Review: Humor, inventiveness, warmth punctuate Pittsburgh Ballet's '3x3' program

| Sunday, March 9, 2014, 9:11 p.m.

Three new pieces by three choreographers provided a stimulating and enjoyable change of pace for Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre and its audience on March 7 at the August Wilson Center. Performances continue through March 15.

The company usually performs full-evening grand ballets on the big stage at the Benedum Center. The current “3x3” program thrives in the much more intimate environment at the August Wilson Center. In addition, experiencing the advantages of closer proximity to the dancers may make you want to try seats near to the stage at the Benedum.

The joyous creativity of choreographer Julia Adam opened the program. Her 2004 ballet “Ketubah” (Wedding Contract) is a metaphoric presentation of traditional Jewish wedding rituals in seven sections. It was created for the Houston Ballet and is performed to recordings by The Best Little Klezmer Band in Texas.

“Ketubah” is richly entertaining from start to finish. Adam's broad vision builds to the exuberant final Celebration, while the detail of her choreography is delightful, individual, emotional and more than a little humorous.

The men enter first, one by one, each with off-kilter posture and picking up the music's irregular beats. Throughout the ballet, Adam takes stimulus from the music, such as later using three skipping steps to go with energetic grace notes played by violin.

After the women enter, much less idiosyncratically, the matchmaking scene continues with a high-energy game of musical chairs, with dancing between seating and some dancers shrewder than others about having a seat.

Another source of inspiration for Adam was the floating lovers paintings by Marc Chagal, which shows them at a diagonal angle. Adam takes that as a point of departure for inventive, rotating partnering.

Caitlin Peabody and Cooper Verona were superb as the wedding couple, with Elysa Hotchkiss and Stephen Hadala strong as a second couple. The dancers of the corps performed with the personality of soloists.

The world premiere of Viktor Plotnikov's “In Your Eyes” was impressive in many ways, most of all in the unending inventiveness of movement.

The ballet is set to Antonin Dvorak's “American” String Quartet, which was performed live by members of the ballet orchestra. Plotnikov's ballet is non-narrative and relates only minimally to the music. The warmly emotional music serves to highlight the coolly object nature of the dance. There is humor, especially at the opening of the music's third movement when Plotnikov creates a Coppelia-like doll that comes to life. The part was beautifully performed by JoAnna Schmidt.

Dwight Rhoden's “Smoke 'n Roses” provided the thoroughly enjoyable conclusion to the program. The ballet gave the world premiere in 2007 but the revival is certainly welcome.

Fortunately, Etta Cox and a small jazz combo were back to perform the songs Rhoden set so effectively. Rhoden's choreography is marked by stylistic versatility and true musicality. The 12 dancers, principals, soloists and members of the corps de ballet performed with elan, with the solos full of individuality and beautifully attuned to Cox's remarkably evocative singing.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's “3x3” will be repeated at 8 p.m. March 14 and 15, 2 p.m. March 16 and 7:30 p.m. March 13 at the August Wilson Center, Downtown. Admission is $25.75 to $69.75. Details: 412-456-6666 or

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

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