By Steve Sucato
Pittsburgh Current Dance Writer
Point Park’s student Conservatory Dance Company closes out its dynamic 2018-19 celebrating the opening of the University’s new 60 million dollar Pittsburgh Playhouse at Fourth and Forbes Avenues with its Spring Dance Concert, April 18-21 at the Playhouse’s PNC Theatre.
Following in the footsteps of prior programs on the season, the Spring Dance Concert is a mixed repertory program featuring works by high profile choreographic names and Point Park alumni.
One of the biggest names in dance, Christopher Wheeldon, the 2015 Tony Award-winning choreographer for An American in Paris and artistic associate of The Royal Ballet, puts CDC’s dancers to the test in his ballet “The American.”
Premiered by Carolina Ballet in 2001, the 26-minute ballet derives its title from and is set to Antonin Dvorak’s “String Quartet in F Major Op. 96 (American Quartet)”. Says former New York City Ballet dancer Michele Gifford who staged the ballet on a dozen (six male/female couples) of CDC’s dancers, it gets its inspiration from “America’s topography and skylines”.
One of two works on program by former Point Park students, visiting teaching artist in Jazz and 1999 graduate Kiki Lucas’ “The Vessel” has had several iterations since its premiere by Houston Metropolitan Dance Company in 2013 that featured male soloist and fellow Point Park faculty member Jason McDole. For this latest incarnation, Lucas has set three sections of the original 35-minute work on CDC’s dancers that she felt were the most dynamic.
Danced to original music by Ben Doyle and the United Kingdom’s Matthew Barnes (a.k.a. Forest Swords), the 11-minute excerpt for nine women and six men takes its inspiration from research Lucas did on “the learning patterns and trials and tribulations of kids with cochlear implants,” she says.
A 2009 Point Park graduate, Robert Priore returns to stage his first work for CDC, “Casita”. Originally created on Priore’s Washington D.C.-based company PrioreDance in 2016, the work, says Priore via telephone from Washington, “The idea for the piece came from my small and humble beginnings [in Buffalo, NY] and also the story we tell and the family we build for ourselves.”
The 23-minute work for multiple casts of five men and eight women is set to music by French-Lebanese musician Bachar Mar-Khalife and Yemenite-Israeli sister trio A-WA who sing in the Yemenite Arabic dialect while mixing in electronic dance music, hip-hop beats and folkloric melodies. Says Priore, “it looks at the relationships with the family you choose in life and not the one you are born into.”
Rounding out the program will be Pittsburgh-native and 2013 MacArthur “genius” grant recipient Kyle Abraham’s “Drive” (2017). Danced to pulsating electronic music by Theo Parrish and Mobb Deep, the intense 15-minute work for eight dancers, says Abraham is an abstract statement on unity in the face of societal ills.
Catherine Ellis Kirk, a dancer with Abraham’s company A.I.M who set the work on CDC says, “I spoke to the cast about the driving energy, intensity and community within the work. I wanted the dancers to understand where we were coming from contextually and to live in the work confident in their identities. It’s important to see different folks represent their histories and take pride in who they are while connecting to people who are considered different from them. “Drive” is a fun, exciting work that brings people together, so I wanted to stress those aspects of the piece to the cast [in order] to take it to another level.”