one’s personal way of confronting a trauma. Playing Oct 14-29, The Accident will be a unique stage experience.

In Lungs, a play by Duncan MacMillan, a young couple confronts the decision of whether or not to have children, and beyond that… what are the real reasons behind their decision? In a world where it seems like we are supposed to get married, have children, etc. etc. this play puts on stage a real life struggle that many couples face. “This is a play about life, and it is indeed exemplary of some young couples…” says Gruenert, “Although I believe that in many instances the ‘rigid requirements and timelines of life are self-imposed,” she adds. Gruenert also says that in this production, minimalism will be key. No fancy set or costumes, because that is not needed. This is a show based around the telling of a story that is exemplary of real life. In utilizing minimalism, this will be what Gruenert calls, “an actor’s piece,” zoning in on the actors, on the characters, and their battle with decision-making. Catch Lungs Dec 2-17!

The Pink Unicorn by Elise Forier Edie was one that stood out especially to me in reading about the upcoming season. This piece tells the story of a mother’s experience when her 14-year-old daughter in a very small, very conservative, Texas town, announces she is genderqueer and starting a chapter of the Gay-Straight Alliance Network at school. The current sociopolitical turmoil over LGBTQ rights/ acceptance was the main influence in choosing the show. Gruenert says that it’s “informative, hilarious, and touching all at once.” In exploring tense subject matter, this is a very effective combination of tone and I, personally, am excited and hopeful to see if it will open the eyes of people with anti-LGBTQ attitudes. “I hope it does open some eyes. The anti-LGBTQ attitude is encountered here more often than you may think,” says Gruenert. “The internal struggle of the mother in this piece, Trish, is what appeals to me most. Can you imagine believing one thing all your life, only to have your beliefs turned upside-down by the person you love most in the world? How on earth does one reconcile that mentally, and spiritually?” The internal struggle of someone who isn’t necessarily “anti-LGBTQ,” but simply raised to truly, truly believe one thing and then confronted with it by a loved one is a perspective that isn’t too often explored, so I’m very interested to go see this! Everyone go catch The Pink Unicorn, Feb 9-12, May 18-21, and Aug 3-6, 2017!

In light of her comment about above about being “informative, hilarious, and touching..,” Gruenert says that 4.48 Psychosis is “written with clarity, logic, and a lot of humor, so I believe it can be a learning experience for everyone, whether they struggle with mental health issues or not. Also, its understandably a powerful play, but people mustn’t be scared off by the subject matter.” 4.48 Psychosis was playwright Sarah Kane’s last play before she herself committed suicide. In this play we will be given insight to her struggles with clinical depression. It is, “the story of a woman who has struggled for years with clinical depression, psychiatrists, and numerous medications, and who is now questioning the wisdom of staying alive…” Questioning what to do once nothing else works, 4.48 Psychosis will be heavy, but also a window into an experience. Looking through this window may help one with mental health disorders, one without mental health disorders, or hopefully people who do not truly understand mental health, learn more about the experience. What does one do when they feel like they are in the space between living and dying?

On top of all of these exciting performances, off the WALL will also be presenting a dance performance, titled EFF.FUL.GENTS, a modern dance piece conceived and choreographed by Elisa-Marie Alaio. This will be “a celebration of everything female, three short acts—Beauty, Sex, and Power.” What better to celebrate than the power in your feminine existence?! Bring your girl power and get ready for more empowering at this all things female modern dance showcase! I have high hopes for this. The show will feature all-original music by Reni Monteverde! Playing July 7-16, 2017.

Off the WALL is incredibly excited to present our city with these premieres, so come out and support these local artists this upcoming year! They have amazing things up their sleeve.

For more information about off the WALL and their adventures, click here

Two Tales of Terror

2E14A3B3F-B1B4-515B-57DFBC1885C2FFA5The Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theater (PICT) is currently showing “Two Tales of Terror,” an excellently executed adaptation of the famous Edgar Allen Poe stories, The Tell-Tale Heart and The Fall of the House of Usher. Adapted for the stage by Alan Stanford, the performance utilized minimal actors, props, or set pieces…however, vibrant and vivid imagery continued to flow through the reels of my imagination throughout the entire show. In the first segment of the 85 minute show, I found that the actor, Justin Lonesome, telling us story of The Tell-Tale Heart had such clear and apparent intention. Drawing the audience in through specific and captivating blocking and a manipulation of the voice that you might hear in your nightmares, I felt myself on the edge of my seat despite the fact I know very well how the story goes. I felt more like I was being told a story one on one, rather than seeing a performance in a room full of people.

