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Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre serves up 3 masters' works with 'Premieres'

| Wednesday, March 4, 2015, 9:00 p.m.
Dancers rehearse the 'Sandpaper Ballet' at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater in the Strip District on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Dancers rehearse the 'Sandpaper Ballet' at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater in the Strip District on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015.
Amanda Cochrane and Christopher Budzynski rehearse 'Petite Mort' at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater in the Strip District on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Amanda Cochrane and Christopher Budzynski rehearse 'Petite Mort' at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater in the Strip District on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015.
Yoshiaki Nakano and Alexandra Kochis rehearse 'Petite Mort' at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater in the Strip District on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015.
Justin Merriman | Trib Total Media
Yoshiaki Nakano and Alexandra Kochis rehearse 'Petite Mort' at the Pittsburgh Ballet Theater in the Strip District on Wednesday, Feb. 25, 2015.
Julia Erickson & Robert Moore in 'Petit Mort' for 'PBT Premieres.'
Duane Rieder
Julia Erickson & Robert Moore in 'Petit Mort' for 'PBT Premieres.'
Choreographer Jerome Robbins
Choreographer Jerome Robbins
Choreographer Jiri Kylian
Serge Ligtenberg
Choreographer Jiri Kylian
Choreographer Mark Morris
Amber Star Merkens
Choreographer Mark Morris

Full-length ballets have internal contrasts, of course, but for variety, nothing can beat a well-chosen program of mixed repertory.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre artistic director Terrence Orr loves mixed rep and is proud of the dynamic example he's put together for the ballet's next show, an evening of three pieces where the common thread is wit and humor.

“This is probably one of the strongest choreographic programs we've ever had,” Orr says. “We haven't done Jerome Robbins before, Jiri Kylian is probably the greatest living choreographer today, and Mark Morris is a contemporary genius.”

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will present “PBT Premieres,” from March 6 to 8 at the Benedum Center, Downtown. Charles Barker will conduct the ballet orchestra, with company pianist Yoland Collin as soloist.

The performance will start with “The Concert,” “the greatest comic ballet ever made,” says New York City Ballet artistic director Peter Martins. “There will never be another like it.”

Robbins created it in 1956 and was on a roll. The next year, he did “West Side Story” with Leonard Bernstein.

“It's an awesome piece,” soloist Luca Sbrizzi says. “The concept behind it is different people are attending a concert, and everybody interprets it in their own way, fantasizing about something, stressing out, who's really listening to the music. What's awesome is that there is a piano onstage. The pianist becomes part of the choreography, which is really hilarious.”

Kipling Houston is completing the preparation of “The Concert” begun by Bart Cook, who is recovering from surgery. Houston worked with Robbins from 1975, when he joined New York City Ballet, until Robbins' death, and has danced several roles in “The Concert” over the years.

“The ballet starts out very normally and then slowly grows from one situation to another, literally from the normal to the absurd,” Houston says. “It really takes you along with the humor. You don't usually go to the ballet and say anything. You're sitting there and enjoying it. Then, it ends and you clap. In this, the audience really gets involved laughing.”

Intermissions of 20 minutes will separate the three pieces.

Next up is Kylian's “Petite Mort.” Roslyn Anderson was the rehearsal director when Kylian created the piece in 1991 for the Salzburg Festival in Austria on the 200th anniversary of the death of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The ballet is set to the slow movements of two Mozart piano concertos. “Petite Mort” is a French euphemism for orgasm.

“It opens with a men's section with fencing foils, as if they're partnering with the foil. Then the women appear, and they partner with the women,” Anderson says.

Principal dancer Alexandra Kochis says she's “been dying to do Kylian my entire career. ‘Petite Mort' is like a trance. It transports you to another dimension. It's beyond metaphor and definitely not super graphic, either. It's a brilliant analysis of different types of love: naive love, young love, everything from a bit scared of love to forceful and angry.”

Anderson says she's staged “Petite Mort” more than 20 times, but has lost the exact count.

“It never loses its charm. The music is inspirational, and I have a great time staging it.”

She says the Pittsburgh ballet dancers are very quick.

“I know for a fact they're loving this work. Everyone loves dancing ‘Petite Mort.' It's lovely to have dancers willing and eager to work on it during their lunch break.”

Last is Morris' “Sandpaper Ballet,” created in 1999. It was his third for the San Francisco Ballet. He set it to popular orchestral music by American composer Leroy Anderson.

Tina Fehlandt, who began preparing the Pittsburgh dancers in August for “Sandpaper Ballet,” was rehearsal assistant to Morris when he created it.

“He wanted to do something to celebrate the wonderfulness of (San Francisco Ballet). He loved that particular group of dancers and has a great relationship with them. He wanted to celebrate with a huge orchestra and a cast of 25, which was double cast. Isaac Mizrahi came in and made the costumes.”

Morris is exceptionally wide-ranging in his choice of music, including esoteric pieces. Anderson's music enjoyed brilliant success with Pops orchestras, but Fehlandt emphasizes that it is very sophisticated.

“Mark has made a lot of work. Some has been serious, but he does like to have a good time, and with the idea of having a good time, he has choreographed a beautifully beautiful dance,” she says. “It's not laugh-out-loud funny, but it does put a smile on your face.”

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

Jerome Robbins

A master of ballet and musical theater choreography, Jerome Robbins was born in New York City in 1918. He began his dancing career in Broadway shows. His most famous Broadway shows were “The King & I,” “West Side Story” and “Fiddler on the Roof.”

He choreographed Leonard Bernstein's ballet “Fancy Free” while a member of American Ballet Theatre. In 1948, George Balanchine invited him to join New York City Ballet as associate artistic director. Robbins, who died in 1998, created more than 60 ballets. He was awarded five Tonys, two Oscars, one Emmy, the Kennedy Center Honors and the French Legion of Honor.

Jiri Kylian

More than 80 companies worldwide dance the works of Jiri Kylian, who began his choreographic career at 23 at the Stuttgart Ballet in Germany. He was born in Prague in 1947 and studied at the Prague Conservatory and the Royal Ballet in London. He became artistic director of the Nederlands Dans Theater in 1978 and is its resident choreographer and artistic adviser.

The lyricism of his early works transitioned to abstract and surreal images in the mid '80s. Kylian's style is individual and eclectic, including ballet and modern dance. His website, jirikylian.com, provides insight into his life and works.

Kylian's “Sinfonietta” will be performed Oct. 23 to 25 by Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre on a mixed repertory program to open the company's 2015-16 season.

Mark Morris

Famous for his musicality and wit in modern dance and ballet, Mark Morris was born in 1956 in Seattle. He has created more than 150 works for the Mark Morris Dance Group, which he founded when he was 24. He's also had notable collaborations with San Francisco Ballet, American Ballet Theatre and Paris Opera Ballet.

Morris revels in ensemble dancing and brings musicians to perform the music when his group tours, as he dislikes dancing to recordings.

Morris has staged operas, including works at the Metropolitan Opera in New York City and the English National Ballet in London. He took up conducting in 2008.

He brought his dance company to Pittsburgh Dance Council in May 2013. Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre performed his “Maelstrom” in February 2012 and “Drink to Me Only With Thine Eyes” in March 2013.

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