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'Flood of creativity' in 7 Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre world premieres

| Wednesday, March 14, 2018, 9:00 p.m.
Choreographers portrait: (from left) Amanda Cochrane, Cooper Verona, Julia Erickson, William Moore, Jessica McCann, JoAnna Schmidt and Yoshiaki Nakano
Kelly Perkovich
Choreographers portrait: (from left) Amanda Cochrane, Cooper Verona, Julia Erickson, William Moore, Jessica McCann, JoAnna Schmidt and Yoshiaki Nakano

Seven world premieres will fill Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre's upcoming “New Works” performances, a flood of creativity unleashed from its own ranks. Each of the new pieces is by a different dancer on the company roster, from principal dancers to members of the corps de ballet.

Artistic director Terrence Orr has long worked with the company's artists on opportunities to create their own dances. Most of the seven choreographers have done a few pieces for the company and its school in the past, but this is the first time an entire main production is being devoted to dance made “in house.”

“It's very important for the art form that we have people who want to and have the talent to make choreography,” Orr says.

Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre will present “New Works” March 16 to 25 at Pittsburgh's August Wilson Center. The seven premieres are divided into two programs:

Program I, 8 p.m. March 16, 2 p.m. March 18, and 2 and 8 p.m. March 24: “Interlaced Motifs” by Amanda Cochrane, lighthearted escapades through Impressionist artwork to music by Claude Debussy; “Infusion” by Yoshiaki Nakano, for five dancers to bring music by Franz Schubert and Felix Mendelssohn to life through movement; “Weighted Affair” by Willliam Moore, a neoclassical ballet set at a dinner party; and “Lightworks” by JoAnna Schmidt, in contemporary style for seven dancers set to widely diverse music.

Program II, 8 p.m. March 17 and 23, and 2 p.m. March 25: “I” by Julia Erickson, vignettes unified by the poetry of Nayyirah Waheed; “The Silver Line” by Jessica McCann, about the choices people make, with novel costumes for the women; and “Thick White Sheets” by Cooper Verona, exploring the role of circumstance in life and how to find control.

McCann is the one choreographer creating her first work for the company. She collaborated with costumier Janet Groom on abstract tutus.

“They're made out of plastic and boning (for stiffness),” she says. “They're clear and able to retract and bend when partnering is going on. It's pretty cool with the lighting and the chalk. My female dancers are going to be fairly dusty looking, like statues coming alive for the first time.”

While “the silver line” is about the choices people make, McCann doesn't offer a plot for her new work.

“I want the audience to go on a journey with the dancers,” she says. “When I go to modern dance I don't like being told a story line. I want to go on an experience. Afterwards, I like questioning everything.”

The lowercase “i” title of Erickson's piece refers to our technological era (think i-phone or i-pad) as well as the first person, one's self-expression. She finds she responds strongly to Waheed's poetry.

“She became really famous on Instagram, a poet from our era,” Erickson says. “They're short poems. She really drills down about things important to her. They're so evocative and emotional without saying a whole lot.”

Erickson considers herself on the middle of the spectrum between choreographers who plan it all out in their mind before rehearsals and those who create in the moment with the dancers.

“All dancers have their strengths and weaknesses. What I like is when what I might perceive as a weakness can morph turn into a strength if the choreography is appropriate.”

Mark Kanny is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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