The Fall of the House of Usher was the second segment of my night of terror. This adaptation of Mr. Poe’s work introduced us to three characters. Usher himself, portrayed by Jonathan Visser, was just as I had imagined him, looking like royalty. The uptight saunter Visser gave the character may seem like small detail, but this was one of my favorite parts of the show. The way in which the narrator and Usher’s sister Madeline (James Fitzgerald and Karen Baum), used their movement to bring not only words to life, but imagery and props as well.

Also, absolutely fabulous job on the makeup and costume design, especially in the House of Usher. Usher and his delusional sister look truly gaunt, truly terrifying, truly how Poe would have wanted them to look. I would have to say my favorite part of the show was the revival of Madeline, in which there was a flash of lightning, then darkness, and then as the lights rose, Madeline appeared covered in blood!. I jumped, but in a good way! Working beautifully with the movement of the actors and flow of the words throughout the whole show, I felt the lighting offered a heavy contribution to the creepy, haunted-house feeling of the show.

If you are faint of nerve or prone to nightmares, this may not be the show for you, but for those of us who enjoy a good ghost story, or a gnarly horror movie…. This is a must see!

Special thanks to PICT Classic Theatre for complimentary press tickets. Two Tales of Terror runs through Friday May 20th at the Henry Heymann Theatre. For tickets and more information, click here.

*Please note, the performance that was reviewed was a preview.

Laws of Attraction

att46 Laws FINAL rgbHover-boards, ladders, ropes, lifts, jumps, tricks, and stunts! A phenomenal performance created by Attack Theatre, Laws of Attraction is an exploration into how humans incorporate concepts of physics into the movement of our bodies and the ways in which we commonly use physical metaphors to describe relationships. I was in awe of the dancers and the choreography/direction throughout the whole duration of the show. Laws of Attraction was easily one of the most innovative, athletic, and brilliant shows that I have ever witnessed. I was so taken with what I saw on stage, that I couldn’t help but wonder how they managed to gather all of these ideas and put them together. What was the inspiration?

While working with a group of third-graders at Winchester-Thurston School, the artists began learning about specific physical concepts. While using their bodies to teach the kids about the support systems and structures of bridges, members of Attack Theatre were inspired to experiment more with how they can exemplify physics through movement. This was what really sparked the creation of the show. Although, interestingly enough, when I spoke to co-founder and artistic director, Michele de la Reza, she told me that there have been many instances in the past when audience members involved in physical sciences have commented about the correlation between physics and the style of choreography/ movement— “Science in motion.” As the company moved forward with the inspiration, they began to connect scientific concepts to the way we talk about relationships amongst each other- prompting the very clever title, Laws of Attraction. Specifically, we tend to use language descriptive of balance and polarity when referring to how we relate to one another. For example, “opposites attract”, “we had a lot of ups and downs”, “why does the world revolve around you?”, “That relationship is off balance.” So, these are a ton of awesome ideas swirling around, but how did they put it all together into one cohesive performance?

The voice of a writer telling the story of a rocky relationship between two women created an overlaying storyline to keep in mind when interpreting what we were seeing. Each number demonstrated a different scientific concept or idea. This made it possible for audience members to draw various metaphoric connections in their minds depending on what was happening on stage. The very beginning of the show caught me right away.  A tall, dimly lit figure comes whoosing in on a hover-board, stopping right at the edge of the stage. His control of that thing was impressive to me to say the least, seeing as the one and only time I stepped foot on one of those, I inadvertently spun around in a circle at 20 mph and promptly fell right off. Later in the show, I got to see all of the dancers using hover-boards, equally as awe-struck with their incredibly precise timing and maneuvering of the futuristic gadget.

