Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Christmas in D.C. - Next Best Thing to Being Home for the Holidays

Along Pennsylvania Avenue Photo Credit Bill Rockwell

Any time of year, our nation’s capital is an interesting and exciting place to visit with loads of attractions for a visitor to see, many of them free of charge. But, during the holiday season, the city sparkles and glows with a myriad of lights, tall Christmas trees like the one on the White House lawn, and elaborate toy train exhibits, including the ever-popular one at the National Botanical Garden.
I began my own Christmas visit with a walk through ZooLights, where 500,000 LED colored lights line the walkways through the National Zoo. The 40 minute round trip hike took me past topiary-like animals formed from strings of light, trees immersed in falling "snowflakes," whole gardens of flowers that change color in sequence and beautifully floodlit buildings - all contributing to a blaze of color set against the evening sky.
ZooLights Elephants at National Zoo Photo Credit Bill Rockwell

    Admission to ZooLights is free of charge and includes live entertainment, entrance to some exhibit buildings, special events and more  Holiday treats like hot chocolate, eggnog, gingerbread and holiday cookies are also available for purchase.
Christmas Scene at Nage Bistro Photo Credit Bill Rockwel
    Dinner that evening took me and photographer, Bill Rockwell, to Nage Bistro in Scott Circle across from the Australian Embassy where kangaroos on the lawn pull Santa’s sleigh, giving his reindeer some needed time off. We arrived on Burger Night (Monday), when executive chef, Dwayne Motley, offers three hand-crafted burgers made from ground chuck, steak and short rib and cooked to order over an open flame.
    The burgers come with a choice of home made fries (garlic or white truffle oil and herb or the potent Ghost fries, dusted with the third hottest chile in the world and 900.5 times hotter than your feeble Tabasco sauce). Note: You can see several courageous folks eating one of these torrid chiles (or trying to) at various locations on youtube.
Wild Mushroom Baklava at Nage Bistro Photo Credit bill Rockwell
    While the burgers were tempting, we went for more labor-intensive selections such as wild mushroom baklava with berry compote and chevre, grilled Gulf prawns on dirty rice, a little pumpkin stuffed with root veggies, quinoa and cranberries and a fall apart-tender braised short rib served on a bed of Yukon Gold potato puree with mustard greens. 1600 Rhode Island Ave, NW Phone 202-448-8005.
    Day Two took us first to the West Wing of the National Gallery of Art. I’d been to the I.M. Pei-designed East Wing before but never its NeoClassic older sibling, completed in 1941. Our main goal, besides exploring the wondrous rotunda under the dome was to view the current El Greco exhibit - up through Feb. 16, 2015. The exhibit includes seven paintings from the gallery’s own collection as well as three others on loan from regional museums.
Rotunda under the Dome at the National Gallery of Art Photo Credit Bill Rockwell

    As a follow-up, we took the 12-minute tour and talk on a related painting by Spanish artist Diego Velazquez titled "The Needle-Woman." The gallery offers many guided tours daily, including free audio tours and a do-it-yourself Collection Highlights tour. Www.nga.gov.
    Nearby, the "Seasons Greetings" exhibit at the National Botanical Garden features model trains and reproductions of many Washington buildings and monuments. This year, the exhibit’s theme "Exploration Along the Seas," includes lighthouses meant to navigate the way through the scenic wonderland. Interestingly enough, the model buildings are all made of plant material.

Ice Rink in Sculpture Garden with National Archives in Background Photo Credit Bill Rockwell
    On the way to see the original copies of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution in the National Archives, we lingered a few moments to watch ice skaters circle the rink in the National Gallery Sculpture Garden. The way most of the folks cautiously made their way around the rink gave me a deeper appreciation for those truly adept on the ice.
Entrance to Old Ebbitt Grill

    Dinner that evening took us to the Old Ebbitt Grill, whose roots go back to 1856 and whose patrons included Presidents Grant, Cleveland, Harding and Theodore Roosevelt. After walking past two giant Nutcracker soldiers, which flank the entrance door, we moved into the historic eatery, which claims the city’s most popular oyster bar. As an appetizer, we took manager Dan Harding’s recommendation and tried the Peconic Bay Scallop Capellini, tender, thin and long, house-made noodles with meaty scallops tossed in a cream sauce. Yummy!
Interior Shot of Old Ebbitt Grill Photo Credit Bill Rockwell
    Follow up dishes included duck breast and Atlantic Salmon with sautéed autumn vegetables, red quinoa, farro, kale and walnut pesto. On our way out, we noticed the big platters on the bar and some tables full of oysters, clams and shrimp. The platters come in five successively larger portions with the Orca platter at the top of the price list. For $126, Orca patrons get a 1 pound lobster, 6 Jonah crab claws, 6 clams, 24 oysters and 12 shrimp
Oyster Appetizer Plate at Old Ebbitt Grill Photo Credit Bill Rockwell
    While it’s meant to be shared, Harding did say that a single customer once managed to down the entire platter without anyone else’s assistance. If you get a seafood craving and are on a fixed budget, keep in mind that from 3 to 6 p.m. and from 11 p.m. to closing, seven days a week, Oyster Happy Hour allows patrons to order any platter at half off.

    Day 3 started at the Newseum, located at 555 Pennsylvania Avenue right next to the modern Canadian Embassy. Outside, the words of the First Amendment, which guarantees freedom of the press, are inscribed into the face of the wall. Inside, after paying for your admissions ticket, which gives patrons two consecutive day access for the price of one, three theaters on the concourse level give an brief orientation to the Newseum along with the signature film "What’s News?"
Looking Down From Level Six at the Newseum Photo Credit Bill Rockwell
    A current exhibition titled "The Boomer List" is made up of 19 larger-than-life photos by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders - one for each year of the Baby Boom Era (1946-1964). A more powerful exhibit made up of the most comprehensive collection of Pulitzer Prize winning photos dating back to 1942 can be found on Level One. Be advised that some depict quite brutal and emotionally charged images.
Pulitzer Prize Winning Photo of Starving Child in Newseum Collection Photo Credit Bill Rockwell
    The museum brochure advises starting at the top on Floor Six and working your way down. At the top level, step out onto the terrace for a great vantage point high above Pennsylvania Avenue with the Capitol looming largely to the East.
    With a total of 15 theaters and 15 galleries, it’s a good thing the admission ticket allows a two day visit. The galleries cover everything from the Berlin Wall, 9/11 - which includes the wreckage of the radio antenna atop the South Tower, the Civil Rights Movement at 50, the FBI, with artifacts of the agency’s biggest cases of the past 100 years, press freedom (or the lack of it) in countries around the world, even photos of the Presidents’ dogs.
    With a mike in hand standing in front of a green screen, you can also try your skill at being a news reporter in the NBC News Interactive Newsroom, then take in a 4-D adventure through time and journalism history in a special theater with 3-D visual effects and seats that move as part of the screening. Phone 202-292-6100.
    To get an orientation overview of Washington, we decided to take a Big Bus Tour, offered onboard a double deck bus. Big Bus has four different routes, two of which take you across the Potomac into Virginia for a look at the Pentagon and Arlington Cemetery.
    Accompanied by a knowledgeable guide who narrates all sorts of interesting information on the city, its history and its famous people, the tours last 2 and a half hours and allows people to hop-off at a landmark they’d like to explore further, then hop back on the next bus to continue the tour. eng.bigbustours.com/washington or 877-332-8689.
    Dinner that evening took us to Zengo, just off the Chinatown Metro stop, where the kitchen comes up with some very creative, adventurous dishes that blend Asian and Latin styles and flavors, and the decor is as sophisticated and eye-catching as the cuisine.
Trio of Shrimp Tacos and Octopus Bibimbap at Zengo Photo Credit Bill Rockwell
    Our bill of fare included a trio of shrimp tacos, scallops and short rib tamales, octopus carnitas "bibimbap" served in a sizzling hot kettle with mushrooms, roasted corn, jicama, chile toreado and salsa roja-gochujang sauce. For dessert, the Mexican chocolate tart is incredibly delicious. Phone 202-393-2929.
Seared Scallops and Short Rib Tamales at Zengo Photo Credit bill Rockwell
    That evening we headed to the campus of Catholic University of America for Christmas Eve mass at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception, the largest Roman Catholic church in the U.S. and North America and one of the ten largest in the world. Despite its size, the church had standing room only for the service.
Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception Photo Credit Bill Rockwell

