With both companies celebrating 50th anniversaries, Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and New York’s Dance Theatre of Harlem continued their collaborative performance relationship begun in 2017 with another world class evening of dance on Thursday night at Downtown’s August Wilson Cultural Center.
The special triple bill preview performance presented by BNY Mellon to begin a two week run of shows, offered up repertory very much in each company’s wheelhouse.
It began with Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre performing “Rubies,” the second act from George Balanchine’s ballet Jewels (1967.) The 19-minute plotless ballet danced to Igor Stravinsky’s “Capriccio for Piano and Orchestra” featured five men and 10 women in bejeweled ruby-colored costumes flared at the hips with fringe — the look resembling ancient Egyptian royalty for the women and medieval courtiers for the men.
The ballet starred principal dancers Amanda Cochrane and Yoshiaki Nakano who early on danced a playful and energetic duet sprinkled with kitschy movement resembling skip rope jumping, do-si-dos and waltzing steps that were infused into Balanchine’s signature neo-classical ballet style of the time. Surrounding them was a corps de ballet led by spritely soloist Gabrielle Thurlow who moved through expertly-patterned and grouped choreography that filled the stage creating picturesque tableau after picturesque tableau. Thurlow was a delight, high-kicking and turning on-a-dime as an alluring temptress for the corps’ four male dancers who partnered her in succession. And while Thurlow tempted, Cochrane dazzled with superior technique, extension and stage presence reminiscent of the role’s originator, New York City Ballet star Patricia McBride. Cochrane and Nagano had great chemistry throughout the ballet and the entire cast revelled in one of Balanchine’s most choreographically quirky and entertaining ballets.
Next, Houston Ballet artistic director Stanton Welch’s ballet Orange (2001) was the lone work to feature both companies’ dancers on stage together. Performed to music by Antonio Vivaldi, three male-female couples in tangerine vacillated between moments of happiness and melancholy. A reference to the orange color associated with the Svadhishthana or Sacral Chakra dealing with the emotional body, the ballet at its heights bubbled with vibrant and challenging contemporary ballet choreography that let each of its dancers shine in solos, duets and as a group. Two who shone from the get go in the ballet were April 2019 Dance Magazine cover couple DTH’s Amanda Smith and Da’Von Doane. Smith performed a fast-paced, adroitly danced solo that shouted her star quality, while Doane danced a powerful and reflective solo along a shaft of light.
Also making her mark in the ballet was PBT principal dancer Alexandra Kochis whose graceful movement and rapid turns highlighted her solo. She, along with fellow PBT principal Luca Sbrizzi, also captivated in a circular patterned pas de deux. Additionally, DTH dancers Alicia Mae Holloway and Anthony Santos fleshed out Welch’s relationship-themed motif for the ballet that when expressing joy, took on a mood where the women yearned and the men moped.
The program closed with DTH in Darrell Grand Moultrie’s Harlem on My Mind (2017.) Set to a jazz score with music by Duke Ellington, Fats Waller, Wynton Marsalis and others, the flirtatious work in five sections for the entire company proved a wonderful capper to another match-made-in-heaven collaboration between the DTH and PBT.
A blend of ballet and jazz, playfulness and poignancy, the work was tailor-made for DTH’s exquisite dancers.
After a rousing opening group dance to Waller’s “Ain’t Misbehavin’,” dancer Anthony Santos in “Harlem’s Finest” performed a jazzy, low-to-the- ground solo with slow rising leg extensions and more than a little playing to the audience attitude.
Next, company celebrity Ingrid Silva and Dylan Santos came together in “Duo de Jazzin’” to Ellington’s 1931 classic “It Don’t Mean a Thing (If It Ain’t Got That Swing.)” The couple engaged in cat and mouse choreography with Silva playing hard to get (but not too hard) toward Santos’ courting in a finger-snapping, foot-slapping duet.
DTH’s Choong Hoon Lee then turned in one of the evening’s most memorable performances in “Soul of the Hood,” a heartfelt, gripping and athletic solo to haunting trumpet and piano music evoking the emotional flip side to Harlem’s jaunty Swing.
Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and Dance Theatre of Harlem’s collaboration continues through March 24 in two programs. Program A (Nyman String Quartet #2, Corsaire Pas de Deux, Orange, Rubies) runs March 23 & 24 at 2 p.m. and Program B (Rubies, Balamouk, Orange, Harlem On My Mind) runs March 22 & 23 at 8 p.m.; Downtown’s August Wilson Cultural Center, 980 Liberty Ave.; Tickets are $28-117 and available online at pbt.org, by calling (412) 456-6666, or in person at the Box Office at Theater Square.