Post-performance, Michele de la Reza pointed out to me that the real magic behind the hover-board idea was that the dancers were dancing without their feet. This is a really, really wild and amazing concept if you think about it in that way. The energy and momentum these dancers kept without even the help of their feet on the ground amazed me. But hover-boards were not the only prop they used and dance was not the only artistic expression I saw that night. The artists also pulled various stunts with ladders (sometimes involving throwing the ladder…), ropes, a level, a ball, and boxes. They accomplished things that I didn’t even think were possible (seriously). De la Reza told me that as they were in the process of creating the show, they really aimed to push the limits of what they thought was possible. And they truly did.

There was another very vital part to the show and that was the like music, created by Ian Green. Using various instruments simultaneously, as well as his voice, Green created an intricate soundtrack to accompany an intricate weaving of ideas. Not only that, but the show also incorporated Green’s live painting during one of the numbers. De la Reza told me that it’s important to her and to the other artists to “push the expectations of artists.” By this, she means that the dancers will not only dance, but they will play music, act, and explore other artistic expression on stage and off. And visa versa, the musician is not solely “the musician”—he can incorporate visual art, acting, and movement as well. Artists don’t have to stick to just one type of art. I would also like to note that all of the artists moved with such strength, grace, and energy in every moment of the show—not just the wild stunts, and that includes Green, the musician. I also really loved the clear energetic connection the dancers had with each other—how in touch they were with one another and with themselves.

In exploring proximity and timing, the company showed us how important it is to work together in order to keep each other going in this world. Laws of Attraction wove science, art, and human relationships all together into one performance. Although I feel this experience was beyond a performance. It was more of a life lesson to me because, really, these are some of the most important aspects of being a human being. Attack Theatre so brilliantly brought to life the correlation between science, art, and the human condition. Science teaches us about how we function, how we can exist. All art forms are incredible ways to express our humanity—to help us grow as individuals and in togetherness. And without each other for support, where would we be?

Laws of Attraction runs through April 30th, tickets and more information can be found here. Special thanks to Attack Theatre for complimentary press tickets.

Photo credit: Craig Thompson Photography

Fringe Day 3: Funerals, Poetry, Dance and an Open Mic

chloe 3After experiencing and fully enjoying day one of the Fringe festival, I think it goes without saying that I was looking forward to day two. After loading up on coffee, I headed out to see my first show of the day, Shades of Shel at St. Mary’s Lyceum. Now, when most people (at least most younger people) think of Shel Silverstein, we think of the Giving Tree; how wonderfully he crafts poetic stories for children! Little did I know, Shel Silverstein also wrote tons of poetry to adults as well (his work was often featured in Playboy magazine). The man bringing these little known gems to life was named Sean Miller, and, in the intimate setting of me, two other audience members, and him sitting in a circle, he captured all of us as he wove through Silverstein’s words. The way Miller utilized the possibilities of the voice created a crystal clear movie reel in my head. His delivery of not only the words, but also of Silverstein’s original characters, was smooth and natural. Although there was only one man on stage, I felt like I met many characters that day. It’s one thing to memorize an hour’s worth of poetry, but it’s even more brilliant when that poetry is successfully brought to life, which Miller definitely did. A wonderful kick off to my day.

Following a small break in my day, I returned to St. Mary’s to see Ukie Fusion by the Slava Dance Company. The brainchild of artistic director, Natalie Kapeluck, this performance explored what it is like to grow up “a Ukie fusion,” raised in the US, but with Ukranian background. The way the dancers brought Kapeluck’s choreography to life juxtaposed modern dance with traditional Ukranian dance clearly and beautifully. With the addition of a narrator, telling audience members between numbers about what it’s like to grow up a Ukie fusion, I felt like I was truly learning about something I knew nothing about. For me, being able to learn about others through movement and artistic expression is one of the deepest ways to understand a person or idea and I felt that the expression and passion of this performance was incredibly strong. Having a modern dance background myself, I was amazed at the technicality and skill of the dancers. Not only that, but they all seemed to be genuinely enjoying themselves and their time dancing with each other. I was also taken by the music. At the end I found out that most of it was fusion music, only a couple songs were traditional Ukranian. The music along with the dance paid homage to the brilliance of culture and the ways our cultures mix. I left Ukie Fusion wanting to dance (which is always the sign of a great show)!