The music played on the organ with choir accompaniment was incredibly beautiful, and when the congregation lit their hand-held candles, the lights in the church dimmed and a procession of clerics and laity brought the infant Jesus through the basilica, then laid him in the manger near a side altar. It proved to be an emotionally charged, magical and spiritual evening.
Basilica Interior Photo Credit Bill Rockwell
 For a place to stay, the Harrington Hotel, 436 11th Street in Washington, opened on March 1, 1914 making it the nation’s oldest continuously operating hotel. Just a half block from Pennsylvania and two blocks from the White House, the Harrington is within walking distance to many DC attractions and the Metro.
    While not in the luxury class of DC hotels, the Harrington is clean, tidy and has some excellent family-friendly room rates, although the decor is a bit outdated. The hotel, celebrating its 101st anniversary this year, also houses a full service restaurant and pub. Phone 202-628-8140 or www.hotel-harrington.com.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

Convergence of Talent Makes "Or," Something Very Special

Cast of "Or" Ethan Hova, Erika Cuenca, Robin Abramson Photo Credit: Off the Wall Theater

How lucky for Carnegie’s Off the Wall Theater that it managed (again) to combine the right elements to make for an exceptional theatrical experience. "Or," like the Steelers of late, is a winning team  made up of playwright Liz Duffy Adams, a cast of three superb actors and a gifted director, John Shepard, who wowed local audiences this summer with his directorial skills in Quantum Theatre’s production of "Tamara."
"Or" takes a look at the 17th century playwright, Aphra Behn, credited as one of the first professional woman writers in England and someone who made important contributions to the development of the English novel. The play opens in a 1666 debtor’s prison in London, where Behn finds herself locked away and destitute.
Quill pen in hand, she implores King Charles II (after a prologue meant to explain the title of the play among other things) to pay her for her services as a spy in the service of the crown. Charles has just regained the throne following Cromwell’s draconian dictatorship, and the Restoration promises a relaxation of Puritan strictures that included the reopening of the theaters which kindles Behn’s desire to write successful plays.
Off the Wall’s rather modest set is a stark contrast to the trio of regal or notorious and colorful personalities that form the core of Or,’s" action, namely Charles II himself, the celebrated actress with polymorphous perverse tendencies, Nell Gwynne, and Behn, the aspirating playwright.
Witty and cerebral, the dialogue also has its fair share of ribald comedy that explores all sorts of sexual orientations when it’s not poking around in more serious matters like affairs of state, plots to assassinate the king and 17th century cultural and social norms.
With four doors to come in and go out at the back of the stage (plus two more on an armoire that plays a pivotal role), the scene is set for farce, which the playwright does exploits - but not to excess.
As Behn, Erica Cuenca steadfastly tries to finish a play to meet the deadline set by a wealthy patron, all the while juggling a hodgepodge of amorous advances initiated by the king, an ex-lover and even the libidinous Nell Gwynn. Cuenca’s performance nicely balances her character’s inherent intelligence with her voluptuous charisma and ambitious maneuverings to stay in the good graces of both the king and her theatrical benefactor - all the while trying to keep control over her feisty and somewhat daft maid and reprobate ex-lover.
It falls on Robin Abramson to play multiple roles that include Gwynne, the maid and Lady Davenant, a theater impresario and patron. Abramson enlivens the play with her electric humor, dashing around in various costumes and taking the secondary characters to hilarious heights.
Ethan Hova also does double duty, making the changes from Charles II to William Scot, Behn’s former lover, and back with the donning of a different wig, transforming from king to peon and back with remarkable credibility.
"Or," will probably be one of the last plays I’ll see in 2014, but it’s also one of the best I’ve witnessed this entire year.
"Or," is at Off the Wall Theater, 25 W. Main Street in Carnegie through Jan. 10. Phone 724-873-3576 for reservations.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Pick of the Week - A Double Bill at Off the Wall Theater

Cast of "Uproar" Taylor Quinn, Glenna Clark, Christian Ross, Darren McArthur, Luke Paulina Photo Credit Off the Wall Theater.
    Pittsburgh area audiences know by now that the team at Off the Wall Theater in Carnegie likes to push the envelope.  From edgy productions of topical, thought-provoking plays, to risqué humor, to powerfully intense modern dance – being unique is the provocative  theater’s life force.
  So as not to disappoint, they’ve done it again!  This holiday season, Off the Wall is staging two shows simultaneously: the Acting Company’s hilariously ribald production of Liz Duffy Adams’ comedy "OR," (directed by John Shepard and starring Erika Cuenca, Robin Abramson, and Ethan Hova) and fireWALL dance theater’s "UPROAR," a delightful spectacle of original choreography by Elisa-Marie Alaio and music by Ryan McMasters.

