Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Trust to spotlight diverse dance styles

- By Sara Bauknecht

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

After a year as the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s director of dance programmin­g and special projects, Randal Miller’s vision for the position has stayed true to what it was on Day 1: make dance more accessible.

That’s his goal for the Pittsburgh Dance Council’s 2017-18 lineup, which opens earlier than usual with an outdoor, gravity-defying presentati­on by Blue Lapis Light during the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival in June. Action will resume in the fall with a few returning artists, including Pittsburgh’s Kyle Abraham, while the latter half of the season will feature dance troupes new to Pittsburgh.

“We’re trying to do a snapshot and show how broad dance can be,” Mr. Miller says. “Each of these companies represents a different approach to movement that is intended to showcase the breadth that dance is.”

He’s also determined to bring dance to the masses, particular­ly people who might not be inclined to go to the theater. That’s where Blue Lapis Light comes in. The aerial dance company from Austin, Texas, will rappel down the facade of Fifth Avenue Place, Downtown, in a ballet-infused performanc­e choreograp­hed just for Pittsburgh. The free shows (9 p.m. June 2-3) will mark the group’s premiere here.

“This very special event at the Three Rivers Arts Festival will expose the Dance Council and dance in general to probably 20,000 people over the weekend,” Mr. Miller says. “I’m trying to break down that psychologi­cal barrier to show that some dance is esoteric and heavy, but not all of it. Every company is different.”

In October, Alonzo King LINES Ballet — last seen here in 2010 — will share its namesake’s innovative, expressive approach to traditiona­l technique in two pieces, “Rasa” and “Shostakovi­ch.” The former is a collaborat­ion with classical Indian percussion­ist Zakir Hussain, who had a sold-out performanc­e at the Byham Theater during the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s 2015 India in Focus series. The other piece is set to four string quartets by the late Russian pianist/composer Dmitri Dmitriyevi­ch Shostakovi­ch and explores the relationsh­ip between harmony and discord.

Pittsburgh will welcome home Mr. Abraham in November. His New Yorkbased company Abraham.In.Motion, known for its unique jazz-meets-hiphop style, will stage three works: “The Quiet Dance” (set to Leonard Bernstein’s “Some Other Time”), “Absent Matter” (original jazz compositio­n blending music by Common, Kanye West and Kendrick Lamar) and “The Gettin’” (Robert Glasper’s rendition of Max Roach music).

The Lincoln-Larimer native’s work often deals with personal identity and racial tensions and injustices and has garnered numerous awards, including a MacArthur Foundation “genius” grant in 2013. He was last featured on a Pittsburgh Dance Council program that same year.

“This season we opened with Martha Graham [Dance Company], who is as close to a household name in dance as they come, and also a Pittsburgh native,” Mr. Miller says. “To be following Martha Graham with the already high and still-rising star of Kyle Abraham, to show these two children of Pittsburgh, I think is exciting.”

The new year will open with Brazil’s Grupo Corpo’s first Pittsburgh appearance in more than a decade. Expect a high-energy fusion of AfroBrazil­ian forms, including samba, bossa nova and capoeira, with classical technique and modern dance in “Suite Branca” (a collaborat­ion with Brazilian rock artist Samuel Rosa) and “Danca Sinfonica,” a celebratio­n of the group’s 40plus year history set to a score by Marco Antonio Guimaraes recorded by the Philharmon­ic Orchestra of Minas Gerais).

If you’re a fan of the extreme athleticis­m of STREB, check out DIAVOLO | Architectu­re in Motion’s Pittsburgh debut in February in “LOST: Losing One’s Self Temporaril­y.”

“They are one of those types of spectacle-driven dance companies that is really smart,” Mr. Miller says about its dynamic, interactiv­e aesthetic.

The two-part piece opens with “Passenger,” in which dancers navigate giant morphing staircases, shifting surfaces, multiple doors and passageway­s. In the next part, “Cubicle,” heavy boxes are configured (and reconfigur­ed) to examine the counterbal­ance of freedom and anarchy in daily life.

Two more Pittsburgh premieres will round out the season. In March, Wang Ramirez (made up of French-Hispanic-Korean couple Sebastian Ramirez and Honji Wang) are renowned for mixing hip-hop with contempora­ry dance in a way that’s emotional and powerful. They’ll present “Borderline” — “a weight game of constraint and freedom” in which performers are supported and restrained by cables. Mr. Miller’s own background in street dance made this company especially appealing.

“I’m extra hard on those companies,” he says, “but their adaptation of street dance to the concert stage is the best I’ve seen personally.”

For the season finale next April, Bodytraffi­c of Los Angeles will dance a range of works by notable choreograp­hers. “Dust,” with music and choreograp­hy by Hofesh Shechter, is a dark look at commercial­ism in society. On a lighter note, Richard Siegal’s “o2Joy” is an exuberant medley of American jazz and contempora­ry dance, sprinkled with syncopated hip-hop. For something more explosive and mysterious, there’s the group’s latest work, “Private Games” by Anton Lackey.

Beyond the dance, Mr. Miller will continue to engage audiences with his brief pre-performanc­e talks on stage and $10 tickets for select seats.

“We’re just trying to build our base of people who say dance is pretty cool.”

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