Later that night I headed to see Passing Through at the James Street Gastropub and Speakeasy. This was a show written by a group of friends and artists bouncing off of their own personal experiences with friendship, love, and art. By setting the show in the James Street pub around the premise of open mic nights, the actors developed a comedic drama between friends that I felt myself feeling like I was truly witnessing. The show also featured a house band and various other musical performers, all of which were amazing, adding much energy to the rest of the show. The chemistry between the actors and their relationship with the space flowed really, really well. Utilizing the whole room, I found myself always turning my head to see what was going to happen next— where are they going? What are they doing? By immersing the audience in a relatable and engaging atmosphere, the creators of this performance really succeeded in their exploration of life, friends, and change.

My last Fringe festival show, and quite possibly the funniest performance I have ever seen in my life, was a one-man show called The Eulogy. Michael Burgos, a performer from Washington D.C. wrote and self-directed his genius parody of a funeral. The story is that he is burying his old “friend,” who he actually hated. The words themselves were hilarious and Burgos delved fully into his quirky, almost off-putting character through his use of meticulous body movements and blocking. Although he was one person the whole time, Burgos incorporated many different characters into that one man, adding to the craziness of the character. I was astounded at how much energy he not only kept himself, but also all of the energy he transferred to me as an audience member. The way Burgos interacted with audience members through eye contact as well as words was impressive to say the least. Burgos presented a fully developed, unique, and hilarious show. As I said, I’m not sure if I’ve ever laughed that hard at a performance and that’s saying a lot. I was so glad I didn’t miss this!

Fringe Day 2: Beautiful Cadavers, LA Acting Coaches, and Cinderella Stories

chloe 2Prior to attending the Pittsburgh Fringe Festival, I wasn’t sure what to expect. Nonetheless, I was sure intrigued to find out, especially seeing the words, “experimental performance art,” pop up so often in my online search for the weekend long event. The first show I attended was Northsoutheastwest. Developed through the “exquisite corpse model” by the Beautiful Cadaver Project, this piece was written by six different playwrights who aimed to explore their personal experiences, their relationships with Pittsburgh, and how the two intersect. The playwrights did not know how exactly their co-artists were going about the process during the writing process, but from what I saw, they drew it all together, quite beautifully, into one cohesive and fully developed show.

While focusing on the various stories of each different character, a complex story line was maintained. The plot that unfolded was not only relatable on a Pittsburgh level, but also on a very personal level. Being from Pittsburgh myself, I was able to picture all of the places mentioned and all the good-spirited jokes about “yinzers” warmed my heart in a special place. These Pittsburgh references created vivid imagery in my mind, which added immensely to my engagement in the performance. I felt myself nodding my head in agreement to most all the commentary about Pittsburgh’s rapid transformation into “the most livable city,” and how that affects those of us who grew up in “the Steel City.” Whether familiar with Pittsburgh or not, the personal experiences of love, friendship, change, anger, and loss were executed on stage with passion and commitment. This was the perfect opening to my Pittsburgh Fringe festival experience!

After a little gap in the afternoon, I headed back to see It’s Who You Know at the YMRC. This was a drastically different type of show than what I had seen earlier, which, by the way, was one of my favorite aspects of the Fringe Festival; so much variety!!! Chambers Stevens, a successful acting coach from Los Angeles, created this one man show around the ancient art of storytelling. Initially sharing a vibrant recollection of his family and how their tales inspired his fascination with storytelling, Chambers captivated me right away by granting us audience members a window into his own life. As the show went on, he would pull a celebrity’s name out of a box and proceed to share the story of his personal experience with them. Living in LA for 25 years, he had met some pretty amazing characters, from Johnny Depp and Jake Gyllenhaal to Micky Rooney. His exuberant energy and joyful expression were apparent right off the bat. I swear I didn’t stop laughing until I left.

What I think made his breaking of the fourth wall so successful, beyond the humor, was that he wasn’t merely telling us about celebrity’s and how cool it was to meet them— he was really telling us about himself and his life in the theater industry. By centering his stories around various celebrities, Chambers held the attention of the audience, not to mention he kept the laughs coming. Imagining any celebrity in a personal, normal-person, real-life setting as opposed to the typical stardom we associate them with is sort of bizarre, and definitely captivating. But the person I found myself really wanting to find out more about was Chambers, himself and how he kept these experiences with him—how he maybe let these interactions influence his life.  I found it inspiring, as a performer myself, to be told stories by a successful and talented, but also humble and relatable man.