Cast of "Or" Ethan Hova, Erika Cuenca, Robin Abramson Photo Credit: Off the Wall Theater

  The theme of female empowerment rules in both productions. The play "OR," tells the story of Aphra Behn -  poet, spy and one of the world’s first professional female playwrights.  Set in Restoration London, bawdy hilarity ensues as Aphra works her way through one interruption after another in her quest to write a play in one short night (Note: This production contains adult language and naughty sexual situations).
    In "UPROAR," the dancers take us through the creative process of a female writer, with all the twists, turns and triumphs she experiences while creating her ultimate masterpiece.
Off the Wall is inviting everyone to witness the dance production or the play – the choice is yours.  Better yet, see both!  Each production runs for four weeks, so you, friends, family and acquaintances can all enjoy the Off the Wall experience.
  "UPROAR" is at Off the Wall from Dec. 18, 2014 through Jan 11, 2015. "OR" will run from  Dec. 19, 2014 through Jan 10, 2015. The Off the Wall Theater is located at 25 W. Main Street in Carnegie. Tickets are $ 5.00 to $ 35.00 and available either online at http://www.insideoffthewall.com/  or by phone at  888-718-4253.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Holiday Cabaret Celebrates Life of One of Pittsburgh’s Great Divas

Opera Diva Mildred Miller Posvar

    If the Holiday Cabaret planned for this Friday evening is anything like the ones that followed the mainstage productions of the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh’s Summerfest, Pittsburgh audiences are in for a rare treat.
   While enjoying seasonal goodies like mulled wine/cider and small plate appetizers (available for purchase), patrons will also be able to sit back cabaret-style and listen to Kevin Gavin and friends break out of the opera mold and sing lighter fare sure to warm the ballroom of the stylish Art Deco Twentieth Century Club. To add a bit of filigree to the musical soiree, Robert Frankenberry, Marissa Knaub and Matthew Feczko will accompany the singers on piano, harp and double bass respectively.
   More importantly, the gala event will give patrons to rub elbows with one of Pittsburgh’s greatest divas - Mildred Miller Posvar, who is celebrating a milestone birthday this month on Dec. 16 (rumors I’ve heard claim she’ll be 39). Mrs. Posvar, wife of late Wesley W. Posvar, former University of Pittsburgh Chancellor, plans to attend the event to cut the birthday cake that she'll share with the audience.
    Tickets for the Holiday Cabaret which begins at 8 p.m (doors open at 7:30 p.m.) are $35 or half price for students. Phone 412-326-9687 or online at otsummerfest.org. Tickets will also be available at the door.The Twentieth Century Club is located at 4201 Bigelow Blvd. in Pittsburgh's Oakland section.
     A mezzo-soprano, Mrs. Posvar was a featured artist for 23 consecutive seasons at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City. She appeared with every major opera company in the United States and the leading houses of Europe and toured the world as an acclaimed recitalist.

Mildred Miller Posvar as Cherubino in Mozart's "The Marriage of Figaro:" Photo Credit Sedge LeBlang
    Her operatic roles include Cherubino in "The Marriage of Figaro," (her debut role at the Met and her exclusive domain there for a decade); the title role in "Carmen;" Octavian in "Der Rosenkavalier;" Suzuki in "Madama Butterfly;" Rosina in "The Barber of Seville" and Dorabella in "Così fan tutte."
    As a recording artist, she holds the Grand Prix du Disque for Bruno Walter’s only recording of Mahler’s "Songs of a Wayfarer," which has since become a classic. She appeared regularly on radio and television, polarizing the classics on The Bell Telephone Hour and The Voice of Firestone. She has sung to audiences as far-flung as Borneo and as all-American as the White House during the Nixon Presidency. She has also won special acclaim for her singing of German Lieder.
    In 1978, she founded the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh as a professional company featuring emerging singers and dedicated to education and audience development. She fashioned the company after Boris Goldovsky’s New England Opera Theater where she performed before beginning her career as a principle artist at the Metropolitan Opera. She has taught at Carnegie Mellon University for several years and conducts master classes throughout the country.
    Former classical music critic for the Pittsburgh "Post-Gazette" and retired professor and chair of the Voice Department at Duquesne University, Robert Croan, has followed Mrs. Posvar’s career for many years starting as a teenager growing up in New York City. For the past four years, he's also served as a fellow judge of the annual Mildred Miller International Voice Competition.
    "I’ve heard Mildred sing many roles including Cherubino, Carmen and Siebel in Gounod’s ‘Faust,’" Mr. Croan said. "At that time, not many opera singers could act as well as sing, but she was great at both.."
"To me, her artistry and phrasing were at the highest level, and I’ve admired her all my life. She had a beautiful, penetrating and honeyed lyrical voice and colored her words in a beautiful way."
    After Mr. Croan moved to Pittsburgh he heard her sing with the Pittsburgh Opera and met her at several functions. One of the roles with the Pittsburgh Opera that stands out in his mind is that of Elizabeth Proctor in Robert Ward’s "The Crucible." She could also be equally spellbinding in recital
    "She once gave a recital as part of the Y Music Series that was just simply wonderful," Mr. Croan said. "And when I got to take a German lieder master class with her, I realized that she is also a great teacher of the highest level. She is truly a remarkable woman."
    In a recent phone interview, Mrs. Posvar said she’s looking forward to the Holiday Cabaret that will feature lighter music as well as some Christmas songs.
    "The cabarets that followed our Summerfest performances were so popular it’s only natural to have another during the holiday season," she said. "It’s a wonderful outlet for our singers, headed by Kevin Glavin. At the cabaret, people can sit around tables, drink, talk if they’d like and listen to our wonderful singers. I’m really looking forward to it."
    They can also get a chance to honor one of Pittsburgh’s greatest names in opera. Happy birthday, Mrs. Posvar, and enjoy the Holiday Cabaret.

A Recent Photo of "Millie"  at the Opera Theater of Pittsburgh Gala: Photo Credit Amy Crawford

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Around Town - The Chuck Connelly Exhibit at the Warhol

Slag 2013 Courtesy the artist

The Andy Warhol Museum is currently presenting an exhibit titled "Chuck Connelly: My America" as
its contribution to the 2014 Pittsburgh Biennial. The exhibit runs through January 4, 2015 The exhibit features 21 of Connelly's works created from 1979 through 2013.

Born in Pittsburgh in 1955, Connelly graduated from the Tyler School of Art,
Philadelphia, in 1977 and, by the mid-1980s, was recognized as a key figure among
the New York-based Neo-expressionist painters. Known for using thickly layered
brush strokes and bold palettes, his subjects have varied widely from religious
imagery to cosmic visions, portraits, landscapes, and Victorian homes from the
Philadelphia neighborhood where he now lives.

Homo 1979 Courtesy the Artist

"During Connelly’s rise to prominence in New York the hip hop, post-punk, and street art movements had coalesced and artists such as Jean- Michel Basquiat and Keith Haring were incorporating their graffiti fonts and character onto neo-expressionist paintings,"  said Jessica Beck, the Warhol’s assistant
curator of art, who arranged the exhibition along with Nicholas Chambers. "In 'Homo,' one can see Connelly’s multilayered approach as he renders an Old-Master subject in contemporary style. The face of Santa is modeled after a Peter Paul Rubens portrait and the text applied in silver spray paint drips to the edge of the frame like a graffiti tag. Like Warhol’s comic strip paintings, Connelly employs a sexual slur with a children’s fictional character. However, the text appears impulsive and alters, almost defaces, his canvas of laborious detail."

