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Steve Sucato
Performance Reviews
Ballet
Benedum Center for the Performing Arts
United States
Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh, PA
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Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre - Program A - Contrast Of Light And Dark

by Steve Sucato
March 16, 2008
Benedum Center for the Performing Arts
719 Liberty Avenue
Pittsburgh, PA 15222
(412) 456-2600
www.pbt.org
It's easy to overlook choreographer Twyla Tharp's genius. Like that of Paul Taylor and Mark Morris, her musicality and clever manipulation of bodies in motion is something often disguised in accessible and uncomplicated choreography belying a mastery of the art form. Such was the case in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's latest program at the Benedum Center for the Performing Arts, which opened with two of Tharp's masterworks, 1991's "Octet" and 2001's "Known by Heart ('Junk') Duet".

Six of PBT's dancers (4 women, 2 men) launched into "Octet's" elegant yet carefree choreography that paired with Edgar Meyer's eclectic music for the work, created a pleasing and sedate atmosphere. Dancers Robert Moore and Alexandre Silva in black pants and tank tops flip-flopped between a smooth and stylized jazz-influenced duet in which the two were engaged and partnering members of a line of 4 female dancers whose movement was mostly balletic. As the work progressed two more male dancers were added creating even more varied dancer groupings that explored Tharp's engaging movement language.

While PBT's dancers performed "Octet" solidly, the pairing of principal dancers Maribel Modrono and Christopher Budzynski in Tharp's "Known by Heart ('Junk') Duet" proved stellar. In Tharp's gesture infused and humorous choreography, Budzynski embodied a sort of schizophrenic Fred Astaire, mixing clean and stylish dancing with odd personality quirks while Modrono played the coquettish Ginger Rogers to his Astaire. The pair intimated a romantic relationship, one in which when Budzynski's character got a little too friendly, found him backpedaling on both heels waving his hands toward Modrono as if to say "my bad, don't clobber me." Modrono's character was a mix of delicate and graceful dancing fueled by a rather mischievous personality.

The duet is Tharp at her best, intertwining with flair several dance styles from Broadway jazz to modern and infusing them with an innocent poking-fun-at style of humor.

The second half of PBT's program featured choreographer Dwight Rhoden's "Carmina Burana" (2004) with music by Carl Orff performed by Pittsburgh's Mendelssohn Choir with soprano Jennifer Saunders, tenor Dillan McCartney and baritone Brian Keith Johnson and the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre Orchestra under the direction of Maestro Charles Barker.

Orff's familiar and powerful score used for the ballet is built around a series of 13th century poems speaking of the cycle of life, cruel fate, immorality, beauty and love.

As a ballet "Carmina" has been a difficult subject to master for a number of choreographers. To make sense of it, it requires a delicate balance of story line and emotion. Rhoden's version — like others I have seen — proved high on drama and emotion but lacked cohesion in its story. Even with the translated poems to follow along to in the program notes, Rhoden's choreography seemed a mash of bodies repeating similar themes.

With lighting and scenic design by Michael Korsch and costumes by Miho Morinoue, the ballet took on the look of a gothic vampire movie. PBT's dancers moved through Rhoden's textured, hip-leading contemporary ballet movement as if in a constant state of debauchery. Bodies entwined with one another as the dancers climbed on, under, and around several long benches positioned at both sides of the stage. The only respite from this barrage of like images came in two brief but quite beautiful pas de deuxs performed by the ballet's leads Robert Moore and Julia Erickson. The most striking of the two pas de deuxs featured Erickson in a silver ball gown with red underskirt and the tall and commanding Moore all in black. The two moved through well-crafted choreography sprinkled with striking lifts and tender embraces.

For most of the rest of the ballet Erickson played the role of royal temptress swinging high above the stage on a giant swing looking down upon her subjects and casting a piercing gaze that shot out into the farthest depths of the theater. When not swinging on high, Erickson could be found snaking her way through a fence of askew poles at the rear of the stage that separated the choir from the dancers or engaging in attention-getting and alluring choreography.

Despite "Carmina's" failings, PBT's dancers performed the ballet with conviction and skill as did the orchestra, choir, and soloists, especially baritone Brian Keith Johnson. The dark spectacle earned the performers a standing ovation from the audience.
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