Soon after It’s Who You Know ended, I settled in to see Four Voices… One Story from Moquette Volante, a beautiful intertwining of four different culture’s versions of the story known to us here in the U.S. as Cinderella. I found myself captivated not only by their story telling out loud, but also their story telling through movement. Specifically, the actress who told the Indian version of Cinderella, utilized such grace and beauty in adding traditional Indian movement to the words she was speaking. The juxtaposition between the simplicity of telling a story, blended with the more complex idea of how the world’s separate cultures culminate in so many ways, created a message that stuck with me. This performance exemplified the utter importance of realizing and embracing the distinctions and differences of every culture, while still being able to see how we all unite as human beings.

Strength and Grace

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Texture Contemporary Ballet’s latest performance, “Strength & Grace” beautifully echoed the words in the title through movement during the entirety of the performance. Each piece that I saw performed on the New Hazlett Theater’s stage drew me in because of the perfected balance between strength and grace I saw in each and every dancer.

The performance was made up of three sections with multiple pieces in each section. The first section, “Inner Division of Existence” exhibited a rather visually striking and accurate depiction of what it is like to exist both as an individual and a part of a group. There were a few aspects of this piece that strongly stood out to me. First of all, I witnessed some truly amazing partner work, which was both choreographed and executed perfectly. The ability of the dancers to not only move fluidly, but move fluidlytogether was what really made this piece effective in my eyes. When a mover can put his or her weight into another while still keeping a sense of grace and weightlessness, this is when you know they are truly in tune with the dance they are dancing.

The way I saw these dancers working together truly impressed me. Not only did I appreciate how the dancers worked with each other, but I also think the way they worked with the floor added an important dynamic to the piece. The floor work in the choreography incorporated a sense of being grounded, especially because the dancers worked with the floor in such a committed way. There was a perfect balance between floor work and work on other levels that created a very important dynamic of contrast. I found the word “contrast” kept coming to mind for me during the performance as a whole, which is something I really like to see in a performance… a contrast in tone and movement. The choreography showed a perfect contrast between fast and slow speeds, ensemble work and solo or duet work, and levels. Through all of these aspects of movement the piece really did show a metaphor for existence as a whole.

The second part of the show was made up of a few smaller numbers, which weren’t necessarily as connected to one another as the pieces in the first section, but still showed a direct theme of strength and grace in the movement of each piece. Through out all of these pieces I appreciated the ability I saw in each dancer to isolate parts of their body and bring focus to one aspect of themselves that maybe the audience wouldn’t haven noticed otherwise. Special shout-out to Christina Sahaida whose solo to “Hurts like Heaven” by Coldplay was so energetic and committed! She dominated the space. Each piece in this section was beautifully done. This is really a group of strong dancers.

The last section of Strength & Grace, “Forget About Home: A Photo Album of WWll” was a beautifully thought out and choreographed piece. This section was impeccable when it came to movement, and even had an amazing live singer (Krysta Bartman) to accompany the dancers. The use of silence and stillness through out this whole piece was my favorite part. Sometimes being slow or even still is the most effective way to move. The energy of the piece shifted between excited and sad, which I think is super important to keeping the audience involved. I loved it. The only thing about this piece was that I felt it could’ve been even more fleshed out and made into a show entirely its own. It was so beautiful and well done, but I felt like it didn’t go with the flow of the rest of the show somehow. I would love to see “Forget About Home: A Photo Album of WWll” done as a whole performance of it’s own.

Each dancer and every part of choreography in Strength & Grace spoke those very words to me. Not only are these dancers very talented individuals, but also very able to work together and put on a show that shows hard work, relationship, and commitment. If you didn’t catch Strength & Grace, make sure to see Texture Contemporary Ballet in the future!

Special thanks to Texture Contemporary Ballet for complimentary press tickets.

For more information aboutu Texture, check out their webiste, Facebook or Twitter!

Performance Date: Friday, July 17, 2015