"Connelly is a prodigious painter, working for nearly 40 years, which is why this first solo
museum show feels long overdue. 'My America' represents his personal story through the decades, shown in a progression of works that interweave grand art historical themes with contemporary social

Critics have compared Connelly's art to Soutine and Van Gogh, but his urban
landscapes also conjure the grittiness of the American realist George Bellows.
Connelly infuses an element of the surreal, seeming to portray untold narratives and
an otherworldly dimension.

"Chuck Connelly’s lush, heavily layered canvases remind us of the resilience and
force of painting. His surreal, uniquely tragicomic vision of the world is both
familiar and yet completely new and foreign," said Beck.

Ascending Man 1986 Courtesy the artist

Friday, December 5, 2014

Messiah Sing-A-Long - Pittsburgh's New Holiday Tradition

Music director, Brian Burns leading the choir in Handel's "The Messiah"

At a special concert, Pittsburgh music lovers will not only be able to hear George Frideric Handel’s "The Messiah" by candlelight and surrounded by Louis Comfort Tiffany’s magnificent stained glass windows, they’ll also be able to sing along on five beloved choruses.
The concert will take place at 4 p.m. in the restored Calvary United Methodist Church
971 Beech Ave. at Allegheny on Pittsburgh’s North Side. Music director, Brian Burns will lead a choir of 50 and an orchestra of 12 with David Bridge on organ. Soloists include Anna Singer, soprano; Mary Beth Sederburg, alto; Christopher Quigley, tenor and Matthew Hunt, baritone.

    Tickets are $12 general admission and $8 for seniors 62+ and may be purchased via  ShowClix through noon on Saturday, then at the door at 3 p.m. The concert is presented in support of outreach ministries on Pittsburgh's Northside. Audience members are asked to bring one-pound, non-perishable food items for the Northside Food Pantry.
    Family-friendly, the concert admits children 12 and under, veterans, and current military service members at no charge. Children receive an activity packet with information on music and "The Messiah."
A cookie reception will follow the concert.
    At the moment, Calvary United Methodist Church is restoring its rare 1895 Farrand & Votey pipe organ, featured in "The Messiah.". New pipes have been added to blend smoothly with the original pipes while music director Brian Burns continues extensive hands-on repairs and improvement. The organ is only one of two such instruments still in use in the US and is in restoration under Burns’ care.
    The church interior and exterior have undergone extensive restoration - from the repaired and cleaned stained glass windows by Stained Glass Resources to the sanctuary, also designed by Louis Comfort Tiffany’s studios. Much of restoration over the past 12 years has been led by Allegheny Historic Preservation Society. Calvary’s spaces and systems have been revived so that the building serves not only as an awe-inspiring setting for worship, weddings, and community events, but is a hub for dinners, meetings, arts events and more. The church held its first service on Dec. 24, 1893 when the building’s chapel was completed.

Pick of the Week - "The Nutcracker" Leaps into Pittsburgh’s Benedum Center

PBT Dancer Olivia Kelly in a  Scene from "The Nutcracker" Photo Credit Rich Sofranko

Those lucky enough to get a ticket to Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre’s Christmas season production of "the Nutcracker" are in for something special. Artistic director, Terrence Orr, has given the classic work danced by countless professional companies around the world each December several Pittsburgh touches including the setting.
The opening act is set in the F. W. McKee mansion on Fifth Avenue in Shadyside, which was eventually demolished to make way for an apartment complex. Another Pittsburgh landmark that makes its way into designer Zack Brown’s set is a rendition of the beloved Kaufmann’s clock, which once graced the exterior of the iconic department store on the corner of Smithfield and Fifth. The audience should also expect new Pittsburgh surprises and nuances from Orr and Brown in this year’s  production which was first mounted in 2002.
To tweak the story line a bit, Orr called on Milan Stitt, professor and head of dramatic writing at Carnegie Mellon University and together they selected elements from the original E. T. A. Hoffmann story and gave them a more colorful dramatic focus. And to create the sleight of hand and disappearing acts carefully executed at the party by Godfather Drosselmeyer, Orr enlisted the services of local magician Paul Gertner.
Along with lush sets and the timeless music of composer, Peter Ilyitch Tchaikovsky, played live by the PBT Orchestra, the production allocated $50,00 for materials for the requisite 215 costumes, more than half of which were built in Pittsburgh at PBT.
PBT will stage 23 public performances of "The Nutcracker" from Dec. 5 to 28 and feature 170 dancers on the stage of the Benedum Center. For tickets, phone 412-456-6666 or online at www.pbt.org.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Giving West Point a Second Look

Cadet Chapel at West Point Credit: Bill Rockwell

About eight years ago, I planned an early September driving tour up the Hudson. Starting in lower Westchester County, New York, where I went to the best dog show ever at the Westchester Kennel Club, I was supposed to end my excursion miles upriver in Olana, home to Frederic Edwin Church, a central figure in the Hudson River School of landscape painters.
Blessed with wonderful weather, I left the aforementioned dog show and headed up river to Sunnyside, the charming home of Washington Irving, then on to Lyndhurst - the Gothic Revival country home of rail tycoon Jay Gould, Kykuit - home to four generations of Rockefellers, and finally to West Point, all of which have magnificent views of one of eastern America’s most beautiful rivers.
My luck turned sour the morning after my stay at the Thayer Hotel, which actually sits on the base of the U.S. Military Academy in West Point. After discovering that my car wouldn’t start due to a faulty alternator, my itinerary was thrown way off whack, and I decided to return home, but with the intention of completing my original travel plans at a later date.
Watching every episode of the Ken Burns’ series on the Roosevelts on PBS this September rekindled my interest in visiting Hyde Park, part of my original itinerary. My curiosity piqued, I decided to set out at the beginning of October to pick up where I left off years ago on my Hudson River excursion.. The fact that the fall leaf colors along the Hudson were expected to be at around 25 percent peak gave me an extra impetus to go.
Thayer Hotel at West Point Credit:Bill Rockwell

After a seven-hour, GPS-guided trip, I arrived at the Thayer for another overnight stay. With plans that evening for dinner at the Bear Mountain Inn, seven miles down the road, I still had time to reacquaint myself with the Thayer.
Named for Sylvanus Thayer, cited as "the Father of the Military Academy and 1808 West Point grad, the hotel, built in 1929, is now on the National Register of Historic Places.
The list of dignitaries and historic figures who stayed at the hotel is staggering. And, because of its West Point  location, I wasn’t surprised to learn that many of the ballrooms and public spaces are named after presidents and military figures like Washington, Jefferson, Grant, Pershing and MacArthur, with the naming rights to the tavern going to General Patton.
The hotel’s location high above the Hudson and its beautiful gardens make it a prime location each year for an average of 80 weddings, many of them outdoors. Speaking of the outdoors, I especially enjoyed the hotel’s  Zulu Time Rooftop Bar and Lounge which has a great view of the Hudson Valley.
Looking Down on the Zulu Hour Lounge and Hudson River at Thayer Hotel

Forewarned that the traffic leaving Bear Mountain later that evening would be heavy due to the annual Oktoberfest at the Bear Mountain Inn, I was told to make a right at the traffic circle on Route 9W, then head toward Perkins Tower. Unfortunately, when I arrived at the 40-foot tall tower at the summit it was closed, but the view from the mountain top was spectacular nonetheless. On a clear day, it’s said that visitors can see four states - New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, as well as the Big Apple skyline 40 miles south.

