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Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre brings triple bill to August Wilson Center

| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 9:01 p.m.
Artists Luca Sbrizzi, Alexandra Kochis, Robert Moore, Julia Erickson in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'Unspoken.' Lois Greenfield
Alexandra Kochis and Luca Sbrizzi dance in 'Lilac Garden' in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'Unspoken.' Credit: Lois Greenfield
Artists: Julia Erickson & Robert Moore dance in 'Lilac Garden' in Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'Unspoken.' Credit: Lois Greenfield
Luca Sbrizzi and Alexandra Kochis in 'Lilac Garden,' part of Pittsburgh Ballet Theater's 'Unspoken.' Credit: Aimee DiAndrea
Robert Moore and Julia Erickson in 'Lilac Garden,' part of Pittsburgh Ballet Theater's 'Unspoken.' Credit: Aimee DiAndrea
Alexandra Kochis, Luca Sbrizzi and Julia Erickson in 'Lilac Garden,' part of Pittsburgh Ballet Theater's 'Unspoken.' Credit: Aimee DiAndrea
Dancers Julia Erickson and Alejandro Diaz in 'Serenade,' part of Pittsburgh Ballet Theater's 'Unspoken.' Credit: Aimee DiAndrea
Dancers perform in 'Serenade,' part of Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's 'Unspoken.' Credit: Aimee DiAndrea
A scene from 'Serenade,' part of Pittsburgh Ballet Theater's 'Unspoken.' Credit: Aimee DiAndrea

Terrence Orr revels in the potential the August Wilson Center holds for the Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre. The company will present its annual program there this week.

“It's an intimate situation where you can see so much more in repertoire works than you can in a big theater,” the ballet's artistic director says.

Orr's production of “The Nutcracker” at the Benedum Center shows he loves using big spaces, too, but he is proud of the program he's put together for the company's third program at the smaller theater.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will present a triple bill called “Unspoken” from March 8 to 17 at the August Wilson Center, Downtown. The program includes “Serenade” by George Balanchine, “Lilac Garden” by Anthony Tudor and “Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes” by Mark Morris.

“All three pieces are very different,” emphasizes Olivia Kelly, who is in her second season with the ballet. “A big ensemble piece like ‘Serenade' gives everyone an opportunity to dance and show what they're capable of doing. It's absolutely beautiful, but I think I like (the one by Morris) a little more, because it's so different from anything I've done before.”

“We have a major work of three great choreographers, each from different corners of the globe,” Orr says. “It will be a special treat for dance enthusiasts, but if it's your first time at the ballet, you'll like it in a different way.”

“Serenade” was the first ballet Balanchine created after moving to the United States from Europe. It is set to the Serenade for Strings by Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

“I think it was one of Mr. B's favorite ballets,” Orr says. “He always worked on it and always kept it in the repertoire at New York City Ballet. He created it almost 80 years ago, in 1934, which is incredible because the pure essence of American dance came from this.”

“Serenade” is a special piece for principal dancer Julia Erickson, who calls it an archetypical Balanchine ballet that well exemplifies the choreographer's statement “Ballet is Woman.” She's performed it twice previously with the ballet and earlier in her career as well.

“I love dancing Balanchine ballets, in part because they're so musical. I feel he was really driven by the music. When you dance them, they feel right,” Erickson says. “They're always a challenge. He always helps push technique further if (the dancers are) doing it right. So, he got that beautiful clarity of movement and big movement. Balanchine always wanted more — bigger, faster, pushing to the edges.”

Nicholas Coppula also loves this Balanchine classic.

“I think that the music of ‘Serenade' is beautiful, and the only word for the choreography is genius,” he says. “It's hard to fathom how he came up with that — so musical, so gorgeous. I don't want to say there's a story, but there is flow.”

Yet, like Erickson and Kelly, Coppula's also strongly drawn to the Morris ballet, which the company will perform for the first time.

“As a dancer, purely dancing, the ‘Drink to Me Only with Thine Eyes' is even more fun, more free. It was designed to be a fun, joyful piece. I also like being able to just go out and just dance. There's more to think about in ‘Serenade.' ”

He says his role in the elegy section of the Balanchine is not necessarily very technical or demanding in partnering, but that there's a lot more than meets the eye, lots of details. “There's more of a challenge to do ‘Serenade' than what you experience watching. Not that it's not fun. I do think ‘Serenade” is one of the most beautiful dance pieces ever created.”

“Drink to Me” was created by Morris for American Ballet Theatre, which first performed it in May 1988 at the Metropolitan Opera house in New York City.

The choreographer chose more than half of American composer Virgil Thompson's Etudes for Piano for the musical score, which will be played by the ballet's pianist, Yoland Collin.

“Some are charming pieces, each with its own title, such as ‘Flowing Water' and its broken arpeggios, or ‘Ragtime Bass,' ” Collin says. “There's a simplicity to each one, but they're also quirky. Just when you think the music is going to go one way, he'll change the rhythm or harmony or something.”

“Mark Morris is such a witty, intelligent choreographer, and that comes out in his dance,” Erickson says. “He creates his own language, as Balanchine and Tudor did, I suppose. It's really got a freshness to it that's playful, so it's really fun to dance. We have fun together onstage. The music is crazy playful.”

Orr is also a big fan of Tudor's “Lilac Garden,” which was first performed in 1936 in London.

“It's very easy to watch,” he says. “The essence of his moves, which are very stripped down and basic, convey what is going on; although we might come up with different words to describe it, we'd have the same conclusion.”

The ballet presents an adult view of romance, in the sense of the complications and ambivalent emotions. The dancing is performed to “Poeme” for Violin and Orchestra by Ernest Chausson.

“It's got great emotional weight, but it comes via the music and the way the choreography is set to the music, as opposed to overacting the role,” Erickson says. “It's not necessary to telegram it, especially in an intimate theater.”

Mark Kanny is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7877 or mkanny

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