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August Wilson Center provides perfect backdrop for ?Uncommon?

| Wednesday, Feb. 8, 2012

The August Wilson Center for African American Culture is the perfectly delightful, almost cozy setting for two Pittsburgh premieres and a world premiere presented by Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre dancers.

Uniting the three B's of classical composers -- Brahms, Beethoven and Bach -- with three acclaimed contemporary choreographers in Dennis Nahat, Mark Morris and Dwight Rhoden to produce "Uncommon" is another feather in his hat for PBT artistic director Terrence Orr.

"Uncommon" is a mixed repertory performance of contemporary ballet with classical elements. It made its debut last weekend, the first performance in a partnership between PBT and the center.

Unlike other ballets that play for only one weekend, "Uncommon" returns Thursday through Sunday.

Making up the program, in chronological order of their creation, are Nahat's "Brahms Quintet," first produced for American Ballet Theatre for the 1969-70 season; followed by Morris' "Maelstrom," inspired by Beethoven and performed in 1994 by San Francisco Ballet; and finally the world premiere of Rhoden's "Chromatic," based on his love of Bach.

All components of "Uncommon" also were made more enjoyable for the audience, and I'm sure the dancers, too, with the live music provided by an ensemble orchestra.

For "Brahms Quintet" that was Charles Stegeman and Mary Beth Schotting on violin, J.J. Johnson and Louise Farbman on viola and Elisa Kohanski on cello. Company pianist Yoland Collin joined Stegeman and Kohanski for "Maelstrom" and Marc Giosi on harpsichord joined the others for "Chromatic."

One of the things that makes PBT's performances so interesting is how dancers rotate among the roles. So depending on who is dancing what on any given day, there is a different air about each piece of the puzzle.

The Brahms number is physically challenging for the dancers, testing not only their skills but their stamina. Four elements -- Allegro, Adagio, Allegretto and Presto -- made up the entire work.

Last Friday's opening night featured Alexandra Kochis, Luca Sbrizzi, Caitlin Peabody, Gabrielle Thurlow, Ashley Wegmann, Yoshiaki Nakano and Joseph Parr in the Allegro. Beauty and grace combined for a number evoking early signs of spring through the movements and costumes.

A rare but highly successful pairing of Christine Schwaner and husband Alexandre Silva occurred in Adagio. She once explained they don't get to partner very often because he is so tall and there are other female dancers in the company who require a tall partner, compared to the petite Schwaner.

Julia Erickson, Robert Moore, Eva Trapp and Stephen Hadala complete the perfect complement of six dancers for the work.

The amazing leaps of Nurlan Abougaliev and the beautiful form of Amanda Cochrane made for a pleasant Allegretto.

The performance always steps up a notch when Christopher Budzynski takes the stage, as he did as part of the group of eight in Presto. His movements are so precise and light that it picks up the pace.

Joining him were Kaori Yanagida, Kochis, Sbrizzi, Erickson, Moore, Cochrane and Abougaliev.

The beautiful wine-colored classic costumes for the female dancers in "Maelstrom" and those for the men were provided courtesy of San Francisco Ballet, but those for the "Brahms Quintet" and "Chromatic" were expertly built in the PBT costume shop under the direction of costumier Janet Marie Groom.

In fact the original costumes for "Brahams Quintet" had seen a lot of wear and tear, so fresh costumes were made, using the originals and photographs as guides. Images actually were hand painted on new fabric for 13 costumes.

While several dances make up "Maelstrom," the majority of the work is based on Beethoven's "Ghost Trio." Dubbed an ensemble piece because seven sets of couples are featured, the work is visually interesting as dancers form various lines and shapes as they move.

The audience responded quite positively to the performance by Abougaliev, Budznyski, Nicholas Coppula, Erickson, Elysa Hotchkiss, Kochis, Moore, Nakano, Parr, Peabody, Schwaner, Silva, Thurlow and Trapp.

Rhoden seemed full of nervous energy as the minutes ticked down to his world premiere of "Chromatic." The dancers seemed to morph from position to position in complex dance moves featuring lots of footwork to represent the fast pace of modern living with a background of Bach's classical music.

Cooper Verona, in his first season with PBT, joined the other 14 dancers from "Maelstrom" for the world premiere.

In the end, both choreographer and audience seemed pleased with the efforts as Rhoden joined the dancers on stage.

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