Autumn Sunset on Bear Mountain Credit: Bill Rockwell

Bear Mountain Inn Gives Off Warm Welcoming Glow Credit: Bill Rockwell
By the time we got to Bear Mountain Inn, most of the Oktoberfesters had left and the traffic had dissipated. Built in 1915, the regally rustic stone and timber inn was bathed in a warm, inviting glow flowing through large plate glass windows. Entering, we made our way up to the 1915 Restaurant on the second floor..

Seated near the massive stone fireplace, our glasses of Lyric by Etude Pinot Noir stimulated our taste buds and paved the way for a truly memorable meal that started with mussels and ended with lamb chops and Blue Bunny Dulce de Leche ice cream for dessert.

Lamb Chops at 1915 Restaurant; Credit Bill Rockwell

Up early the next morning, we waited at the Visitor Center for our bus pickup for a guided tour of West Point. No self-guided tours are permitted on the grounds of the military academy, but our informed guide made us glad they aren’t because he was both informative as well as entertaining. Besides relating the history of the academy starting with fortifications along the river in 1778, he pointed out many of the major buildings and landmarks.

Superintendent's House at West Poin.t Credit: Bill Rockwell

There are only two stops on the hour long tour where visitors are able to get off and walk around. The first is the amazing gothic revival Cadet Chapel, home to the world’s largest pipe organ with 23,511 pipes. The second stop, Trophy Point overlooks a curve in the Hudson and is named for the collection of canons, some of which date back to the Revolutionary War, exhibited on the grounds
Behind the visitors center, the West Point Museum is the oldest military museum in the nation and focuses on everything from the history of West Point to the history of warfare from the Egyptians up through Desert Storm. Its large collections of arms, flags, uniforms and armaments include Hitler’s gold-plated pistol, Napoleon’s sword and Washington’s pistols. Depending on your interest, you could easily spend several hours taking it all in. The collection even encompasses paintings, including some by Hudson River School artists
For more information on West Point and Orange County, phone (845) 615-3860 or visit website www.OrangeTourism.org.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Pick of the Week - "Murder for Two" - A Lethal Song and Dance Whodunit

A scene from "Murder for Two"
  In all my years, make that decades,  of theater-going, I've never encountered a musical murder mystery. In fact, I never even considered the possibility of such a thing.
  However,  the talented writing team of Joe Kinosian (music and book) and Kellen Blair (lyrics and book), did and  created "Murder for Two ,"a murder mystery musical now getting a staging at the CLO Cabaret Theater in Theater Square in Downtown Pittsburgh The show runs through Jan. 18.
 Billed as a perfect blend of music, mayhem and murder, this witty and winking homage to old-fashioned murder mysteries is performed by two performers playing 13 roles - not to mention the piano! The New York Times calls this hilarious 90-minute whodunit "INGENIOUS! A snazzy double-act that spins out a comic mystery animated by funny, deftly turned songs."
    The plot focuses on Officer Marcus Moscowicz, a small town policeman with dreams of making it to detective. One fateful night, shots ring out at the surprise birthday party of Great American Novelist Arthur Whitney and the writer is killed…fatally.
    With the nearest detective an hour away, Marcus jumps at the chance to prove his sleuthing skill - with the help of his silent partner, Lou. But whodunit? Did Dahlia Whitney, Arthur’s scene-stealing wife, give him a big finish? Is Barrette Lewis, the prima ballerina, the prime suspect? Did Dr. Griff, the overly-friendly psychiatrist, make a frenemy? Marcus has only a short amount of time to find the killer and make his name before the real detective arrives…and the ice cream melts!
    Brandon Lambert (Marcus) and John Wascavage (the Suspects) have the onerous responsibility of portraying multiple characters. Lambert is a graduate of Point Park University returning to the CLO Cabaret after last appearing in Plaid Tidings as Jinx.  Other Pittsburgh credits include Born Yesterday (Pittsburgh Public Theater) and Legally Blonde (Pittsburgh Musical Theatre).  NYC credits include Natoma (Victor Herbert Renaissance Project) and the Wall-to-Wall Cabaret (Symphony Space).
    Wascavage returns to the CLO Cabaret after appearing in A Grand Night For Singing and ‘S Wonderful: The New Gershwin Musical. NYC Credits: James Monroe in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (Piper Theatre), George in The Wedding Singer (Secret Theatre), Ensemble in SuperSoldier by Jim Rado (Fundamental Theatre Project), Ensemble in For Goodness Sake (Musicals Tonight), Rock Henderson in FABULOUS (Richmond Shepard Theatre). Regional Credits: Candide in Candide (Quantum Theatre), Posner in The History Boys (Pittsburgh Irish and Classical Theatre).
  I bet even the ancient Greeks never thought of staging a musical murder mystery. Take that Sophocles and Aristophanes! Now if we could only get Arthur Conan Doyle teamed up with Stephen Sondheim in a musical production of, say, "The Hound of the Baskervilles !" 
    For tickets, phone 412-456-6666.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

