By Steve Sucato
Pittsburgh Current Dance Writer
Home cooking has been a staple of Texture Contemporary Ballet and its menu of dance works served up to local audiences over the past decade. For its ninth season opener Flying & Falling, July 18-21at the New Hazlett Theater, the company offers up even more home cooking including first-time contributions from two new chefs; Texture company members Katie Miller and Madeline Kendall.
The 2-hour program’s first course will be Texture artistic director Alan Obuzor and associate artistic director Kelsey Bartman’s new ballet, “The Beauty of Flight”. The 32-minute non-narrative ballet for a dozen dancers is danced to a suite of 7 songs (including instrumental mashups of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony with OneRepublic’s “Secrets” and Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake with Shawn Mendes’ “In My Blood”) by American musical group The Piano Guys. Says Obuzor, each of the ballet’s sections explore different influences. One has a Bollywood energy, one reminds him of the action-adventure vibe of the Pirates of the Caribbean films and another includes reconfigured dance steps and imagery from the ballet Swan Lake.
Texture Contemporary Ballet performs Flying & Falling, 7:30 p.m., Thu., July 18; 8 p.m. Fri., July 19 & Sat., July 20 and 2 p.m., Sun., July 21. Special hour-long Children’s Performance, 4 p.m., Sat., July 20 ($10/family). New Hazlett Theater, 6 Allegheny Square East, North Side. $20-30. (412) 320-4610, textureballet.org or newhazletttheater.org.
Next, Miller’s “Molto Appassionato” is the first of two choreographic dishes on Flying & Falling that got their start as part of Texture’s 2017 WIP (Works-in-Progress) Choreography Project.
Miller, a Flint, Michigan-native who began performing with Texture in 2012, is a former dancer with Sacramento Ballet. Titled after the first movement of Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E minor, Op. 64, “Molto Appassionato” was Miller’s very first choreographic creation.
“I have been fortunate in my career to have danced at places that were always encouraging in giving dancers an opportunity to choreograph,” says Miller. “I never felt like it was something I wanted to or was meant to do. You can be a good dancer and not necessarily be a good choreographer and I didn’t want to choreograph just for the sake of doing it.
Miller says that when she came to Texture Bartman and Obuzor further encouraged her to choreograph as a means to learn more about dance and improve as an artist. What really pushed her into finally taking that leap into choreographing she says, was finding Mendelssohn’s music which spoke to her as a dancer and as a dance-maker. “My ballet is seeks to bring that music to life,” says Miller.
Further motivating the 12-minute ballet for 5 women and 1 man says Miller, was incorporating into the ballet feelings one has in the moments before great change happens in their life.
A pallet refresher solo excerpt from Bartman and Obuzor’s “Broken Flow” (2011) to music by Cleveland rapper Kid Cudi then takes the stage before the program’s third course, Obuzor’s 9-minute ballet, “Reshifting Time”.
Created earlier this year on 11 dance majors at Livonia, Michigan’s Madonna University, the ballet was inspired by and is set to music by Thomas Bergersen and Nick Phoenix of Los Angeles-based Two Steps from Hell, who are mainly known for creating music for movie trailers (Harry Potter films, Inception etc.) and television series (Game of Thrones, Doctor Who etc.).
“I wanted to create something more primal and raw,” says Obuzor.
And while “Reshifting Time” is non-narrative, Obuzor says in the ballet’s second half there is a sense of one dancer being consumed by or pulling away from the group of 11.
For dessert, Flying & Falling goes old school Hollywood in an expanded version of Bartman and Kendall’s “Hats Off to the Greats”, which also had its genesis at the WIP Choreography Project.
Part of Texture’s Sacramento, California connection that includes Miller and schoolmate at Sacramento’s Capitol Ballet Center, Texture dancer Brynn Vogel, the 24-year-old Kendall previously danced in the trainee program at Salt Lake City’s Ballet West before making the move to Pittsburgh and Texture. Now entering her 4th season with the company, Kendall says “Hats Off to the Greats” began as a lark with her and Bartman joking about dancing a version of the “Fit as a Fiddle” duet from the 1952 musical Singin’ in the Rain. From there, the co-choreographers expanded the now 35-minute ballet for 13 dancers, to include several other moments from Golden Age of Hollywood films including a solo danced to the Judy Garland song “I Don’t Care” from 1949’s In the Good Old Summertime, selections from 1954’s White Christmas and the song “Miss Turnstiles” from 1949’s On the Town.