"Smart Blonde" Offers Another Kind of "Holliday" Fun

Andrea Burns as Judy Holliday in "Smart Blonde" Photo by Kristi Jan Hoover

Who’d a known? Like me, anyone who remembers the film "Born Yesterday" would probably be surprised to learn that the actress who played the role of ditzy, airhead mistress of corrupt crook, Harry Brock, had an IQ of 172.
I nearly jolted in my seat at the City Theatre when I heard this factoid included in the dialogue of "Smart Blonde," a biographical drama with music about actress/songwriter, Judy Holliday, now getting its world premier on Pittsburgh’s South Side.
Obviously no slouch when it comes to gray matter, Holliday and her life’s story of ups and downs, highs and lows, is fertile ground for sprouting an energetic play, and writer Willy Holzman manages to tap into this abbondanza of fecund material to create a vivid portrait of this star of both Hollywood and Broadway.
The play opens in a Manhattan recording studio in 1964 where Holliday is getting ready to record "What’s the Rush," a tune she co-wrote with Gerry Mulligan, a jazz musician with whom she had a long relationship.
In a flashback of the actress’ life, we then see her as a young woman living with her mother, then quickly follow her uphill climb through the jungle of Hollywood cinema and the competitive world of Broadway to earn both an Oscar and a Tony Award.
Andrea Burns has the onerous duty of not only bringing the character to life in front of the audience at the intimate Hamburg Studio but singing the  series of songs that tie in thematically to the different stages of her character’s life. There’s "Let’s Fall in Love" when she meets her husband, David Oppenheimer, followed by "What’ll I Do" when she later gets a divorce.
After her appearance before the Senate Internal Security Subcommitte to testify about her supposed red leanings (she outwitted her interrogators by playing the dumb blonde), she bursts out into a reenergized "Lulu’s back in Town" and returns to Broadway in the musical "Bells Are Ringing." Her role as Ella Peterson in the show won her an Emmy in 1957 for Best Actress.
Fortunately, Burns gets a good bit of on-stage relief from her two fellow players, somewhat misleadingly identified in the program booklet as Elliot, a sound engineer (Adam Heller) and Bernie Leighton (Jonathan Brody). Both actors play multiple roles that run the gamut of character types, even sexes - people that played important roles in Holliday’s life such as her mother, musical theater bookwriters Adolph Green and Betty Comden, Daryl Zanuck, Harry Cohn, president of Columbia Pictures, director Garson Kamin, even Marilyn Monroe and Gloria Swanson.
Both supporting actors have impressive theater credentials. Brody appeared in the Broadway production of "Spamalot" and "Titanic" while Elliot has a mile long list of credits in theater, film and television.
The play, commissioned by the City Theatre, is directed by Burns’ husband, Peter Flynn, who obviously has some sort of chemistry going on, not only with the wife but with the entire cast and crew.
It’s amazing to see how much emotion and biography is packed into a play that runs less than an hour and a half and includes ten songs at that. And while the glimpses of Holliday’s early family life, marriage, career, her hopes and dreams, likes and dislikes are all too brief apercu, the story line sufficient enough tolet the audience carry away from the theater a vivid impression, a fleshed out notion of what made this talented actress trick.
But what about the production, the finished product as a whole? I’ll let the spontaneous standing ovation that came at the end of the evening speak for itself. If, as the saying goes, 50 million Frenchmen can’t be wrong, then neither can the couple hundred of Pittsburgh theater goers who saw the opening night performance.
"Smart Blonde" is at the City Theatre through December 21. Phone 412.431.CITY (2489).

Friday, November 21, 2014

"l’Hotel" - A High Brow Comedy for Lovers of the Arts

Sam Tsoutsouvas as Victor Hugo, Kati Brazda as Isadora Duncan, Tony Triano as Gioachino Rossini, Deanne Lorette as Sarah Bernhardt, Daniel Hartley as Jim Morrison, Brent Harris as Oscar Wilde, and Erika Cuenca as The Young Woman.

    What do Victor Hugo, Oscar Wilde, Isadora Duncan, Gioachino Rossini, Jim Morrison and Sarah Bernhardt all have in common?  Besides all being recognized, make that idolized, artists, they’re all also dead. And all but Victor Hugo are buried in Paris’ Pere Lachaise Cemetery, along with a host of other deceased notables.
Playwright Ed Dixon resuscitates these spirited characters in a new play, now getting its world premiere in a staging by Pittsburgh Public Theater. Like an amalgam of earlier concepts borrowed from Steve Allen’s "Meetings of Minds," a PBS telecast that brought together re-enactors of historic figures  to discuss current events, and "Steambath," a 1970s play in which recently deceased individuals find themselves in the afterlife and only gradually learn that they’re now dead, Dixon’s play sets the action in the here-and-now with the notables’ bodies housed in coffins at Pere Lachaise but their souls inhabiting a grand, fin-de-19th century Parisian hotel.
There’s also another borrowed  element from the film "Groundhog Day," in which the characters find themselves caught up in a repetitive quotidian cycle that begins each morning with the exact same order of events. Each day, this august company is serviced by a dutiful waiter (played brilliantly by Evan Zes), who goes about fulfilling their abundant requests with fastidious energy.
Brent Harris as Oscar Wilde

With the spirit of Oscar Wilde included the menagerie, Dixon has a springboard for peppering his comedy with an abundance of wit. Brent Harris brings off the character with appropriate doses of fey hauteur, memorable aphorisms and pithy rebuffs, especially when directed at his main antagonist, a grandfatherly looking Victor Hugo, played as an elderly alpha male literary genius by Sam Tsoutsouvas.
As dancer and choreographer Isadora Duncan, Kati Brazda adds a graceful touch with her breezy style of moving among the deceased and verbally interacting with them with light-on-her-feet dialogue.
Tony Trino as the Italian opera composer, Gioachino Rossini, is the target of much ridicule from his peers, holding steadfastly on to the belief in the merits of his artistic accomplishments against their scornful insinuations.
With a completely different aesthetic nurtured  in a later era and in a less cultivated society, Jim Morrison in the person of actor Daniel Hartley, plays the rock star with boorish manners and an excessive confidence in his erotic magnetism that seems to captivate the French actress, Sarah Bernhardt.
The task of portraying the overly dramatic Bernhardt falls to Deanne Lorette, who brings a lot of theatrical realism to the role and largely evades caricature. Dressed in regal sartorial splendor by costume designer, David C. Woolard, Lorette makes her character stand out from the rest, (only Harris as Wilde can compete with her charisma), and her every movement and word is riveting
The group’s daily treadmill of repetition is broken when Bernhardt discovers a ouija board with which she conjures up a spirit that tells her of a way out of her confining circumstances, a secret that soon becomes open knowledge to everyone. The vehicle for their escape is a young woman (Erika Cuenca) who, though alive, is more mysterious than the band of dead luminaries put together.
While the deceased may be tired of their daily routine, the play is far from tiresome. It sparkles with wit, clever lines, superb acting, many comic moments, steady direction by PPT’s producing artistic director, Ted Pappas, and a set by James Noone that’s worthy of  its lofty characters..
The program refers to the location of the comedy simply as "a hotel in Paris.," but a quick Google search of l’Hotel turns up the interesting tidbit that there is such a hotel in Paris, a quite good one in fact, that also happens to be the last residence of Oscar Wilde.
Noone's s hotel is a visual marvel, complete with a large crystal chandelier hanging from the rafters, golden wall scones and a massive staircase that allows the hotel guests to descend and rise with the regal aplomb that reflects their own sense of self-importance.
Dixon’s comedy is somewhat high brow, and it helps to understand the dialogue if you know a little about the characters. Wilde’s monologue about Bosey in the play, for instance, becomes clearer when you understand the historical events surrounding his disastrous affair with the lad. It also helps to know that Rossini is often accused of paraphrasing and plagiarizing his previous works, that Bernhardt had an amputated leg and that Hugo was supposedly jealous of Balzac.
And speaking of Google, I discovered two theater goers of the younger generation using their iPhones at intermission to get more information about the characters portrayed on stage. It perfectly underscored the one of the play’s themes - that greatness and fame are really fleeting and short lived.
In the end, the comedy left me wondering if the playwright didn’t subtly  plant Buddhist elements into the play as an explanation of his vision of life and the afterlife.  There’s an undeniable inclusion of the concept of reincarnation and the eventual release from the cycle of birth and death that only one of the major characters is suggested to have achieved at curtain fall.
"l’Hotel" certainly has the power to make you laugh, but it’s also a catalyst for thought and an introduction to seeing the world in novel ways.
"l’Hotel," a production of Pittsburgh Public Theater, is at the O’Reilly Theater in Downtown Pittsburgh through December 14. Phone  412-316-1600.

 Kati Brazda as Isadora Duncan, Sam Tsoutsouvas as Victor Hugo, Tony Triano as Gioachino Rossini, Evan Zes as The Waiter

Monday, November 17, 2014

Cal U Theater Brings Heart-Warming, Christmas Tradition to Steele Hall

A Scene form Last Year's" Miracle on 34th Street" at Cal U.

Watching the film version of "Miracle on 34th Street" has become one of the nation’s most popular holiday traditions, viewed by millions each year. This December, however, fans of the film will be able to take in the musical version, performed at California University of Pennsylvania by nearly a cast of 60 and buttressed by a live, 21- piece orchestra under the baton of music director, Kathy Sacco, Ph.D., professor in the university’s music department.
Meredith Willson, of "The Music Man" fame, wrote the book, music and lyrics to the musical adaptation, which pretty much follows the story line of the original film with a few changes made to enhance the theatrical experience.
    The story takes place between Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and Christmas. It centers on a white bearded gentleman who claims to be the real Santa Claus and brings about a "miracle" on 34th Street, spreading a wave of love throughout New York City. 
Patrons who catch the show should be familiar with "It’s beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas," one of the songs that’s gone on to become a holiday tradition in its own right. The musical also calls for seven dance numbers, which will be choreographed for the production by Maria Gismondi, an alumnus who’s danced professionally both in the region and in New York City and now teaches at the Mon Valley Performing Arts Academy.
Michelle Pagen, Ph.D., who’ll direct the show and is the chair of the Department of Theater and Dance, said she intends to be attentive to the public’s love for the film and to honor that affection throughout the production.
For a number of years, the theater department staged productions of "The Nutcracker," but when Steele Hall reopened after a major renovation a few years back, the department decided to produce a new musical and chose "A Christmas Carol, the Musical."
Wanting to alternate each Christmas season with a second holiday musical, Pagen said she looked around and found "Miracle." Down the road, the plan is to stage the two holiday shows in alternate years.
Katey Sheehan, a senior theater arts major from Belle Vernon, is tackling the major role of  Doris Walker. In last year’s "Miracle," she served as dance captain and a member of the ensemble.
"For me, trying to create the mother figure is the most difficult aspect of the role," she said. "I’m a college student with no children of my own, but I’m trying to bring to the role the right amount of maturity."
Sheehen said she’s been involved in musical theater since the sixth grade and is undaunted by the need to sing solo in front of a large audience. "Theater is something I love to do and something I hope to do for the rest of my life," she said.
As the pivotal lawyer, Fred Gailey, Jason Capello, a senior environmental studies major from Lebanon, Pa., is reprising the role from last year. He said that, although his lines remain the same, he’s now working with a new cast of actors in a show that’s seen a few changes here and there.
When asked about the challenges of singing a major role, he said, "like everything else in theater, it’s a matter of rehearsing until you’re satisfied with your confidence level."
As, Susan,  the young girl who serves as the catalyst for the Christmas miracle, 11-year old Emily Bittner of Charleroi is no stranger to the stage. She’s already been cast in three shows at Cal. U., including the role of the Little Dutch Girl in last year’s "Miracle." She’s also performed in musicals at Charleroi High School and three shows with the Mon Valley Performing Arts Academy, where she studies theater.
"Emily was singing as a child even before she was verbal," said her mother, Gina Bittner. "Her first performance at the age of five was in front of an audience of 500 at a big travel show at Nemacolin Woodlands Resort. I thought she’d have a little stage fright, but she actually sang her heart out and got a standing ovation."
One of the technical elements that should be a boon to the young actress as well as the rest of the cast is that they’ll be fitted with microphones. That should get the words and lyrics out to all parts of the 613-seat mainstage theater, equipped with state-of-the-art audio-visual equipment.
"I’ve been telling my friends about the production and hope they come to see it," Emily said. "I’m very excited to be able to do one of the show’s major roles in front of a large audience."
"The Miracle on 34th Street, The Musical" is at the Steele Hall on the campus of California University of Pennsylvania at  8 p.m. on December 4, 5 and 6 and at 2 p.m. on December 6 and 7. Tickets are $12 or 50 cents for Cal U students with a valid ID card.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Bach Choir Concert Features Rarely Performed Handel Oratorio

Click to get your tix!
The Bach Choir of Pittsburgh will kick off its 80th  season with 85 singers backed by a 15 musician orchestra performing one of George Frideric Handel’s less frequently produced works - "The Occasional Oratorio."
Handel composed the work in haste to motivate and inspire English troops threatened by an invading army from Scotland in 1746. Based on a libretto after the poetry of John Milton and Edmund Spencer, Handel wrote the piece in the first two months of that year and premiered it on February 14, 1746.
"This grand work received only six original performances and has had too few performances since," artistic director, Thomas W. Douglas said. "In addition to some familiar choruses drawn from other pieces, you will hear some wonderful new Handel in these pages. We are very excited to bring it to our western Pennsylvania audiences for the very first time."
While writing the oratorio, Handel stole from himself according to Matthew Dooley, the Bach Choir’s managing director. "The Occasional Oratorio," written on the "occasion" of the threatened invasion, could be described as a secular Messiah with the king and military success replacing the second coming.
"Handel took choruses from other works he wrote in one form or another such as ‘Israel in Egypt’ and ‘Judas Maccabeus,’ Dooley said. "The audience will also hear strains in the work that sound like a section from "The Messiah.’"
Interestingly, "Judas Maccabeus" was written to honor the victorious Prince William Augustus, Duke of Cumberland, on his return from the Battle of Culloden in April 1746, which proved the decisive battle of the Scottish revolt against the House of Hanover, the event that prompted "The Occasional Oratorio."
For its Pennsylvania premier, the choir will cleverly use the entirety of the Social Hall of the East Liberty Presbyterian Church for its presentation. Two pieces of the oratorio will feature the choir’s 16 member core. Soloists will also be positioned in the balcony, and other parts of the work will solo the bass and soprano sections separately.
"Each year, the choir has about a 15 to 20 percent turnover in singers," Dooley said. "This year we’ve had a handful of new male singers, who’ve made a big difference. The way Handel wrote choral music, you need a good balance of the soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices, and we certainly have that this year."
From its title, you might expect the Bach Choir to perform only works by Bach, which is exactly what it did when it first formed in 1934. Since then, however, it’s added other composers to its programming and even had some years when no Bach works were featured at all.
"Our artistic director has a vast knowledge of the choral repertoire and loves finding new works - whether old or new - and presenting them to the public," Dooley said.
"The Occasional Oratorio," two hours of wonderful music, seems a great start to the 2015 concert season.
Handel’s "The Occasional Oratorio" is at the East Liberty Presbyterian Church, 116 S. Highland Avenue in Pittsburgh at 8 p.m. on Saturday, November 15 and at 4 p.m. on Sunday, November 16. Tickets are $9.95 to $30. Phone 888-718-4253. For more information, go to www.Bach ChoirPittsburgh.org.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Pick of the Week - Royal Ballet of Cambodia

The Royal Ballet of Cambodia
    From exotic Asia, the internationally renowned Royal Ballet of Cambodia is coming to Pittsburgh for a one evening performance at the Byham Theater.
Recognized by UNESCO for carrying on the 1,000-year-old Khmer classical dance style originally performed at royal events and ceremonies, the Royal Ballet of Cambodia has been deemed "sweet and seductive" by The Dance Insider. None other than Her Royal Highness Princess Norodom Buppha Devi serves as the company’s choreographer.
    The gestures and poses of Khmer classical dance, mastered by the performers only after years of intensive training, evoke the gamut of human emotions, from fear and rage to love and joy. An orchestra accompanies the dance, and a female chorus provides a running commentary on the plot, highlighting the emotions mimed by the dancers, who were considered the kings’ messengers to the gods and to the ancestors.
    According to Wikipedia performances entail elaborately dressed dancers performing a slow and figurative set of gestures and poses meant to entrance the viewer. The repertoire includes dances of tribute or invocation and the enactment of traditional stories and epic poems such as the Ramayana. The music is played by an ensemble of xylophones,metallophones, woodwind instruments, drums, and gong chimes accompanied by a chorus.
    "I look forward to welcoming the Royal Ballet of Cambodia to Pittsburgh for the first time to expose our audiences to the beauty and elegance of classical Cambodian dance," shared Paul Organisak, Pittsburgh Cultural Trust’s vice president of Programming and executive director of the Pittsburgh Dance Council.             "This rare opportunity to see the authentic spectacular costumes, music and movement of this remarkable culture should not be missed. This company has done a brilliant job of preserving these traditional dances in a wonderful stage presentation."
    The Royal Ballet of Cambodia will perform at 8 p.m. on Friday, November 7, at the Byham Theater, 101 Sixth Street, Downtown Pittsburgh.
    Tickets ($20-$45) are available at www.TrustArts.org, by calling 412-456-6666, or in person at Theater Square Box Office, 655 Penn Avenue.  Groups of 10 or more call 412-471-6930 or visit online www.TrustArts.org/groupsales.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Pick of the Week - Michael Clark Dance Company at the Byham

Michael Clark Company. Featured Oxana Panchenko and Clair Thomas. Photo by Jake Walters

Pittsburgh Dance Council will bring the award-winning British dance troupe Michael Clark Company to the Byham Theater, 101 Sixth Street, downtown Pittsburgh at 8 p.m. on Saturday, November 1. The evening’s program will featuress Clark’s choreographic work "come, been and gone." Michael Clark is considered one of Britain’s leading choreographers and the performance will mark the company’s Pittsburgh debut.
    Michael Clark Company’s critically acclaimed production "come, been and gone" premiered in 2009 and was created for the company’s 25th anniversary. The choreography is paired primarily with the music of rock legend David Bowie. The production features original lighting design by long term collaborator, filmmaker and lighting designer Charles Atlas, with costumes by Stevie Stewart and Michael Clark.  The choreography is also influenced by the music of Iggy Pop, Brian Eno and The Velvet Underground.
    The Observer commented, "…an outrageously gorgeous piece of modern dance."  The Daily Telegraph wrote, "…beautifully and inspiringly danced… unmissable."  In this work, Clark’s unique style seamlessly weaves and crosses the worlds of classical ballet, contemporary dance, fashion, music and visual art.
    "Rock is my rock," shared Clark. "It has been vital to me at a personal level; it has shaped me as an individual as well as an artist."
    A video excerpt from "come, been and gone" was included in the smash hit exhibition David Bowie Is, presented at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London. This worldwide exhibition can be seen in the United States at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago from September 23, 2014 through January 4, 2015.  For more information, visit www2.mcachicago.org/exhibition/david-bowie-is/.
    The first act of come, been and gone features Clark’s work, SWAMP.  SWAMP debuted in 1986 and was choreographed for Rambert Dance Company.  The work was later revived by the company in 2004.
Clark joined Rambert Dance in 1979 when it was known as Ballet Rambert.  SWAMP received the Olivier Award for Best New Dance Production (2005).  The choreography is known for its mix of contemporary and experimental movement, with less rigid classical overtones and a finale section that highlights Clark’s choreographic sense of style, through the use of constant changing partners and group dynamics.
    Michael Clark chose to become a choreographer believing that actions speak louder than words. He creates works that combine his classical integrity with a more complex, contemporary sensibility, embracing virtue and vice, abandon and control, grace and embarrassment. Clark is renowned for his legendary collaborations with bands, fashion designers and visual artists including Wire, Bodymap, Leigh Bowery, Trojan and Sarah Lucas. His works have been commissioned by major dance companies around the world.
    In 2011, Robert Gordon University Aberdeen conferred on Michael Clark an Honorary Degree of Doctor of Arts in recognition of his distinguished career in the field of choreography and dance.  In 2012, Michael Clark presented WHO’S ZOO?, a specially commissioned piece for the Whitney Biennial in New York.  This year, Michael Clark was the recipient of the Robert Robson Award for Dance, presented by the Manchester Theatre Awards; in June and he received a Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) award in recognition for his contributions to dance, as part of the Queen’s birthday honors.
    Michael Clark’s "come, been and gone" was commissioned by barbicanbite09 and Dance Umbrella (London), La Biennale di Venezia (Venice) and Dansens Hus (Stockholm) as part of European Network of Performing Arts (ENPARTS). Co-produced by barbicanbite09, Dance Umbrella, Michael Clark Company, Edinburgh International Festival, Grand Théâtre de Luxembourg and Maison des Arts de Créteil. Michael Clark Company is supported by Arts Council England. Support for 2014 US Tour is also provided by the British Council.
    For more information visit, www.michaelclarkcompany.com. For tickets, which start at $19, phone 412-456-6666.